As a first generation Asian American, I have always wondered if others have endured the same fate of discrimination, confusion, and loss of identity. This curiosity is what has lead to my own vocational calling for understanding the cultural adaptation of American immigrants. Felicia Lowe’s film, Chinese Couplets, gives an interesting insight into the Chinese American experience in the early 20th century.
The documentary follows her journey to seek out her family history in order to understand her mother and, hence, her relationship with her mother more clearly. She began with the cultural clash between the Chinese and the White cultures—both seemingly distant and strange to her. She mentioned the Chinese Exclusion Act that created barriers for many Chinese families, of which her own parents have endured. Her direct questions to her mother went unanswered. However, she discovered that her mother would respond through Felicia’s daughter. As a result, she was able to eventually and indirectly illicit answers to her questions about her parent’s past.
She eventually learned about her mother’s history and struggles as well as her father’s path. Although she never really found out where her father ended up, other than having gone to Cuba, she was able to visit his family in China as well as her mother’s village with her mother. The visit with her mother eventually sealed their relationship as mother and daughter. She ended realizing how much she was like her grandmother (who brought her mother from China to America). Instead of resenting her mother, she finally saw how they were different and, yet, complimenting—like a Chinese couplet.
The film was very well done. Contrasting the stark differences in White and Chinese cultures (and even African-American culture) was effective in setting up the audience to see the confusion in identity. She also did a good job setting up the stage for curiosity into her mother’s past. The videography used historical clips as well as contemporary styles. This documentary took some time to produce—clips ranged from the late 1990s to just five years ago.
Though some would say that there is not enough “action,” I don’t think the nature of this video was meant to dramatize. Rather, it was more of a reflective auto-biography that would be conversational in nature—from the narrator, Felicia Lowe.
I would give Chinese Couplets 4 stars. An added bonus is the use of Eastern thinking in the film.Western thinking would have concluded that because Felicia and her mother are so different, they are NOT compatible. Eastern philosophy allows that because they ARE so different, they need each other.
Mother and daughter are both opposites and complimenting, as indicative in the title–Chinese Couplets.
The film plays March 14 and 21 at CAAMFest