ASIAM where are you really from? spring 2015
“AS I AM”is the literal and dynamic fusion of two words and two
identities – Asian and American. This magazine aims to demonstrate the ways in which embracing this dual identity has enriched our experiences, endeavors, and perspectives. Our goal is to cultivate this unique composite of culture through literary works and artistic expression centered on our perception of being Asian in America. We seek to educate and foster progressive and positive growth in our varied societies – Asian, American, both, or neither – in hopes of diminishing boundaries that keep them separate from one another. Through celebrating personal experiences and exploring pertinent social issues and cultural trends, we aspire to unearth the Asian American voices and presence within the Boston College community. So whether you identify as Asian, American, a mix between the two, or whether you simply relate to Asian culture, we invite you to join us in our journey: as you are.
ASIAM spring 2015
Editorâ€™s Note 1 Yoshika Wason The Audacity of Optimism Sijin Choi
Untitled Joyce Chang
You Know Me William Hwang
Gaysia 7 Jun Young Park Adoption 8 Kate Saxton 12 Untitled 9 Quyen Nguyen 16 Happiness 10 Ken Leszkowicz 19 From the Archives; Ding Oing 11 Long Yang 20
Untitled Quyen Nguyen Untitled Quyen Nguyen Untitled Joyce Chang The Crown Hyunwook Yoon
Untitled Quyen Nguyen
Assimilation Yoshika Wason
Untitled Dennis Ma
Cat Adalaide Diehl
Editor’s Note YOSHIKA WASON
“Where are you really from?” it’s a question that many Asian Americans
have been repeatedly asked—maybe we’ve even been the one to ask this to others. I’ve come to discover that embedded within this question is an underlying assumption that the responder isn’t truly from here. The implied otherness can be difficult to address. Does one respond in a neatly packaged response that is easily digestible to the asker? Or does this question require a detailed family history as way of explanation? There are of course, a multitude of ways of addressing this micro aggression. For this edition of ASIAM, we invited submitters to take this question and answer it on their own terms. I hope that this publication can serve as an affirmation of our submitter’s identity and self expression.
Recently, I found out that during WWII, Japanese Americans created their
own literary magazines within the confines of internment camps. To me, this confirms the value of literary magazines because this platform has the ability to provide social commentary and create community. In light of the current state of race relations, I think that it’s important that we continue to maintain safe spaces for expression.
On a personal note, I’d like to acknowledge the impact that ASIAM has
had on my college experience. After developing an interest in creative writing and poetry, I was at a point where I wanted to share my work with others. Although I was interested in submitting my work to publications on campus, I realized that the themes of my pieces didn’t fit within the scope of pre-existing literary magazines. When I heard about ASIAM, I found a space that I was searching for but never thought existed for me.
I would like to acknowledge that the realization of this publication would not
have been possible without Long Yang, my co-editor in chief. I would like to thank Long for taking initiative over the processes of publicizing this magazine. I would also like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that our eboard has put into ASIAM. And of course, our submitters and readers are what make this literary magazine a success.
The Audacity of Optimism SIJIN CHOI
When I first applied to Boston College, I remember doing some research
on a website called collegeconfidential.com to see what type of school I was getting myself involved with. Sifting through thousands of message threads and posts, one post that stuck out was titled,“Is Boston College Racist?” That post and question would persist in the back of my mind throughout my first two years at BC. However, I refused to acknowledge that racism existed at BC, mainly because I was privileged to have a diverse group of friends spanning many different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. Gradually, I began to trivialize my fears, labeling such sentiments as mere numbers, 70% white and 30% AHANA, and not putting much significance behind them. But on my second day of sophomore year, I saw racism in its most ugly and repulsive form take place right outside the dorm I lived in on a Saturday night. Inebriated students were yelling racist remarks out their window like“go back to China”and“are you the delivery guy?”while the recipients of such remarks were my Asian-American friends whom I shared in the same hurt and indignation with.
Many of my friends not involved in culture clubs often ask me why
the Asian-American community is so tight-knit and“exclusive.”They ask why the AHANA students on campus seem so cliquey and satisfied remaining in their“bubbles.”One explanation that Professor Arissa Oh offered was that, historically, similar ethnic groups formed compact communities for survival. While I don’t think it is“survival”that is the ultimate end of all my peers that take part in the Asian community, I do believe the solid camaraderie and support network the community affords to its participants is a big component of its potency as a major student group on campus.
