I was lucky to get some preview screeners for the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival and if you can’t get into the festival gala “Linsanity,” then be sure not to miss “Jack Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings.”

By his name, you know Shimabukuro is part Japanese. Born and raised in Hawaii, he became familiar with the ukelele and these are the four strings that he makes his living on. This 2012 documentary was already shown on PBS in Hawaii, but has yet to broadcast here. Shimabukuro was like many teens–he formed a garage band, but he resisted the call of the guitar. Instead, he took the ukelele and brought fused it with new styles and sensibilities.

While Shimabukuro, who has also given a TED talk, took tradition and moved it forward, two documentaries look at people looking back to go forward. The 2013 “Tongues of Heaven” is about members of indigenous people who want to learn the language of their ethnic culture in Taiwan and Hawaii. With educational systems that use the majority language, and a history of governmental intervention that attempted to destroy the language and customs of the minority, this is an uphill battle. If you’re monolingual, you might wonder what’s the problem?

That question is answered in “To Weave a Name.” Directed by Christen Marquez, this documentary follows Marquez’s personal journey to re-connect with her mother and the native Hawaiian half of her ancestry. Language and culture are intertwined and especially for Marquez’s mother, language, culture and the culture of hula. There aren’t many places that teach Hawaiian. Likewise, Mandarin Chinese is the language taught in Taiwanese schools (for a time it was Japanese) but that’s not the language of the indigenous peoples.

As a nation where the majority of citizens come from somewhere else, we should encourage language skills and learning beyond English.  For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, this month is a time to renew interest in the culture and language of our ancestors. For some, their plight is that they were indigenous peoples and learning the official language of their country also means losing some of their own culture. Once a language is lost, so is a great deal of the beauty of the culture. Can today’s generations preserve culture and perhaps, like Shimabukuro, move it forward as well?

“Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings” screens on 4 May 2013 (Saturday) at 7 p.m. at the Directors Guild  of America #1, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

“To Weave a Name (E Haku Inao)” screens on 7 May 2013 (Tuesday) at 6:45 at CGV Cinemas #2, 621 S. Western Ave (between 6th and Wilshire), Los Angeles, CA 90005. Then again on 11 May 2013 (Saturday) at 3:00 p.m. at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, 2025 E. 4th Street, Long Beach, CA 90814.

“Tongues of Heaven” screens on 4 May 2013 (Saturday) at 2:30 p.m. at the CGV Cinemas #2, 621 S. Western Ave (between 6th and Wilshire), Los Angeles, CA 90005. Then again on 11 May 2011 at 12:30 p.m. at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, 2025 E. 4th Street, Long Beach, CA 90814.

For more info, visit the film festival’s website.

 

 

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