In a seminar Friday, Sept. 12, titled “An Unfinished Conversation,” Lee Mun Wah, “an internationally renowned Chinese-American documentary filmmaker, author, poet, Asian folk teller, educator, community therapist and master diversity trainer” according to stirfryseminars.com, spoke about the unheard voices of underrepresented people and how our country’s efforts at being “diverse” haven’t done enough yet. In addition, he showed his latest and last film, “If These Halls Could Talk.”
Before the event, Sandra Garcia, coordinator of Multicultural Student Support at Keene State College and the host for this event, spoke about what inspired her to invite Mun Wah here at KSC.
“I attended a multicultural institute in December and he was one of the presenters,” Garcia said, “His workshop explored issues of race, politics, systems of oppression and other social justice topics. While I believe that all of those things in and of themselves are important, the manner in which he engaged the audience talk and explore how those issues have affected our lives, is what made it significant and I knew that I wanted to have something similar happen here in Keene State College.”
Mun Wah started his presentation differently than most. He spoke about his past; how he grew up, how his mother was murdered. In addition, he talked about how one of the men in the film he showed was murdered three days earlier; the fourth in his town to die the same way.
He said how, “If you want diversity … don’t wait for it to come up to say hello to you…”
To drive this point home, he made the audience interact with each other. He didn’t want just himself on the microphone because, as he said, the key is to talk, not just listen to “one microphone.” He made the audience split from their friends and meet someone new, to “check them out” and then ask them questions about stereotypes that came to their minds when they looked at the other person.
The film shown that evening, a documentary with eleven students of different familial and cultural backgrounds, pushed this point further. It was meant to be a powerful film to watch. It showed how much diversity we don’t have in America; how much we oppress underrepresented people and try to force them to conform to our “whiteness”; force them to pretend to be somebody that they aren’t, just so the white majority aren’t “uncomfortable” like they make people of color feel.
“If These Halls Could Talk” was an enlightening film, showing how far we as a country still have yet to go before we can say that we are a diverse and accepting place. It showed this isn’t an issue that we can just push away by saying it’s “better than it used to be.” He said nobody should settle for “a little better.” Everyone in this country, each individual person, has to work to make it better—to be more accepting and to ask questions to those who we don’t understand or know. Mun Wah mentioned the first step to fixing this problem is to do something about it.
Mun Wah’s final film, which he hopes will inspire other filmmakers to do as he has done, has left us with this powerful message. His examples show everybody needs someone to hear and to care, not just for the moment, but for the long run.
“Even when you’re tired, even when you can’t figure out what else to do, even when you’ve seen what we’ve seen, [it’s important] that we keep going,” Mun Wah said.
Veronica Spadaro can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org