an interview with gordon pon, phd student, york university department of education.
Pon: Alright itís Tuesday, Iím here with Terry Woo, one of
the greatest contemporary creative writers of all time, bar none
(laughter). Itís a pleasure to be speaking with you today.
Well thanks for having me out.
Thank you. Okay so Terry Iíve been wondering, I read in the Globe as I
told you that youíre making a movie.
How is that coming along?
Itís going okay. The option agreement was signed quite a while ago and
itís been picked up by a company called Persistence Pictures out in
Vancouver. Theyíre a pretty small outfit. What I like most about them is
they really liked the book and they really believe in it, and just a few
weeks ago, I received a copy of a first draft of the script. It was okay,
you know, there definitely need to be a lot of changes, but itís going
quite well and I guess optimistically, hopefully, a movie will come out
within five years or so.
Okay, alright, um, okay let me ask you: you mentioned youíve just come
from an interview today with the Calgary Herald and you were asked about
the contemporary state of Asian Canada, which is one of those things
Iíve always wanted to ask Terry. What do you think about the current
state of Chinese masculinity in Canada, Terry?
Oh thatís a pretty weighted question. Iíd have to say that, in
general, things are always getting better, I think. In a pluralistic
society where there are naturally a lot of inequities, you know, over
time, these inequities more or less always work out. Specifically in terms
of Chinese masculinity, I think itís getting better, but you can never
really tell. I think that any one individual in our society is not able to
gauge appropriately how things are going because we have such limited sort
of viewpoints and time frames that we work with. Only by reflecting on the
large body of work or the canon of the literary world, for example, or
just looking back at specific events are we able to appropriately gauge
how things are going. So I guess Iím cautiously optimistic.
And ah, if you say theyíre getting better, what is it that is getting
Well I think that the larger the Asian population gets in Canada, the more
Asian Canadians, the more bananas out here, we definitely have more
diversity in terms of the types of things that each individual contributes
to a specific culture. Whereas, before there was a certain type of
demographic, a certain type of age and a certain type of people who
comprised what I consider Chinese Canada, or Chinese Canadians. The more
people there are, especially bananas, who are actually born here and stuff
like that, then the more different types of people and the more different
types of contributions that they actually provide the community. One of
the larger ones is artistic in nature. Okay, you get other writers or
painters or musicians and things like that, who truly serve to fill out, I
guess, the profile of the community as a whole. And
the more there is, the better it generally gets. Thereís a more,
letís see, a fuller sense of what our identity can actually be, of who,
what we can achieve and what it really means to be Chinese Canadian or
Okay. Now on the topic of identity, I have this one passage from your book
that I just always love and it just sticks in my mind all the time and
itís Daveís. Can you tell
me more about this in terms of, ah...
Yeah, definitely one of the weightier statements in the book. Something
Iíd actually like to explore a lot more in my second book that Iím
writing. But Iíll tell you this, I used to work down in the States for a
while. I lived in Seattle and San Francisco and Iíve worked in New York
City, in Manhattan for a while. Even prior to that when I was in school, I
was exposed to this strange entity, I call Asian America. And my
definition of Asian America, a very brief sort of definition, is in the
sixties there was a lot going on, right? And you know there were
definitely a lot of movements. A good one being civil rights with African
Americans, and they were coming up with some amazing things. Massive,
massive changes and hopes and aspirations of a people really came to
fruition in that decade. To a lesser extent, Asian America kind of came up
in that too. And in my opinion, and this kind of trivializes it a little
bit but Iíll get into it a little bit deeper, like a lot of academics,
mostly out in the West Coast, created the Asian American movement. But,
you know, because the actual sins or crimes committed against Asians were
perhaps less pronounced. I certainly donít want to downplay these
events, but all things considered, I believe things like railways and
Japanese interment camps and things like that, they were terribly tragic,
but Iíd actually have to say they were less seriously culturally
traumatic to Asian Canadians and Asian Americans as a distinct portion of
the population, as compared to the whole concept of slavery for example,
which had enourmous traumatic psychological implications for a huge
portion of America, black America. That kind of builds upon a lot of these
issues, to define what they consider an Asian American identity. And
itís become something of a political force over the last few decades.
Now in similar terms, on a much, much smaller scale, similar things have
developed in the Asian Canadian community. Some of the issues captured
upon were Japanese interment, and the head tax, for example, things like
that. Now, the thing is though, when I was down in the States, my concept
of Asian American really turned me off, you know. And the reason is that
it was a highly political force, for which 1) I disagreed with a lot of
its principles and well not, maybe principles, but a lot of itís
methodology that was enacted by a lot of so called Asian American
activists, and 2), a lot of it was very very strongly American, and it
didnít speak to me at all as a Canadian.
Can you speak to some of these methodologies that turned you off?
Yeah, well a lot of it was very confrontational, highly political, in the
sense that like any other radical cause, environmentalism or even, you
know, civil rights or libertarianism, right wing republicanism,
who has a cause is very vehement and very, very radical about it.
Thereís something to be said about passion definitely, but
thereís sometimes, you take things a little bit too far, and what I
found as a general rule with Asian Americans is that they became like any
other social subgroup, any other power structure, ok? It was hijacked by a
few individuals that had a certain type of agenda, and if you didnít
agree with that agenda, or you chose to question the methods for the
agenda, you were branded as whitewashed, or you were branded as a traitor.
