Russell Leong and I met eight years ago precisely because of his Buddhist writing, but I’d never read a word of his until last night, when I flipped through several stories in his book Phoenix Eyes. From the University of Washington Press:
In styles ranging from naturalism to high-camp parody, Leong goes beneath stereotypes of immigrant and American-born Chinese, hustlers and academics, Buddhist priests and street people. Displacement and marginalization – and the search for love and liberation – are persistent themes. Leong’s people are set apart, by sexuality, by war, by AIDS, by family dislocations. From this vantage point on the outskirts of conventional life, they often see clearly the accommodations we make with identity and with desire. A young teen-ager, sold into prostitution to finance her brothers’ education, saves her hair trimmings to burn once a year in a temple ritual, the one part of her body that is under her own control. A documentary film producer, raised in a noisy Hong Kong family, marvels at the popular image of Asian Americans as a silenced minority. Traditional Chinese families struggle to come to terms with gay children and AIDS.
Leong paints the community that I know, an Asian American community that’s too diverse for the mainstream media to handle. His Buddhist Americans are honest in their imperfection. These stories are so personal to me that I almost don’t want to share them.