In Chinese folk religion, ‘土地公 (tou di gong)’ or ‘earth deities’ are patron deities tied to a plot of land. Neighborhood temples in Taiwan will often have a shrine dedicated to their local ‘tou di gong’ where the community can turn to for blessings, grievances, or prayer.
Little Altars to Little Gods asks the question “What happens when we leave our homeland, crossing oceans and borders?” As immigrants building new lives thousands of kilometers away, how do we continue to communicate with our ‘tou di gong’? Can they hear us from all the way across the Pacific? Are we able to bring them with us when we leave? Or do we find new ‘tou di gong’ wherever we arrive? When we construct new altars, who are we speaking to? Who is listening?
ESL (English as a Second Language)
A durational performance in learning to bake bread daily from scratch over the course of one month. Growing up in the U.S. I was asked to give up my mother tongue in exchange for grammatically correct English spoken free of an undesirable accent, unlike that of both my parents. What is the difference between a 'native' and a 'native speaker'? What are the ways in which language simultaneously liberates and oppresses? How are the forces of assimilation and cultural erasure present and enacted in the miseducation of the public school systems in the U.S.?
Yellow (Dear Scarjo,)
Durational performance in which I apply progressively thicker layers of white paint in an effort to attain the fairer features favored in Western beauty standards. Bleaching creams, whiteners, and skin lightening products overwhelm the global cosmetic market, with multi-billion dollar profits made in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Internalized racism drives the desperate yet futile desire to make my skin appear whiter, and in doing so, achieve a higher degree of status through proximity to whiteness.
An unnamed figure dressed in a factory uniform, à la Foxconn, resurfaces my face in yellow each time. The impersonal actions of the paint roller functionally condemns me to my yellowness, as did the stereotypes about Asians that rushed forth to meet me when my family first immigrated to the U.S.
As this process repeats, the layers of the paint thicken until facial details become unidentifiable. The violent erasure of Asian-ness enacted by white Hollywood through whitewashing and yellow-face is fuel that perpetuates the cycle of internalized racism. The pursuit and false premise of proximity to whiteness dehumanizes us and obliterates the tools of personhood, just as this cycle of painting degrades my identity.
YELLOW (Dear Scarjo,)
Make America White Again
In the wake of our current POTUS and his effort to follow through on his campaign promises, people of color from all backgrounds experienced an exponential influx of overt racial harassment and violence at the hands of white supremacists. As Trump made his vow to "Make America Great Again," people of color across the country braced themselves for his true intention - to make America white again. This fear of being discriminated against more intensely on a systematic level throughout all branches of U.S. government leads people of color, particularly immigrant families, to question the role of cultural identity in this uncertain political landscape. We are forced to choose between defending diversity, or conforming to a set of standards that demands the white-washing of our sense of self. I use plastic water basins, a standard fixture in working class immigrant Chinese households, to launder and bleach color from what should have been a symbol of unity amongst separate bodies of people.
Make America White Again
“The waves are strong, but I am not afraid” - This first line in a Taiwanese children’s fishing song parallels the trans-Pacific immigrant journey. This song, once a traditional folk song of the indigenous Amis tribe, has been incorporated into a children's rhyme with cultural persistence that transcends borders to reach even distant diaspora.
Plastic baggies of goldfish crackers and Swedish fish commonly found in a first grader's packed lunch hang from the ceiling to reference Taiwanese night market prizes won from children's games, as well as a metaphor for the self-isolating microcosms of Chinatowns. Red and gold foil ghost money, traditionally burned as an offering to one’s ancestors, hangs as haunting obstacles for dancers that step between the driftwood.
Altars to Chinese folk religion deities, often seen in Chinese restaurants, are recreated in objects of Americana. Blue eyed dolls stand in place of patron deities, an allusion to Toni Morrison's Bluest Eye whose themes on the indoctrination of European beauty standards are felt by immigrant and minority children to this day. Glowsticks substitute for incense, an object in which the act of burning symbolizes respect and is thus rendered ineffective when replaced by chemical phosphorescence. Hand-sewn and crocheted accents replace the traditionally reverent lacquer and gold leaf.
