Category Archives: asian americans

Update: Write. Right? Right!

Hola mi gente. It’s been a minute, and I have news and reflections to share. First off, I’m going to graduate school! *Insert celebration here.* Not much to say about it except that it’s been a long time coming. As I turn 30 this year, there is nothing greater I could have done for myself except this radical act of self-acceptance.

Second piece of news– I wrote almost everyday in April for National Poetry Month. It was amazing how much came out of me. I didn’t like all of it, but much of it I did like. It even became overwhelming at some points to edit and transfer my writing onto the computer because there was so much to do. The good news is that I am writing, and it’s not stopping. The bad news is that I will probably always be playing catch-up with journals that need to be typed, poems that need to be edited, and collections of writing that want finalizing.

Third– I am committing myself to finishing a poetry collection in July before I leave the Bay Area for school. It will give me something to focus on this summer– as if preparing for an interstate move wasn’t enough to fill my time. It will also mean closing out a period of writing between my chapbook in 2012 and now. Just like graduate school, it is time, and I have more than enough material to shape.

So about this… I have at least two books worth of poems, at least. I also know that some poems are not worth publishing– whatever that means. How does one make peace with this? Decide that some part of you is worth more than another. What do you think? There is the organized and anxious part of me that wants to make sure nothing falls through the cracks and that I have consciously decided every word and not “lose” anything. Impossible. I suppose selecting poems is an exercise in humility, an acceptance that some things are not shaped in a way that is ready to share with the world. Or it’s an act of marketing, selecting the things one knows will sell or connect with readers? Or this agony is a part of art-making, the process in which one crafts a unit and deems it beautiful?

Either way, I am happy to have gleaned clarity and acceptance that I have been writing about two central subjects. I write about home, family, and being Vietnamese. I write about love and sex– think Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman. (I guess that’s five subject, oh well.) All of this, I imbue with ethnicity, race, gender, politics– obviously, memory, the body, place. 

It makes me envision what else I want to write. There are so many stories about Vietnamese or Vietnamese Americans connecting to a sense of two homelands and– of course– the Viet Nam War. I see this even more clearly now with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s books. I see the value in the topic, and I have read and will continue reading these writings. But where are the stories about second or even third generation Vietnamese Americans? What if the duality of two cultures no longer exists or at least isn’t felt consciously? I want to change our place in relation to immigration, not because the connection isn’t there, but because some of us are heavily “American.” And this means our language, our culture, the people are diverse. Where is the hip-hop in our stories, the activists marching with Bayan, the girls dating Mexicans? (Quick side note, I’ve been thinking too about Asian American “protest literature.” I don’t know what that looks like or if it already exists. Some may not consider it art, but it’ll be important to envision, both for writing it and escaping it.)

Okay, wrapping up. I am grateful to be where I am. I am excited. I am nervous too. At the end of the day, I am writing, and I am thinking about writing, all the time. I mark that as a win. It makes sense that entering an MFA program has allowed myself to claim my writer/creative identity even further (even if I held my breath last night when a friend introduced me as a writer). I am entering graduate school with a sense of what I write, what I want to write/read, and a deepened connection to writing. Awesome, right?

 

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Filed under asian americans, education, journal, non-fiction, writing/writers

Two Sides of the Pacific

I am from words unspoken

silence at the dinner table

I am from are you hungry?

meaning I care about you

I am from why didn’t you visit?

meaning I like seeing you

 

I am from dry crushed ramen

hot Cheetos from the green corner store

red dye staining our fingers

I am from free school lunches

and chili cheese fries

I am from race rumbles

cool girls in overalls and dark lip-liner

 

I am from the highlands of Viet Nam

Hue’s heat and delta coconuts

I am from grandmothers

who plant me guava trees

a father who grows

passion fruit in California

his dreams resisting common sense

 

I am from the poet in the Citadel

forever protected

forever inscribed

safe from your Offensives

 

I am from wedding dresses in tin boxes

far-off eyes and the spirit of freedom

I am from exploding mortars, peasant food

fine silks and world-class tailors

I am from 16-hour flights and layovers

I am from so much history and too much distance

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Filed under asian americans, culture, immigrant, Oakland, poems, viet nam

Strong fragility

After summer, I wilt a bit.

Dry and shrivel into myself.

Slow and turn inward, a mirror

in my blood.

By winter, I am still enough to see,

awaiting change.

I am as even as a winter solstice.

Cold as a frozen lake.

Crisp like the air.

I am fragile in my growing strength.

Strong as my grief.

Solid like the grey sky

we share and the chants we cry.

I am watching women mourn

the children of darker hues.

Humanity knitted in

the face of a deadly greed.

4 hours left in the cold,

Your dark skin on black cement.

28 hours to survive,

by spare chance.

4 year-olds learning how to

grow up too fast and

keep their hands real slow.

The list unfolds of names,

written on a scroll of white,

carried on marches,

recalling my ancestors’

color of mourning.

At any moment the skies

will bring a downpour.

The winds will rip us apart.

We are fragile in our growing strength.

The dead watch over us.

Please guide these mothers

become overnight spokespersons.

Buoy the voices of these high school poets

become protest chants.

