By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent
For years, Eddy Zheng’s parents didn’t tell their friends and relatives where their son was.
They were too ashamed to admit their Eddy had been convicted of kidnapping and robbery at the age of 16. The crime so horrendous, he was tried as an adult and ended up spending 19 years of his life in ended up spending 19 years of his life in the California Youth Authority, San Quentin, and other state prisons..
Eddy Zheng now works with the San Francisco Community Youth Center and is a member of several non-profit boards including Chinese for Affirmative Action, Asian American Law Journal and is a member of the San Francisco Central Police Station Citizen Advisory Board. Despite that, immigration has tried to deport him.
His transformation is the subject of a new film debuting at CAAMfest in San Francisco tomorrow, Breathin’, the Eddy Zheng Story. It is directed by Ben Wang whose previous work includes Aoki, a documentary on Black Panther leader Richard Aoki, and the short Mamori.
“Eddy’s story is both unique and universal,” said Wang to AsAmNews. Although some of our audience may not have experienced the decades of incarceration as Eddy did, many people have dealt with cultural stigmas, family secrets, social isolation, and overcoming obstacles in their lives.”
Zheng’s deportation hearings have become a cause with many in the community rallying around Zheng’s defense. Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have opposed his deportation and Governor Jerry Brown last year pardoned Zheng for his crimes.(UPDATE: His lawyer Friday formally announced immigration has ruled in favor of Zheng and he will not be deported).
“In today’s political climate (and throughout history), immigrants with a criminal record are the first ones to be scapegoated over fears of crime, safety, and the economy,” Wang said.
Breathin’, the title of the film, comes from words Eddy himself uttered. It’s a motto Eddy writes to end every email or letter. Wang explains its Zheng’s way of letting go of the past, focusing on the present and appreciating each breath.
It’s a profound philosophy for someone who spent 11 months in solitary confinement in San Quentin as a result of his protest to demand the prison initiate an ethnic studies program as part of its prison college curriculum.
“In making this film, I have gained more insight into Eddy’s philosophies, his crime and its lasting impact, his prison experience during this era of mass incarceration, and his struggles to reconcile with his family and victims,” explained Wang. “When issues of mass incarceration and deportation are addressed, the experiences of Asian Americans are often not visible. Asian Americans are actually officially categorized as “Others” in much of the prison system, a fitting description for a population that is often ignored. ”
Within the Asian American community, issues of incarceration are not discussed as a result of a cultural stigma.
Breathin’:Breathin, The Eddy Zheng Story, brings the issue out into the open and hopefully will open an important dialogue both inside and outside the Asian American community.
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