Tuesday, May 3, 2016

“Breathin’ ”: Guangzhou Immigrant Eddie Zheng’s Inspiring Story

For a KUCI Subversity Online interview (recorded 22 April 2016) with Eddy Zheng, director Ben Wang and composer Scott “Chops” Jung, click here:

Eddy Zheng
One could say that Eddy Zheng (left) made something of himself despite being incarcerated at San Quentin prison for 19 years plus another two in immigration detention.   The Cantonese immigrant from Guangzhou, China, was only 16 when he waved a gun and participated in a home invasion.  
While he buffed up his body from careful exercise, he also took care of his mind. Reading about Asian American and other people of color struggles in the prison library – led him to enhance the collection as he managed to get the prison authorities to add many more books on such struggles.  He petitioned the authorities to implement Asian American studies in prison – instead he got put in solitary confinement – the hole – as punishment for daring to ask that.

Ben Wang, director
In the meantime, he earned an associate degree by enrolling in a prison program. And through it all, the activist community reached out to him, offering him support even as he got turned down repeatedly by the parole board, until the last time, which was successful.  But then he was placed in immigration detention because he was not able to apply for citizenship while incarcerated.

In the end, it was through a gubernatorial pardon (from California Governor Jerry Brown) that led to his deportation case being ended.  Eventually he was officially released in 2007.   Now free, he managed to get San Quentin to implement Asian American studies.
This man, now 47, remains committed to community service, and through an intermediary, successfully reached out to the mother he victimized when he was 16, with his written apology (in Chinese) accepted.

Scott "Chops" Jung, composer

Director Ben Wang (above, right) has put together a tightly edited documentary, "Breathin': The Eddy Zheng Story," on the power of reconciliation and redemption and about how writers like Helen Zia (author of Asian American Dreams and other works) inspired this inmate to commit his life to community work, while even within the dark recesses of solitary confinement. 

The film screened twice at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.  -- Daniel C. Tsang.

 Photography © Daniel C. Tsang 2016.
Here's also a Cantonese audio interview found online: