In mid-September, Grace Talusan, Fulbright Scholar, English professor at Tufts University in Boston, and winner of the 2017 New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction by Restless Books, contacted me to let me know that the Boston Filipino-American Club (BFAB) was going to be reading my novel, A Village in the Fields, for the month of October. Grace, whose memoir, The Body Papers, will be published in the Fall of 2018, asked if I would be willing to Skype with the members at their October 29th meeting following their traditional brunch. Absolutely, I let her and book club founder and artist Bren Bataclan know.
It’s been my belief that learning how to do something in your hometown is the most important thing.
– Pete Seeger, American folk singer and social activist
My town of El Cerrito, Calif., where I’ve lived since 1996, is celebrating its centennial this year. One of the major events for the celebration was the Showcase Parade, which featured 59 groups or distinguished individuals. I was invited to participate as a local award-winning writer. But the biggest honor was sharing the red convertible with Gail Tsukiyama, award-winning writer of eight novels and resident of El Cerrito.
Pictures say it all, so I will let them do the talking.
This coming Saturday, September 16th, I’ll be in the El Cerrito Centennial parade, riding in a convertible – red, no less – with former El Cerrito resident and author Gail Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk, The Samurai’s Garden, Night of Many Dreams, The Language of Threads, Dreaming Water, and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms). I’m honored and thrilled to be riding with her in celebration of my hometown and her former hometown’s 100th anniversary of its founding. The route starts at the Safeway on San Pablo Avenue near Del Norte BART station at 8:30am and ends at Cerrito Vista Park at noon. See you there!
Ethnic studies may be effective because it is an unusually intensive and at-scale social-psychological intervention.
– Thomas S. Dee, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, director at the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, and co-author of the report The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum, a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper
The University of California at Davis is my alma mater, and while I was an English major, I was one class shy of having a minor in Asian American Studies. So I was very excited to have the opportunity to do a talk for Professor Robyn Magalit Rodriguez’s Asian American Studies class 150: the Filipino American Experience this past Thursday, April 27th.
Professor Rodriguez showed Marissa Aroy’s documentary, The Delano Manongs: the Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement. Then I read an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields. Afterwards, we did a Q&A session, which included my talking about the importance of Asian American Studies in my life – personally and with my writing. Professor Rodriguez and I both stressed the importance of recording the stories of our families, and emphasizing the value to our parents and grandparents of their stories. They need validation of the importance of their stories.
I had the opportunity to talk with a number of students after the class. I am uplifted every time I spent time with college students, especially those in Asian American Studies. I was energized by their passion and commitment to AAS and the history of Filipino Americans.
On Wednesday, March 29th, I was the guest speaker at a lunchtime event sponsored by the Latino Staff Association/Asian Pacific Islander Association affinity groups at the University of California, Office of the President (UCOP). The event, entitled, “When Mexicans and Filipinos Join Together: The Farmworker Movement and Unity in the Making,” was in celebration of Cesar Chavez Day. After reading an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields, I sat down with Belinda Vea, Policy and Program Analyst in Student Affairs for UCOP who did her graduate work on Filipino literature, in an “in conversation” question-and-answer session. Belinda is also co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Association.
Among other topics, Belinda asked me about the research process and my family’s story within the novel. The floor was opened up to questions from the audience, which numbered between 45 and 50, which was really nice to see. It was gratifying not only to respond to such thoughtful questions, but to see the interest in people’s faces. In addition to UCOP employees, the event was also advertised to employees from Kaiser Permanente, whose building was across the street in downtown Oakland.
I’m posting photos taken of the event, with gratitude to the photographers, Juliann Martinez, Employee Relations Specialist and chair of the Latino Staff Association, who kindly extended the invitation to speak, Alina Tejera, Pamela Palpallatoc, and Ben Tsai, co-chair with Belinda of the APIA.
I think animation is a very truthful way to express your thoughts, because the process is very direct . . . You go from the idea to execution, straight from your brain. It’s like when you hear someone playing an instrument, and you feel the direct connection between the instrument and his brain, because the instrument becomes an extension of his arms and fingers. It’s like a scanner of the brain and thought process that you can watch, or hear.
