“Living in the Shadows of Exclusion” follows the lives of four longtime Asian American gay and lesbian families as they speak out on marriage and Marriage Equality in the face of California’s virulent Proposition 8 campaign. Narrating stories and experiences that personalize these issues for general audiences, they speak of life and love and the challenges they faced under Prop 8, the U.S. federal Defense of Marriage Act, and U.S. immigration laws that have historically devastated LGBTQ bi-national families. The narrative culminates in the historic events of the June 26, 2013 Supreme Court rulings, which struck down DOMA and repealed Proposition 8. The new updated and extended version provides rarely seen historic documentary footage of these events and should prove to be an important part of San Francisco, as well as California, Asian American, LGBTQ and immigrant history.
Families include Prop 8 litigants, Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, whereby Gaffney’s parents were one of the earliest Chinese Caucasian interracial couples to marry in California soon after the landmark 1948 Perez v. Sharp ruling, overturning California’s anti-miscegenation laws; and Filipina/o bi-national couple, Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado, whereby Tan faced the threat of deportation which would break up their family of 27 years and separate her from her partner and their twin teenage sons. Other families include Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women Transgender Coalition (APIQWTC) co-founder Crystal Jang and Sydney Yeong, and longtime Japantown residents and restauranteur Kenneth Kaji and Ryoji Imaizumi, as they recount the challenges faced by LGBTQ families with children, and senior LGBTQ couples.
(Or Why I Made This Film . . . )
While this project is important and timely, it is also a deeply personal one. As a first generation Chinese American immigrant from Hong Kong whose family emigrated in 1964, my family was one of the earliest Chinese families to be reunited in America after eight decades of Asian Exclusion laws and extended immigrant national quotas, that have for generations denied the Chinese and other Asians the rights of citizenship and kept Asian husbands and wives and families apart. Even though I am a first generation immigrant, my family has been in this country for five generations, each generation a first generation unable to bring their wives and families with them, who lived separate lives for decades and sometimes even entire lifetimes, thousands of miles apart. In 1964, when my family emigrated, my father was 37 years old, married with 6 children, when he finally met his father for the first time in New York.
As a Chinese American lesbian in a committed relationship for over 19 years, we have experienced the elation of marriage on the state level only to have it be abruptly taken away and challenged. It is only now that federal recognition of our relationship is potentially within our sights. As we have struggled to start a family for over 10 years, we realize even today there is no Asian country that recognizes gay marriages or the rights of gays to adopt children. As an Asian American immigrant, whose families are often sponsored by Christian and missionary organizations and dependent on these groups for networks of social welfare and community in the host society, I have siblings who are Mormons, Fundamentalist Baptists, and Catholics. While many of us are individually out to our respective families, what I realize more often than not, is that our Asian American families do not have the support or the resources to be out to the larger ethnic and religious communities in which they live, work and socialize.
As an Asian American and a gay person in this country, I realize more often than not, we do not have access to our Asian history, or our Asian American history or our gay history let alone our Asian American Gay history. I hope this project is but one step towards creating better understanding in all our communities.
~ Anna Eng
Social documentarian and ethnographer, Anna Eng is a lecturer in Women and Gender and Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. She is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in Asian American/ Ethnic, Women, Gender and LGBTQ Studies. An avid student and scholar of political and social movements, and immigration history, her research explores the history of working class Asian American relations of family, gender and sexuality during the Asian immigration exclusion years. She holds an MA in American Studies and BA’s in Theatre Arts and Computer Science as well as postgraduate work in Cinematography and Film. With an extensive background in theater and film stemming back over 35 years, Ms. Eng credits the successful fruition of this, her first documentary, to the democratizing effects of technological advances that allows independent filmmakers the financial freedom to pursue projects they are passionate about.
With additional funding a full-length feature version of the film can be created for broadcast and DVD markets utilizing footage that has already been shot, as well as, enabling the inclusion of additional historical materials. Additional sections of the film explore the couples’ heartfelt expressions and experiences of “coming out,” building families and finding community. Additional historical development will allow the film to better illustrate the parallels between racist, gendered sexual images used to legitimate and rationalize Asian American Exclusion laws of the late 19th and early 20th century against more recent images used in the Proposition 8 campaign which similarly criminalizes and constructs as deviant the LGBTQ community, allowing us to better examine the effects these laws had on Asian American families then and LGBTQ families today. Solidifying historic parallels and commonality of experience will help to more solidly ground LGBTQ struggles as a civil rights one.
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