an interview with gordon pon, phd student, york university department of education.


Gordon is a PhD student working with the York University Department of Education.  He asked me for an interview on his specialty Ė anti-racism education Ė to include as research for his doctoral thesis.  The following is an edited transcript of the interviewÖ one of the best discussions Iíve had in a long time.  Thanks Gord! 

Gordon 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.

 Terry: Well thanks for having me out.

 Gordon: Thank you. Okay so Terry Iíve been wondering, I read in the Globe as I told you that youíre making a movie.

 Terry: Yes.

 G: How is that coming along?

 T: 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.

 G: 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?

 T: 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.

 G: And ah, if you say theyíre getting better, what is it that is getting better?

 T: 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 Asian Canadian.

 G: 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...

 T: 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.

 G: Can you speak to some of these methodologies that turned you off?

 T: 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, vegetarianism, anybody 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 positive.

 G: Ok, so, youíre talking about Chinese activists that are tussling with you?

 T: Asian activists.

 G: Asian activists, okay, so can you give me an example of why would one of these tussles occur, whatís at stake?

 T: 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...

 G: 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.

And, 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 myself.

 G: Okay, Terry you mentioned, the work of some social justice agencies. Terry, you mentioned, for example, the worthiness of agencies that combat institutionalized racism.

 T: Yeah.

 G: Can you tell me then what, what can you envision as an alternative to the problem you see now with the movements?

 T: 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.

 G: Yeah, okay.

 T: But you know  in terms of alternatives, I couldnít really say.

 G: 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  Banana Boys.

T: 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.

G: Yes absolutely.  

T: 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.

G: 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.

 G: And why is it that the object of his bitterness and lack of self confidence, why is the object of that, the Asian woman?

 T: 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 why.

 G: Like who, whoís not dealing with it? Whoís throwing it under the rug?

 T: Like everybody. Everybody, like you knowĖ

 G: Like the schism between Chinese males and females.

 T: 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.

 G: Yeah, oh for sure.

 T: 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 Boys.

 G: And can you talk about his view?

 T: 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).

 G: 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 colleagues.

 T: Wow.

 G: Yeah.

 T: Thatís great.

 G: 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

 T: 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.

 G: On that topic, you point out that itís like nobody talks about it.

 T: Yeah, yeah I guess.

 G: 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 discussion?

 T: 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.

 G: Would racism be one of the underlying factors?

 T: 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...

 G: 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.

 T: No Iím not.

 G: 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 Canada.

 T: Very good.

 G: 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.

 T: Right.

 G: Do you feel that the disparity between Asian men and women have a place in anti-racism education?

 T: 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.

 G: Do you feel thatís what people would say about including this?

 T: Absolutely, yeah.

 G: Like who? What people would say that?

 T: 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 vicious too.

 G: And this would be Asian activists?

 T: This could be anyone who has another agenda they deem far more important and proceed to basically derail valid discussion.

 G: 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?

 T: Oh yeah...

 G: Do you feel that, that also would impact on?

 T: 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

 G: What seems petty and spoiled?

 T: 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.

 G: Okay. (pause) Okay, Terry...how is the book being received by various communities?

 T: 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.

 G: Yeah. Excellent.

 T: 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.

 G: And do you notice any differences in, whatís the male and female reaction?

 T: No, thereís no difference.

 G: Wow.

 T: 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.

 T: 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.

 G: Okay. What is the reaction from white males?

 T: 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.

 G: Okay.

 T: 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.

 G: How? What are their supporting arguments, what are...?

 T: Iím not gonna go into it.

 G: Okay.

 T: 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.

 G: I see, okay.

 T: 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.

 G: On that topic, what do you think personally about affirmative action, or what we call in Canada, employment equity?

 T: 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.

 G: By affirmative action?

 T: Yeah.

 G: How? How would they get screwed?

 T: 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.

 G: 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?

 T: No, probably not, I donít know.

 G: No, eh? How do you think Frank Chin would react to your book?

 T: 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.

 G: Such as?

 T: 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?

 G: Yeah.

 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.

 G: Yep, yep.

 T: Thereís only so much of that I personally can take, but thatís just my opinion.

 G: 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.

 T: Well Frank Chinís far more successful than I am like in terms of writing, so go ahead (laughs) compare.

 G: 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?

 T: 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 disagreeable, umĖ

 G: Such as?

 T: Well, once again, itís been a while since Iíve actually read them and stuff like that.

 G: Sure.

 T: 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.

 G: 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.

 T: Yeah.

 G: You know, I think um, they edited a book called Aiiieeee...

 T: Yeah, Aiiieee, yep.

 G: 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...

 T: 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.

 G: Okay. Would you support them?

 T: The anti-globalization movement?

 G: Yeah.

 T: 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.

 G: 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

 T: 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?

 G: Yeah.

 T: 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 for me.

 G: Okay. Alright. Okay, so we can wrap up, let me just make sure thereís not some pressing, burning question I donít want to forget.

 T: Sure.

 G: Okay, can I just ask two more questions first?

 T: Absolutely.

 G: 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?

 T: Oh, I think itís great.

 G: Yeah?

 T: 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.

 G: 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.

 T: Sure, yep.

 G: She feels heís very over the top in acting silly and goofy, very non-masculine in many ways, you know?

 T: 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?

 G: Paul Hogan.

 T: 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.

 Gordon: Yeah, I see, okay. So youíre saying thereís no Hollywood conspiracy to emasculate Jackie Chan?

 T: 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.

 G: 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?

 T: Yes.

 G: So that explains, thatís what he wants.

 T: 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 these patterns.

 G: 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.

 T: Exactly, yep, itís true, itís true. Yeah, itís very true.

 G: 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

 T: 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 went broke!

 G: Oh my god.

 T: 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 breaks?)

 G: Okay, alright, thank you, thank you and that, ah, concludes my interview with, no doubt about it, in my opinion, Canadaís greatest contemporary writer (laughter).

 T: Oh man (laughs).

 G: No doubt about it. Cheers. Thank you.

 T: Thanks for having me out.