And, you know, was I marked like that? Iím not sure. I mean I definitely
got into my fair share of tussles with so called allies, living down there
and up here in Canada as well. But I began to have a very different
conception of what Asian American meant to me and it wasnít entirely
Ok, so, youíre talking about Chinese activists that are tussling with
Asian activists, okay, so can you give me an example of why would one of
these tussles occur, whatís at stake?
Well, you know, I could go on about this forever and a day, but there were
a lot of perceptions by various
other people. There was a book called The Accidental Asian by Eric
Liu. Ericís a nice guy. I worked with him down in New York and New
Jersey while I was down there. Very thoughtful type guy. He expounds on
very similar types of things. One of them is this, it seems like that
itís always good to battle racism, but in the absence of a direct threat
to Asian America, it seems like, you know, the passion seems to be kind of
artificially produced or induced into the movement. Everybody responds
when thereís a direct threat on their community...
Like for example Mike Chin or ah...
T: Vincent Chin, yeah, for example. Or very recently, the tussle about Abercrombie and Fitch and the kind of the racist sort of t-shirts. In Canada, thereís the, letís see, the Asian Heritage month, which just took place last month I believe. And Heritage Canada, which in my opinion is a thoroughly stupidly run ministry within the Canadian government, designed these posters which were just ridiculous. There were these cartoon characters with slanty eyes and coolie hats that was supposed to represent Asian Canadians, the celebration of their culture and stuff like that. It was just insensitive and distasteful to a certain degree.
of course opposing this sort of stuff is necessary. But I donít know, I mean, I find that a lot of these activists
really kind of wall themselves off to, realistically, the lives of real
individuals, in my opinion, and their hopes and fears and whatever; itís all
about their agenda or nothing. And if you donít support this agenda,
whether it be head tax redress, opposing this poster in a certain way, or
putting up a museum for such and such, or combating a certain injustice
that has taken place, you know, if you question it, in any way, kind of
detract from the cause, youíre branded as a traitor, or as whitewashed.
I felt this very, very strongly. Another thing is this, I mean, I actually
had a very decent discussion about this, this morning Ė
systems are made to be corrupted. And, even systems that arise to
combat the system are corrupted. Human beings are social beings, and
socialization is an extremely powerful force. So if you have a movement
that arises to combat something thatís very worthy, a good example would
be institutionalized racism versus a personís, basic rights ok? You come
up with organizations and groups that combat them and just like any other
organization or group, people are involved and you have to organize
yourself and there are heads and spokespeople and stuff like that. And I
find all too often that the very notion of actually having an
organization, the same corruption that creeps into any other system,
creeps into that sort of system. Then soon itís not about justice
anymore; itís not about fighting the wrong. Itís about power. Itís
about ego and itís about cause and itís about agenda. There are always
exceptions; there are always good decent people; very thoughtful people,
who are willing to listen and willing to fight in a very reasonable way,
but there are always people who kind of lose track of that and it all
becomes about power and ego. It becomes about aggrandizement of their own
agenda or their own personal politics. And all sorts of pettiness and
stupidity creeps into that sort of mind set. My experiences with some of
these organizations down in the U.S., Asian America, really reflected that
quite strongly. I was quite frankly disgusted by it, and at the same time,
I see some of these in certain groups that claim to represent me as an
Asian Canadian, and quite honestly -- no way, you donít represent me. If
this is the way youíre gonna behave or this is what youíre gonna
actually be saying, you donít represent me. You know, I represent
Okay, Terry you mentioned, the work of some social justice agencies.
Terry, you mentioned, for example, the worthiness of agencies that combat
Can you tell me then what, what can you envision as an alternative to the
problem you see now with the movements?
Yeah, I mean I, honestly, I suppose I, I canít really...and the reason
is this: I tend to really shy
away from institutions and shy away from groups. I appreciate that groups
play an extremely important role in any society or in any situation where
thereís an injustice that needs to be addressed. One individual can only
do so much, and groups are needed I guess to combat things on a larger
scale, to mobilize. That being said, I donít really have an affinity
with group work or anything like that, because I do find that my own
personal philosophies very often kind of come in and conflict with an
agenda of other individuals in a group, or a group itself. So my answer is
this, I have no idea. I mean, I suppose, Iím beginning to realize this
myself, the best people like me can do, is really just continue on and
just continue writing for example, and reflecting certain aspects of
things that I see wrong in society and hopefully someone will read my
material and get it, you know? And maybe that will germinate into
something bigger and better.
But you know in terms of
alternatives, I couldnít really say.
Okay. Okay so if you understand part of your role, if I hear correctly, is
righting wrongs through literally writing, can you speak about some of the
wrongs you are trying to right, correct, in
Oh thatís a massive, massive topic. I donít want to sound pretentious
in the sense that, oh well Banana Boys is my bible and I wanted to use it
as like the hammer that crushes all the injustices towards Asians in
Canada. I mean thatís not, that wasnít my intent. I wrote it because I
wanted to write it, and Iím very pleased that it was published and Iím
glad that people responded to it the way they did, but there was no huge
social purpose for writing it other than just basically being able to
express how I felt about certain issues and about my lot in life as a
Banana Boy. But that being
said, there are definitely a lot of things in it, like a lot of ground
covered in the book.
