ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In the podcast finale, we talk to author Ruth Ozeki and actor Katie Malia about not seeing their perspectives reflected in pop culture -- and about the power of creating a culture that does.
English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00Back in november i went to a show at the black cat a music venue in d c to see mitt ski mitt ski is just one woman mitt ski milwaukee who performs indie rock songs about love and identity and being a girl in america she's half japanese and
00:00:14half white and she kind of looks like me She has the song called your best american girl the single from her latest album that dominated critics lists of the best songs of twenty sixteen it's about being in love with someone who grew up in a world different from
00:00:28norris and realizing that it's just not going to work out let's he lived a lot of places growing up she's talked before about not having a strong american identity and you can hear that in the lyrics your mother wouldn't approve of how my mother raised me but i
00:00:45do I finally dio and you're an all american boy i guess i couldn't help trying to be the best american girl that night of the show i stood in this crowd of people who didn't look like me and they saying these lyrics i wondered what that song met
00:01:27them This is other mixed race in america i'm your host alex offline and in this last episode i'm sharing two stories with you of women who felt this weight of ruthlessness and created art to deal with it we'll also talk about the communities that spring up around art
00:01:48communities that in some ways create a new route system for the ruthless people in america One of the first times i saw mixed race protagonist grappling with those awkward identity quest actions was when i discovered ruth ozeki ruth is an author filmmaker and buddhist priest whose work is
00:02:06mostly autobiographical Her latest book a tale for the time being was the first book of hers that i read one of the main characters was a half japanese half white woman named ruth and the experience she depicted of being a half asian half white person living in north
00:02:21america really resonated with me and that's weird it took seeing a variation of my story told him pop culture for me to realize that i'd been missing that representation my whole life So i called ruth up to talk to her about how she thinks about representation and about
00:02:38creation i grew up in in new haven connecticut and my dad was a professor at yale and when i was growing up there weren't a lot of asian writers who were writing novels or fiction that that i had access to so i read primarily the cannon there really
00:02:57weren't a lot of writers who looked anything like me or who shared my background at all so i honestly don't remember ever really seeing the mixed race perspective when i was growing up i think that's one of the reasons why it took me a long time to understand
00:03:13that that i needed to create this you know that that there that it was up to meet it to do this and that i had the right to do it And all of her protagonists so far at least have been half japanese half white americans but she didn't
00:03:28write her first novel until she was forty Ruth spent the early part of her career working japanese television and then in nineteen ninety five she made a film called having the bones was a documentary about her grandparent's lives and about the aftermath of her grandmother's death it's peppered
00:03:43with turn of the century footage of her grandmother as a young woman walking through the forests of hawaii in a white dress she narrates the shots with snippets of her grandmother's autobiography right in accented english it's not till halfway through the film that wreath fesses up Up until
00:03:57now i haven't been one hundred percent accurate They're a couple things that i made up like my grandmother's autobiography for example She never really wrote one so i made it up from the real family stories i'd heard from her and also from my other relatives i did sort
00:04:15of the same thing with these home movies i've seen a photo of my grandfather holding a movie camera so i know he really did make movies but his cameras and films world confiscated after pearl harbor i made up these things because i never really knew my grandparent's and
00:04:32now they're dead and i didn't have very much to go on i thought i would understand them better if i just pretended to be them anyway i just wanted to set the record straight even though i made up the way i represented them the facts of their lives
00:04:46they're all true and i did have my grandmother's bones in my closet for the last five ruths work blurs the lines between fact and fiction which for her is how she create scenarios that feel truthful It is funny because through this active imagination of course you're creating some
00:05:03kind of kym era some kind of hybrid something that is once again mixed it's half imaginary and half really you know or a half historical itt's built out of you know these little scraps of memory and i suppose it was it was when i was traveling with having
00:05:21the bones young people old people people who you know of all different ethnicities and racial backgrounds it would come up to me after the screening and they would say that's my story so that was very interesting to me and that's when i started to realize that in spite
00:05:37of the very specific you know my own very specific ethnicity which is half japanese half caucasian american that the story itself is in fact a very american story So there's this web series called almost asian that i discovered last year on oblong about mixed race identity because yes
00:06:13those things exist first episode entitled almost asian driver features a half japanese woman driving her japanese great aunt around in her car very badly we'll stop going what's out there's a car backing up you have to watch the arrows oh my god wow What are you swerving for
00:06:35Check i sold else to be texting while you're driving oh my god we're going to get in an accident katie malia's the creator and star of almost asian a web series about a half japanese woman grappling with repeated identity crises she persuaded her great aunt sochi who's ninety
00:06:51at the time to co star in the first episode we just wanted to show that full asian could be in the passenger seat telling me what to d'oh that she's a good driver and i'm the bad one sometimes it makes me cringe because it feels so elementary it
00:07:06feels so dated and yet when you're mixed for me i so desperately wanted tio feel recognized by a culture kitty had been working as an actor for five years before creating almost asian in twenty fourteen concept for the show came out of a conversation she had had with
00:07:26her brother joel who's the director kitty had wanted to write and star in her own siri's for a while but she just needed to come up with a concept she spit balled ideas at him for a while and then he stopped her he looked at me and he
00:07:39said right but now write what you feel is true ing to your heart and what you see feel is lacking right now and what i felt was lacking inspired by his words wass mixed race narrative their memory being so think this pipe baldwin often having it was the
