Margins, issue i: Bodies

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We would like to respectfully recognize and acknowledge that we are on the traditional, ancestral, stolen, current lands of the Catawba Nation and Shakori Tribe. This process is a way of honoring and expressing gratitude for the Catawba and Shakori Peoples who have been and continue to be on this land. Readers, we ask that you reflect on the histories of the peoples of the lands you occupy as the entire United States is built on top of Indigenous communities. The ability to create this publication here in Durham and at Duke is predicated on the dispossession and genocide of the Indigenous Peoples who lived and continue to live with this land. Beginning in at least 1880 (according to archival records), students from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were enrolled within Trinity College’s special “Cherokee Industrial School.” The federal government offered financial incentives to schools around the country, including Trinity College, to assimilate indigenous students into Euro-American culture and strip them of their culture in the infamous “boarding schools.” At Duke, we continue to fail to support Indigenous students and people through a lack of Indigenous faculty, classes, and administration. In spite of the lack of visibility and Duke’s deliberate or ignorant silence in confronting its colonial history, Indigenous students continuously work to decolonize and reclaim their space. Only recently did space at Duke and recognition by Duke emerge, such as the Wekit, a new space in the Center for Multicultural Affairs in the Bryan Center for the Native American Student Alliance and Native students on campus. But this can only be the start. As settlers and non-native people on Turtle Island, we—the Asian American Studies Working Group and the Margins Publication Team—benefit from the ongoing dispossession and colonization of Indigenous Peoples on this continent. In order to act in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, it is our responsibility to proactively challenge and dismantle colonialist and imperialist thought and behavior in our communities. In doing so, we must recognize that we as Asians and Asian Americans are complicit in settler colonialism as settlers on this land and that our struggles for social justice may not align with struggles for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. But because we are settlers on stolen land, the leadership and priorities of Indigenous people come first. While a land acknowledgment alone is not enough, it is an important social justice and decolonial practice that promotes Indigenous visibility and a reminder that we are on unceded Indigenous land. Let this be an opening for all of us to contemplate ways to join in decolonial and Indigenous movements for sovereignty and selfdetermination. We urge that you not stop at realization and reflection but actively and continuously find ways to support Indigenous peoples in their struggles for liberation. INDIGENOUS ORGS TO SUPPORT Duke Native American Student Alliance: North Carolina Native American Youth Organization: Native Youth Sexual Health Network: Kahea: The Hawaiian-Environmental Network: Unist’ot’en Camp: The Red Nation: Support and donate to Indigenous people directly: INDIGENOUS FOLX TO FOLLOW ON TWITTER Allen, @lilnativeboy Ruth Hopkins, @ruthH_Hopkins Jisu, @dearnonnatives Terisa Siagatonu, @terisasiagatonu Dr. Adrienne Keene, @NativeApprops Dr. Eve Tuck, @tuckeve Seeding Sovereignty, @SeedSovereignty Chelsea Vowel (âpihtawikosisân), @apihtawikosisan


i. What is Margins? Margins is an invitation as much as it is an intervention. It is an invitation for Asian/ Americans to engage in more nuanced, critical conversations about identity, power, and politics. It is an intervention into Asian/American communities that have stood passively in the face of injustice or have contributed actively to our oppression and the oppression of others. It is a call from the margins, to the margins, by the margins—a call to action against marginalization, discrimination, and oppression; a call to action for freedom, liberation, and a better world. We aim to (re)politicize Asian/American identity, expanding the vocabulary for understanding how we, as Asian/Americans, are variously positioned in a racialized, gendered, sexualized, classed society. ii. What is “bodies”? When thinking about bodies, we are drawing deliberately and consciously from the Black intellectual and radical tradition that has paved the way in analysis and resistance against white supremacy. Asian/Americans are deeply indebted to the work of Black organizers, intellectuals, and revolutionaries. In a white supremacist society, people of color are rendered into/reduced to their bodies. “Bodies” is a lens of analysis that makes explicit processes of dehumanization, violence, accumulation, commodification, racialization, alienation, and exploitation. The body is a site molded by history. It is a locus at which forces like white supremacy, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, and colonialism operate, become embodied, and shape the contours of the Asian/American body. At the same time, we as Asian/Americans must be wary of reinforcing those violent processes by speaking about people only in terms of bodies. As non-Black Asian/Americans have historically co-opted, distorted, and diluted Black radical thought and continue to contribute to and benefit from anti-Blackness, we must actively struggle against the symbolic and material anti-Black violence that comes from incessant talk of “bodies” and not human beings. And “bodies” are more than just individual, corporeal bodies. The Asian/American political body as a coalition among Asians in solidarity with other people of color, including Black, Indigenous, Latinx people, in the United States and colonized people around the world is a body. The oceans, the seas, the bodies of water that our parents, grandparents, ancestors traveled across— sometimes as laborers, sometimes as refugees, sometimes as settlers—are bodies. The minimum body count American soldiers were required to kill during the Vietnam War, the uncountable lives lost in American imperialism and colonialism in Asia and around the world, those are bodies. iii. We are striving to make the margins visible. To carve out a space and construct a vocabulary for consciousness raising, coalition building, and status quo smashing. Margins is a testament to the fact that we’re here, we have a voice, and we won’t be silenced. As racialized, gendered, sexualized, classed, and Othered bodies, it is impossible for us as Asian/Americans to remain silent and complicit. “Asian/American” is not a mere identity label, census category, or a descriptor. We must use “Asian/Americanness” as an analytical category to understand race, gender, sexuality, class, power and as a rallying cry to unite with one another and oppressed people everywhere, from Duke and beyond. Our survival depends on it! After all, none of us are free until all of us are free. iv. Welcome to Margins, issue i: Bodies. Written by Annie Yang | she/her/hers | Duke’20


margins team Afreen Ashraf she/her/hers ‘22 Theo Cai he/him/his


Shania Khoo she/her/hers ‘22 David Lee he/him/his


Madison Lee she/her/hers ‘22 Deney Li she/her/hers ‘23 Jenny Li she/her/hers ‘23 Tyler Lian he/him/his


Emily Liu she/her/hers ‘20 Ashley Lo she/her/hers ‘23 Irene Park she/her/hers ‘22 Jiahui Shen he/him/his


Mona Tong she/her/hers ‘22 Shawin Vitsupakorn he/him/his


Carrie Wang she/her/hers ‘22 Celine Wei she/her/hers ‘23 Annie Yang she/her/hers ‘20

