grandmother.

for my yin yin whom I miss dearly and have so many questions for.

i did not know you,
not in typical terms.

you were gone before
i even knew
what to
ask,

before I knew
mortality.

but i know you
in other ways.

in the ways your blood pumps
through my veins,
under skin

in the ways my feet
and hands
are always
cold

in the ways my father
remembers your cooking—
mixing what you knew with what you
hoped for

in the ways you’d watch us splash in the pool from the kitchen window,
live fish awaiting it’s fate in the sink,
wok heated almost as hot as the summer sun

in the ways i remember
your imperfect laughter,
squeezed together so tightly
into an armchair,
broken record player to our left,
dreams of seeing me grow up to your right.

how does a poem make up for
the years
I let myself
forget?

I don’t know if I
believe in
afterlife,
but if it means
the possibility of
knowing you
fully,
then I will believe
anything.

Magic Mic: Why Do Womxn Never Have the Rights to Their Own Bodies?, or “What Happens in Vegas Definitely Does Not Stay In Vegas”

Don’t get me wrong.  I love being a womxn and I am lucky that I have strong role models who taught me that being a womxn of color is beautiful and uplifting.  But, that does not mean that I don’t hate some of the things that come with being a womxn in this society.  These are things that combat our own identities as full, self-sufficient human beings, and ultimately undermine any sort of fight for equity in public spaces.

I think it is plain to see that we as womxn are often subconsciously, and sometimes very consciously, seen as objects or prizes to be won in chauvinistic expressions of dominance.  And let me say, it is exhausting to be both a human person with human emotions and an object at the same time.  It is a paradox I no longer want anything to do with.

Part of such a paradox is the age old male pastime of catcalling.  Can you just imagine how catcalling worked in the Shakespearean period? “Oh, wench, behold at thy forks!”** I don’t know if I’d laugh or just stare in confusion.   However, there are numerous, much more serious and well-written articles and videos about womxn getting catcalled.  I don’t think I have to write something else explaining how shitty it is.  A popular video campaign illustrated just some of the reactions men have when they see their mothers being catcalled on the street.  It’s shocking to me because you can see the discomfort for the men at watching their mothers objectified.  And yet, these men will never fully understand what it means to be living in a body coded as womxn.  Catcalling is just one awful side effect of such a truth.  And while catcalling is serious, disturbing, and oftentimes, fear-inducing, what happens when people go beyond verbal abuse and seep into the physical?

In Las Vegas, the “City of Sin”, the lines between catcalling and physical violations blur quite quickly.  The city’s motto of “what happens here, stays here” is an atrocious ploy to convince people of all genders that you can be on your absolute worst behavior and get away with it.  Now, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, as I’m sure not all of Vegas is that terrible, but the essence of such an environment negates any real semblance of control a womxn has over her own space.  A person’s body, whether you identify as a womxn or not, should belong to you; you, and no other party, should get to decide what happens to your body.

Let me clarify for Las Vegas’s sake.  I do not think it’s wrong to go to a club, to want to dance provocatively or sexually.  Hell, I’ll admit that dancing around in sparkly outfits to R&B tunes is one of my favorite pastimes, minus the sparkly outfits, because glitter always gets on your face.

It is not wrong or unusual to dance with other people, if that is what you choose to do.  The key here is the choice.  Some womxn choose to grind up on other people or be grinded upon (I don’t really know the terminology), and they shouldn’t feel bad or feel the need to justify that choice.  When the dancing is a consensual act between people, it’s fun, albeit maybe a bit awkward if you’re not a great dancer.  But, when a person, usually a man, grabs your ass as you walk by or refuses to remove himself from your person, a part of your humanity as a womxn withers away.  You’re humiliated.  You think that this should have been anticipated in such a situation.  You lose the expectation of respect for yourself that you know you deserve.  And you’re reminded again that you are object, then womxn.  Never womxn by itself, period, end of story, human.

I will reiterate this as a reminder for myself and for womxn everywhere.  The location you are in has no bearing on whether it is okay or not for someone else to infringe on your space and your body.  Whether you’re in a club or in a pub eating burgers with your friends, it is never an okay thing for someone (read: a man) to implant himself, take up space, and prove his male dominance at your expense.  Being in Las Vegas or in any party-setting is not an excuse for them to “cut loose”.  If you’re a person who thinks it is okay to violate another’s space, to infringe on a womxn’s body in certain contexts, I don’t want you in my life in any context.

