The most compelling aspect of Mei Mei: A Daughter’s Song is its enduring power as cultural critique. On the surface, the subject matter is the universal conflict between mother and daughter, but this radio docudrama by Taiwanese-American producer Dmae Roberts is in fact an ambitious exploration of the complex meanings of race, hybridity and cultural ‘mixedness’ that outline the contours of identity in multicultural societies such as the US.
As an Asian-American ‘minority’ discourse, this documentary disrupts the dominant ‘white vs other’ understanding of culture by exploring Roberts’ ambivalence about her own biracial identity (her mother is Taiwanese, her father is ‘white’ American). Roberts’ feelings of alienation and frustration growing up American and hiding her Asian-ness underscore the shame she feels about her mother, who in turn is disappointed in her not so dutiful daughter. This tension serves as a metaphor for larger racial and cultural tensions, issues that have even more resonance today than when Mei Mei was first broadcast in 1989.
This article examines how Roberts achieves this cultural critique in under 27 minutes by layering first person narrative, dialogue, actuality and dramatic fairy tale elements in Taiwanese, Chinese, and English into a sometimes playful, sometimes haunting soundscape. The fact that the foreign language sonic elements or the mother’s broken English may be incomprehensible is not just about adding texture, but about a rich subtext that invites the listener to experience this docudrama as a form of intercultural theatre.
Mei Mei is intelligent radio, intensely personal in tone yet conceptually grand in scope. It is the work of a generous producer.
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