Diya Asian American Alliance Asian Students Association Center for Multicultural Affairs Carol Dinh

Amy Yoon she/her/hers ‘22 Lucy Zheng she/her/hers ‘21

Elmer Orellana Asian American and Diaspora Studies

special thanks


table of contents 5

Anisa Khalifa | Home


Celine Wei | Last Impressions (cw: ghosts, anxiety)


Mong Tong | My Body in Space (cw: fatphobia, disordered eating, body shaming)


Elizabeth Lee (cw: capitalism)


Musa Saleem | The Construction of Cultural Identity Under Capitalism and White Supremacy (cw: capitalism, white supremacy)




Jerry Wang | Orientation (cw: microaggressions, gatekeeping language)


Tyler Lian | Pain Management


Jasmine Lu | Exploring Desire with AFWM Narrative (cw: fetishization, white supremacy, misogyny)


Holly Ren | Sky Turned Upside Down


Shania Khoo | what does it mean to be southeast asian (cw: colonialism, identity erasure)


JYT | Enough (cw: body shaming, fatphobia, disordered eating)


Jake Wong | New York


Lucy Dong | Dancing in the Diaspora


Lucy Zheng (cw: sexual content)


Reg Ledesma | Undocumented (cw: deportation, anxiety, ICE, deportation)


AK | Baggage


Alethea Toh | Being an Asian Woman in <Tech/>


Sanha Lim (cw: internalized misogyny and homophobia, sexual content, toxic masculinity)


Carrie Wang | Grocery Lists


Pranav Athimuthu | abcd.


Theo Cai | In search of the ultimate poem about Diaspora (cw: gender dysmorphia)


Hannah Miao


Anonymous | Yellow (cw: anorexia, internalized racism)


Tamara Tran | Coming to America (cw: refugee, forced displacement)


FW | Hidden Nuances (cw: anti-Blackness)


Ayesham Khan | When Creator made Mother, Meet Cheat Street, my mother birthed


Jiahui Shen | Immigration Then, Immigration Now (cw: discriminatory policies, deportation, systemic state violence, ICE)


Here’s what I know about this country. I wasn’t born here but came here at age 11, miserable to be torn away from my friends and the place of my birth, transplanted to this humid place. A country where not even the weather is allowed to cross borders. Here’s what I know about this country. It’s a land of staggering contrasts, founded on radical ideas of equality, of freedom and justice for all. It counts among its people, past and present, incredible human beings from every background, beacons of innovation and ingenuity that have transformed the face of the earth. The way we talk— the way we make art in this world of ours— the whole world dreams in Hollywood technicolor and listens to rock and roll and hip hop. We have a multiplicity of faces, enfold a kaleidoscope of living cultures within our own; we live on a continent that staggers us with the beauty of creation. Here’s what else I know about this country. It is a behemoth of an empire, a juggernaut that scatters the world’s people like flecks of foam before its prow. All are powerless against the unstoppable will of this country’s self-interest. The ruling class is equally ruthless toward our own people, the marginalized the dehumanized the disenfranchised losing their lives and rights daily in our streets and prisons. In their own homes.

Here’s what I know. My country doesn’t love me back. It doesn’t consider me a full citizen, despite the passport that took me over a decade to get. It doesn’t think people like me deserve to have the same rights granted to descendants of colonizers. It doesn’t believe in the humanity of people who look like us. Here’s what I know about my country. It’s my home. My way of loving it is to call it on its mistakes. My love is the honesty and the bravery to push back against the white supremacy that’s been rotting us from the inside out for centuries. My love is to remember our history with all its trauma its pain its ugliness because that history also holds evidence of resilience, and courage, the human resolve to die fighting rather than face humiliation in silence. My love is to continue to call America “us,” even when I am excluded from that “us.” To keep fighting for my country’s soul to keep fighting for this country’s people because I know I’m not the only one who loves America this way. And because I believe that whatever we might have to sacrifice along the way, our effort will not be wasted. Here’s what I love about my country: we’re in it together.

home home home anisa khalifa she/her/hers critical asian humanities TIMELINE OF ASIAN AMERICAN STUDIES AT DUKE: Running along the bottom of this publication, you’ll find a brief history of events pertaining to the ONGOING movement to establish an Asian American Studies program at Duke. It is crucial for us to remember our roots and our past, as memory is political. You can find a full version of this timeline with more details and links for each event, created by Tyler Lian (c/o’20) using this QR code:


last impressions celine wei | she/her/hers | c/o’23 A thousand years of bound feet and still you don’t know the escape route! Tell me American brat, what do you know about sacrifice? Marilyn Chin, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen I remember seeing them on my first trip to China. “Where is the bathroom?” No response, and I even put the accents on all the right words. I look around, since I am a Chinese daughter who has hyper social anxiety (my family, and thus every single Chinese person, is (dia)critical of everyone). My face heating up, I walk up and tap them on the shoulder. My finger passes through, and I topple over. “How embarrassing. I may have lost my body to the Nationalists, but you’re the one losing face. Every morning, you pledge allegiance to a country that will betray you and kill your cousins to save their wallets. Will bubble tea and Lucy Liu bring you liberation?” They huff and march away. These translucent figures keep showing up. The shadow of an old man smoking opium. Aging women who flash between youthful Beijing opera makeup and sagging, sage eyes. The Chinese step-daughter of a French woman, treated like a servant to her half-white step-sisters. Hollywood propaganda of Fu Manchus and Confucius mysticism dance and finally disappear from my line of sight.

FEBRUARY 13, 1969: Allen Building Takeover: Between 50 and 75 Duke students, many of whom were members of the Afro-American Society, occupied the Allen Building. They make thirteen demands for black students on campus, including a demand for Afro-American Studies and Black Student Union. Black Studies are established at Duke that fall semester, despite ambivalent support from the university.


My grandparents see different ghosts. Streets that used to exist, the outline of their old home, converted into an office building. The coins they’d been saving in a tin under their bed for 10 years: refused by a bored cashier. Entire ghost towns and roads vanish into a hazy smog, its skeleton dressed to the nines in Modernity. School days start before the sun rises, and end right as it dips beneath the squat gray buildings, disappearing behind strokes of swirling clouds. At lunch time, my brother and I eat steamed buns and rice from a communal basket. Our American public school education did not prepare us for the complex fractions, and we are cute little dumplings in a strangely familiar pressure cooker. And we immediately earn our nickname: 美国鬼子. American ghosts. Time doesn’t exist on the trans-Atlantic return flight away from our homeland, thousands of miles away yet parallel to the historical voyages, contours carved into the flesh of the body of water and strands pulling me down and pulling me back to those who stayed. When we land, our grandparents have their green cards checked. Echoes of customs interrogations cast shadows on my thoughts until they are released. Falling asleep, a train blares by on the tracks behind my house, drowning out the ghosts I brought with me, drowning out myself. How could I be exorcised when I didn’t even know my own unfinished business, my own history? The train blows past. I haven’t been back since.