My experiences through the first half of my undergraduate career have led
me to believe that those on the periphery of the Asian American community at Boston College should stop asking why the community is“exclusive”and inaccessible, and
instead take the initiative to create a culture of inclusiveness as a general principle in the greater BC community â€“ a community that encourages AHANA students to step outside of their comfort zones and try new things. Today, I still believe in the greatness of BC but also realize the flaws that come with it. I guess it is a part of growing up: to acknowledge imperfections instead of brushing them off. Often times over lunch or coffee, I am told to be realistic with my goals for a more racially integrated BC community by upperclassmen that have fought in the trenches for a long time. Sometimes, their words are more cynical than constructive. It is my hope that in my final moments at BC two years from now, I can be still filled with the optimism and firm belief that BC is capable of overcoming its imperfections and begin chipping away at them.
You Know Me WILLIAM HWANG
You know that I was born in a land far away China, Japan, or China, Asia.
Instead of being born in Alameda, California To Korean parents who speak two Languages.
You know me as the small child in the back Of the class, speaking Slowly. Instead of the boy who devoured books With the hunger of a deprived Vocabulary.
I am the quiet teenager who never Rebels, protests, speaks, But is. Instead of the one who got his first “B” For whispering over the teacher’s Words.
You know me as the aspiring doctor Who is smarter without Trying. Instead of the writer that struggles to tell the stories of Silence and long-awaited Noise.
You know that I am a man who is invisible Even when people are Staring. Instead of a man who douses himself in paints of Reds, whites, and blues,
To be heard.
JUN YOUNG PARK
Adoption KATE SAXTON
Part I The fluorescent glow at the end of the tunnel. It’s the beginning of the end for you and me. Losing warmth, as the man with the white gloves breaks our final bond. I cry because you didn’t reach for me. I cry because I can. I cry because one of us should. Part II I cannot fathom what it was like I will not make excuses for your mistakes As you do not care to learn about mine I cannot visualize the impossibility of a decision that I have never made I will not feel sorry for you As you have never apologized to me I cannot empathize with your misfortune I will not try to As you are not even aware of what makes me weep Part III I want to know your intentions Your plans, The sound of your laugh, And the size of your feet. I want to know your passions Your goals The power of your voice And the strength of your promises I want to know you Your smell The way your skin feels And the bumps and bruises I want to know your secrets Your thoughts And if I’m I one of them
The character reads‘shiawase’which means happiness. It does not convey instantaneous happiness or the happiness you feel from receiving a gift; rather, it is the happiness you feel when you’re with someone that you love.
From the Archives; Ding Oing LONG YANG
Once upon a time, there was a small village just off the city of Fuzhou,
the major city of the Fujian province in China, called Ting Jiang. Ding Oing, the locals called it in their native dialect of Chinese. This village was one of the many Fuzhounese villages that began a mass exodus in the 90’s, one that eventually caught the New York Times’ eyes by the turn of the century in the year 2000: “Ting Jiang, near here, is known locally as the ‘widow’s village,’ a quiet former farming town whose dwindling population consists almost entirely of old people, children, and women.” Often great stories, tales, and epics begin with princes, princesses, knights, and wizards. So what did the New York Times want with this impoverished group of elders, widows, and babes? An entire decade had passed while the Fuzhounese men slipped through American immigration services, and the New York Times picked up the tale just as it waned. Almost as stealthily the story of Ting Jiang began, just as quietly it dies.
These days, Ting Jiang is no longer a Fuzhounese town. My mom always
bitterly says that Fuzhou is now filled with Sichuanese people. Her bitterness I understood immediately when we returned for a long overdue trip in the summer of 2007 between seventh and eighth grade, landing in Fuzhou airport after eighteen long and exhausting hours of nasty airplane oxygen. She asked a man in Fuzhounese for directions, which shocked me. Never did we begin conversations with strangers in Fuzhounese for fear they wouldn’t understand the weird hillbilly slang dialect. Why now? Yet the answer seemed quite obvious to me the instant I asked the question to myself. This was the one place in the entire world where Fuzhounese was supposed to be normal. Sorry, he responded in Mandarin, I don’t know Fuzhounese. Sichuanese urchin, my mom muttered in the dialect only we understood. She switched to Mandarin. Even then it seemed that Ting Jiang was no longer the Fuzhounese Ding Oing, but the Ting Jiang of Mandarin and romanticized just so in English.
