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Movie Review: My American Vacation

I don’t think anybody wants or plans to become a racist.

I don’t know if it’s become national news, but in case you haven’t heard last Sunday after the Puerto Rican Day parade here in NYC several women were sexually molested by gangs of Hispanic men in Central Park. The TV news here has been running videotape of the incident ad naseum. From what it looks like the tops of women were ripped off as they had to pass through a gauntlet of thugs pawing and grabbing at their breasts. It’s completely horrifying to watch. And the news is showing the tape because the incident was recorded by several of the cretins who attacked the women.

On the day of the parade, I did take a train into Manhattan to see a movie, generally against my better judgement. Not because I thought I was going to get attacked or hurt in any way by any Puerto Ricans, but just because it was a mob scene and the trains were packed and severely delayed (I barely made it to my movie in time).

I remember coming home the subway car I was squeezed into had a high density of young Hispanic males, wearing tank tops, cut-off shorts and bandanas with the Puerto Rican flag on them. They were loud and obnoxious, blaring music on a boombox, blowing whistles, shouting in good spirits at one another. I was more than slightly annoyed and groaned and rolled my eyes at their antics, but to keep myself in check I thought to myself, “It’s just a cultural thing.” Just because I’m not proud to be anything, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t celebrate their heritage. If it had been March 14th instead of June 11th, the car could have been filled with rowdy Irishmen.

Also, the night before, I was wandering my neighborhood with my friend Becky and we walked by the semi-dilapidated park a couple blocks from my house. Some Puerto Ricans were starting the celebration early. One corner of the park was packed with Hispanic families holding a nighttime barbecue. And the ground was a complete garbage pit. The grass was littered with paper plates, chicken bones, potato chip bags, soda cans and tons of beer bottles and empty beer case boxes. It was absolutely disgusting. But then Becky and I walked to the other end of the park where there was a greenmarket during the day and in this area, devoid of Puerto Ricans, the grass was clear and the garbage cans were full.

The park’s weekend greenmarket is mostly a white, yuppie-ish type of attraction. Now, since this area was nicely cleaned up and the barbecue area was a mess, there seemed to be only one logical conclusion: Puerto Ricans are pigs. There was the evidence staring us right in the face.

But of course, that is not the only one logical conclusion, as Becky was apt to point out. The fact that these Puerto Ricans disgraced the park is not necessarily the result of a cultural disposition, but of an economic one. If this had not been a celebration of Puerto Ricans, but instead a pre-White Trash Day party the park would have been equally obliterated.

So, I don’t want to also fall into the trap thinking at all Hispanics are monsters based on the actions on one crowd of degenerates. But it’s hard to see an automobile with a Puerto Rican flag flying on the antenna as it passes by me in the street and not think of those videotaped images of gleeful young Hispanic men ripping the clothes off of terrified, humiliated women. And it’s going to be awhile before I will feel comfortable standing next to a Hispanic youth on the subway platform, sit near one in the park or pass by one on the sidewalk. I will see the potential molester in each of them. I will need to remind myself that I have seen tons of white serial killers on TV, but that has not made me fearful of every white person I see. And that though pictures of the Columbine High School killers were on TV ad naseum at about the same time last year, the sight of every white teenager does not send cold shivers down my back.

And now for a lighter, racial topic:

MY AMERICAN VACATION is about a 70-year-old Chinese woman who comes from China to drive across America with her two daughters, one son-in-law and granddaughter in an RV. I saw VACATION at a special New Filmmakers screening at the Anthology Film Archives that was honoring Asian Americans. Before VACATION screened, there was a short program of 10 3-minute films made by an Asian American filmmakers collective.

I’ve been going to the New Filmmakers series at the Anthology for almost a month now and the Asian American program was the most packed night of them all. The theater was stuffed with Asian Americans. While there were a few of us Caucasians there and maybe a couple blacks, I would say 75% of the almost sold out 250-seat theater was Asian-oriented. And as I waited outside before the film, there seemed to be a real sense of community among these Asians. I don’t know if it was just because they were all part of the Asian American film community or if many of them were not film people but were there to support Asian American culture.

But, this was in contrast to the previous week that was celebrating Irish film. Though the Anthology heavily promoted the “Asian American” program, it wasn’t even mentioned that there was going to be a special “Irish” night. But when all the shorts and the feature screened, they were all Irish films (either Irish or Irish American). Not only that, but the Irish film screening was seriously less attended than the Asian American night.

No real point to this I guess, but it was an odd contrast that I couldn’t help but to notice.

Anyway MY AMERICAN VACATION is a great flick and I hope it gets a wider release than special screenings like this. I think now it’s making the festival rounds and I hope it gets picked up for wide distribution eventually. It may not be months until you see the flick at your local multiplex, but keep the name in the back of your head and when you do hear that it’s playing check it out. It’s funny, cute and sad. A little sappy and gooey, but most of the time hits the nail on the head.


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