SPRING 1982: House course “Asians in America” — Steven Chin ‘81 and Caroline Wang ‘83.

SPRING 1986: House course: “Asian American Women: Unbound Feet” — Janet Chiang ‘86.

We note house courses in this timeline to acknowledge the student labor that goes unrecognized and unremembered by the university, especially since these house courses were taught because of a lack of investment and commitment to Asian American Studies by the university.

my body in space

mona tong she/her/hers c/o’22

It’s July 2012. We’re in my granduncle’s apartment in Wuhan, the smell of soy sauce and oil, meat and

vegetables enveloping the air we share. As I pile shredded potatoes—“tu dou si”—into my bowl until it overflows, my relatives take turns commenting on our weight, especially my brother’s, “overweight” by BMI standards. Between mouthfuls of rice, they say we’ve both gained weight – “zhang pang le.” They encourage us to eat, eat more, the more the better. I am unaware of my body in space.

Before Duke, I had never been aware of my body and the space that it fills. I had never been aware of the way my stomach folded over my jeans or the way my arms expanded at my sides. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been the average weight for my height, so I never encountered the day-to-day microaggressions or weight bias from our fatphobic society and healthcare system. Perhaps it’s because I was raised in a family with big appetites, one that valued food and eating. Like many other Asian families, my childhood revolved around food – specifically, my grandma’s cooking. My grandma’s biggest fear was that my brother and I wouldn’t have enough to eat like her and her daughters growing up, so she made sure our stomachs were full at nearly every point of the day. I never thought twice about the food I put in my mouth.

It’s October 2018. I’m at a house on Myrtle Beach. I’m ravenous. I sit on the couch quietly scarfing down dinner. Do you want food? I ask the girl sitting next to me. She hesitates. No, I’m wearing a bikini tomorrow, she says. She points to her stomach, assuming I understand. I don’t – at least not immediately. She laughs it off. She touches her stomach. I don’t finish my dinner. I am aware of my body in space. It wasn’t just that experience, but a collection of different ones. It was the subtle comments from my peers – unconsciously grounded in diet culture, fatphobia, and societal norms. It was the stress and fear from being in a new environment, from not having my friends back home to lean on. It was the resurfaced memories, the reflections on my childhood and cultural perceptions about bodies in space, my own body in space. I don’t know what exactly caused it, but I know that Duke was the first time I ever felt ashamed about eating more than others, about eating when no one else was; the first time I ever felt self-conscious of the space my body filled relative to others. Duke was the first time I hated my body.

It’s November 2018. I pick at my body in the mirror every morning and every night. I discover intermittent fasting and MyFitnessPal. It’s not a diet, it’s a healthy lifestyle change, I say. Did you know intermittent fasting can help reduce stress, boost metabolism, and extend lifespans? I set my daily allotment of calories to 1,200—the “healthy number” for women, according to pseudoscientific media headlines. Calories and numbers slowly seep into my mind, navigating my thoughts like mice on wheels, spinning, spinning, spinning. I am aware of my body in space. During freshman year, I’ve missed more social events and hangouts than I’d like to admit. Intermittent fasting began as an experiment to try something new. Then it became an excuse—an excuse to go to parties and not eat or drink, an excuse to not eat breakfast, an excuse to deny myself the calories I didn’t feel entitled to.

FALL 1988: Duke initiated a section for “Asian and African

FALL 1989: House course “Racial Stereotypes in Languages and Literature.” Sections were programs designated to American Political Culture: An Asian Paradigm.” become full departments in three to five years. This section was directed by Miriam Cooke. Note: This is not Asian American Studies, but rather a precursor to Duke Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.



During freshman year, I’ve told more lies than I’d like to admit. I told my friends I was lactose intolerant as an excuse to refuse the pizza, ice-cream, and mac and cheese that I was secretly afraid of. I told my friends I was busy when I wasn’t, or that I had already eaten when I hadn’t. I never told my friends why I had so many food points left over. Every move, every thought, every action was an excuse to not eat, an excuse to dismiss my hunger and confuse my body’s fight for survival as overindulgence. With every move, every thought, every action, I disavowed my body’s right to exist in space.

It’s December 2018. My grandma sets down a bowl of tu dou si and three plates of fried pork dumplings on the dinner table. I can’t stand my anxiety. I get up and announce that I’m going to eat out with friends tonight. I’m sorry, I say. I’m sorry. My grandma protests. She is upset and hurt. I grip my keys so hard my knuckles turn white. I feel guilty for dismissing my grandma’s love, but guiltier still if I had eaten her food. I feel entitled for refusing her food, but only because I do not feel entitled to the calories in them. At the Cheesecake Factory, I tell my friends I’m not hungry, that I’ve already eaten dinner at home. Calories and numbers navigate my thoughts like mice on wheels as I silently watch them enjoy cheesy nachos and quesadillas. I am hyper-aware of my body in space. I still think of that day and the days thereafter, when I refused my grandma’s food. In Asian culture, food is our love language that fills the gaps our tongues can’t reach. When my parents would only really begin to eat their dinner after my brother and I had finished, after our bellies were full, they were saying, “I love you.” When my grandma made my favorite foods and never had a single bite, she was saying “I love you.” When I refused my grandma’s food, I had refused her love. But at the time, I felt paralyzed and helpless. My parents and grandma, who grew up in poverty in China, know what it’s like to be hungry. They saw each day’s food at the dinner table as more than sustenance. The bowl of white rice was a measure of their success in America, the pinnacle of their American Dream. They could never understand how anyone could refuse to eat when they’re hungry, how anyone could be afraid of food. “Just eat,” they’d say, pushing plates and plates of food in front of me, which only made me shrivel in greater fear, greater disgust, greater hatred for my body when I eventually gave in. The easiest thing to do was to make excuses.

