By Mimi Chen
A Music History of Asian America – it’s not what you think
Pacific Arts Movement recently released a short documentary entitled A Music Video History of Asian America. The short piece is part of a year long celebration of the 20th anniversary of the San Diego Film Festival, the main program of Pacific Arts Movement, with each month highlighting a different subject. This past month, they released the short film after three weeks of intensive work said Aleya Zenieris, the Video Production Team Coordinator of Pacific Arts Movement, “with 7 editors, including myself and Sabrina Ruiz, the main researcher, one animator and several contributors as well.”
While the assumption is that the documentary would have highlighted well-known and notable Asian American musical artists, in actuality, the criteria was far narrower, according to lead researcher and former marketing director Sabrina Ruiz. “Obviously, we couldn’t include everyone, which would have been a much larger video and a larger scope than we could have handled.” she said. “What we wanted to come up with is a story of Asian America, identify forming and remembering and retelling history, commenting on social issues and doing that thru music video specifically.”
“If we tried to do a program on Asian Americans in music, it would have been maybe a two hour video or longer to include all the different kinds of Asian Americans and genres. We did try to include as much as possible, but we had a clear idea of what kind of music and storytelling we were looking for and hip-hop and rap tended to be the medium in which most of these artists would talk about issues of representation, issues of remembering Asian American history and issues of society today. Rap and Hip-Hop tended to be more amenable to that than some of the indie artists, but we did include a few, such as Run River North.”
Ruiz continued, “The video is divided into different sections, such as we have the pioneers, we start in the 1960’s and the ‘70’s and the criteria is just to be Asian American firsts. Then the criteria changes from being Asian American to breaking thru to the mainstream and not only being Asian American but also owning my identify. And talking about what it is to be Chinese-American, Filipino-American, Japanese-American and then talking about our history and our struggles, cementing our place in American history, to then commenting on issues ranging from sexuality, LGBT to incarceration of immigrants at the border to solidarity of races.”
“This is why there aren’t people like Bruno Mars, people who are Asian American and huge in the industry but who never really owned up to it.” (Mars is a Hawaiin of multiple descent, including German and Filipino ancestry).
Ruiz noted that the artists and music featured were the oral historians of Asian America and there was so much material that they could have made the program twice as long but the longer length would have made it tougher to watch.
Both Ruiz and Zenieris say the intention was to inform and also give exposure and discovery of so many artists in the Asian American community. They emphasized that there is a difference in experience between Asians who are in music from Asia versus the experience of Asian Americans and the “challenges they face are totally different.”
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