You know, the whole concept
of a banana is someone who is yellow on the outside, white on the inside;
someone who was born here. Someone who doesnít fit well in between two
worlds. On one hand, we have these hopes and aspirations of an entire
culture, through family and their desire and your own personal genetic
programming in terms of doing the right thing, in terms of being Asian,
learning the language, getting a responsible, decent job, getting married,
having kids, propagating, like the culture and the race or whatever, stuff
like that. And thatís an enormous amount of pressure for anyone whoís
in that situation. On the other hand, you have a society that claims to be
multicultural, and accepts you in a lot of ways. But in a lot of other
ways, youíll never really be accepted, because you donít look like
them, even if you sound like them, or do everything like a good Canadian
should. Pay your taxes and, you know, participate in institutions like
voting and getting an education and working and playing well with your
friends and stuff like that. There are always gonna be glaring things out
there like, this Heritage Canada sign, or stereotypical sort of like
portrayals in the media, on TV or anything like that, that will always
stick out like a sore thumb and say, ďhey you donít belong. This
is our perception of you and we donít take you seriously.Ē So I
think thatís pretty much the major thing -- being caught in between and
being fairly disagreeable towards a lot of the negative things from both
groups. Itís interesting that we started off with talk about activism.
But, it was a third pole that kind of arose in writing the book, and was
addressed very briefly, mostly in one of Mikeís chapters, and that third
pole are these individuals or these groups that have a very noble and
worthy cause of fighting racism in Canadian or North American society, and
yet marginalizing other individuals basically because theyíre
questioning the methods, and because of
power and ego and stuff like that, and agenda. I mean, itís
certainly not unique. Any movement counter to anything and you would find
exactly the same sort of thing. You read any of Michele Landsbergís
columns in the Toronto Star, any of David Frum's columns or writings,
or you talk to any Greenpeace activist, or
you talk to a libertarian or a Klu Klux Klan member, or something like
that. Am I comparing the Klan with Greenpeace? No. But theyíre both
groups that are very passionate about something and whether theyíre
actually good causes or terrible causes, they still have that sort of
insular sort of type thinking; that my cause is the most important thing
in the world and if anyone disagrees with it, you are my enemy. Once again
it disgusts me. Banana Boys
is just about being excluded from that sort of movement, just like the two
other traditional poles, I suppose, in life as well.
Okay, thank you. Um, can I ask you about another very, very intriguing
part of the book, where you describe Dave as misogynist. What was the
inspiration for that character?
T: Okay. I can tell you, it, the character of Dave, just like any other character, is a conglomeration of various personalities and anecdotes and stories that Iíve gotten from a lot of people. But the character of Dave really resonated with a lot of my readers and it resonates with me. First off, he was a hell of a lot of fun to write, you know. He was always very glib. His bitterness was very hilarious and eloquent in a lot of ways. He always had a great tongue for a great line. Dave is a very bitter individual, who grew up in a relatively sort of traumatic environment with a lot of racism committed against him. Beat up in the schoolyard by redneck bullies and things like that, problems at home with the family and things like that, and I felt ultimately that with the character of Dave, his self-confidence was seriously eroded and he was left with a lot of emotional scars. And in order to deal with it, he became very belligerent and very in-your-face, chip-on-the-shoulder sort of type bitter; approaching anything and everything with a sense of rage and anger, which made for some really good writing and some very good entertaining sort of lines, but ultimately, you know, any rational person would kind of look at it as, as fairly destructive.
And why is it that the object of his bitterness and lack of self
confidence, why is the object of that, the Asian woman?
Yeah, well I think, it spans the spectrum basically. From a very
superficial level, heís quite jealous because heís not getting any,
and heís jealous of people who are. But on the other hand, his anger at
the situations, the schism between Asian women and Asian men, really is, I
guess, a microcosm for a lot deeper issues that I think he feels and I
think a lot of Asians in general feel. It really isnít dealt with all
that much and itís kind of thrown under the rug and we just donít know
Like who, whoís not dealing with it? Whoís throwing it under the rug?
Like everybody. Everybody, like you knowĖ
Like the schism between Chinese males and females.
Asian men and Asian women in general. Now, Iím not saying that
there is this insurmountable schism. Itís all different with various
individuals or various groups. Like, you walk down the street these days,
like in the new millennium and then you see these posses of young Asian
men and Asian women getting together, laughing, loving, having a good
time, stuff like that. That sort of thing was kind of alien to me when I
grew up. I mean, first off, there werenít any Asians at all where I came
from and second of all, it was always curious to me that, there was so
much more of a disparity in terms of Asian women and white men, as opposed
to Asian men and white women, or anything like that. And that disparity is
undeniable, it still exists today.
Yeah, oh for sure.
Itís undeniable and thatís a very neutral statement. Without laying a
value judgment, there is a disparity. So
Dave chooses to deal with it in a very bitter and entertaining sort
of way. What he writes, what he talks about and stuff like that, itís
kind of fun to read and itís kind of interesting. Yet, at the same time,
itís a little bit laid on a bit thick. But it does, I hope, expose with
the Dave character, some of
these underlying questions Ė [pause] Ė and
just issues of why is there this sort of disparity? Why do a
noticeable segment of Asian women prefer to go out with white men, as
opposed to Asian men? And once again, itís undeniable as a neutral
statement of fact, these people do exist, you know? Why are Asian men,
generally deemed unappealing? And that moves into all sorts of different
things, like portrayals of Asians and Asian men in the media, in western
society, the portrayal of Asian women in society. As a banana, what kind
of images or what kind of messages are you receiving when youíre younger
and how this kind of germinates into certain patterns that are very
difficult to ignore when youíre a lot older. With
Dave specifically, he chooses anger, I guess, as the primary
emotion to deal with it, and heís very bitter about it. Heís bitter
that these so called China girls are pandering to this sort of thinking,
you know -- to yellow fever, jungle fever, all that sort of thing. And,
other people like Mike choose
to be depressed about it. Luke
chooses to just basically sweep it under the rug and he doesnít pay much
attention to it. Sheldon
probably has the most level headed point of view out of all the Banana
And can you talk about his view?