It’s March 2019. My mom praises me for losing weight; she says I look better. But she also says my complexion— my “lian se”—is white and that I should eat more. I’m confused. How can the two—staying skinny and eating more—naturally exist in harmony with each other? I am hyper-aware of my body in space and wish it would disappear. “How can the two—staying skinny and eating more—naturally exist in harmony with each other?” It’s a question I would think about time and time again because the two cannot naturally exist in harmony with each other if they aren’t meant to. I wish I had known then that they didn’t have to. I know that there was never any malice when my mom praised me for losing weight, that there was never any malice when my relatives lightly joked about my brother’s weight. But it’s a paradox when you live within a culture that honors food and values thinness simultaneously, that connects food with love but thinness with pride – a paradox that can easily belittle you if your natural body doesn’t happen to fall within insurmountable Asian beauty standards.

FALL 1996: House course “Issues of Identity & Gender in APRIL 23, 1998: Tenure-track approved for the Duke Recent Asian American Literature.” African and African American Studies program.


And there’s a disconnect when you’re stuck between two different cultures, both of which glorify thinness and exude fatphobia, but in different ways – when you feel that you don’t truly belong in either culture yet feel the distinctive pressures from both. Neither Asian culture nor Western culture is directly to blame for my battle with my body, but their collective pressures have made this battle so much more difficult to talk about.

It’s May 2019. I look in the mirror and feel so weak, so small. I am a shadow of myself, disappearing into nothing. My hollowed cheekbones form black, concave circles under my eyes. I used to hate the way my face expanded into a perfect circle when I smiled too wide. Now the circles under my eyes darken when I smile. I realize there is nothing beautiful about a shrinking body. There is nothing empowering about a starving body. My mom will never understand the calories and numbers that navigate my thoughts like mice on wheels. My dad will never understand my hatred for my body. My grandma will never understand my crippling fear of the food I used to love so much. But they try their best to support me. In their flawed but loving ways. I am aware of my body in space. I tell myself I will love it no matter how much space it fills. Recovery is scary because it contradicts everything Western and Asian society has taught us since birth: every disordered behavior we’ve been indoctrinated with, every belief we have swallowed. Over the past few months, I have watched my body change, expand, and become softer in the mirror. I have watched myself relinquish the rules and control I spent so much energy creating for myself. Recovery is scary because it is exactly what society won’t celebrate. Society won’t congratulate you for gaining weight. Society won’t believe that a bigger body can be healthier than a smaller one. Society won’t tell you that your natural body was made to be soft. Recovery is scary because you are reminding yourself daily that your body deserves to be human, that it deserves to take up space in the world. My body, no matter its size, is worthy of taking up space, of being loved, of being seen, of enjoying food with friends because it is human.

It’s December 2019. I pile tu dou si into my bowl until it overflows. I eat hotpot and don’t only eat the vegetables. I go out for food with friends, then dinner with family two hours later. Calories and numbers no longer navigate my thoughts like mice on wheels. I wish I could say I do this all just like I did before; I wish I can say I have learned to love my body. But I haven’t. I still ask my mom if I’m fat more times than I can count. I still feel guilty whenever I eat way past fullness, which is often. I still hide in sweatshirts to avoid being noticed. I still squeeze the skin on my stomach and under my arms and wish it would disappear. I am still ashamed of my body and the space it fills. I am still ashamed to occupy a body different than the Asian ideal—ashamed of the Asianness that my body simultaneously exudes too much of and not enough of. I know that no matter what, I will always be aware of my body in space. But I also know that no matter what, loving and embracing my body in space will always be my end goal. Because loving our bodies isn’t just for white Americans alone. Because Asian Americans too deserve to feel worthy of their bodies in space, worthy of existing, worthy of being human. As Asian Americans, we hide our insecurities and inadequacies about our bodies; we hide them in our bodies. But there is so much more freedom in just letting go. We cannot hide everything in our bodies, and we don’t need to. Our body image struggles are valid because our bodies are valid. Because our bodies exist in space. Our bodies thrive in space.

APRIL 8, 2002: Asian American Studies Teach-In: Students Christina Hsu ‘03, Nancy Lee ‘04, Stephanie Liu ‘05, Dipta

Basu ‘03, and Namita Koppa ‘03 formed the Asian American Studies Undergraduate Working Group, a multiracial coalition with student and faculty supporters. BSA, the Freeman Center, and Diya all wrote letters of support to the administration. They were inspired by recent hate incidents on campus, identifying an ignorance of Asian American issues as the root cause. The organizers of the teach-in were members of Visiting Professor Seung Hye Suh’s “Asian American Literature and Culture” class and members of AASUWG. Around 100 people attended.



I’ve been thinking a lot about how capitalism has tricked us into believing that our value is how much labor our bodies can give. As a result, our relationships have become a transactional experience rather than one rooted in communal care and empathy. Human interaction has become like business deals and templates that put productivity and capital gain at the forefront instead of humanity. I’ve been blessed to have relationships in my life that make me feel holistically seen and greatly loved. I am treated like a human and not a human resource complaint. This photo comes from a place of being grateful to those who have poured into me and who have let me pour into them, who have still been present when I am down. The best parts of my body have been built on a strong foundation because of those who have sat down and taken the time to call me in and be in community with them. The red line is the process of their thoughts that speak through their lips that have entered my thoughts and speak through the words you’re reading here. It is a relationship that is transactional but is transactional in a way that is through communal care and not to gain capital. It is for growth and love and connection. It is a relationship where bodies are meant to lean on each other and be life-giving forces. liz lee she/her/hers c/o’21 APRIL 10, 2002: Proposal submitted for Asian American Studies at Duke: The proposal, written by students Christina Hsu and Tony Kwon, argued the importance of Asian American Studies, laid out a timetable for major milestones, and was signed by more than 1,000 students.