The village of Ting Jiang, named so because of its proximity to
the water, was known long ago for the fishing industry. That summer, my grandmother showered me with love the only way Fuzhounese parents know how, with delicious food. When I was there, she would cook for me all my old favorites, soy sauce marinated duck eggs, the delicious water spinach, different fried or steamed fish, and many kinds of seafood. She would go out early in the morning to the marketplace to buy the freshest catches, all natural-born and caught straight from the sea. Delicacies like all the different crabs, each with different names in Fuzhounese according to their species, color, size, and of course taste. My grandparents even kept a dog—whose name was simply Dog in Fuzhounese, creative—that we fed scraps to. He was quite a large dog, roughly the same size and build as a German shepherd, but his fur was golden brown. My grandfather had picked him up as a stray puppy on the streets and brought him home. He was incredibly obedient and sweet and we became fast friends in the few weeks I was there. Some years later, I would find out through a rare phone call that he had died, ran over by a car on the highway.
Growing up, I could never forget about the highway. After my dad died
when I was six, I was sent back to China in the care of his mother, the same grandmother who showered me with seafood noodles and egg fried crab. I was too young and everyone was too busy to take care of me in America. Back in Ting Jiang, I had attended elementary school across the highway. We walked across the highway many times a day. All the shops and the market and the schools were on the other side. Every time we crossed we looked carefully in each direction, very carefully. There was no pedestrian safety concept in China and the drivers wouldn’t hesitate to run over children. Nothing would happen to them if they did.
Past the highway, there were winding streets of little shops and people
all packed together, almost like Diagon Alley. All the stores would face out from either dingy grey stone covered with
moss or half rotten wood. Through those streets, we would come to a stone staircase etched into the side of a large grey stone wall.
Up that wall was the huge concrete courtyard of my elementary school.
Looking through Google Maps of Ting Jiang, the elementary school is still there and marked, like they do for any distinguishable establishment.
I was at the school for a year, wearing my uniform every day. We had been
taught how to write numbers and letters for pin yin, the phonetic version of Chinese taught to children. Even there we were forbidden to speak Fuzhounese; we were only allowed to speak Mandarin, the proper language of China. Writing the letters had been odd for me--there were the exact same ones as the American alphabet, ones that I had already learned in kindergarten in Indiana. And again they were taught to me, but this time in a totally different way. Words would start with “x” all the time and “zh” was a very distinct and obvious sound. Each different tone of “fa” would mean something totally different. Certainly, this was not English, even though it looked dangerously similar.
Crossing that highway, before entering the small winding street, taking
a turn to the left, and walking down would get us to the cement church. My grandmother was a devout Catholic, a word I never knew defined her religion until much later in America. She would bring me to a plain stone church. The people would gather and kneel on the straw that blanketed the floor and place their elbows on wooden benches to pray, often using their prayer beads, eerily resembling Buddhist beads, that ended with a crucifix. The straw, the benches, and perhaps one picture of Mary was all the little building had. Pictures of Jesus and Mary adorned the old stone house that my grandfather had built. My grandmother had taught me how to cross myself, telling me it would protect me against all sorts of demons and evils. When I left Ting Jiang after that year, it was after the turn of the century—the year 2000. I wouldn’t return until 2007. I haven’t visited since.
On the way back to America during the summer of 2007, we stopped in Indiana for a month, visiting my mom’s siblings and all their respective restaurants. None served the traditional Fuzhounese food we all shared, only the Americanized Chinese food that was expected of them. Visiting those restaurants reminded me of what work was like when our family used to run our own. Restaurant work was hard. It started at seven or eight in the morning and continued until midnight cleaning duties. In the kitchens, woks were cleaned by the swooshing of the water gushing from taps on the wall. The cooks, and often anyone else who was free, would hold metal sponges under spatulas, using them to scrape off the grime over the cooking area. Heavy mops would run over the hard tiles of the kitchen. The next day’s food would be prepared. The vacuum roared throughout the restaurant as it passed through the carpet in the dining areas. The money was counted. Finally the doors were closed and locked, waiting for tomorrow’s early morning to open again.
I was sitting in the back as the car came to a familiar roundabout. We
pulled up to an old restaurant that had obviously not been used for a long time. I opened the car door and stepped out, looking up at the building before me. A confusing ping of rightness rang through me. It started from where my heart is and radiated throughout my body. An older relative fumbled with the locks for a bit, and we walked in through the door.
