I stumbled upon Sean Wang’s short documentary ‘H.A.G.S.’ an opinion piece in the New York Times (with support from the Sundance Institute) and although it was supposed to be about “adulthood,” it turned out to be much more meaningful and nuanced.
View this post on Instagram
In this 9 minute piece primarily using pictures from his middle school yearbook and the audio of phone calls with his friends from that era, the now-26-year-old filmmaker touches on many subjects including friendship, memories, self-reflection, hopes, fears, and dreams. The filmmaker and the subjects of the film are from Fremont, California, an area with a large community of immigrants (and, ahem, Asian Americans) so this is reflected in the subjects who are featured.
But what hit me as a fellow Taiwanese American and child of immigrants were the nods to their parents, and how their parents’ sacrifices made their American Dreams possible.
In fact, Sean says in the New York Times op-ed about his parents:
Maybe that’s the single greatest privilege of my life — because of my parents’ sacrifice, my biggest challenges lie in navigating my sense of identity, fulfillment and the pursuit of my own dream of being a filmmaker, the sort of dream they never had the luxury of having.
This (along with Facebook’s lovely “Hey! Look How Old You’ve Gotten!” reminder that I’d shared this 12 years ago) reminded me of the “100 Passionate People” project by TaiwaneseAmerican.org in 2009 (the year after Sean and his friends were in middle school). In it, I’d said:
My parents and grandparents are the greatest influences of my life. Their love and passion for Taiwan is instilled deeply within me, even though I was born and raised in America. As a 2nd generation Taiwanese American, I feel greatly indebted to my parents and grandparents for all the sacrifices they made so that we could grow up in a land of opportunity and freedom that did not exist in Taiwan.
Sacrifice is a common theme for many immigrants and it’s indelibly part of the survival mechanism for people struggling for “security, survival, and assimilation” in a country that isn’t necessarily welcoming of those from abroad.
In the film, the filmmaker says that the yearbook is a time capsule and his friends marvel at how quickly time passes and wonder what the 40-year-old versions of themselves will think about their mid-20s selves. As someone who can look back at my mid-20s with more than a decade having passed, all I can say is that the time passes in the blink of an eye and it moves even faster, the older you get.
I’m glad that Sean and his friends shared their personal stories and that Sean made this (video) time capsule of this moment in their young adulthoods. I hope that he does an update for us in another 15 years because I’m rooting for them all: Danial, Way, Fahad, Sohrab, Karina, Terilyn, and Sean. I look forward to following Sean’s career, and I’m eager to see his star rising with more films and creative works, but also I hope he is able to pursue “purpose, equality, and belonging,” while creating a wonderful life for himself.