The Construction of Cultural Identity Under Capitalism and White Supremacy At certain times, I wear my red-silken shalwar kameez and other times I do not. When I do, it is for either one of two reasons: I’m going to a culturally-themed event or I’m in my room, missing home. When I do not, it’s because of everything else. And I mean this quite literally. I cannot wear it. I can and usually do wear this black kameez and jeans hybrid that I have, but that is the extent to which I usually go. I assume that this experience is obvious to most other brown persons in the US. I assume also that a critique exploring why I can’t wear my dress in public is familiar to people too—because white people have a certain way of going about the world and failing to do that under white supremacy means exclusion, of some sort or APRIL 24, 2002: “Rally for our Education” for Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies was held outside of Allen Building. More than 50 students attended the rally, at which both students and faculty members called for Asian American Studies.

another, from normal public life. But if my world in a lot of ways is at the whim of white supremacy, why does it allow me to have my own space to wear my shalwar kameez? The critique stated above could equally imply: I, as a brown man, am only allowed to wear what white people want me to wear all the time, without any space for me to express my culture. But I have been bestowed with a space. What is, then, the function of this space? What does it do? It may be said that the ability to express myself in this space is a hard-won right and a symbol of resistance. That may be true. The question, however, is: can this symbol remain the same thing across multiple historical and cultural situations? I believe that because this space so easily exists under the current order, it does something in line with this order. Cultural expression, then, under the current order of capitalism and white supremacy, is, or can be, a function of it. Note again where I can and cannot wear my shalwar kameez. I cannot wear it in ‘practical’ life. I do not see brown persons, including myself, wear it in WU, in the classroom, at my internship, or during a night out. One might say: but there are distinct clothing types for each of these situations, casual shirts for the first two, and formal or business casual for the latter. But what about what I culturally think is casual or formal for a brown Pakistani? I am always wearing a shirt, or a form of it, in what I and everyone else thinks is in a normal i.e. Western sense. The construction of a cultural dress for a specific culturally-themed setting is exactly what I am talking about. We might now ask: what is this culturally-themed setting? It is a setting where I am having fun—or, more accurately, a setting built on the premise of having fun. A setting of play. Like the ‘India’

APRIL 25, 2002: Administrators approved proposal for one

course development grant for Fall 2002, two course development grants for Fall 2003, funds for an Asian American Studies symposia for 2002-2003, an Asian American Studies task force to discuss the future structure of Asian American Studies at Duke, and the establishment of a Center for Asian and Asian American Studies.


Orleans brothels in the late 19th Century to the uniquely personalized ‘Indian’ dresses employees at Tandoor need to wear. India represented, and continues to represent, play and desire in a now different form.

both black and brown people exist under the same order, how is it that black people are not succeeding but brown people are? The problem, the logic of white supremacy says, must be with black people.

My point, thus, is this: Culture begins where work ends. Culture, under capitalism, is play. To express myself is to express myself within the framework, definitions, and limits set by work, and thus, by the currently existing order.

But this assumes the category ‘people-of-color’ as being a real thing. Black peoples’ experiences are rooted in slavery. The experiences of desi/brown/Indian people you hear about on TV are rooted in a bureaucratic process of selection in immigration where there was a deliberate attempt made at ‘choosing’ upper and upper-middle class South Asians. This ignores the experiences of working-class South Asian people who came to the US before and outside this process. The appearance of success and failure, thus, was engineered from the very beginning.


But this order is also constructed through white supremacy. How does white supremacy make use of my culture? First of all, note that this order, the United States, is founded upon the subjugation and oppression of black people. If how I express my culture is a function of this order, then I am, in some way, contributing to this subjugation.

When you think of an Indian person or India, you think of a distinct cultural world. Think of yoga. Think of yogis with Indian names who white people throughout the US follow. Think of the Beatles and their use of the sitar. Think of Indian food. Of words that have made it into English and are recognized as explicitly Indian, like ‘masala’ or ‘curry’. Think perhaps also of the Kama Sutra. Think then of a black person or ‘black America’. You do not think of any of this. The way white supremacy performs its subjugating role is by creating a hierarchy of the people existing under it. Indians are seemingly doing pretty okay (think of the Google CEO). If

The point of all of this is to say that cultural expression is in itself not an act of liberation. To be cultured is to be cultured in the eyes of white people. A culture built on this premise will not emancipate, but merely further exploitation in various ways. True emancipation, instead, begins from revolutionary and radical roots that makes culture not a form of play for the most privileged, but a recognition of the struggles of the most marginalized. With this in mind, we can move forward with the expression of a culture that does not further, but instead resists the domination of capitalism and white supremacy.

musa saleem he/him/his c/o’22

OCTOBER 1, 2002: First Asian American Studies task force meeting. Faculty and students on the task force requested two faculty lines and an external review committee composed of senior scholars in Asian American Studies to visit Duke. The Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences responded with no support, citing a budget issue.


I’m led into a room, white as an asylum With alphabet posters pasted everywhere And pictures with words all shorter than five letters I’m sat down with the others, and we’re kindergarteners again Writing “you” and “he” and “the” and “a” While my classmates learn antonyms and suffixes

(W h i c h

I l ea r n e d a f e w

w e e ks a g o at home)

Perusing “Level 1 Phonics” and “Early Reader 1” While my classmates get Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants

(B o t h

(as i f

O f W h i ch I

c o u l d r e a d l a s t y e a r)

Reminded to speak English, while my classmates, It was assumed

I coul d

spe a k a n y other language)

I look around and wonder why And soon I find my a nswer I see no blue in others eyes Blond hair atop their little heads Or skin white like snow, But please know, We are still America I do see brown in all their eyes Heads of hair dark like the night sky And “foreign” looks from places oft unknown, So it’s too bad no one else knows,

We are still America And I know none of us Are Brady, Smith, Or even Jones, But even so,

We are still America I look back down at my worksheet Staring back and mocking me And remember, while


We are still America; we still aren’t Americans NOVEMBER 22 2002:

East meets South: Asian American issues in Duke, Durham, and the South panel — AASUWG.

JANUARY 29, 2003: “Transforming the Academy: Asian American Studies”

Colloquium: This was an event with a series of speakers calling for the development of an Asian American Studies, including funding for courses and a research center. Speakers included Gary Okihiro, Evelyn Hu-DeHart, and Stephen Sumida.


Orientation jerry wang he/him/his c/o’21

Author’s Statement The documentation of the Asian American body has seen a strong growth in recent years. However, there are still significant steps to be made before we can truly claim total representation. One of these steps is to recognize that the Asian American body as a social construct is far from uniform, that the upbringings of Asians born in this country vary drastically from region to region. By virtue of our concentrated demographic distribution, we regularly drown out the stories of those who do not fit the traditional mold of the Asian American. I was born and raised in West Virginia, a state where Asians comprise 0.7% of the population. My body was an exotic, almost outlandish presence, and while this experience is becoming progressively more uncommon, it is not exclusive. As bodies like mine migrate and occupy different spaces, the subconscious views towards them change. The following piece records a dialogue with a silent responder, an empty space for the reader to fill with his or her own imagined body, and to reflect as to what extent those responses impact its interpretation. Are we listening to every account? If not, then what aspect of each body are we choosing to see?

