BY NHIEN NGUYEN
Within Seattle’s Asian Pacific American community, the tragic loss of a bright young leader, Tatsuo Nakata, 29, who was hit by a car while crossing the street in West Seattle in November last year, continues to stab at the heart of community members who were close to him or who were inspired by his activism. His spirit lives on with a renewed commitment in 2007 to cultivate confident and socially conscious young APA leaders.
The urgency to focus on our youth has never been more apparent to me than now, after spending a week over the holidays with my 16-year-old sister Tina, a wonderfully bright young Vietnamese American girl growing up in Garland, a suburb of Dallas, Texas upon which the TV show “King of the Hill” is loosely based.
In addition to a schooling on the hip lingo of today, I learned from Tina’s constant computer and cell phone use that writing in complete sentences and correct spelling will soon be extinct thanks to MySpace accounts and text messaging. Young adult APA books, like Ken Mochizuki’s “Beacon Hill Boys” and Marie G. Lee’s “Finding My Voice” that feed young souls are lost among a growing number of teens that no longer read books and can barely write.
It also became apparent to me that social issues that plagued my adolescence continue to persist and, in fact, are more severe for this generation of teenagers. Self-esteem, in particular in regards to gender, sexual and racial identities, is woefully lacking, causing a slew of problems from teen pregnancy, to eating disorders, to depression to poor academic performance to gang violence — the list goes on.
As we grow older, many of us may watch less television, but we forget that the eyeballs of our youth are glued to the tube. With a recent report from the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), we are not surprised to know that the AAJC study revealed that APA actors are “practically absent from starring roles in prime-time programming.”
The win by Korean-American Yul Kwon in the popular reality show “Survivor” is a recent victory for the image of APAs on television. In an interview with Kwon, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vanessa Hua said that he decided to go on “Survivor” to help destroy stereotypes about and “raise the profile” of Asian Americans.
Not only is it important to portray positive and “real” images of APAs on television, but also to delve into issues facing APAs in a way that is honest, accurate and sensitive. The creators of a new TV pilot on PBS, “My Life Disoriented,” including actor/producer Di Quon, writer Claire Yorita Lee and director Eric Byler (“Charlotte Sometimes,” “AMERICANese”), are trying to do just that.
“My Life Disoriented,” airing as part of the “Independent Lens” series, is about two Bay Area teens, Kimberlee and Aimee, who are among a handful of Asian American kids in their new school in Bakersfield. Visit www.MyLifeDisoriented.com to view clips.
If you were lucky enough to live in one of the cities where the first episode aired on Dec. 26, such as Portland or Spokane, you might have been able to witness the first APA series since Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl.” Surprisingly, Seattle — a city with a population of about 13 percent APAs — is not among the cities that the show is broadcast.
If you want to help shape the self-esteem of today’s young APAs, e-mail the PBS contact in your area (to find out the contact, visit www.pbs.org/stationfinder/index.html) and request the show to air. The future of the show — and the future of APAs — could well depend on your comments.
David Della writes in his latest newsletter: “Tatsuo learned early in life about racial slurs, about being different because of the color of his skin, and about being passed up and overlooked. He experienced first-hand the ugly face of discrimination. At a very young age, he decided to stick out his neck to challenge and change the system, the laws, and the structure that held people down. He moved to Seattle to attend school, and in his brief 10 years in this City, his work rippled in many concentric circles.”
Let’s make sure that Tatsuo’s spirit continues to ripple through our community, our popular culture and down to our youth.