Well, his point of view is this: itís so difficult to find true love in
this world, so actually having a filter of, of whether or not we wanna go
out with a white girl or a white guy or an Asian woman or whatever, having
race as a filter, having any other filter is just ridiculous. If anyone
can find even a little bit of happiness in this world, good for them. Very
good, decent healthy way of looking at things, for sure, you know. And Rick of course doesnít care because he, he scores with
anybody, so (laughter).
Okay, what I find about Banana Boys is the most complex articulation of
the dynamics of gender relations in Asian North America, bar none, and
Terry I canít thank you enough because you know, as a doctoral student,
working in this field, when I come across your work with your rich
theories and complex understanding, it just really is motivational to me,
it helps me a lot in my own work and it is also great help to many of my
Because I mean when you get Asians together, especially Asian males, we
all come to the topic of, you know why are our, um, Asian female
counterparts dating anybody but us, it seemsÖ
Yeah, I find that the issue is definitely a mine field that you have to be
very careful about you know, about traversing, I suppose. Because it
really isnít as simple as all the white guys are taking our women, or
all of ďourĒ women are only going out with white guys and theyíre
rejecting us. Or Asian men canít get any dates. These are all very
overly simplistic ways of stating the problem. The problem itself is very
complex, you know, even referring to it as a ďproblemĒ is kind of a
pre-bias. Letís just say that I prefer to look at it as an interesting
pattern that bears closer examination as to why. And there are plenty of
different possibilities and reasons of which one extremely valid point is
that ultimately it just doesnít matter. Like at the end of the day,
weíre just individuals, just trying to make our own way in this world
and if we do find some happiness with anyone, thatís pretty much the
most important thing.
On that topic, you point out that itís like nobody talks about it.
Yeah, yeah I guess.
You know, other than the work youíre doing, so Terry, like do you think
we should be talking about it? In what arena should we be broaching this
Wow, I donít know if I can answer that question appropriately. I will
tell you this: that there is
a very similar pattern in the African American community that gets a lot
of air time as well. Writers like Terry MacMillan, for example, deal with
the whole idea that black women tend to think of themselves as the least
desirable, ugliest creatures on the planet. Where black men because there
is such a significant proportion of black men who have very unpleasant
sort of fates. Once again thatís a, itís merely a neutral observation,
ok? That successful black men, successful, professional middle to upper
middle class black men, numerically, they are more rare, and there is a pattern that they tend to go out with
white women. And there have been a lot of very interesting works, a lot of
different books and papers and films and frank discussions, mostly headed
by black women, who get extremely emotional about the topic and discuss
this sort of thing. Well I propose that similarly, thatís the type of
thing that Asian men may want to take that sort of attack as well. Write
about it, make music about it, make art about it, discuss it in forums, in
quorums, in sessions or classes, and stuff like that. It bears thinking
about because if you look at the deeper issues underlying it, that form
the foundation of these patterns, we will find out that itís not simply
a case that Asian guys canít get dates, or Asian women, you know, like
big white dick. Itís not as simple as that. There are a lot of profound
factors that really speak a lot about our identity, I suppose, and about
how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.
Would racism be one of the underlying factors?
Absolutely, absolutely, yep. Definitely. And, I mean, yeah, thereís not
much more to say about that. I mean thereís a heck of a lot more to say
about that, but...
Okay so do you think anti-racism education, which actually is one of my
specialties, what I major in. I donít know if youíre aware that
anti-racism education in Canada originated with the African Canadian
community, the teachers, the parents.
No Iím not.
Itís about a forty year old movement. If you go to the States for
example, thereís nothing called anti-racism education, itís uniquely
Canadian. It was begun by black communities, and leaders and teachers in
Um, what they argue is that itís a proactive approach to fighting
racism. It acknowledges that racism exists and encourages, ah, students to
talk about racism and how to combat it.
Do you feel that the disparity between Asian men and women have a place in
Yes I do. Yeah, and I think the people who dismiss it and just say, you
know, this isnít worthy about talking about here, more often than not, I
find that the personal agenda or ego or whatever, comes into that sort of
argument. I think it is very worthy. Although, one thing that Iím
extremely wary about is the tendency for some people to play
off one issue against the other. The tendency of certain groups or
movements to say, well we donít want to deal with that because thatís
a minor issue.
Do you feel thatís what people would say about including this?
Like who? What people would say that?
Well, Iíll tell you this, and it really dovetails beautifully back
to the whole idea of activism and how activists have a certain agenda. If
they have an agenda and they feel that their agenda is being derailed or
their agenda is much more important than anybody elseís agenda, I find
it tends to play off subgroups against each other in order to benefit and
profit off of that, based on their agenda. I find that disgusting and
egregious, I really do. This is a classic example. Itís like, if you
bring this sort of topic up, then youíll get shouted down. First off,
people might say, ďthis isnít important at all. Why are you talking
about this?Ē Then theyíll
get personal, ďyouíre just jealous. You canít get in the gates.
Youíre a loser, thatís why you want to bring it up.Ē Like, ďwhy,
why are you harping on this and stuff. Itís irrelevant.Ē And you know
what? It gets very personal. Matters of personal interest and ego really
tend to creep into it quite a bit. Itís almost sinister and itís
And this would be Asian activists?
