Filipino immigrant and University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) Assistant Professor Alex Tizon came to the United States with his own idealistic view of what a man in America was supposed to be. Tizon documents his journey as an Asian American exploring the male identity in his memoir, Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self.
Through his book, Tizon tells the story of his personal struggle with shame and inadequacy related to race, ethnicity and masculinity. He paints a picture of the mind of an Asian-American male growing up in the early 1970s, and looks at the different stereotypes of sexuality related to Asian males and females. Tizon shares the cultural implications of belonging to a minority in modern America, and the universal notion of the search for your place in the world.
“The book has been called a memoir and a social history,” explained Tizon. “I use my own story of growing up in America to explore issues related to racial shame. I had been writing about these issues for many years, and thought at first that I would write a book about Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao and explore issues about belonging, race and manhood. I realized that I could address these same issues by telling my own story, which would be more relatable because I’m just an ordinary guy.”
Big Little Man explores sentiments that are felt universally and looks at themes that anyone can identify with.
“The book is about wanting to belong and not really having a place in the world,” said Tizon. “One theme of the book that I think anybody can relate to is the theme of outsiderdom – the phenomenon of being an outsider and grappling with that notion. Growing up, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. It’s about learning how to address this feeling, and in some ways, how to escape it.”
The creative process took Tizon five years to complete. In 2011, Big Little Man received the 2011 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Work-In-Progress Award. The award is given to an exceptional work of nonfiction on a topic of American political or social concern to aid in its completion and is co-administered annually by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published the completed book in 2014.
Tizon’s story was one he felt he had to tell and hopes readers can share in his experiences and realize that they aren’t alone in the world.
“It may be the one thing I’m meant to do in this lifetime,” said Tizon. “I asked myself, if I was going to die in five years, what’s the one book I had to write? I felt called to tell the story because it’s really the most genuine story that I could tell. I had a feeling that there would be people who could relate to it and would find a bit of freedom in it.”
Tizon received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oregon and a master’s degree in communication from Stanford University. He is entering his fourth year teaching journalism courses at the SOJC. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Tizon hopes to inspire his students to tell powerful, compelling stories.
Tizon will continue to follow his passion for writing, and says he has another book or two left to write, hopefully starting another project in the next year.
To learn more about Alex Tizon’s journey to self discovery, visit alextizon.com/big-little-man.
Written by Katie MacLean ’15