In 1995, in the last scene of Stolen Ground (racism towards Asian Americans), I asked each of the Asian men in the cast: What if you were facing an all-white audience … what would you say to them? There was a prolonged silence and eventually tears intertwined with a deep sense of sadness, anger and afterthoughts laced with bitterness and tender hope. What they each shared so honestly and heartfelt, stayed with me for the rest of my life, and became the impetus and inspiration for my lifelong commitment to giving a voice and reality to their hopes in all my workshops, trainings, writings and subsequent films.
Joe Lucero: Because you see me as a flip or chink or jap … that doesn’t give you the license to put me down or hurt me. Your ignorance doesn’t give you the license. So, don’t do it.
Steve Suzuki: In order to help me or other people you have to be willing to understand their community and their issues and be willing to change and take responsibility.
Michael Wong: First, I want white people to unconditionally accept whatever I say my experience with racism is, because they have never been Asian American. Secondly, the first thing when you wake up, I want you to think how your life is changed or affected by racism because that’s basically what people of color think about all the time. We live racism every day and white people believe it or not, live racism every day. And I think they need to know that. It’s not like something we own.
Lindsey Jang: I need to know if you want to help fight racism, too. That you would want to know my story, my experiences and to want to find out how you could help me through that.
John Oda: Asian people haven’t historically said anything. So, whites have gotten away with being racist around Asians. So, now there’s going to be more tension because we’re more vocal and calling more people out: whites, black people and anyone else.
As I reflected back on what they shared, their hopes are just as relevant today as they were in 1995. Perhaps their words can be a challenge and a reminder to all of us of what it will take to truly step into the “dream” that Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others had hoped for us, for our children and future generations:
“If you dream of a better world for your children and for yourself,
it will require more than putting a placard on a window.
You must decide each day to make it so,
with those you have not yet met and with those you have been taught to fear.
Until one day, when you and all those around you have changed …
So, too, the world.”