im obsessed with immigrant stories. and as an asian american studies major, the seoul premier of the asian american film ‘seoul searching’ felt right at home. i wrapped myself in the warmth of familiar words such as ‘2nd generation’, ‘immigrant parents’, ‘diaspora’ ‘identity’, and ‘self discovery.’
these are my people and this is my world, sort of.
because it’s really not. the film is very much focused on the korean-american/european (gyopo) community, with an opening scene of a korean teacher asking the 2nd generation korean teenagers what it means to be korean.
but i live in korea, i understand a little bit of korean, and i can whole heartedly relate to the characters’ struggles grappling with their ethnic vs. nationalistic identities. (2nd generation vietnamese american here, hello! hi! how are you?)
so i enjoyed this film immensely on a personal level. when one of the characters is chastised for not knowing and identifying with her korean name, this is my story (with my vietnamese name). when one of the girls likes a fellow camper only to find out he’s got a white girlfriend back home, this is my story. when one of the characters shouts at the top of his lungs his frustration of not understanding his parents harsh criticism and lack of sympathy, this is my–and every child of immigrants–story.
whether the film can reach an audience beyond us 2nd generation children, i’m not sure. there are some lofty attempts at a rich and complex story, but not enough time to explore each arc fully; therefore, most of it seems haphazardly put together: i felt sad when it was revealed that one of the harshest teachers’ son killed himself after failing his college entrance exams–but the sorrow comes from the standard reaction to suicide and not because the character was developed enough that i felt for him.
there’s also a few could-be quite colorful dialogue points in the film, notably one girl’s trauma-induced association of korean men with violence against women (a common sentiment i hear often here in korea, sadly), and a bit of gender bending toward the end. but both were inserted into the script without serious commitment and development, and thus are seen as the starting or end point of a joke: i loved seeing the skirt-chasing mexican korean character dressed as a woman, but any morsels of his character trying to redeem himself for his misogynistic behavior were destroyed when the camera pans to his male friend reaching across and squeezing his chest while he’s wearing the dress.
the film could have also done without the multiple light-hearted uses of the word, “rape,” such as when one female camper asks the skirt-chasing mexican korean guy, “why are you raping me with your eyes?” perhaps it was a conscious attempt at mirroring society’s rather lax attitude toward rape and rapists, but again not fully developed and no serious commitment leads me to believe these lines were inserted for laughs—all the more inappropriate and disturbing.
my identity as a 2nd generation vietnamese american is something i’ve wrestled with my entire life–the disconnect i have with my parent’s background and culture. growing up, i often thought about the wide divide between their lived experiences and view on the world having grown up in vietnam and mine in the US.
now a days, i often think about my future children—a new development in my adult consciousness. i wonder if they’ll be able to learn vietnamese, or if my korean will never be good enough to understand their native language fully. i think about myself trying to teach them the value of immigrant stories and starting sentences with, “when i was in america…”
and then i realized—for 27 years when i lived in the US, i felt a disconnect from my immigrant parents, whose memories were painted with the colors of a different land and narrated by sounds of a different language—but by moving to korea, and with plans of settling here permanently, i will become an immigrant parent.
it’s funny how life works: i moved as far away from my parents as either of us could have ever imagined, but i feel closer to them, and their lived experiences, here than i ever could back in the states.
a million more things to think about,