Raise the volume of the thousand black fists

pounding this cruel world for

answers and justice and

liberation.

Pray our words rise from our throats

strong and solid

to shake down this hell.

Remind us to be humble,

reflective in our intentions.

Protect us–

We are fragile in our growing strength.

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Filed under asian americans, blacks, love, poems, race

3.

Reasons why–

 

1. Aunt– full of love, hugs, the power to be so different in this world that tells you not to cry. In this place that tells you that you cannot be– hide your feelings!

Aunt. There is a spirit in you that keeps me going. I honor you.

 

2. Water meeting land. There is so much that people think when they arrive at this place where water reaches land. They say thank you for the peace. A chance to feel themselves be small and powerless. A chance to see such power. To see what it means to bear witness to movement. Comings and goings. People see this place as a chance to take their lives. Jump from bridges, or the water pulls them in and in and under, over and over. For me, water meeting land is what holds family together. It is a place of possibility. One can combat time by crossing waters. From one shore to the other, just one leap. This place where water meets land is what connects home to home, Viet Nam to California. Just water. As thin and as vast as water.

 

3. There are 3 persimmon trees my father planted in front of our ancestral home. Just 3 trees. 3 trees bearing sweet fruit, ripening in monsoon winters. He chose them because of love and money. He loves his family so much– his ailing mother and generous sister– that he thought about how these plants would mature, become plump and fill their income. It reminds me that love creates and love works hard, even when it seems like it is not there.

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, love, memory, prose, third world, viet nam

Asians healing to love, loving to heal

“It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” –Audre Lorde from “Eye-to-Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger”

 

 

For a while now, I have been thinking about Asian/American women, love, and interracial dating. How talking about love and putting judgments on who someone loves (and how and why) is challenging. In college, I would participate in discussions about Black couples, love, and interracial relationships. The conversations were intense, emotional, and would eventually return to the point about how difficult it is to assign judgment or value on love. As much as we can be critical about the context in which love develops, how could we judge emotions and attraction? This same discussion gets raised in Oakland (or really the world) too about Asian/American women, and particularly we are commenting on the number of Asian women dating white men.*

 

I’m going to admit I’m bothered by the great number of these couplings too. What are the power dynamics? What does this mean about Asian/American assimilation? As someone who questions our socialization—specifically our internalized racism and colonialism—I’ve prioritized dating men of color. And I know people who try to prioritize dating within their race. This might seem restrictive, but if we are to challenge the self-hatred that has been fed to us, I believe we can give our people a second chance. In the extra date, second glance, or self-reflection, we may see that our lover’s flat-nose is more beautiful than we were taught by white media. We may see our difficulties communicating as weaknesses we are only growing stronger by addressing through practice. We may realize how healing this opportunity is to love one another.

 

But sometimes that doesn’t work. Sometimes, we fall in love with someone who is white. Maybe this person has grown up around a variety of healthy relationships and don’t have years of trauma to work through. Maybe they are able to be present and ready in ways that previous lovers and partners have not. So maybe an Asian/American woman ends up dating a white man. (I recognize that this pattern may exist in queer relationships too, but I have not observed such a great number as with heterosexual couplings. Am I wrong? Is this essay needlessly heterosexist? Please correct me if I’m in the wrong.)

 

In the case that you are walking down Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, or some other middle-class strip of shops (I believe this phenomenon is completely impacted by socio-economic class), and start to make some comment about that Asian and white couple, I have two things to say to you.

 

1) You don’t get to assume anything! Maybe—just maybe—this chica is the most down, self-loving, politicized and racially aware person. Her partner or date may even be a radical anti-racist activist. You don’t know. Even if she wasn’t and he wasn’t, you don’t know what that relationship has given these two. Maybe with this partner, she does not have to relive the trauma of being with someone who is not present or abusive. Maybe with her, he is challenged in new ways. Maybe this is a love that is good for the world and healing for these two.

 

When I hear men of color in particular judge these couplings, I wonder if their words perpetuate patriarchy in the name of anti-racism. There is a distrust of Asian/American women. Is there  even a glint of self-hatred in my own distaste for seeing Asian/American women with white men?

 

2) If you don’t like these racial dynamics, are you doing the hard work to change it? And no, I don’t mean the work of writing another patriarchal, racist, woman-policing blog post. I don’t mean holding a discussion about interracial dating. I mean the gritty, painful emotional work that men/ men of color avoid. Asian men and other men of color have work to do to prepare them for what Audre Lorde calls a “rigorous loving.” It takes re-conditioning to be in touch with our anger, our sadness, and our joy so that it does not strangle our ability to be in relationship.** What are men doing to heal the trauma that makes loving openly and deeply difficult? I write these questions with full awareness and love for the men I have been privileged to know who are doing this work for themselves and thus, for the benefit of generations to come. There are people—and beautiful Asian/American people for that matter—who are overcoming these challenges.

 

I also write this to hold Asian/American women and the entire Asian/American community accountable. We must do the work it takes to challenge our internalized racism and colonialism. While people have no right to judge us or make assumptions about our relationships, we still owe it to our lovers and partners (and families and communities and ourselves) to un-do the impact of racism. We too owe it to ourselves to dig through the dirt of trauma and commit to the hard emotional work of re-learning how to love ourselves and our community, whether or not we are in relationship with someone who is also Asian/American.

