What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?

November 10, 2011


Filmmaker Vanessa Yee opens up about the anxiety she feels about speaking on her own documentary. Called The Laundromat, it's about Asian American silence and shame.

* * *


“So cliché.”

“Too melodramatic.”

Those are the words I used to describe a depression I went
through my first year of undergraduate education. Almost ten years later I
grimace at the thought of having to recount that time in front of the camera.
It seems trite that I had felt so lonely amidst a huge crowd; silly that things
I used to enjoy, then gave me no joy; and terribly mawkish to discuss how many
nights I would cry alone in an empty field.

But as soon as the words were spoken aloud, I realized how
embarrassed I was by my depression. I wanted to color that time as a “phase”
that I somehow got over, as if it were something akin to having a crush on Russell
Wong or buying pens only from Sanrio (only one of these have I gotten over).

Though I am working out much of these issues privately, I
face the prospect of confronting this embarrassment on camera. I did not plan
for my first documentary on Asian American silence and shame to feature my
story, too. Two years ago I was only planning to be the dogged interviewer, the
faithful traveler in search of an answer to, What does it mean to break your silence? To discover this, I talked
to three of my friends who had each experienced depression and great loss, but
were learning to seek counseling and air their dirty laundry. In the editing
room, as I struggled to sculpt the film, I realized my own story was intimately
intertwined. How could I make a documentary about dealing with personal pain
and cultural stigma without also asking myself the same questions?

As I go back to finish my doc, called The Laundromat, I am building a website that I hope will open up a
discussion within the Asian American community. I have been gathering stories
to post there with the hope that someone else will not feel alone, or even
cliché. And each story pretty much blows my mind, wrenches my heart, or makes
me nod in sympathy:

“I realized that I had not cried for
over a decade … My mother would put me in front of a mirror whenever I cried as
a child, and [tell] me I was ugly.”

“[M]y 18-year-old cousin, touched me in
ways that should have landed him in jail … I will always remember my mom’s
initial reaction … ‘How could you have let that happen … We can never tell your
dad,’ she said.”

“The physical cancer can be treated in a
rational, logical way, but the manner in which my parents are handling the
stress will kill them.”

“They learned that I was gay … My dad
emailed me. I am their son, he wrote, and he understood I kept this a secret
for so long for their sakes.”

“Whenever I leave my parents’ house
after a weekend visit, something overcomes me. I can’t
ignore the crushing guilt and anxiety I feel … I could have let down my many,
many walls of defense and had an actual conversation. I could have been nice.”

Though many speak in anonymity, the process of speaking and
telling our stories has great power.

So why do I tend to criticize my own story? Why am I still
so reluctant to discuss something that happened a long time ago? These answers I plan to discover soon.


If you’re interested in participating in the web community
or learning more about The Laundromat documentary, please visit my Kickstarter
or the Facebook page
for my movie.

Vanessa Yee is currently an MFA candidate at UCLA’s School of
Theater, Film & Television. She has worked with veteran documentarians,
Film Independent, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, urban youth and the
homeless, and each group has taught her some of what it means to give voice to
those who go unheard and underprivileged everyday.





Vanessa Yee is making huge steps for our community. She is placing herself as a sounding board--or rather a listening board. Many feel trapped inside their own issues and are fearful to voice their emotions, due to all sorts of reasons. I'm so glad that she is on this journey for self-discovery and inner-healing, and allowing us to travel alongside her to figure ourselves as well. LOVE!!!!!
Can you explain why the film's title is called The Laundromat?
Answer to question about title (courtesy of kickstarter page): The Laundromat documentary confronts the Asian American imperative: “Don’t air your dirty laundry.” Within this community there is a strong reticence to speak about sensitive issues, not only amongst friends, but also, more importantly, within the family unit. The complicated dynamics between self-expression and self-exposure make dialogue extremely challenging; and there are few safe spaces for second- and third-generation Asian Americans to acknowledge pain and discuss trauma. The consequences are serious: young Asian Americans suffer the highest rates of suicide and depression and are less likely to ask for help. In an effort to break the cycle of silence and self-suppression, The Laundromat centers around the filmmakers’ journey of interviewing three Asian Americans who intimately discuss divorce, death, faith, abortion, molestation, and other tough topics. As they delve into their family and community dynamics, the film examines how their parents view speaking out, and how their family’s historical and cultural roots affect their personal growth. These intimate stories are set against the larger story of culture, identity and the effects of silence according to professionals in the mental health field. This film and the connected website work to create a space to take care of dirty laundry, and empower different generations to address the prevailing silence and find they are not alone in their struggle. Who are the people making this happen? Vanessa A. Yee - Director & Sound (vimeo.com/vanessaayee) Judy Phu - Director of Photography & Everything else (www.judyphu.com) Sun Kim - Consulting Editor (Editor: Tattooed Under Fire)