It was dark, and some of the furnishings weren’t exactly the same, but
I knew that I’d been there. I saw the light brown wooden counter that ran around the entire right side of the restaurant. I remembered that counter. I had been a child here, so young that I don’t even remember my age. I remembered seeing pictures of this place in my mom’s old album among pictures of her younger self and her children posing on fallen cinderblocks in China. When I was young, the counter was so high. I had tried again and again to lift myself onto it with my arms, the way my dad taught me. I had always been frustrated that I couldn’t get on there. That was where I learned to climb on top of ledges that were too high for my legs.
One of the pictures in my mom’s album shows her, younger, with her
wavy hair, in this restaurant. Beside her is my dad. He was much taller than her, and bald. Had he always been bald? The restaurant was much more lit with red Chinese flourishing dangling from the walls. It showed signs of life, it had been worked. They were smiling. They had opened a successful business after a few years of hard work in America. The restaurant required long hours and hard work, but it was ours and through it our American dream flourished. We had a business, a house, and even a family car. My dad drove home one night with a big, shiny, green car and told me enthusiastically,“This car is yours! But you’re too young to drive it, so I’ll drive it for you for now.”
After business hours were over and the cleaning was mostly done, it was
typical to have dinner at around ten or eleven. When I first came to America, I missed water spinach, the only vegetable I would eat when I was a child. It was soft and oily, unlike other greens, which were bitter. I remember my grandmother feeding it to me back in Fujian. She would bite off the light green portions, the hard parts that were difficult to chew. I would get the soft, dark green portions. Those were the juiciest, oiliest parts. It was delicious. But there in Indiana, there was no water spinach. In front of me was a plate of something green, almost like my favorite food. It was cooked in the same way: sauted in soy sauce, how Chinese. I picked a few strands up with my chopsticks and put it in my mouth. Immediately, I felt a grimy feeling on my teeth, as if something had been layered on it. When I ground my teeth against each other, it produced a shuddering response from my shoulders and neck. It was akin to that of metal pots scraping against each other. I said out loud:“this isn’t water spinach”in Fuzhounese.
“It’s the same thing!”my dad had responded. I grudgingly ate some more,
but never as enthusiastically. I knew it wasn’t the same. It just couldn’t be the same juicy vegetable from Fujian, cooked and fed to me by my grandmother.
Walking into that old restaurant again, memories of my time with my entire
family flooded back to me. But that wasn’t our place anymore. That had changed when my dad died. My mom sold the restaurant because we couldn’t work it anymore. We sold our house and even the car my dad bought for me. He never had the chance to give it to me. I still don’t know how to drive. We moved to New York Chinatown so my mom could find work as a seamstress at a sweatshop. She’s sewed her entire life and was highly valued by her employers because of talent. That was where we would return after the summer of 2007.
Mom talks about Dad sometimes. She told us how much his first boss liked
him, and how much he helped us when my dad got sick. Even though by then my dad had quit and was working his own restaurant. My dad used to run deliveries, I’m sure of that. It makes sense now, being in that old car with my mom waiting for my dad to come back from dropping off the food. I remember being really quiet in the car because I believed there was some law that prohibited people to be in cars that weren’t running. I don’t want to be caught, I had told myself.
I wonder if my dad ever thought that during his sojourn to America in 1991,
“I don’t want to be caught.” I heard stories about immigration where people would take a ship for fifty days and sneak through the Mexican desert. But my dad didn’t, he just took a plane to Los Angeles and from there to New York. He told immigration services that he was a faucet salesman. I laughed hysterically when my mom told me that, imagining my dad as a faucet salesman. The debt had been set, and he was settled into years of indentured servitude. One of my mom’s cousinsv met him in New York and found him a job in New Jersey. That’s where he used to run those deliveries; I figured I lived in New Jersey at some point in my life.
That was one of the many stories of where the Fuzhounese men went. This
wasn’t Ding Oing anymore; this was Mei Wo, America. Despite what the New York Times would have you believe, they didn’t just disappear and turn up in the States doing restaurant work. They had lives, parents, spouses, children, homes, languages, cultures, identities, and religions, and left it all to take on the burden of a better future.
