By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Contributor
Yi Chen could not have imagined how more intensely interesting her one-hour documentary, First Vote, would become. The film follows two men and two women, all Chinese American, and both for and against Trump. It covers 2016 to 2018, the first two years of the Trump Presidency. You might find some of this infuriating, but we do have to learn how to have conversations with both sides of the political spectrum. However, with COVID-19 stirring up anti-Asian sentiment nationwide, the documentary feels incomplete.
Chen chose people who are well-heeled. They are not at the bottom of the US society. They are upper middle class.
Lance (Lijian) Chen is an assistant professor at the School of Business Administration at the University of Dayton, Ohio. He received his PhD (2006) from Ohio State University. His master and BS are from Tianjin University. Chen is not only a member of the Asian American GOP Coalition (now Chinese Americans for Trump or CAFT ), but also has his own political podcast (in Mandarin Chinese). He’s one of those guys in the Chinese Americans for Trump t-shirts, attending GOP rallies. (If you read simplified Mandarin, go to MandarinGOP.com. For English, try AsianGOP.org.
Chen claims that there are two lies immigrants are told when they come to the US: 1) The Democratic Party is good for immigrants and 2) the Democratic Party is good for minorities. We follow Chen to Trump rallies as well as rallies for a GOP challenger for the Ohio senatorial race.
Another podcaster is the New York-born Kaiser Kuo (郭怡廣), a musician formerly with the rock band Tang Dynasty. He’s spent the last 20 years in Beijing where he married and had two kids. In 2016, he moved back to the United States (Chapel Hill, NC), bringing both his family and the Sinica Podcast.
The contrast between the two men wouldn’t be greater. Chen is button down and business like. Kuo has longer hair than his wife and is not a Trump supporter. From his Chinese wife, who’s not crazy about life in North Carolina, he learned about vocal Chinese Trump supporters and a list of reasons Trump was actually seeing support.
The women are also a study of contrasts. Jiangxiu “Sue” Fu Googe was born in mainland China and now calls Cary, NC home. The documentary doesn’t tell you how she got to NC, but her biography online shows that she “attended” the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2001-2005, in the department of Information and Library Science. Prior to that she had been in Computer Science at Wake Tech Community College. Googe is the president of Geotek Realty, established in 2011.
Wearing knee high boots, a short dress and totting a gun, including an AK-47, she’s a photographic darling for conservatives, even if her political platform isn’t entirely clear. She unsuccessfully ran for a political office and might do so again.
Jennifer Ho’s credentials are clear. She was a professor of English and comparative literature and associate director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The documentary shows her teaching a course using books like Partly Colored and White By Law. Last year she was appointed director of the Center for Humanities and the Arts (CHA) for a three-year term at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She does not support Ttump.
Two major political events serve as a backdrop for First Vote. Those are the run off between Republican Jim Renacci and incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown during the 2018 US Senate election in Ohio and the controversy over the removal of the bronze confederate statue, Silent Sam.
Unfortunately, the run off lacks the visceral or visual excitement of Chapel Hill and the documentary loses some of its energy when focusing on the runoff. On the other hand the emotions that surface over Silent Sam exemplify the great divide between those who support Trump and those who don’t. At the start of the 2018 school year, Silent Sam, which had originally been installed in 1913, was toppled by students, and taken away by campus staff on a flat-bed truck. Ho is seen discussing another questionable statue, making clear that there’s a certain hazy Southern reality toward racism.
Both Googe and Chen express a concern that Democrats support socialism and communism. You can see on the Facebook page of Asian Americans GOP Coalition that Mao was the dictator who killed the most people. Director Yi Chen delves a bit into their past to give hints to their current political ideology yet listening to the alienation experienced by Kuo’s kids when they are asked “Where are you from,” you can’t help but wonder if belonging to the GOP means belonging to a tribe. The Facebook page seems to indicate they won’t be protesting against wearing face masks as they are attempting to donate them to health care workers.
Yi Chen couldn’t have predicted the rise of anti-Asian sentiment from COVID-19, but Mother Jones’ reporter, Dan Friedman, in a March 20, 2020 article answers the question that will pop up in everyone who views this film. The article’s title gives it away: “Not even the Head of a National Asian American GOP Group Is Okay with Trump Saying ‘Chinese Virus.'” Friedman asked Cliff Li, a Chinese American business man who heads the National Committee of Asian American Republicans. I would love to know how Googe, Lance Chen and the Asian Americans GOP Coalition feels, but I have to side with Kuo who is angry with anyone who supports Trump.
The documentary ends with the national anthem, but that’s more hopeful than where we find ourselves now. Will anti-Asian hate incidents change Lance Chen and Sue Googe? What about that Ohio election voting during the pandemic? Surely there will be a post-COVID-19 followup or at least there should be. More by circumstances rather than design, “First Vote” is an incomplete look at a situation that has unpredictably become more complex.
First Vote was part of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Virtual Showcase and CAAMFest online. Both featured Q&As with the director Yi Chen as well as subjects.
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