Just a thought.

October 23, 2007, 8:11 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve finally left the welt on the seat I’ve been sitting on for the past month and a half. It feels real good, and I hope I can keep it running for a while. I just have to have them red shells around me at all times. I feel like I have to mark this milestone with something, and thus, I’ve been thinking of getting plugs for not one but both my earlobes. It’s definitely a deliberated decision, and if I do make it (which I hope I do) I’m gunna have to face the fam when I get home. I don’t think it’ll be too much of a big deal, but I worry about what this may imply to them in their heads. This mark has to be a compromise, because it is that time for compromise, but in the end I have to do this for myself. 

It is written and it shall be done.


October 15, 2007, 2:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Jarrett Bato

ES100 – Final Paper

May 10, 2007

An analysis of Galang’s Figures and Gary of Okada’s No-No Boy: Hyphenated Identities in Characters who are Artists

Authors writing from a hyphenated identity are frequently viewed less as artists and more as victims narrating their lives largely due to the brooding, narcissistic, or sarcastic tones embedded into their prose. This is explicitly shown in the short stories of M. Evelina Galang and the novel, No-No Boy, by John Okada. However, within the somber prose exists critical social commentary as these authors skillfully demonstrate the largely internal existential battles that their vividly sculpted and complex characters constantly deliberate over. Questions of identity closely follow rigorous existential reflection and both Galang and Okada’s stories are able to extensively explore the frontiers of identity that are available to Japanese-Americans and Filipina-Americans. The interactions of these complex characters with their immediate American environment continuously implies their degree of involvement, or a measure of Americanness, to the accepted way of life in the United States. The deliberation of whether to maintain the strand they still have connecting their characters to their native culture is relentlessly tested and deftly portrayed in the seemingly quotidian imagery Galang and Okada employ. Specifically, it seems these authors both agree that the space occupied in the hyphen is explicitly defined when a hyphenated identity like Filipino-Americans and Japanese-Americans decide to identify themselves as artists. In Galang’s story Figures, an aging woman finally accepts that she is only fulfilling the stereotypical individualism by identifying herself as a painter. Even though she felt that a unique identity meant becoming an artist, she also finds that the artist mindset necessarily pulls her away from her family and the possibility of her starting one of her own. Okada presents a similar character in No-No Boy, an artist who of his own will decides to paint signs for the local rehabilitation center, thinking it as simply a way for him to exist in America while he pursues his artistic goals in his own time. He does not seek help for his mental problems in the rehabilitation center, and yet cannot find any other place that can, with no questions asked, accept him for who he is. Okada and Galang present these characters as individuals who are critically aware of the prejudice attached to the color of their skin; therefore, they ultimately choose the role of the artist as something they can call their own. Though, the fates of these characters imply that Okada and Galang still feel that these roles don’t completely liberate hyphenated identities, and not only will they fail in attaining a comfortable sense of themselves in America, the authors imply that the individualism attached to what the characters conceive as “being an artist” separates them from reality, and more importantly, the importance of family and one’s past.

Okada presents the artist, a character named Gary, late in No-No Boy as a final test of logic for the main character, Ichiro. After contemplating his situation in jail for willingly denying the draft in U.S.’s participation in WWII, Ichiro has been searching for answers of how he may be able to truly live among Americans, Japanese veterans who now think themselves as Americans, and the Japanese who simply live in America. Apparently, Gary represents one of the last living evidence of this compromise, now that Kenji, a veteran who served as Okada’s literal symbol of compromise, had passed away. Ichiro had heard of Gary living well despite being a “No-No” boy himself, and decided to see for himself how he is able to make that compromise and live. Gary explicitly describes his experiences as he talks about how he deals with the relentless mental battles that Ichiro now experiences.

“It was good, the years I rotted in prison. I got the lead out of my ass and the talk out of my system. I died in prison. And when I came back to life, all that really mattered for me was to make a painting. I came home and said hello to the family and tried to talk to them, but there was nothing to talk about. I didn’t stay.” (Okada 223-224)

Gary talks about an artist consciousness that was born out of the mental stress in dealing with a hyphenated identity. But instead of critically exploring the available options as Ichiro was doing, Gary extinguishes his natural tendency to talk “about life and sex and philosophy and history and music and real art” (223) and vows to direct that energy to the creation of art. However, given the chance to work with Gary at the rehab center, Ichiro ultimately decides to turn down the job. Seeing that Gary is alone and without familial support is not the future Ichiro wants. Gary is even hinted to be a little paranoid when he “[lives] on borrowed time… Makes one a bit anxious, of course, but there’s a peace about it that takes away all the ordinary fears of getting hurt or dying.” (226) This implies an escape rather than a substantive answer to Ichiro, comparative to the fast life that another character, Freddie, upholds. Okada describes Freddie’s life akin to “being on a pair of water skis, skimming over the top as long as one traveled at a reasonable speed, but, the moment [Freddie] slowed down or stopped; [he] was to sink into the nothingness that offered no real support.” (201) Okada thus includes commentary about the mental individuality attached to the role of an artist that detaches oneself from one’s past in an effort to liberate identity. Rather than becoming a painter like Gary, Okada shapes Ichiro into a character that ultimately has the strength and faith to strive for a better life in America while still holding on to his Japanese past.

