Migrating to America as a child left Pei Ju Chou feeling like she existed between two generations—the first and second. So, she began referring to herself as being “1.5th generation”. Recently, the University of Washington student produced a documentary about her experience as a part of the 1.5 generation titled “Stuck on the Boat”. (You can view parts of Chou’s documentary on-line at the IE’s website: www.iexaminer.org).
Chou shares her thoughts about ethnic identity, culture, and in archiving her experience on film to share with others:
Q: Where are you from?
A: I moved to Washington State from Taiwan when I was ten years-old. The town my parents chose had a very small Asian population, and for that reason I became immersed in American culture.
Q: What inspired you to make this documentary?
A: I have many friends who are the same as me, and we all resonate with the feeling of not belonging. American society has such rigid categories of first and second-generations, and those of us roaming in-between sort of become outcasts. My most vivid memory is visiting Taiwan after seven years of living here, and people there calling me “ABC”–American-Born Chinese. Sadly, here in the states, I’m still considered a “FOB” (Fresh Off the Boat). Realizing that there’s a pretty large population of 1.5th generation Asian kids like me, I decided to capture our experiences to share with the world. I want other kids who are struggling to belong to know that there’s a place for us. We are in-between, but we should be proud of who we are instead of trying to fit into other groups. My ultimate goal is getting people to recognize the 1.5th generation, and for us to recognize ourselves as a proud and distinct group with unique backgrounds.
Q: What have you learned?
A: I realized how hurtful social categories can be for adolescents, especially in high school. The categories of “American”, “Asian American”, “FOB”, and “first” and “second generation” are all social constructs that force kids to conform to society. At the end of the project, I felt that even “1.5 generation” is a bit too rigid. Identity should be something more fluid. The “1.5th generation” is really an inclusive term for all the areas between first and second. For example, I interviewed a few people who felt more connected to their Asian identity while, for some, Asia is just a distant land in their memories. I witnessed such drastic differences within this single category of 1.5. All of my interviewees stand somewhere different on the continuum between first and second-generations. But one thing that connects all of us is the pain of being in-between two worlds that collided – yet belonging to neither.
Q: Any surprises?
A: I was very surprised that almost none of my interviewees knew the term “1.5 generation” before the interviews. A lot of them are still trying to digest the idea. From the stories I heard, I sensed a lot of self-hate, hate for the states, or hate towards Asia. And, it’s all because they had to sacrifice a piece of themselves in order to fit in. For some, it’s letting go of their Asian ways. For others, it’s isolating themselves from other Americans. And, for some, it’s becoming something they are not. It sounds almost like a typical “coming of age” movie, and it’s similar. Most of the struggles and stories my interviewees told me occurred during their high school years. It’s already hard enough for kids to fit in at school; imagine how much harder it is if they just moved here from Asia!
Q: How did you choose your interviewees?
A: I posted a request on Facebook and talked to my friends. Most of my interviewees are Chinese and Taiwanese, and I wish I had more of a variety of Asian origins, but my friends’ circle only expands so far. If I get the chance for a redo, I’ll definitely include more diversity to add a different dynamic.
Q: What’s in the future?
A: I don’t know yet. I didn’t plan that far. I just wanted to make this documentary with the potential to empower youths. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share this with more of them. It’s a way to say, “Hey, it’s okay. We’re the 1.5th generation.”
For more information, go to: http://thepookii.wordpress.com/category/short-films.