WHAT HAPPENED? Why don’t we have Asian American Studies at Duke? From an interview (2016) with Christina

Hsu, courtesy of Alan Ko: “In the end, our working group fell short of creating an institutionalized Asian American studies program at Duke because no dedicated faculty hires were approved or granted. There are no core AAS courses available at Duke, and yet there is still an appetite amongst the student body for them. Alumni decades before us lobbied for Asian American Studies, and now today more than a decade later, there are students actively advocating for Asian American Studies to be integrated into the curriculum.”


Where are you from? … Really? … You grew up there? ... What about your parents? … Ok, so you’re Chinese? … Right, but I mean you still speak Chinese, don’t you? … Then what language does your family use at home? English? … That’s interesting. It’s just not what I would have expected. … Of course. Of course. That makes sense. Though I’m guessing you didn’t really grow up surrounded by a lot of people who look like you. … Sorry. That was a bad way to phrase it. I just meant… Well I guess I meant people who shared your background… people you could identify with. … Really? I’m glad to hear that. It’s good to hear that you were able to integrate so well. … It’s just, surely you had to deal with some amount of racism as a kid? … That doesn’t make it alright, though, does it? … Well, then I hope things are better for you here. You probably feel like you finally fit in, huh? … I mean, it’s a top college, right? This campus has a huge Asian population. I bet people don’t give a second thought about seeing you here. … I don’t see why it would be a bad thing. Less judgement, right? … What sort of assumptions? …

2008: Li-Chen Chin joins Duke Administration as Assistant Vice President for Intercultural Programs.

Mmm, I think you’ll find that anywhere you go. It’s not really white people trying to be discriminatory. It feels more like Asians just have a habit of forming friend groups of mostly other Asians. … I don’t want to pretend to know why that is. My best guess is that there’s just subconsciously this tendency to act friendlier around people who have a similar background as you. … That’s probably just because you grew up surrounded by so few Asians. I’d bet if there were more around where you lived, you’d have had more Asian friends. … Alright fair. That’s definitely true as well. And even here, a lot of people likely have these preconceived notions of how the Asian students are going to act. I blame a lot of that on stereotypes, some of which were honestly made even worse thanks to Subtle Asian Traits. … You don’t know about Subtle Asian Traits? Seriously? … Haha, no my friend added me to it a few months back. Basically, it’s this Facebook page where people post memes related to the “Asian experience.” I think it started in Australia, actually. It used to have some insightful posts about racial identity and all that, but it’s kind of devolved into generic memes and reposts about really basic shit, like boba and K-pop. … You’re kidding me? Never? … No Gong Cha? No Boba Guys? Quickly? … That’s tragic. I’m pretty sure I spent half my savings on boba in high school. I seriously go through withdrawals when I’m not able to get any… Wow, an Asian who’s never tried boba? Are you sure you’re even Chinese? …

FEBRUARY 1, 2013: Kappa Sigma ‘Asia Prime’ Party: An IFC fraternity, Kappa Sigma, hosted an Asian-themed party off-campus, sparking protests from the Duke community. The party goes viral when flyers circulate online with the invitations containing racially insensitive language and photographs from Facebook of costumed students at the party with their faces obscured, labelling the party #RacistRager.


So, no boba? No K-pop? Ever shopped at Uniqlo? … Do you play League? … How much rice did you eat as a kid? … Now we’re getting somewhere. Still, I gotta say, I don’t think I’ve ever met an Asian who hasn’t even been exposed to any of this stuff, short of maybe someone who was adopted. How’s it feel to break stereotypes? … Oh. … Ah. … Woah. … Oh. … Geez, I’m sorry. I, uh, I didn’t think of it that way. It sounds like things have been tough for you then. … No? Oh, good. But then—? … Well then you’re handling it better than I think I would in your shoes. … Do you miss home, though? Or do you think things were better there? … Very open minded of you. You seem to have put a lot of thought into this whole issue of identity. …

Can’t pretend that I’ve ever thought this critically about it. I guess I still have something to learn, huh? But no, I’m sure you’ll have a chance to meet Asians on campus who have a lot more to say about their experiences growing up in America, even if they aren’t exactly the same experiences you had. And just because you aren’t personally familiar with those experiences doesn’t make you less valid as an “Asian American.” No one person is going to accurately represent an entire minority group. And, who knows? Maybe some people here do come from backgrounds you can relate to, or at least know sort of what it’s like to grow up how you did. Don’t write that possibility off just because my close-minded ass hasn’t met them. … No. No. Of course. Sorry, I didn’t expect to get into this conversation. … Alright, well I’ll see you around then. Oh, before you go let me add you on Facebook. Or you can search me now if you’ve already got it up on your phone. … Did you spell my last right? Common mistake. It’s ‘W-ON-G’ with an O… ***

FEBRUARY 6, 2013: A Race is Not a Party: Rally for an Inclusive Duke — Coalition for an inclusive Duke, Asian American Alliance: Students protested at the West Campus bus stop in response to the international-themed Kappa Sigma party. More than 500 people were in attendance.

FEBRUARY 6, 2013: Duke Student Government and Asian Students Association Open Forum: This was an open discussion co-hosted by DSG and ASA for the Duke community to voice suggestions and comments about the Asia Prime Party.