 

After war, colonialism, years of racism, all around us lay scattered pieces of ourselves we are collecting to learn to love again, wholly. The most crucial point is that we must heal in order to love and we must love in ways that heal. In that, we must develop a critical lens that recognizes how history and politics impact attraction and love, whomever our partners are.

 

*Remarks made in popular culture includes what Junot Diaz wrote in his short story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” which appears in This is How You Lose Her, “Is it me or does every Asian girl on the planet marry a white guy? Is it written on the genes or something?” And more recently, even a rabbi on The Mindy Show praised a character for being very Jewish… by dating an Asian woman (Mindy).

 

And then there is bullshit like this that I am not even trying to respond to. This is a wonderful in-depth analysis: http://tympan.blogspot.com/2012/09/i-refuse-to-ever-date-asian-man.html

 

**I think this essay can apply to people who prefer other dynamics in their relationships, be it friendships over romantic relationships, open relationships, casual sex. These relationships don’t absolve us from the responsibility to act with love and question the contexts that make love between people of color more difficult.

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Filed under asian americans, essays, gender, love, race

mourning ritual

the wind sifted through our mutually black straight hair and, the late morning sun shone softly on the green hillside where a crowd of people stood dressed in black. on one side of you was a sprinkling of california’s golden poppies—spring having officially bloomed. the other side opened to the flatlands of the east bay. so open you could hear momentary laughter and cheer from happy people. as someone’s life went on, all of ours had stopped.

 

please choose one of the pre-selected flowers to place on her casket, directed the pastor.

 

when it is your turn, after you have taken slow steps towards the casket, you reached out for a white rose. each step you take you wondered if you were doing the right thing. and for what? is this enough to pay respect? what does respect mean now to this person, whose hands lay folded, eyes closed, and skin and bones having gave way to the next life? you never had thought funerals would be like this. so formal, so organized. never would you—who cry in bed and leave tears stained on pillowcases or loved one’s sweatshirts, who would choose sticking flowers in your hair and kissing instead of a marriage ritual, you who believe mourning should be welcomed and embraced—never would you have imagined  being so grateful for these orchestrated steps.

 

earlier, you walked the same slow step after step for a last viewing of the beloved. how similar this ritual felt to your friend’s wedding rehearsal, how similar to school promotions, as simple as waiting in line to pay for lunch, as practiced as students who walk orderly down hallways. and yet, how grateful you were to reach the end of the line, greet your own humanity at the casket, give hugs to her family members, and offer your love in however impossibly little can be offered in words.

 

in moments like these it is not the ritual that matters, it is not performance or societal approval. sometimes mourning rituals offer the only way out of grief, a step-by-step handbook of actions through the darkness.

 

by the end of the morning, her mother and father leave one last glance at her resting place. the diggers come in and their knowing hands begin to remove the protective railings. her sister and her aunt laugh about how she would have appreciated being buried with liquor. the sister’s fiancé lingers, ready to hold a hand, rub her back, hold her up whenever it may be needed. the sun maintains its soft glow over this green hillside. and slowly, the mass dressed in black file down the slope or back into cars that will eventually lower them to the land of the living.

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Filed under asian americans, love, memory, prose

Yellow Art

(After Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art”)

 

Yellow art!

Poems are bullshit unless they are

machete or sunshine or rice waiting

on a front stoop. Or yellow-brown men dying

of silence, leaving only after

beating their lovers into pools of beer. Fuck poems

and they are useful, they scream

in their orgasms, love themselves, and

feed those already so full. We want real

words of the deadly world real blood

and guts. Hearts and minds of a people

sparking into flames and action. We want poems

like fists fucking you up in Oakland

protests or like knives to jelly full

corporate bellies. Yellow poems like

traditional weeping songs to end the

American War, whose orange fire-bombs

lick at our cousin’s womb. Assassin poems

pointing at the Beast. Poems that wrestle

cops into alleys, kung-fu their guns out

of reach and send them back to their

suburban homes. Poems that whiiiiirrrrr, whiiiiirrrrr,

whiiiiirrrrr, like mom’s sewing machine that

fed all 7 of us into childhood and

manhood. There’s an yellow engineer sucking

on Silicon Valley’s whiteness. Go get him, poem!

Show ‘em the light! Another bad poem cracking

nunchucks at the corporate overseer

Another yellow woman staggering in her

mad world, invisible silent alone

Poem scream from napalm from leaks in the roof

from absent fathers from nail polish fumes. Poem

scream so you can light your flames

put on black berets and your righteous fists

Do that thing called justice

Let there be no vision poems written

Until we can maintain clearer sight

Truth serve us. Let yellow people know

that they are the lovers and artists

of warriors and artists

of warriors And poems & poets &

all the wonders here in the world.

 

We want a yellow poem. And a

Yellow World.

Let the world be a Yellow Poem

And Let All Yellow People Speak This Poem

Silently

or LOUD

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, poems, race, violence