Changing Lenses is the product of an ongoing conversation between eminent sociologist Doug Hartmann, Ph.D. and myself. In each post, we exchange what’s seen behind a camera lens and what’s seen through a sociological lens to get at the diversity of perspectives and cultivate a unique look at the human experience. Below is my perspective. Read Doug’s reaction here.
From the Archive - Chinatown Bar, San Francisco, California
Looking For Asian America: An Ethnocentric Tour (2001 - 2002)
In the nine months I spent driving through 39 American states photographing the cultural landscape, this scene as much as any reflects my confusing, idiosyncratic hyphenated American experience. I was born and formed in Duluth, Minnesota, the youngest in my family and the only one not from China. I had never even been to China. In America, the closest you could get to anything resembling my Motherland is Chinatown, and the mother of all Chinatowns is in San Francisco (sorry NYC).
Of course, this tourist-infested Chinatown with its trinkets and Buddha Bars is as authentic as Kwai Chang Caine. But it seems that a lot of how America thinks about Chinese people has to do with such faux-exotic destinations, even to a Chinese boy from Duluth. So it was with peculiar pleasure that I enjoyed an afternoon beer at this Chinatown bar (don’t recall the name) and watched Michael Jordan tearfully announce yet another retirement from the Washington Wizards.
Basketball has been a life-long passion (I’ve played in a weekly, organized pick-up game for 30 years) and to most Americans and myself there is little doubt as to which icon behind the bar we worship. Buddha however was a bit of a foreign concept to me, having been weaned on Snoopy, Mary Tyler Moore, and the Vikings. I grew up Presbyterian after all.