This could be anyone who has another agenda they deem far more important
and proceed to basically derail valid discussion.
I also have read lots of literature that argues that another thing that
excludes Asians from the discussion of anti-racism is the model minority
stereotype. Have you heard of this?
Do you feel that, that also would impact on?
Very much so. Yep, I think one of the characters describes how difficult
it is. I think itís Mike He describes how difficult it is sometimes to
talk about what he cares about and the issues that heís concerned about
because pretty much he says, Ēpretty soon things like money or
subsistence or school or education kind of comes into it, and it makes it
seem kind of petty. You know, kind of petty and spoiled.Ē
What seems petty and spoiled?
Well, discussion of Asian issues in general, or racism against Asians.
Why? You know one of the most common arguments that counter that sort of
discussions on those topics, is: ďwhat are you complaining about? Asians
have it pretty damn good in this society.Ē ďThey are the model
minority, you know.Ē ďThey may be stereotypes, but the stereotypes are
benign.ĒĒ Iíd much rather be stereotyped as a math geek then as a, a
drug crazed drug dealer, for example. Or, ďwhatever, quit whining. You
have it pretty good, you know.Ē But what Iím hearing is, we wanna
silence you. We gave you a certain place; weíre playing you off against
these other groups to maintain supremacy in this society, basically. To
put it fairly bluntly. Yeah, so the model minority, really, I think is
often used as a tool by other groups with their own agenda, basically to
derail discussion and to maintain superiority or the status quo, which
obviously benefits whoeverís on top.
Okay. (pause) Okay, Terry...how is the book being received by various
Itís been okay. I mean I published it with a fairly small press and they
didnít really have too much of a marketing budget. I think to date maybe
about 1500 copies have been sold.
You know, which is decent. Itís okay. Itís been received fairly well.
Most of the people who do take the time out to email me and write me about
it, Iíd have to say that ninety-five, ninety-eight percent of the
comments are pretty good. Thatís great.
And do you notice any differences in, whatís the male and female
No, thereís no difference.
I mean itís weird. I received about an equal number of props from Asian
Canadian women, Banana Girls as well as the guys, and thatís great because when I
wrote this book, I really did have the fear that it would have been taken,
certain parts of it, as misogynist or sexist, you know? I mean to be
truthful, some of the characters in there do display misogynist or sexist
sort of streaks in them. But thatís part of the character. Itís most
of an expression of their frustration as opposed to my personal desire to
put forward a misogynist agenda. Thatís not my intention at all. But the
response from Banana Girls has been really good, like great, super good.
G: Yeah, yeah, did you ever think about writing about Banana Girls.
No, no, I wouldnít be able to do it justice. Iíve been asked that
question several times. Why donít you write Banana Girls? In all honesty,
I would want to leave that to someone who really feels far more
passionately about it than I do. Obviously I feel passionate about
Banana Boys cause I am a Banana Boy. In all fairness, I couldnít
be able to muster up the same passion for a book about Banana Girls.
Itís just not, itís not my area of expertise. Maybe in the future I
may become a better writer and maybe explore some of these themes, but I
think a better job would be done by someone who really wants to do it.
Okay. What is the reaction from white males?
Bad (laughs). Well thatís a bit glib, thatís a bit glib. Thereís
been very little reaction to it overall. I find that most of the reaction
are from bananas.
Guys or girls. Women in general who have read the book. There were a few
fairly good responses from white males and thatís great. But the
majority of the criticism that Iíve actually received about the book
were from two sub-categories. And I wonít give you numbers because from
a numbers standpoint it really isnít all that substantial, but one is
from activists, hardcore Asian activists, who say that the book is a
sellout, ok? That the book, itís a sell out. The book sells out the
cause or whatever. I have no idea.
How? What are their supporting arguments, what are...?
Iím not gonna go into it.
You know Iím not gonna go into it because, itís just another example,
in my opinion, of: if this work does not, if what youíre saying does not
support my agenda, then you are my enemy. Itís as narrow minded, as
myopic as that, basically, in my opinion.
I see, okay.
Okay? And the other criticisms are from white men. I hate to say this, but
itís because once again, a book like this, just like any other book that
can be deemed alternative, threatens the status quo. Itís a different
perspective, from a different subgroup of people with certain concerns and
issues and stuff like that, and frustrations for sure, and you know what?
I mean, the criticisms have generally been very dismissive. They wonít
actually sound really pissed off or angryÖ just arrogant and dismissive.
Theyíll just say, ďOh itís a very light read.Ē Or ďitís not
very consequential at all. Go to the library and get it.Ē You know,
stuff like that. Jealousy. I hate to say that, but itís true. White men,
because deny it or not, they are on the top of the sociological ladder.
Thatís not to say that every individual white male will obtain
everything that they ever want in life, but letís face it, theyíre at
the top of the ladder. They donít face as many explicit hurdles as
anyone else, anyone else on this planet Ė racism, sexism, any other
Ėism. Itís fallacious to point out ďoh I never got thisĒ or
ďaffirmative action, you know, prevented me from getting thisĒ, and
stuff like that. Fine, whatever. Thatís your personal sort of situation
and obviously I canít comment on that, but at the end of the day,
youíre pretty much at the top of the ladder and very few things - not
your gender, your skin colour, nothing like that - are explicitly stopping you other than your own personal situation or your own
personality or whatever. And a book that serves to point that out, or a
book that serves to point out the inequalities and stuff like that, also
serves to threaten that sort of state and is therefore a prime candidate
to be dismissed.
