Memoirs of a Superfan, Volume 7.7: Nothing Short

by Ravi Chandra, M.D.
March 16, 2012

I sing America, from pro-life to grow lights.

I sing America.

Joseph Cao sings America – former Republican Congressman from Louisiana, who strived for a time to bridge the gap between our polarities, before being reined back in.  S. Leo Chiang’s portrait of Cao (Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, playing again this weekend in San Jose with Cao and family in attendance) speaks to this wound – of an Asian American immigrant, child of war and unspoken loss, struggling to be whole again in this new country, struggling to make wholeness through politics.

One of my good friends, a passionate activist, recently told me she was an activist because “politics is about healing”.  My jaw dropped as I disagreed.  “Are you kidding me?  Seems more like a meat grinder.”  Maybe even the disease, rather than the cure.  I’m glad there are some politicians who seem to be interested in the medicinal quality of their work, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm.  Or perhaps many enter for that reason, and then find themselves mired in the disease, the game, the muck.

Art is often about healing.  You don’t become an artist without having some kind of wound – “without the wound, there’s no reason for the journey”, as I’ve written elsewhere.  Art is transformative.  I would paraphrase Eli Kimaro’s father, Sadikiel Kimaro, as he pondered the discussions raised by her film (A Lot Like You) and journey (which just won the 2012 Jury Award for Best Documentary at SFIAAFF).  Art is nothing short of liberating.

I sing America, from lion dancers to line dancers.

From pole dancers to prison dancers,

I sing America.

Inspired by the famous Prison Dancers of Cebu, Director Romeo Candido, Writer Carmen de Jesus, Producer Ana Serrano and their incredible cast brought a once-in-a-lifetime, simply phenomenal evening to New People Thursday night.  I was particularly struck by 15-year old Lia Yoo of Ohio, founder of a Gay Straight Alliance Club, who raised over $10,000 to help fund PRISON DANCER.  She was one of the most eloquent 15-year olds I’ve ever heard, and I just know we’ll be hearing more from her in the future.  Hey Lia, just tell us when we can vote for you or buy your books!  If you’re a politician, then politics just might be about healing.

photo by Jennifer Yin

PRISON DANCER is releasing webisodes ( and  How bizarre and strangely liberating it was to see the original Prison Dancers.  And now, to see art transformed into rehabilitation (if that’s what it was) in prison, and then re-interpreted as art once more – this is nothing short of liberation as well.  I’m probably known in these Memoirs for hyperbole and sermonizing – Stephen Gong called me “The Reverend” last night  – but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to acknowledge that we all face our prisons.  In some sense, we’ve all been prisoners, and we are all still prisoners, in this world of suffering.  The freest ones are the ones who know this, the ones who dance, anyway.

I can hear Stephen saying, “that’s just too much, Ravi, that’s too much.”

I sing America, from Prop. 8 to anti-hate,

I sing America.

There is the tender heart, the warrior heart born in response to suffering and intolerance.  How do we reconcile prejudice with love?  Perhaps with a father saying, “I love you no matter what,” to his daughter, coming out to him for the first time after college (NO LOOK PASS).  There was a good amount of “Daddy love” in this festival, including Eli Kimaro’s A LOT LIKE YOU to Patrick Wang’s IN THE FAMILY (Winner of both the Narrative Jury Award as well as the Emerging Filmmaker Award), but also harsh reminders of brutal masculinity and aggression, from Mye Hoang’s unforgettable VIETTE to Rithy Panh’s THE CATCH, and Jang Hoon’s THE FRONTLINE.  Life and film raise questions about how to be a good man, and what to avoid, to actively fight against.  These questions are nothing short of liberating.

I sing America, from umami to Obama.

I sing America.

I sing America, Ph.D. sons of janitor fathers,

refugees from Vietnam,

I sing America.

Eli Kimaro (A Lot Like You) spoke last night of how words from a village near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania resonate across Asian America, and indeed around the world.  I told her the other day that her film should be viewed by the U.N. General Assembly.  Her Aunts should be heard by the U.N. General Assembly.  We have a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but we’re still far from the actuality of their universal acceptance, and we keep creating situations that put us farther from their realization.

But there’s hope.  We are holding something dear, each one of us.  The power of expression, of agency, of the mind/heart.  The words for mind and heart are the same in many Asian languages.  Holding them together, as one – is nothing short of liberating.  I saw the promise of liberation in a young person’s experience with being deaf, in Mina Son’s MAKING NOISE IN SILENCE, winner of the Loni Ding award in Social Issues Documentary.

Thank you to all the volunteers, staff, members and fans of CAAM.  We’re 30 years into a journey, one that is really bringing us all together, hearts and minds, mind/hearts.

I sing America, the secret America,

As yet unborn.

I sing America, the America of our global hearts,

I sing America.

Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco.  You can find more of his writing and spoken word performances at  His blog for Psychology Today, The Pacific Heart, is here

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