Ana Parsons’ Comedy Special ‘Asian American Eyz’d’ Tells the Story of Immigrants
Between bites of crispy lumpia, Ana Tuazon Parsons recounts how she was smuggled to America.
The story, told by its tita and tito, echoes the experience of American immigrants. Her mother, Lourdes Tuazon, was determined to give her daughter a better life. So Tuazon hired a woman who was in charge of “bringing Filipinos to the United States” and booked a flight from the Philippines to Canada. When they reached Vancouver, Tuazon walked on the rocky beach along the Washington border, holding her daughter’s tiny hand, and crossed into the United States.
Parsons stops here. Her shoulders, covered in bolero butterfly sleeves adorned with embroidered sampaguita (the national flower of the Philippines), rise and fall. Her eyes sparkle and then she smiles, recalling her last memory of her mother, who died when Parsons was 7. “We were riding in a cab on the way home from work, and the last song I heard was ‘I [Just] Called to Say I Love You’ by Stevie Wonder,” she laughs. “That Stevie Wonder, man. He understands you!”
Sharing a meal over fragrant plates of tapa and sisig at the LA Rose Cafe in Hollywood, much of the conversation with Parsons, an aspiring Filipino American comedian, swings like this. In an instant she details her uprooting from New Jersey where she lived with her mother in Santa Barbara with Annie Parsons, her tita and adoptive mother. Her voice intensifies as she talks about loss of identity, depression, and growing up with feelings of abandonment in a predominantly white environment. Then, in a flash, she shakes her head with a broad smile and reminisces about her high school days on punk and “The Breakfast Club”-related shows. “I felt seen through John Hughes,” Parsons says. “A white guy, f— Illinois, writing the story of these kids who don’t belong.”
The deep and painful tribulations of Asian American travel center on “Asian American Eyz’d: An Immigrant Comedy Special” – a project by Parsons and his counterparts Nicky Endres and Aidan Park that was the culmination of a production effort by a year. Filmed a week before the pandemic, the special was released in April on Reel Women’s Network, a platform dedicated to uplifting storytellers.
For Parsons, the film was an opportunity to create space for immigrant stories and challenge the Asian American narrative. While her comedy career was born nine years ago with ‘the break-up set’ – she backed her ex-boyfriend’s photo onstage during his debut at New York’s Gotham Comedy Club – her work today focuses on showcasing the Asian American community. Parsons’ pilot, “The Asian That Didn’t,” explores issues of belonging and was a finalist for the Sundance Episodic Lab and a semi-finalist for Showtime’s Tony Cox Award. His jokes have also evolved. Although past sets have relied on dog-eating jokes, she constantly reworks her sets to “poke in, not poke.”
“Being able to take ancient trauma and turn it into art and something that can heal is part of my goal,” Parsons says.
Divided into three parts, the hour-long special details each comic’s story of growing up in America as an immigrant. Often their stories are less comedic and more a raw conversation about surviving in America. “It’s something I think other immigrants need to feel,” says Felipe Figueroa, who directed the special. “You are not alone. Even if you feel like ‘other’, there are others out there.
When Park, who is Korean, takes the stage and shares that he is HIV-positive, the audience falls silent. Yet it’s a silence he uses in a fantastical tale of love and loss that culminates in an attempted salvation by a rhinestone-studded Nickelback lookalike in upstate Washington.
“The worst thing in life is feeling alone in your pain. Period. The End,” Park says as she reflects on her decision to share her stories. “Shame is the #1 inhibitor to being happy. In this case, I’ll post it. As I started doing it, people felt closer to me, not further away.
Amplifying those feelings, Endres opens his set with, “My name is Nicky. I identify as non-binary, transfeminine and genderqueer. Her story takes the audience to the cornfields of Wisconsin, where she struggled with her identity as an adopted child from Korea. “The person with the mic shares some of the most vulnerable and hardest things to talk about, and yet it’s done in a container where the expectation is…and we’re all gonna laugh about it,” Endres says. “That kind of unspoken agreement between the audience and the comedian – I live for that. We agreed for that split second to give each other a chance.
These moments of vulnerability are where all three comics shine and bring us closer to the stage. Parsons, the show’s first act, ends with a cherished memory of her mother comforting her in the middle of the night with Tagalog, cooing “mahal kita” (I love you) to help Parsons sleep. Yet the memory also left her with a bittersweet reminder that while her mother wouldn’t always be there to take away the years of trauma, “our ancestral pain could be our ancestral power.”