The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
The Asian Reporter's
VISION QUEST. In search of contemporary Asian America, photographer Wing Young Huie travelled with his wife across the United States to explore and document the intersections of Asian-American and American cultures. Pictured (clockwise from top left) are "Firecracker paper, Marreor, Louisiana"; "Jacksonville, Florida"; photographer Wing Young Huie; and "Ping, China Lantern, Carlsbad, New Mexico."
From The Asian Reporter, V18, #19 (May 6, 2008), page 15.
Encountering Asian America as it presents itself
Looking for Asian America: An Ethnocentric Tour by Wing Young Huie
By Wing Young Huie
University of Minnesota Press, 2007
Paperback, 144 pages, $39.95
By Ian Blazina
In search of contemporary Asian America, photographer Wing Young Huie travelled with his wife across the United States to explore and document the intersections of Asian-American and American cultures. Looking for Asian America: An Ethnocentric Tour by Wing Young Huie catalogs the couple’s experiences, beautifully illustrated by Huie’s captivating photography.
The book begins with a foreword by Wayne State University Law School dean Frank H. Wu, who broadly introduces the concept of Asian America and highlights some of the recurrent identity issues implicit in the act of balancing two cultures. Huie then situates the work, which is both intensely personal and communal, within the framework of his own artistic process and personal ethnocentricity.
To give weight to the personal nature of the tour, Huie relates an experience from his youth spent in Duluth, Minnesota: "We were the only Asian family in the neighborhood and I was always the only Asian kid in class — until the tenth grade, when another kid showed up, whom I avoided," Huie writes.
"Understanding the causes for that curious avoidance has been a gradual unfolding process," he continues. "… Would I have turned out differently if I had grown up in Chinatown, for instance, or in the Deep South? How would my ‘Chineseness’ have been affected? Are there Chinese with southern drawls? Would I speak Chinese more fluently? Would I have chosen to be an artist or ending up working in a Chinese restaurant? Would I have married some- one Chinese?"
The body of Looking for Asian America features Huie’s photographs, from landscapes to portraits, interspersed with short narratives about some of the images. Whether capturing Asian Americans in Chinatown or simply a landscape shot of the California coast, the author asserts his belief that "ethnocentrism affects everything, societal and personal — the whole enchilada, as they say."
Huie depicts Asian America in images that are as varied as real culture is dynamic, shining light on stereotypes and defied expectations: a beauty pageant contestant wearing a ‘Miss Congeniality’ banner in San Francisco’s Chinatown; a legally blind man who has been cooking at a Chinese restaurant in Carlsbad, New Mexico for the past 50 years; a sign in Jacksonville, Florida advertising ‘No. 1 Chinee Takee Outee’; a Hawaiian couple whose house is full of Christmas trees, year-round; a Vietnamese couple in Houston who founded the Asian Worldwide Elvis Fan Club; a Filipino- Portuguese man and his Japanese wife in Hawaii who talk story and leave the author with a promise to show him on his next visit "how to kill a wild boar with a knife"; and so much more.
Through Huie’s perspective as the only member of his Midwestern family who was not born in China, the reader is presented with humorous, moving, and strange images of Asian America, an equivocal state of identity of which Frank H. Wu notes on the foreword: "Neither Asian Asians (the cousins overseas) nor ‘real’ Americans (the neighbors next door) seem ready to accept the authenticity of Asian-American lives … the Asian- American condition is to lack control over one’s own identity."
While grappling with the complex identity issues inherent in defining Asian America, Huie gives a broad survey of the ways in which Asian Americans are self-identifying, whether isolated in middle America or immersed in ethnic communities. From the diversity present in this thin photo essay, it seems like there may be as many forms of Asian-American identity as there are Asian Americans.