In Galang’s short story Figures, an artist named Ana is a character similar to Gary, but embodies a more critical perspective like Ichiro. Ana is a Filipina-American nude painter coming out of a failed relationship who finds herself increasingly anxious of what seems like the smothering of her artistic lifestyle at the onset of her developing relationship with her new boyfriend, Harold. Galang similarly provides commentary on the individualistic lifestyle of an artist because Ana is a painter who tends to keep to herself. In contrast to Ana’s sister, who has already started a family, Ana would rather put off having to sacrifice the time she would have to herself creating her art. Ana’s sister would say “sometimes it gets frustrating, but that’s part of family life… [they’re] always here.” (Galang 101) when all Ana could do is shudder in contemplation of never having time to be alone. Galang first shows Ana’s anxiety when she decides to draw Harold while he’s asleep. “In the morning, she realized that the drawings looked nothing like Harold. She had drawn him out of proportion.” (100) This shows how her artistically driven mind doesn’t see Harold in the same way she feels about him. The artist inside Ana finds the need to exaggerate or de-emphasize certain features of Harold to fit a certain artistic perspective. This perspective was also beginning to control how she viewed the world. Galang then forces Ana to critically analyze her fear of settling down with the viewing another artist’s nude photograph gallery. Ana’s conversation with Geni, the photographer, would reveal that she “only shoots couples. [She] styles the bodies together like they’re props.” (104) Given that, Ana is spurred to finish her long term project of her own nude self-portrait, “but she was often so upset, the lines and colors of her canvas body would slip from her control – grow ripe in places meant for slender lines, and areas that required shading, depth and light, grew static, two-dimensional. The portrait went nowhere.” (105) Galang shows that Ana’s attempt to draw herself in a way that would satisfy her artistic taste would clash with the reality of her actual self. Eventually, she would have an epiphany.

“She imagined [her and Harold] lying side by side, touching bone to bone, joint on joint, her spine to his stomach. They were a perfect fit. Breathing brought them closer together. She remembered them in tandem. All night long, in tandem. She remembered hearing the eternal tick of a clock and feeling palpitations.… She imagined they were one of Geni’s portraits. She tried to remember the last time they were together, was it the way she remembered it, or was this memory like those night time drawings of Harold?” (105-106)

This quote accurately portrays the binary of imagination and memory that Ana had to cope with in order to compromise the idea of “settling down” and her artistic life. Her memory gives her plenty of reasons for her to settle down and abide to her mother’s voice in her head saying, “You are not trying. You must try.” (103) Galang then portrays the intense tension between first and second generation Filipinos with Ana’s role in Figures. Her inner artist has chosen a creative life in nude paintings, and yet her personal life is muddled with a break-up that she continues to think about during her new relationship and her honest desire to settle down much like her sister. The fact that her mother’s voice still resounds when considering leaving Harold signifies how she longs to still keep family close even in pursuit of art. Galang thus stretches the ability of her characters like Ana to pursue very American pursuits, such as art or love, while simultaneously struggling to preserve the values that inherently stem from family, and consequently her Filipina identity as well. In this case, Ana goes as far as living the artist’s life but necessarily returns to her roots once she begins to consider the importance of her personal relationships.

Figures and No-No Boy may evoke brooding feelings, but they are feelings nonetheless, despite being perceived as mere victim narratives. Instead, Galang and Okada produced their stories with a purpose to preserve a saturated memory of time and emotion; thus, their novels reflect less an example of artistic ability and more a piece overflowing with historical meaning. This meaning preserved the harsh reality that a hyphenated public identity wrought on the Japanese-American or the Filipino-American, but mostly provided hope to readers of similar backgrounds to an existence that is unique and is in the process being forged and expanded. The Filipino-American and Japanese-American identity is strengthened with the growing appreciation of these novels. Showing that hyphenated identities can embody more than artists with the characters Ana and Gary, Okada and Galang also portray the tensions between first and second generation immigrants as inherently American. The conflict of first generation’s dreams in America with the reality of the second generation rebelliously flaunt gave rise to a new identity, whose story is documented in Okada and Galang’s prose. What sets these authors apart is how they were able to predict the tensions encountered by a role that is most comfortable in his or her environment: the Filipino-American and Japanese-American artist. Thus, these stories imply liberation from a public identity without sacrificing the historical and cultural facets that built it up in the first place. It implies that in the so-called land of opportunity, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t demand a detachment to history. Additionally, a measure of Americanness does not imply submission to a status quo, but a deep faith in possibility and hope.

October 5, 2007, 7:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I guess I should put up a post since whenever I’m in this mood, the frequency of blogging degenerates to monthly. EH whatever. 

I wish I had a life coach. We’d have tea together at 7p.m. and talk about our progress in reaching nirvana. I got Nirvana’s album Nevermind today, too. It brings back memories, haha.