JOYCE CHANG 19
The Crown HYUNWOOK YOON
Yield to the normality in this one-sided game. Kill for the callous lead in the Yoon maiden name. Reaching for the heavens, in a land of no religion We strive for the best and isolate; the brainless pigeon. In this endless tragedy, of princess prejudice majesty Her crown glistens so brightly it blinds me; logical fallacy. Dirty are the participants whoâ€™s in it for the fame. Shortly I will be on world tour; call me David Blaine. The glass ceiling was built by the glass we made, Seems so hard to overlook the irony on display. Raze the fence of yellow, build the Monticello. Defend against societyâ€™s gravity and be the Othello.
Assimilation YOSHIKA WASON
Why do Asian kids only hang out with Asian kids anyways? You need to fit
in with the right crowd. Just stop being weird about it. You could finally be normal. Do you wish you were white? Why else would you dye your hair blonde? And why are you trying out for cheerleading? Don’t you know that Asian girls don’t do that? Oh my god, I can’t believe how bad you are at math. So you’re dating a white guy now? Does he call you exotic? Don’t you know that he was with this other Asian chick before you? Maybe you know her? To be honest, sometimes you’re really fake. Like just stop trying to be someone you’re not. What’s that word again…oh yeah, whitewashed.
Untitled DENNIS MA
Sometimes my cultural guilt gets the better of me. I feel this every time
my Chinese pronunciation slips up between strings of tonal shifts, when I don’t recall sayings, idioms, jokes, and rituals. I feel guilty when I slip into familiar verbal tics, because my vocabulary isn’t quite where it should be, or when conversations with my parents hit a wall due to a dearth of shared analogies. I’m still clumsy with chopsticks, can’t order off a menu in a Chinese restaurant for the life of me, and have the reading comprehension skills of a toddler.
My parents will never understand why I love Seamus Heaney so much,
or how the English language has the capacity to make my synapses tingle. With the exception of my Asian politesse, I’ve mostly inherited a hodgepodge of New Jersey brashness, ruthless addiction to coffee, appreciation of bagels, indie rock and roll, and a strange affection for IPAs. I listen to NPR, indulge in Ted Talks, and know a wee too much about prepositions. I am, for all intents and purposes, American.
And that assertion is, in itself, ludicrous. Of course I am American! I was
born here, and will always assert that the US is my motherland. So why do I find the need to constantly re-qualify my sense of self?
Why do I still feel out of the loop?
I have difficulty letting things go. I still agonize over high school classmates
complimenting me as “the whitest Asian they know,” as if Caucasian were analogous to normative behavior. I have been told countless times that I can’t handle a vehicle, not on the account of physical or mental impairment, but on self-contained racial justification. I know that if I tell strangers that I was an English major at BC, they would be broadly taken aback, as if I had somehow inverted the status quo. I was once asked,
innocently, if I used chopsticks to eat soup, as if to imply a sort of backwardness. An old flame once casually told me, “of course you should know, because you’re, you know, Asian.” I feel that I’ve spent most of my brief time willfully subverting expectations, pounding my fists upon boundaries, and, well, fighting racialized demons, real or imagined.
In an article for Salon, Arthur Chu writes,“getting by on
‘intangibles,’on‘being yourself,’on being vulnerable and revealing your failures— that’s for people who aren’t cultural outsiders.”Asian-Americans are stereotyped as academics, but never mind that we have to work harder and perform better to even statistically match the mobility shared by our other ethnic peers. Never mind that television is fraught with Asian-Americans cast as muffled exotics and emasculated men. For all the backhanded security of our“model minority”status, it is, and remains, terribly limiting.
And so, to wrap this up, this is precisely why what ASIAM is doing is
necessary, and perhaps brave. It is taking the question of authenticity—where are you really from?—and reverse interrogating it. We need to show the greater cultural consciousness more than the doctors, engineers, programmers and scientists. We need to show them our words, our hearts, our art. We need to expand what it means to be Asian within the scope of being American.
We need to annihilate the hyphen, and start just being us.
ASIAM Executive Board Where are you really from? Co-Editors-in-Chief Yoshika Wason 2015 A place where memories aren’t forgotten. Long Yang 2016 I’m a country boy living in Metropolis, originally from another world.
Content Editors Marisa Acevedo 2018 The alright coast, as opposed to the “Best Coast” William Hwang 2015 Jupiter. It’s a long story; I didn’t planet. Layout & Design Editors Liz Choi 2017 Wayne, New Jersey. Joyce Jiang 2017 Buzzfeed says Portland, Minnesota.
Public Relations Chair Gabby Aquino 2016 The very exotic state of New Jersey. Sijin Choi 2017 Seoul to Kona to the Empire State.
Boston College's Asian American literary magazine