My America (...or Honk If You Love Buddha)

on January 01, 1997 by Kim Williamson
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   A road movie memoir, this documentary on being Asian in America is an interesting conglomeration of found and fool's gold. Born in an America that when she was little allowed her family to "drive for days" without seeing another Oriental face, narrator/filmmaker Renee Tajima-Pena (PBS' "Who Killed Vincent Chin?") concentrates on finding her people's place, and through that her place, in the multicultural melting pot of the USA of the '90s. Aside from targeting for an interview the actor Victor Wong, who she mistakenly believes played the lead in "Chan Is Missing," Tajima-Pena takes an apparently rambling route through the States, hitting San Francisco, New York's Chinatown, New Orleans, Duluth, Seattle and Los Angeles in cinematic succession.
   Linked on a map, that itinerary roughly describes an infinity symbol; although the result is far more finite in accomplishment, Tajima-Pena and her producer, Quynh Thai (ABC's "Day One"), seem blessed by serendipity, as virtually each new location provides them with a chance interviewee with a unique story to tell. Their tales, however, hint at a depth of theme--life itself--that cuts far deeper than do the conerns of "My America..." itself, making the film seem comparatively insubstantial. Although Tajima-Pena once admits this in her onscreen narration, the fault line separating the story she wants to tell and the people's stories that are out there to tell remains never far from view. On the Richter scale, the problem ranks at about 4.0--not a killer quake, but enough to do some damage. Fortunately, Tajima-Pena's always sunny telling makes reparation.    Featuring Victor Wong. Narrated, directed and written by Renee Tajima-Pena. Produced by Renee Tajima-Pena and Quynh Thai. An SAI release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 87 min.
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