“Okay. Then let’s talk about me,” I say. I ease back into the lawn chair and rest my hands behind my head. It is a ridiculous bit of posturing, but I smile too. “I have an announcement to make.” I shift my weight over my knees. Hands are now on my thighs, elbows splayed, so I look like a gangly, perched bird maybe. My eyes look out, big and wide, under the brim of my baseball cap. I am trying to be serious, but a not-serious kind of serious. The truth is that I only have a handful of moves in my playbook. To emote sincerity, I take off my hat and scrunch it between my fingers. For disgust, I bare my lower set of teeth. For bashfulness, I ruffle my own hair. I leave my eyebrows to do the rest of the heavy lifting. The hope is that they alone are enough to convey the rest of human emotion. The announcement is that I want to change my name to the anti-inflammatory drug generic for Advil. The line is: “Well: Here it is: From this moment on: I now wanna be known: As Ibuprofen.” It is written with four pauses, but even then I rush through it. I wince a little when the director calls a cut. He pulls me aside, off-stage. “You have to control your delivery,” he tells me again, listing off some ways I could stretch the line and sell the joke. “Let’s run the scene again.” I nod, looking down and ruffling my hair. “Okay. Then let’s talk about me…” Control is something that I can practice in the mirror. It is the right tension in the cheeks, the right creases around my mouth, a fine precision in the corners of my eyes. I practice sitting and standing still, policing my hands, manipulating my pitch and timbre. Control is learning what my face looks like, what my body looks like, what my voice sounds like, and seeing if I can make it do something else. I mark up my script with little cues— dramatic, surprised, exasperated—which I watch myself perform. I am the vessel for a character named Gilbert, who is an awful lot like me. He often has the eerie habit of saying things I would. In this scene, I am proposing (dramatic: Will you marry me?) to my childhood friend Lana because we are both lonely and scared. She says no (surprised: No?) because she believes in love (exasperated: So?). All six characters of the play are lonely and scared, for different reasons. Lana is a recent law school dropout. Patty cannot have children. We sit on the rooftop of a wedding chapel in Las Vegas searching for UFOs—which Gilbert does not believe exist—and also Einstein’s Theory of Everything—which he does. “It’s, um, an all-encompassing paradigm that would explain the entire universe,” says Nef, whose own marriage proposal, to his girlfriend of nine years, has been shot down too. “So has anybody found it?” I say. I duck my head in his direction to signal my interest. “Go on.” The rest of the cast is a fantastic set of actors, and I envy their naturalism. They act so much, so assuredly, like people. I learn that big emotions are easy—I can screw up my face, slump over a table, or stomp on a chair. It is the subtleties that are hard but really sell, like a flexible vocal cadence or a flash of complex emotion. I

Why aren’t

am entranced by these micro-performances of normal. I try to practice often.

It turns out that acting—good, convincing acting—is more about control than about lying, which is too bad

FEBRUARY 11, 2013: Demands for Asian American Studies Presented to the Duke Administration: Students

demanded that “the Duke Community Standard and Office of Student Conduct’s Undergraduate Policies explicitly address discriminatory, marginalizing, and oppressive conduct,” “the establishment of a Group Bias Incident Task Force [constituted of student leaders,” and “the hiring of three full-time tenure stream faculty members who specialize in Asian American Studies [distinct from Asian and Middle Eastern Studies] in any humanities or social sciences field.”


because lying is what I do all the time. I do it to protect myself. I do it out of habit. Or because I’m tired or bored and it is simpler to lie, like sliding into a groove. I practice control, but even then my body undermines me all the time, whether it’s the posture or the voice or the loose hands, loose swaying, or even just looking Chinese. “What the hell is it that you want?” snaps Nef. This is a few scenes later. I am talking about my marriage proposal again. “I want to feel genuinely happy,” I say. “I don’t know. About myself. And, and, and I want other people to feel the same way about me. Does that make sense?” Nef calls me Gilbert, but I insist that I go by Ibuprofen now. “But, but what I am trying to say,” I say, “is that all my life I’ve sort of constructed this whole, uh, this, this charade, to, to, to throw people off. And my proposal to Lana was just a product of that. You understand what I’m saying?” “Sure.” “You do?” I lean in and kiss Nef on the mouth. He says, “What the fuck are you doing?!” He slaps me so hard I crash into a table, and he exits the scene through the back curtain. tyler lian I don’t let myself be the dream-big type, but I confess that I do have he/him/his this one fantasy, of being an actor—I make my audience see exactly what c/o’20 I want them to see. It’s a childish fantasy, because I want too much. I want my performance to look effortless. I also want critics to look a little closer at my technique, my sensibilities, my control and appreciate how hard I’m working. My easiest scene is one of my last, because I get to shout and shouting is big. “Sometimes I look in the mirror, and I’m so fucking sick of me. Sometimes I think: ‘Man, do I really have to be that person again today? Can’t I just become someone else?’” Couldn’t I? At the end of the play, the house lights come on and the cast re-emerges as ourselves. The show, however, is not over. Hand in hand, we bow and smile and bow again for the applause. I spot a few faces in the crowd that I recognize, and they catch me before I slip away. I am grateful that they came for me. “How was I?” is the first question I ask. “Was I believable, or was it just me in a hat?” We do four performances, Thursday through Sunday. On Saturday, a nice old man and his wife congratulate me. Over the course of twenty minutes, he explains to me that homosexuality is a mental abberation, often the result of abusive or neglectful parenting. For some reason, I am still smiling as he says this, sweating under the heat of the stage lights. I dip my head modestly. “Thank you for coming,” I say. I disappear backstage, shimmying past the table of jumbled prop detritus: fake wine and fake books. My body is proud but heavy, and I think about the old man. I wonder what the cost is of all this pretending. Acting is a respectable, professional enterprise. It requires training and focus. It’s a career. It’s true too that it is more dignifying to want to be an actor than to want to be liked. That’s my second fantasy, and I wish I could say more, just speaking plainly, without the scripts and the roles. But maybe that’s for another piece, another show. “Why aren’t you ready?” Gilbert asks.

you ready?

Special thanks to Duke Asian American Theater and The Theory of Everything by Prince Gomolvilas.

NOVEMBER 20, 2015: Student-Organized Discussion with President Brodhead, Provost Kornbluth, and Dean Ashby: Representatives from the Asian American Alliance criticized the administration for failing to meet the demands made after the 2013 “Asia Prime” party.

NOVEMBER 23, 2015: What Does It Mean to Be Asian and Asian American at Duke? / For the (in)Conspicuous — Diya, ASA, AAA, KUSA, JCC, PSA, CSA, SSA, TASA: This was an event hosted in light of recent conversations surrounding race, both nationally and at Duke.


Some resources that I have found helpful: Don’t Say Sorry podcast by Southeast Asian womxn on sex/relationships An Interrogation by Erica Apantaku - audio piece on questioning white desire as poc @thefleshlightchronicles Instagram art account on an Asian woman’s tinder adventures GIRLS by Luo Yang - photo series of Chinese women // visual inspiration Asian Women Are Not ____ by Olivia Park, Digital/Poster Campaign