Because although I wish that what happens in Vegas would actually stay in Vegas, the dehumanizing, physically visceral experiences faced by womxn happens in rooms and on streets of every city in every part of the world.  We can no longer chalk it up to situational occurrences of bad judgement or issues of self-control.  Your body is yours and as a womxn, I will fight for our collective right to be safe and protected in our bodies, regardless of place.

 

**I literally typed “Oh girl, look at your legs” into a Shakespearean translator.  I’ll admit I spent a lot of time on it afterwards.
* Magic Mic background image from Make & Tell

Chinese Amer-I-can’t Deal With This Question Anymore

I have been having issues as of late with the idea of ethnic and national identity. I have always considered myself Chinese American, or Asian American in broader contexts. I still think those labels define me adequately, and yet there is something very unnerving about the ways in which others react to my identity.

The most common question I get, right after “so, what ethnicity are you?”* is the dreaded, “You speak Chinese, right?”

I always smile a pained, forced smile and shake my head no.

That question is one of the most irritating, ostracizing questions I get. And I’ll tell you why.

That question constantly reminds me that I am out of place—that my fragmented identity is, in fact, a reality; that I am neither fully Chinese nor fully American; that no part of me belongs anywhere.

When a person asks me if I speak Chinese, they already assume they know the answer. They know how the conversation will go. They think I will say “yes”, that my parents or I immigrated to America fairly recently (within the past twenty years), and that I speak it at home. Maybe I’ll make a joke about a Chinese curse word or my parents’ inability to clearly enunciate the “l” sound. We’ll laugh and move on with our conversation.

But, the thing is, that is not how the conversation goes because that narrative is not my family’s or my own.

Assuming I speak Chinese automatically otherizes me in the eyes of the asker. If I speak Chinese, it makes sense to them. It’s as if they’re saying, “Oh, so you speak Chinese. You’re not really American—you’re Chinese.” And, if I speak honestly and say that I do not speak Chinese, at home or anywhere else, the immediate follow-up by the asker is when my parents immigrated to the United States. My own history and life is not the topic of conversation. My being born in America suddenly has no bearing on if I’m considered American or not.

My issue with this is not isolated or a standalone situation. America, a cultural melting pot (though now I think people are using the metaphor of some kind of mixed salad), has produced a generation, my generation, of people that are excluded from specific cultural contexts. The problem with being Chinese, but not Chinese enough; American, but not American enough, is a universal in the immigrant and descendants of immigrant community. You would think that after twenty-two years of living, I’d have come to terms with this state of limbo—of navigating between cultures and contexts. But, no matter how old you get, I think cultural identity is something you will always struggle with.

Further, aside from this personal struggle with identity, the question of native languages connotes the issue of belonging, which has historical proportions. Chinese immigrants were by no means welcomed with open arms. The denigration of the Chinese through dehumanization and exploitation of labor should not be taken lightly. Surviving in such an unwelcoming environment meant working as hard and as fast at becoming “American”. It meant blending in. And blending in meant speaking English and being as close to your white counter parts in dress, language, and mannerisms as possible.   It was the only way to escape the bullying and harassment that came with being a Chinese immigrant (or any immigrant, really).

It is why my father doesn’t speak Chinese fluently, and why my brother and I never learned. It is why growing up, I naively conveyed confusion and slight embarrassment that my mother’s mother never learned English after over forty years in the United States. It is why not one of her ten grandchildren can have legitimate conversations with her and why she still laughs at me when I struggle to convey affection in broken Cantonese. It is true irony when you uproot your family to find a better life, only to realize that that life includes ten grandchildren you can never communicate with.

In short, it matters a great deal to me that I cannot speak Chinese because it is a symbol and a symptom of the oppression of my ancestors, of the collateral damage we all have from being children of immigrants.

It is also a constant reminder that in my life, no matter how hard I try, I will never be Chinese enough or American enough to even the most well trained eye.

So, the next time you ask a question about speaking my mother tongue as some form of introduction by saying, “It’s curiosity. It’s just a simple question meant to spark conversation.” I will not smile and nod. I will be sure to tell you otherwise.


* I could dedicate an entire collection of blogs on this. The worst part about the “what ethnicity are you?” question is when people try to guess before you answer by running down the list of every single type of Asian ethnicity they can think of. And when you finally confirm one, they say, “I knew it!”

How on earth was it so glaringly obvious to you if you had to guess a number of different countries before you landed on the right one? It’s not that hard either—China is the biggest Eastern Asian country there is. You do not win a prize for boiling my ethnic and cultural identity down to a super fun guessing game.