On that topic, what do you think personally about affirmative action, or
what we call in Canada, employment equity?
Mixed feelings about it. I
mean, Iíd have to say that my philosophy is classic small ďlĒ
liberal. Itís like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I want
everybody to pursue their own dreams and not be kept, you know, down by
anything. From a philosophical standpoint, I can see the value of
affirmative action, just like I can see a lot of individuals can get
screwed by it and have been screwed by it as well.
By affirmative action?
How? How would they get screwed?
Oh well, you know, if youíre a white male and youíre applying for a
job and it says, weíre only accepting resumes from minority members and
youíre going, ďIím just as qualified as the next guy, why are you
excluding me? Thatís unfair.Ē And heís absolutely right. Thatís
damn unfair, and itís because I donít have an informed opinion about
it specifically, I wouldnít be able to take a definitive stand on it one
way or another, and therefore I guess Iíd prefer not to really do so.
Okay, sure, sure. UmĖpauseĖhave you, this is something Iím
very curious about, have you had any feedback, for example, has Frank Chin
read your book?
No, probably not, I donít know.
No, eh? How do you think Frank Chin would react to your book?
Well, Iíve actually only read a few essays by Frank Chin. I donít
know. I guess if I were to venture a guess, I think heíd probably like
it, but thatís just hypothesis, so I couldnít really tell. I mean
there are certain similarities I find with my writing or certain
characterizations and stuff that he writes as well. But Iíve also read
some stuff from Frank Chin, which I felt very disagreeable about. Iíve
actually disagreed with as well.
Iíve read a few of his diatribes against The Joy Luck Club.
People accuse me sometimes of diatribing against The Joy Luck Club,
and you know, they might be right. I donít particularly find it -- I
donít like it as a book really, personally. There were certain things
that Frank Chin wrote about The Joy Luck Club, which I also
disagreed with as well. Can I point out some specifics at this point?
T: I probably, no I actually canít cause it was a while ago since Iíve actually read it. All I know is that in general when we write and we invest a certain amount of passion in our writing, itís almost a direct result of our own personal way of looking at things, our own personal perspectives and the things that have happened to us, probably when we were a lot younger. Maybe good things or traumatic things and stuff like that. I mean with Banana Boys it was absolutely true. A lot of what I wrote in there is a direct result of a lot of the good and bad experiences Iíve had during my formative years. And itís the same thing with, I would venture to guess, with anybody else, especially, and even with Frank Chin specifically. A lot of his writing, or at least the stuff that Iíve read, is very militant and very angry. People might say something bad about certain portions of Banana Boys and theyíd be right, but at the end of the day, I donít like reading yelling and screaming all that much. I guess thatís a bit of a simplification of Frank Chinís writing, but a lot of his stuff that Iíve actually read, tends to be overwhelmingly negative and overwhelmingly bitter, I suppose.
Thereís only so much of that I personally can take, but thatís just my
Oh no, I agree with you a hundred percent. I certainly arenít comparing
you to Frank Chin. I think youíre such a more richer, complex, textured,
multi-layered author. Youíve brought to the topic of Asian Canadian
gender relations an astounding array of theories.
Well Frank Chinís far more successful than I am like in terms of
writing, so go ahead (laughs) compare.
Yeah, Frank Chin, I mean, you know, I agree with you a hundred percent.
Much of what he argues is very problematic. Are you familiar with his
diatribes against Maxine Hong Kingston?
Yes, Iím familiar with some of them, and man, itís interesting because
Iíve also read, The Woman Warrior and China Men, and The
Tripmaster Monkey. I like Maxine Hong Kingston. I find her to be a
good writer. I find some of her politics and some of her positions
Well, once again, itís been a while since Iíve actually read them and
stuff like that.
But I donít even come close to some of the positions that Frank Chin
takes on Maxine Hong Kingston. I mean she, in my opinion is a better
writer than Amy Tan. And I find that just from a pure enjoyment
standpoint. Some of her stuff is kind of difficult to read. However, the
value overall, as works, is pretty good. Iím left with a relatively
positive impression of the way she writes. Iíve read some of Frank
Chinís criticisms of her and he does have some good points. At the same
time, a lot of his good
points, have been drowned out in vitriol, in what is clearly an angry
bias. And I feel that actually detracts from his points.
Yeah, my problem with Frank Chin is, when heís attacking Maxine Hong
Kingston, what heís trying to argue for is a very militant masculinity.
He wants to revive the kung fu, martial arts, the martial Chinese male.
You know, I think um, they edited a book called Aiiieeee...
Yeah, Aiiieee, yep.
And thatís part of the task of inscribing the masculinity back into
Asian manhood. So I think itís very simplistic. Itís sort of
like all or nothing, I think, like you were saying...
Very radical. The thing is, I take Frank Chinís writings within the
context of the time it came out in. Way back at the beginning of this
interview, I talked about the birth of the Asian American movement in the
sixties. The sixties, I canít even imagine what kind of time that was.
Itís gotta be turbulent, got to be all sorts of amazing things, as well
as not so amazing things kind of happening. And as much as Iíve read
about the, you know, like the radical African American movement, the Black
Panthers and stuff like that, the anger and the rage and the violence of
those times, there are obviously certain elements of the Asian American
community, who captured upon that, those feelings specifically and
attempted to, at least, infuse it within the Asian American cause.