00:08:01path of these resistance oh right nobody's talking about it how fun and we shot it not really thinking anything of it and then it snowballed the first season of almost asian is about twelve episodes long each episode about two or three minutes in every episode katie tackles a
00:08:21different facet of being a half japanese woman working in the entertainment industry it's honest but not self indulgent a little bit self deprecating and it's really funny in one episode her character is out to eat with a friend full asian and they're talking about a standup show they're
00:08:37going to after dinner i got a stroke right now would be grateful you always do this you know but thiss this training it out of things not take any risks don't lets you do last week you wanted to drive into technically i said if i ever do drive
00:08:51into a wall i'll be listening to ricky martin so livin la vida loca is playing during the guy's life are sick and no that's not what i what do you mean you using your asian fusion confusion card again as an excuse to not fit in that f word
00:09:06fusion i'm not a goddamn restaurant and it's an asian american standup show judy of course i don't fit in you fit in kitty let's a go in the server comes with their food go thank you nobody did you need anything else So i think we're good thanks actually
00:09:28only i forgot six which she hands to her friend on the fork and that's how the episode ends with katie staring at her friend like see point proven the first time i watched almost asian i watched all of the episodes in one sitting i had never seen anything
00:09:47that embodied my experiences in such a specific way which is why katie felt the need to create the siri's in the first place working is an actor in los angeles case as she's judged by her appearance every day i began auditioning with commercials and that in itself it
00:10:02is very much about do you appeal to the demographic that they're selling to should they not want to go full asian especially in commercials to be mohr What say whitewashed for middle america and not a full asian that would be startling to seeing a commercial They throw us
00:10:25into the mix here in the water down asians So katie citing the swept siri's and creating a powerful conversation about the nuance of multi racial identity sounds awesome right The irony here is that in order to make things like almost asian katy needs money and she makes money
00:10:42by acting and to get acting jobs she has to audition for roles where she plays the stereotypes of asian women I remember having this one audition for how it was like a house hunter show but it was a comedy and they asked me to do an agent accent
00:11:01which is always funny to me because asian accent it doesn't really get any more generic than that you feel a bit more specific but they don't care So i went in and i did it and i immediately felt this wave of shame and guilt and it just felt
00:11:19like it felt like such a lie and it's also felt so sensitive and yet the kashmir after loved it He was not asian and he thought it was the greatest thing ever and there are so few opportunities for people of color and asians that then you want to
00:11:39get the job Do you play up the stereotype This is the double buying that creative people face when they're trying to create a culture that reflects them and is different from the mainstream culture but people don't invest in risky ideas so to bootstrap it they need to work
00:11:57within the system that's run primarily by people who don't get where you're coming from they play the stereo types the end result the stereotypes live on in the larger culture josh when you doing you're paying your bills with this industry you suck it up and you do it
00:12:17they only last so long until you just can't take it anymore But here's the thing even though it's really hard to see these stories that reflect us they do exist and that work is worth highlighting because the way i felt when i first watched almost asian that was
00:12:36magic way there's this thing that happens to plants when you moved them from one container to another it's called transplant shock basically the plants fruits or stunned from the new environment and they freak out because they don't know how to establish themselves in this new landscape or pot
00:13:03here's a report from purdue university's department of botany new transplants do not have extensive root systems and they're frequently stressed by a lack of sufficient water plant suffering from water stress may be more susceptible to injury from other causes such as the weather in sex or disease When
00:13:20several stresses air being experienced the plant may no longer be able to function properly reading that felt familiar The story of immigration in this country is one of ruthlessness and often transplant shock When people leave their lives and families to build new ones in a new country they
00:13:39leave parts of themselves behind to weather a few language or culture or sheer geography Chances are their kids will be more american whatever that means unless of whatever their native culture is often you can't trace your family history back generations or you don't know your grandparent's because you
00:13:58don't speak the same languages thumb maybe you don't even know their names This ruthlessness is more likely when you're in an interest a family of immigrants not only did one or both of your parents leave their homelands but they've done this transgressive thing they had a child with
00:14:14somebody of a different race Sometimes the consequence of this is disown mint or at least strong disapproval So for many years i accepted my ruthlessness and even to find myself i it it wasn't until i started working on this podcast that i felt its weight crazy thing is
00:14:32it took working on this podcast for me to discover the other people journalists writers artists musicians who felt this pain to and who created art with it so yes transplant shock is a thing in plants but there's this other thing you can do with plants and it's called
00:14:53propagation you take the cutting of a stem or leaf can you take care of it Place it in some water give it lots of sunlight sometimes when you do it just right when the environment is just so your little clipping will begin to grow its own roots working
00:15:11on this project i felt like one of those cuttings tenderly watching my own roots grow i've been filling my head with books and music and articles and films that are parsing these themes in a way that feels so familiar somehow i found a community for myself and while
00:15:30it's not a fully grown root system it's something close to that thanks for listening other mixed race in america if you've listened to this whole miniseries you've heard me mention a subscription offer at the end of every episode that's an offer we're giving just to listeners of this
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00:16:33other one zero zero this podcast was written and produced by me Alex laughlin with editing from terence samuel You can subscribe to other mixed race in america on radio public apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts If you enjoy listening to other mixed race in america please
00:16:51go to apple podcasts and leave us in interviews Thank you t j j pas way for writing our he music and to chris kindred for designing our logo Other mixed race in america is a podcast from the washington post See all our podcasts at washingtonpost dot com slash
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