– Michel Gondry, French indie director, screenwriter, and producer
Before Patricia Beckmann Wells’s “Family Tale” premiered at the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival in December 2015, she posted on the Adoptive Families Facebook page about the animated short film’s subject of building a transracial family: “It documents the story of a young family who lost their own biological children, but found love by getting on the roller coaster of adoption. This journey led them to embrace open adoption, which in turn led to its own wonderful and unexpected results. It exists as our son’s story, so he can have record of what led him to join us.” “Family Tale” was also an official selection of this year’s LUNAFEST film festival, which premiered this past September.
She recognized that animation was the best media to tell her story and to personalize her story of adoption. “The audience did not judge me as a face with bias, but were presented with my interior,” she explained. “It was easier for them to identify with the pictures as symbolism than with a human face they may not have liked.”
Indeed, Patricia shared how her film gave her insight into a larger story. “Somehow that film melted the cold exterior off of strangers,” she said. “I met many, many people with similar stories, and made many friends. It is remarkable how many people have suffered alone with a pain that was taboo to discuss. Usually a quarter of my audience identifies. I have chatted for hours with folks after the film. And have a new world view now.”
Animator, professor, author
Patricia earned her Master of Fine Arts in Cinema and her EdD. in Educational Psychology and Leadership from the University of Southern California (USC). As a tenured professor, she teaches animation, game/toy design, virtual reality production and emerging technologies at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, Calif. She has also authored several publications on emerging technologies and art.
Being an animator, professor, and author have all shaped her as filmmaker. Animation suits her preference for being able to work alone and at her own fast pace, and for the way her creativity evolves. “There is creative power in daydreaming and low-stress experimentation,” she pointed out. “A line can lead to a doodle, leading to a truth that only comes from looking sideways at an upside-down thought.” In the college classroom, Patricia has gotten to know a diverse group of students. “This gives me stories,” she said. “All three [animator, professor, author] are just who I am – a sincere fan of the poetry told by moving image,” she said, simply.
Navigating the animation industry
Patricia had previously worked on several movies as an animator for Warner Brothers Digital and other film companies. While she was Manager of Shorts Development at Film Roman, three of her entries won the Playboy Animation Festival in 2000. Soon after, she was tapped to develop content for Oxygen Media, the Romp, and Playboy. Later, she was in charge of training as an executive at Walt Disney Animation studios, and as Head of Training assisted Dreamworks SKG in building production studios in India, but it came at a price. “I got distracted by taking on a managerial role in the big animation studios, and lost the time required to develop new ideas,” she said.
Since becoming a professor, Patricia is able to work on her own ideas, but can only dedicate five months a year for a creative project because of her teaching schedule. “Ideas are mulling all the time, but they pop into production when all of the inspirations and tools present themselves,” she said. “I don’t take on commercial work anymore because there are much more talented artists than me out there who deserve the work, and I want to be free to be creative.”
The animation industry has seen an explosion of talent, but while it has evolved, centralized power and gender disparity still exist. Techtopus, recent lawsuits in which the animation industry tries to control and blacklist talent, is still affecting animation, and few women hold creative leadership, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. “I work alone. I doodle, think, and keep on. My animation heroes are all indie,” she affirmed. “The story is the thing, not the method (which currently happens to be animation), and I am so happy there are many more outlets for media than there were 20 years ago.” With the indie movement firmly entrenched in the industry, she declared, “We do not need to join studios any more. As a professor, I am in a perfect position to keep making my stories while encouraging new voices to speak as well. Emerging media is creating new outlets for creativity daily.”
Having faith in indies
Patricia is currently in production for “Don’t Cry,” with soundtrack by Boston-based ska punk band Big D and the Kids Table. The film, which is expected to be released in summer 2017, explores a mother’s unconditional love for her adopted son and how she will influence his own family. Patricia is also developing a comedy series “motivated by subtly educating people about the science of global warming,” a science-fiction film about the outsider and education, virtual reality experiments, and educational shorts created for her son.
She hopes that audiences who see her films “leave with faith in the little guy.” “Independent film has an authentic voice and usually just one writer,” Patricia said. “I hope I get better and better and eventually can tell a story that wraps people up in a peaceful blanket of my heart, smothers them with kisses, and leads them back into the world drunk with love.”
Note: You can see Patricia’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.