So being a child of the seventies and eighties, mostly the
nineties, I suppose, I canít even deign to accurately comment on that
sort of thing. But based on my understanding of those times, thatís
probably where the root of the militancy actually took place, and I can
only say that from my perspective, I canít relate to it at all. I
canít. I mean itíll be almost exactly the same thing in the sense that
there are very large, very violent anti-globalization movements, that took
place in the nineties and right now. Those are movements and methodologies
that I cannot relate to at all either. I canít, I canít. I mean, I can
understand the message and I
can understand what theyíre saying, but I canít relate to heaving
bricks thrown through windows and stuff like that. However, they grew up
with it. They grew up with the battle, the militaristic sort of context,
and perhaps they have a point, but I canít see it.
Okay. Would you support them?
The anti-globalization movement?
No, not the violent aspects of it. I mean I can see why, from a very
intellectual standpoint, why that would actually occur. Just like I could
actually see from an intellectual standpoint why, someone like Frank Chin
can be as militant as he can be. I read a very interesting fragment of his
writing and he said, ďitís like life is war. War is life. Weíre all
soldiers in life and we are all at war.Ē Or something like that. And this battle is against
this, and you know, and itís interesting because I can certainly relate
to certain aspects of it, at the same time, the actual targets of his
criticisms, stuff like that, I had to disagree with at certain lengths.
Itís, itís interesting.
Yeah. Do you agree, are you familiar with this notion of racist love? He
says Chinese, weíre the object of racist love, white people love us
because we are such model minorities
Right and he dismisses the whole Amy Tan writing as, or Maxine Hong
Kingston, as pathological white
racism embodied by auto-racism. Holy jeez, you know, (laughter) first off
thatís a mouthful, ok? And if youíre looking for accessibility and
people to be sympathetic with you, you do not use language like that.
Itís just not, itís not done. I suppose then it can go back to the
whole argument that you write for yourself, and this is how you feel and
this is what you write and therefore you write it. I can respect that. But
if you expect me to buy into it, thatís an entirely different thing, ok?
Just like anybody, anyone else, any other human being, there are certain
techniques of social persuasion that you have to employ to actually
convince people to subscribe to your theories.
And, Frank Chin doesnít seem to really do it. It doesnít work
Okay. Alright. Okay, so we can wrap up, let me just make sure thereís
not some pressing, burning question I donít want to forget.
Okay, can I just ask two more questions first?
Okay, what do you think about popular culture right now, the Hollywood
films, that male characters like Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Chow Yun Fat,
seem to be making inroads in Hollywood?
Oh, I think itís great.
I mean I think itís quite nice. Obviously, I donít have a very
positive perception of Hollywood as a machine overall. Like any other
system, itís corrupt. Like any other system that generates massive
amounts of money, it is all based on the notion of generating money, and
the notion of Asian masculinity does not sell, period. The notion of Asian
females being kind of exotic and sexy, that does sell. But Asian men being
the masculine sort of type, lead characters? No, not really. That being
said, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Chow Yan Fat and all that, itís definitely a
movement in the right direction, but of course youíll notice that those
patterns are all within a certain way. Theyíre all chop-stick heroes,
ok? They all use their bodies as opposed to their minds to make a point, I
suppose. Better than nothing, I suppose, but still not perfect or still
not, not acceptable.
Okay, ah, what do you think-- I was talking to a Chinese woman, she came
to Canada at the age of four, and she said she likes Jet Li, but she says
she doesnít like the way Jackie Chan is presenting himself in film.
She feels heís very over the top in acting silly and goofy, very
non-masculine in many ways, you know?
Heís a clown, heís a clown, you know? When I watch Jackie Chan films,
I enjoy them for what theyíre worth. Heís a marvelous athlete. There
have been all sorts of comparisons between him and Buster Keaton, for
example, in the sense that they use their physicality and their movements
to accentuate their comedy to great effect. For what itís worth, itís
great. Itís brilliant. Heís very good at it. But at the same time, I
mean, if you were to take it in a more serious context, perhaps an overly
serious sort of type of context, heís a clown, right? If a black man
would do a similar sort of type thing, I believe that Cuba Gooding Jr.
received criticism for his role in, umĖwhoís Crocodile Dundee?
Paul Hogan, yeah a Paul Hogan movie called Lightning Jack or I
donít remember what the movie was called, but Cuba Gooding Jr.
essentially played a character and he did all sorts of comedy, physical
comedy, period. The more political sort of detractors derided it as the
return to the days of Sambo. You know, silent black men as clowns, as
animals, and monkeys and stuff like that. Very, very strong criticism and
very violent criticism in my opinion. I can see why people would criticize
Jackie Chan for being the same thing, because once again, thereís no
intellectual rigorousness in the heroes that he presents. Itís purely
physical and itís purely for the purpose of comedy.
And comedy is very entertaining, but it doesnít really say
anything lasting in general about the character specifically. Itís like
Jim Careyís Dumb and Dumber. Do you get anything profound out of
that? No, not at all, but itís damn funny.
Yeah, I see, okay. So youíre saying thereís no Hollywood conspiracy to
emasculate Jackie Chan?
Thatís a tough question to answer. I mean itís funny whenever anyone
brings up the word conspiracy, automatically people think about things
like the Illuminati, the council of old white, old rich white men who are
sitting around the table and plotting this and that.
That is not what conspiracy means to me. A conspiracy can be a
headless system that merely propagates itself. Itís the way it is.
