Tuesday July 17, 2018
Home U.S.A. New Documenta...

New Documentary “Off the Menu: Asian America” by filmmaker Grace Lee explores how food how food reflects stories of varied communities

Lee has seen a change in Americans' awareness of Asian cuisine over the past few decades since she grew up in Columbia, Missouri, one of a very few Asian families

0
//
187
"Off the Menu" explores how Asian cuisine spices up America's melting pot. Image source: VOA
Republish
Reprint

For much of the 20th century, for many Americans, Asian food meant chop suey or chow mein or other Chinese-style dishes. No longer – Americans may now choose from restaurants featuring Japanese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Burmese and other Asian cuisines.

In her documentary Off the Menu: Asian America, Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee traveled off the beaten path to explore how food reflects an evolving Asian Pacific America. “How food tells the story of our communities and that’s what we were going for with the film,” she explains.

Lee has seen a change in Americans’ awareness of Asian cuisine over the past few decades since she grew up in Columbia, Missouri, one of a very few Asian families. “We sort of kept our kimchi to ourselves in our basement refrigerator. And we never exposed it to anybody. But now kimchi is so popular. As we say in the film, (chefs are) putting it on quesadillas, on burgers, it’s like a condiment like sriracha.”

For "Off the Menu," filmmaker Grace Lee explored Asian-American cuisine in 4 U.S. cities. Image source: VOA
For “Off the Menu,” filmmaker Grace Lee explored Asian-American cuisine in 4 U.S. cities. Image source: VOA

Tofu in Texas, curry in Wisconsin

Tofu is another recent popular addition to the American menu, showing up in unexpected places – like Texas, where Gary Chiu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, runs Banyan Foods, the oldest tofu factory in the state. “In 2000 we started doing tofu eggrolls,” he told Lee, “In 2005, we started doing tofu tamales, which is an Asian Tex-Mex fusion.”

Follow NewsGram on Twitter

Lee says Chiu’s family business is an example of how Asian Americans have adapted to other cultures. “It may not be authentically Chinese or authentically Mexican, because of the ingredient of tofu, but it does reflect their existence as Asian Americans in Texas where there is a Tex-Mex culture, Tex-Mex food, and actually in the factory most of the employees are Latino. So they’re also sort of fusing together their cultures.”

At the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Lee visited the scene of the 2012 shooting, where a gunman killed six people during a racially motivated rampage. When the tragedy occurred, the Sikh community was preparing for langer, a communal meal open to everyone.

Members of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, prepare a communal meal for the community. Image source: VOA
Members of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, prepare a communal meal for the community. Image source: VOA

Today, temple members continue to make and share the free communal meal. They say it’s helped to heal the community and also feed it spiritually. “We believe that the reason why food is important is because you can’t pray, you can’t be in tune in with God, unless your belly is full,” one temple member says in the film. Another explains, “We are not scared of anybody coming to gurdwara (temple). So still our doors are open, our hearts are open, our langer is open for them. And we feel honored when they come to us and join with us in our langer.”

Off the Menu ends its journey in Hawaii, where most of the state’s food is now imported. But it wasn’t always like that. These days, some Native Hawaiians continue to gather food just like their ancestors. Hi’ilei Kawelo learned how to do it from her father, Gabby Kawelo. She says being able to carry on their cultural traditions is an important part of her identity, and preserving their island way of life means a lot to her family.

Follow NewsGram on Facebook

“When we do family luau, we still gather everything ourselves,” she said. “The whole point of a luau is that a family comes together and you’re pulling the resources that’s either grown or harvested. And so when you eat it, you’re eating the essence of all the skills passed down from generation to generation. And you take that bite of that food and you’re eating that. Food has mana (spiritual power). … You can taste the love and the history behind that food.”

Food as a connection

Off the Menu: Asian America captures the role food plays in peoples’ lives, connecting family, culture and community. Broadcast nationally on PBS, the film is now available on DVD. It is also being shown internationally, as part of theAmerican Film Showcase. Co-produced by the Center for Asian American Media(CAAM) and the San Francisco public TV station KQED, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, filmmaker Grace Lee hopes Off the Menugives people a better understanding of the evolving experience of Asian Pacific Americans. (VOA)

ALSO READ:

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 NewsGram

Next Story

Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

0
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)