Sunday, September 8th is Grandparents Day. So many of us have great memories to share of our grandparents. Filmmaker Matthew Hashiguchi is no different. He decided to produce a documentary My American Grandma. The film is still in production, but that hasn’t stopped Matthew from encouraging others to tell their grandparents story as well.
Matthew agreed to participate in a question and answer session with AsAmNews.
Matthew, what should people know about you?
I grew up a half-Japanese, half-Italian kid in an Irish neighborhood in the 90s. Being multiracial amongst a sea of Irish kids was extremely difficult and on a daily basis I was called a jap, or gook. This really caused an internal struggle in accepting not only who I was, but also who my family was and where we came from. When you’re in middle school, the greatest comfort a pre-teen can have is to fit in, and because of my racial and ethnic background, I didn’t fit in. There were moments where I wished I were Irish, just so I’d be able to fit in with my friends at the time.
So, racial and cultural identity is a concept, and a reality, that has been part of my life since a young child. Unfortunately, racism too, is a reality that has been part of my life since I was young. But as time went on, I learned how to deal with issues of race and identity. And, I can really only attribute my ability to overcome those obstacles to my Grandmother. She was in the Japanese American Internment Camps and struggled greatly due to her race and culture. But, by looking at her, you’d never be able to tell that she went through so much pain. She’s not ashamed of her Japanese heritage and celebrates our culture proudly for everyone to see. She taught me to fight, to persevere and to always remember who you are and where you come from. And, I come from her.
What is the name of your documentary and why are you doing it?
The title of my documentary is My American Grandma. Like many others, my family revolves around the will of my Grandmother, whom is extremely opinionated and certainly the “Queen of Her Court,” even at 88 years old. All of my other grandparents passed away either before I was born or while I was young, so she’s really the only grandparent that I’ve known. Grandparents play vital roles in our lives and growing up I often heard stories of the Internment Camps from my Grandmother. The realization that my Grandmother was considered “different,” and singled out as an enemy alien during WWII has had a profound impact on my life, even though it was over 70 years ago. So, with My American Grandma, I wanted to reveal the role that history, heritage and identity has played in my family. Even though I’m 29 years old, the Internment Camps have affected my life and the lives of my siblings. All of these themes really originate from my Grandmother and her life. She’s the portal through which I’m able to understand the past and these things have been transferred down to her children and grandchildren, both intentionally and unintentionally. So, this film is about subsequent American generations understanding and processing the past experiences and identities of our grandparents and how they continue to impact us today. My American Grandma reveals that story through the eyes and experiences of Japanese and multiracial Japanese Americans, which is exemplary of the changing American identity.
I suppose the title of the film is a bit tongue-in-cheek, considering that my Grandmother was not considered American during WWII. But, the Japanese American and multiracial American story is essentially the American story. And whether your grandmother is Japanese American, Irish American, or African American, we’re all American.
Tell us about your grandmother and how did she inspire you to produce this documentary?
I was fortunate enough to have my Grandmother directly involved in my life as a child and her influence was instrumental in shaping my cultural identity. Growing up, I was really immersed in Japanese American culture and experiences. I went to Obon Odori annually, ate a plethora of Japanese food, and was constantly surrounded by the generation of Japanese Americans that experienced the Internment Camps. Amongst the Japanese American community in Cleveland, Ohio, my Grandmother was one of the only people that discussed her experiences in the Camps. She would speak at schools, community centers, events and colleges, and I found this to be extremely unique. While others refused to discuss it, she directly addressed it to the point where it was no longer painful. Much of what I learned from my Grandmother allowed me to overcome obstacles in my life, especially issues with race and identity. As I looked beyond those themes, I realized that her influence is truly boundless and will not only be with me for the rest of my life, but also with my children and grandchildren. The American story is a fascinating one, full of various perspectives and constantly evolving. As a multiracial Japanese American, it was important that I document the stories and experiences of my Grandmother, because as time goes on, her Japanese American history and heritage will fade as it intertwines with the other cultures of American society.
Why did you put together the website and what do you plan to do with the stories you get?
We all have great stories of our grandparents. What’s fantastic about the American grandparent is that they all come from somewhere else, yet are all part of the same American story. Technology has allowed storytelling to grow and evolve in unforeseen ways and I wanted to create an outlet to share the stories of all grandparents, regardless of heritage or race. Interactivity is a big word in documentary filmmaking these days, but I think many films create a level of interactivity that is often tricky or confusing. Interactivity doesn’t need to be complicated. We should be focusing on the message, not the medium. So, with myamericangrandma.com, I wanted to make the interaction as simple as possible through a basic photo/video blog. Anyone can upload a photo or video with a short text story, and bam, it’s on the blog. In the long run, I want it to be just that. An ongoing collection of stories of our grandparents.
When can we expect your documentary to come out?
My American Grandma will be completed by summer 2014. I’ve completed filming and am currently in post-production.