Itís shown to work this way and therefore it continues because it
continues to work that way without anyone challenging the status quo, ok?
That to me is a conspiracy. It may not be directly willful, but it stills
exists as an engine that just kind of moves forward in a very sinister
sort of way. Now is there a Hollywood conspiracy to emasculate Jackie
Chan? Jackie Chan is a human being like anyone else with certain talents
and certain skills. On one hand, he makes money and he wants to do what he
does, and he does what he does and heís quite good at it. Thatís the
way it is. If heís not interested in taking a more serious role, nobody
can force him to take a more serious role. If heís concerned about
padding his retirement fund, thatís fine too. Thatís his choice,
basically. The world has also, or Hollywood has also been littered by
people who have been made famous by comedic roles. Jim Careyís a perfect
example, who tried to be a lot more profound and a lot more serious and a
lot more intellectual, for example, The Majestic, which bombed. You
know, like Jim Carey in Majestic -- not funny. That sort of thing.
He achieved a certain degree of success in The Truman Show, I
suppose. But that question is very loaded (laughs). Itís not something
that can be answered fairly, I suppose.
Okay, I see, thanks, okay.
And if anything, like I said to my friend, the Asian woman who raised
that, I told her that I once read an interview with Jackie Chan and he
said he wanted to be the opposite of Bruce Lee, you know?
So that explains, thatís what he wants.
Sure, I mean without talking to Jackie Chan or knowing his motives and
stuff like that, I guess I couldnít really accurately say. Thatís
another thing, everybody has their own agenda, has an agenda that they
care about; they think this
agenda is quite important and people who donít meet this agenda, weíre
fairly quick as human beings to dismiss them, or to say well heís a
clown that works against my cause. Or this person, if youíre not with
me, youíre against me. So I rail a lot about activists who do this, but
I, just like any other human being, is guilty of the same thing. I have my
own agenda. I really do, and if I donít think about it rigorously
enough, then Iíll be guilty as anyone else to basically fall back into
Yeah I think thatís quite true. I mean one of the criticisms of the
left, is that the left canít acknowledge the fact that all human beings
are self interested. The right is premised on that, but the left has not
been able to grapple with that.
Exactly, yep, itís true, itís true. Yeah, itís very true.
Okay, I know timeís passing, timeís ticking, so last question, and
itís what I ask all of my participants. So if you donít mind Terry,
Iíd like your comments on what you think about the privatization of
education. For example, the privatization of MBA programs. I know itís a
bit off topic, but I ask everybody this. What are your feelings about when
you look at Queens and ahĖ
Wow, you know thatís a, a really, really tough one. I mean Iíll tell
you this, the general patterns that anyone who has read anything about the
battle between the left and the right from an economic standpoint,
socialism versus capitalism, and these are very, very broad sort of terms
of course, is this: the government may have the best interests of the
public in mind, but they really do fail in terms of execution and the
result is a massive amount of waste, and the private sector is very good
at efficiency. However, they just donít have the right, they donít
have the best interests of the public in mind. They donít. You know,
something as important as education, itís a very critical field in
society, just like health care and just like the environment, just like
providing clean drinking water or anything like that. I think the only
answer that we have is to explore all possibilities and perhaps come up
with a hybrid of some sort and not let one field, one side take over more
than anything else. Like a great example would be, itís so weird, one of
my favorite sayings is this, considering the jurisdictions of provincial
governments and federal governments, under no circumstances should we
elect a Liberal federal government, and in under no circumstances should
we elect a Conservative provincial government. Why? Well, because the
Federal government is in charge of our money. And most Liberal governments
are really bad with money. Thatís just the way it is. Itís a
generalization of course, but thatís the way it is. At the same time,
the provincial governments are in charge of a lot of critical ministries
that have a direct impact on public welfare like health and education and
the environment. And the Ontario Conservative government, which is
concerned about money and making profit or making cuts, has no business,
like giving us the $200 back while cutting down our microbiology labs from
three to one and thus causing the Walkerton disaster or something like
that. So I donít know, I mean itís a really tough question. I think
that no current critical ministry at this point is sustainable. Healthcare
is certainly not sustainable the way it is. The education system I would
also have to say is also not sustainable the way it is. But a pure
privatization sort of type agenda would not work. Theyíre talking about
vouchers in the school system right now. All weíre doing is basically
stratifying education and itís gonna end up like the States. Fuck, you
know, thatís terrible. Itís not working down in the States, itís
just not. A Philadelphia school board has contracted out most of the
running of its schools to private corporations? And they went broke! They
Oh my god.
People, theyíre shutting down schools because they went broke. Their
shareholders are not getting paid. They went broke. Privatization may lend
itself to more efficiencies, but it doesnít mean that things are gonna
still be run well. There is still such thing as mismanagement in the
private sector. I think we have to find some sort of hybrid between public
governance and private efficiency in order to make a system that just
works, because at the end of the day, we just need a system that works,
and can sustain itself, or sustain itself for a long period of time, until
we can review it. (side note: Iíd
just like to add that government regulation usually turns private concerns
away from the business Ė look at air travel.
What a fucked up, over-regulated mess.
We have to find a way to compensate private industry for having
them accept regulation for the public interest Ė maybe serious tax
Okay, alright, thank you, thank you and that, ah, concludes my interview
with, no doubt about it, in my opinion, Canadaís greatest contemporary
Oh man (laughs).
No doubt about it. Cheers. Thank you.
T: Thanks for having me out.