Growing up as a Taiwanese immigrant in America, one of the most immediate conflicts between Eastern culture and the Western world was reconciling traditions dictated by the lunar calendar and their incompatibility with the Gregorian calendar. My people's moon-worship is a bald mark of Otherness. By attempting to participate in my family's traditions, I am involuntarily rendering myself unrelatable to my white peers.
The making of mooncakes, a Chinese pastry traditionally eaten to celebrate the mid-autumn harvest moon, is a nearly-forgotten art being lost to factory production due to its labor intensive process. Although I long to learn the recipes of my heritage, in the landscape of the assimilation and The American Dream, I am teacherless and equipped with the wrong ingredients. Even as I return to Taiwan, my home country, I am yet still haunted by McDonald's imperialism, their insidious cultural globalization, and the literal manifestation of the Big Mac Index.
Greenhouses represent the idea that it is possible to artificially generate and suspend an environment that sustains life. Life that could not otherwise exist displaced from its natural environment. This simulated biome is a way to keep my culture alive in a land thousands of miles and an ocean apart from my birthplace. Sustaining this synthetic ecosystem requires endless energy and the will to feed and maintain structures that fight to keep the natural world out.
Where is the line between sanctuary and captivity? In my struggle to preserve the culture of the rural mountainside farmers in Cha Yuan, China, am I safeguarding it, or am I condemning it?
By using rice, a geographically tied crop, I want to highlight the realities of my father’s rural mountainside subsistence farm existence and pit it against the landscape of the American bourgeoisie in which I was raised.
Requesting Google Maps directions to my father's rice farm in China from my childhood home in Queens brought me a ruthless blue line drawn across half the globe, highlighting a route opposite that which my father took as a refugee of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The mercilessness with which this line cuts across the landscape of the U.S. and the Pacific Ocean calls to mind the path that generations of immigrants have traversed in search of hope and opportunity, reducing the humanity of refugees to the navigation patterns of migratory animals.
The audio recites an automatic translation taken from Google Translate. The original English text of a letter to my parents is first mistranslated into Chinese, and then retranslated into English. The result is a warped and degraded version of the original. This exercise in translation demonstrates the failures of automated translation; an act of violence and micro aggression that neglects the human element of communication.
KA LA O K
As a first generation Taiwanese-American immigrant, I perform KA LA O K (Chinese phonetic pronunciation of karaoke) using classic songs from my parent's generation, revealing my Chinese illiteracy and my failure to fulfill my outwardly perceived cultural identity. In this act I am functionally appropriating my own culture while being "othered" by both white America and my fellow Taiwanese citizens.
KA LA O K
A collaborative zine exploring the fallout of gentrification, neighborhood by neighborhood. Yelp reviews for local small businesses are translated from English to the two dominant languages spoken by the minority population. These reviews, left by both generations-old locals and new white gentrifiers, reveal the tensions between the changing tides of residents in this age of housing development crisis in New York City. This first edition centers around Red Hook, what once was the most dangerous neighborhood in the U.S., but has since been transformed from a homicide-ridden industrial hub to a hotbed of development with the rise of arts and culture in the area. The neighborhood now houses artists' studios, galleries, a residency, and has even been a location for destination weddings. As is often the case, the arrival of art has open the floodgates to gentrification. More editions to come focusing on countless other NYC neighborhoods that have been affected by gentrification.
A study in the failures of institutional medical care that only fulfills the minimum physical requirements to sustain life, while considering the role of women in providing hospice care within the cultural family hierarchy. The goldfish tank is presented as an allegory for artificially generated environment that acts as both sanctuary and captivity. Yard upon yard of crocheted yarn hangs beside the tank as testimony on the futility of a caretaker at the bedside.
Voices heard are recordings of three generations of women in my family, all of whom have descended from a legacy of Confucian values.