Yours and Mien
Lately we’ve seen a spate of inquisitive, personal documentaries, exploring American selfhood through confrontations with ancestors. Think Tell Them Who You Are, Tarnation, My Architect: A Son’s Journey and Capturing the Friedmans. Taken together, they project a hope that blunt self-awareness can actually foster community. That’s one guiding principle behind Death of a Shaman, a documentary by Emmy-winning director Richard Hall and Fahm Fong Saeyang, the young Iu-Mien-American woman who produced the film and is its subject.
Capping off an Iu-Mien cultural exhibit in his Capitol office, Democratic Assemblyman Dave Jones hosts a free screening of the film on Wednesday evening at the Crest Theatre, located at 1013 K Street. The event begins at 6 p.m., with a reception featuring traditional Mien food, and Hall and Saeyang in attendance.
Sacramento, where Saeyang grew up, is home to America’s largest Iu-Mien population, roughly 12,000 people and 40 percent of the nation’s total. Uniquely challenged among Asian diaspora, recent Mien generations have moved from China to Laos to Thailand to America, always under strenuous circumstances (most recently, the Vietnam War). In Death of a Shaman, Saeyang retraces those frayed roots. It’s probably no accident that the film’s title alludes to another yearning American identity quest, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It’s also a frank assessment: Saeyang’s father, a respected healer in his home country, who was utterly undone by his failure to assimilate in America, had urged her to help him document the family’s difficult history. But in 2000, at age 50, he died from a head injury, with their project only just begun.
Saeyang pressed on, tenaciously confronting the growing pains of multiculturalism. But as she explains in her narration, “I found my own destiny.”