Hua Hsu shared anecdotes that helped to bridge the cultural divide between China and the United States. Hsu is a contributor at the New Yorker and he teaches in the English department at Vassar College in Arlington, New York. His writing focuses on music, sports and culture. He spoke Wednesday evening at the Global International Studies Building about travel, American football, jazz and film.
Hsu was a guest speaker as part of the China Remixed series, a ten-week-long festival involving exhibitions, movie screenings, performances and lectures. It is part of an effort by IU and the Bloomington Arts and Humanities Council to present the many cultural, historical and modern contributions that China has made. Hsu spoke as part of this week’s “Weekly Speaker Series."
Hsu explored his life as an Asian-American to talk about life lessons and offer insight from his multiple perspectives. He said he hated when he and his mom would visit his father in Taiwan so much that he would often cry at the thought of a visit. However, he said he now realizes that is how he came to form his perspective about traveling abroad.
“It was spending those summers and winters in Taiwan that I began viewing America from an angle,” Hsu said
He said things like seeing only Asian actors on television or being stripped of American comforts helped him form a new perspective that does not entirely belong to Asia or the U.S. but instead one that is able to properly deal with and understand both societies and cultures.
Hsu said he thought more students and Americans in general should travel. Travel was what helped him understand that everything in the United States may be the norm to some but not to the rest of the world.
“When you leave your hometown, your country you are not just experiencing something different abroad,” Hsu said. “You are not just learning something about somewhere else, but you are also learning a lot about where you came from. That is the part that people forget — that when you leave your comfort zone you’re the one who’s undergoing a change.”
However, Hsu warned travel does not bring with it immediate wisdom. He said going to Taiwan and being allowed to absorb the culture is what allowed him to form a sound perspective on Asia and the U.S..
Perhaps the same could work for Americans and students, Hsu said.
Hsu told the story of Duke Ellington, the legendary American composer and pianist. Hsu’s tale of Ellington captured the musician's fascination with travel and the exotic. Hsu pointed out the most interesting part of Ellington’s travels was he never did it to exploit the culture and he never pretended to understand a culture better than he did.
Hsu said Ellington and his band took their time to understand the culture and music before properly integrating it into their own specific sound.
He praised Ellington’s style of travel and pointed to it as the preferred way to take on the world. Hsu said travel is important because he realized “there’s another way to be”.
The China Remixed series will continue Thursday with a Shaolin warrior performance at the IU Auditorium and screenings of Chinese films in upcoming days.