Exploring Desire with the AFWM Narrative

jasmine lu

she/her/hers alumna


The Asian Female White Male (AFWM) narrative is used to describe the phenomenon of Asian women exclusively or commonly dating white men. Oftentimes, it is discussed alongside socialized attractiveness, racial dating hierarchies, and interracial partnerships. In certain communities of straight Asian men, it has been used as a criticism against Asian women—as though Asian women are betraying them by sleeping with white men instead of them. The discussion around AFWM is also further complicated by histories of colonialism/imperialism, orientalism, Asian fetishization/ objectification, and internalized racism. As an Asian woman, navigating my sexuality has taken me through seemingly endless side paths and detours. This adventure has forced me to reorient my understanding of different aspects of my identity such as race, cultural background, age, and gender like never before. And as I’m thinking about these things, I’m always seeing myself from someone else’s point of view. I see myself as all the stereotypes someone else might use to construct an understanding of me. I’d be the submissive, passive Asian girl who needs to give up control, the young and naive Asian girl who needs someone to save me. I’d be the frigid, prudish Asian girl who doesn’t have a personality, a weak little girl who needs a big strong man, the materialistic Chinese girl who only cares about money. I’d be the white-washed Asian American who ought to prove her Asianness to you or who is just Asian enough to be desirable for you. I’d be the china doll— desperately wanting your desire to validate me. I’d be the exotic conquest on your checklist—the first Asian girl you’ve ever slept with…a racialized body and not much else. These are never complete pictures of course, but they seem to tell a fully fleshed out story—one that usually feels like it will swallow me whole. I could be whatever incomplete narrative you wanted to project onto me, and learning to separate these gendered, racial, colonial tropes from myself on this journey of sexual discovery has been exhausting. It feels as if the story of my sexuality has been written already and I’m not even the protagonist. The AFWM narrative has been the most difficult to disentangle for me because it intersects with a lot of difficult topics within the Asian diaspora community. Particularly with Asian Americans, we are constantly negotiating what it means to be accepted (in a white supremacist society), and on which terms. Our cultural histories and post-colonial experiences are intense and complex, but often brushed aside for the purposes of integrating into our communities. It can feel difficult to hold space for our “second culture” or to hope that others, who aren’t Asian-American, do as well. Sometimes it is easier to imagine a blank-slate and insist that our differences won’t get in the way…but at what cost? AFWM can be seen as a progression from a racially segregated past, but on a more interpersonal level, it can lead to an insistence of a color-blind relationship—where struggles of Asian identity are minimized. AFWM is a reality—this is a common pairing that should be critically examined. I don’t have a problem with using AFWM as a framing to decolonize white-centered desire or to examine the power dynamics at play in such relationships (AFWM historically recalls when Asian women are not in control such as rape during war/occupation). But it is weaponized to diminish Asian women’s intelligence and their abilities to make decisions about their own sexual/romantic lives; it further intensifies common constructions of Asian women as naive and submissive. As if navigating a male gaze that exoticizes and fetishizes you isn’t enough, oftentimes Asian men use AFWM to scrutinize Asian women dating outside their race as emasculating them and betraying their Asian identity. We can deconstruct how internalized racism affects our interpersonal relationships and stand in solidarity on Asian American issues WITHOUT implying an ownership of Asian women by Asian men, or that Asian women are not capable of thoughtfully engaging with these topics themselves. Asian women are not objects, are not trophies to be passed around. AFWM should enable us to think more critically about such relationships...not to shame Asian women.


I know this all, yet I find myself constantly tripping over doubts and second-guessing paths I’ve taken on my own journey with sexual/romantic partners. How heavily does race play into my attraction? Did I want this relationship as a means of escaping my race? Have I prioritized common cultural backgrounds over healthier relationships? Do I feel more shame about entering relationships with people that are more or less white? Should I? Should I have more strongly interrogated others’ attraction to me? Have I played into one of the stereotypical narratives of Asian women for them? Am I that stereotypical narrative? Is it too soon to draw any conclusions about what my sexual history means? Have I not been exploratory enough? As someone who is still exploring, who has only had so many partners (though I don’t know at what point these questions would stop), it is easy to take that outsider’s look again—reducing my history to only the factors (race, gender, class, etc.) that paint an easy picture... instead of the full, complex stories that I know to be the truth. It’s so easy to fall into not trusting myself and my own agency in writing my story when I’ve been fed so many narratives that suggest that I don’t have any, where my story has been written already. But I want to be the protagonist in my own story—I want the fun, the pleasure that comes with writing it. I deserve it! And I’m willing to fight against these narratives to do so! I don’t imagine it will be a seamless journey. I know as a woman of color my sexual journey is (literally) colored in complicated ways that I won’t be able to escape from. I know that people who desire me will likely see me in certain ways that make me uncomfortable. But! Being invested in taking control of this story once more means that I can aspire to new and much more beautiful relationships. Rather than let race determine the dynamics of a relationship, I’m asking for more: I’m asking for partners that hear me, that hear my story and all my complexities, and accept all of it. I’m asking for partners that do not look to possess me, but to share their life with me. I’m asking for partners that do not relate to all aspects of my life, but are willing to learn what I need them to. I’m asking for partners in exploration. I’m asking for partners that can create warm and loving spaces with me. That’s what I’m asking for—not a white man.



ed Up n r u T sid ky S n w e e o D h

I think now more than ever I’m confused—not with who I am, not what I want in life, but how I reconcile those things with forces in life that make it so very hard to maintain my identity and my values: More than anything, I want to live my life with intention. For my relationships: I want to listen to my friends, be present when I’m with them, be unafraid to ask questions that nudge deeper. I want to be excited and willingly seek new people and experiences. I’m confused. And poetry has given a space for me to write, to reflect, to ask questions, to discuss—it’s perhaps one of the only spaces on campus this semester where I can ask these questions and work to populate answers and perspectives.

Scan me!

I had no idea going in what exactly I wanted to make this about, but by allowing myself to listen to the questions that kept circling inside my head, the work started to make itself: This documentary poetry video has been a healing process for me to grapple with my Asian immigrant identity, to understand how to honor and give thanks to my parents’ sacrifice and love but not in a way that stifles my own desires. This process allowed me to realize that perhaps the only way to honor their sacrifice was to not be imprisoned by it, to liberate myself from it, and give myself a chance to pursue my creative itch. The journey of writing and filming was also a way for me to understand my own mental health, to figure out a way to not let all the noise/thoughts/anxieties circling in my mind block me from hearing the world. It was cathartic to see for myself the ways I found escape but also the ways I grounded myself. I was able to discover myself.

holly ren she/her/hers c/o’20


what does it mean to be southeast asian american five reflections from a 1.5 generation peranakan american shania khoo she/her/hers c/o’22 i.


my mum pours a generous amount of the medicinal brown oil into her hands and warms them between her hands. she asks me to lift my shirt and spreads the oil like a wash of paint on canvas onto my stomach. it stings, like the oil is seeping into red-lipped lesions in my skin, but it heals me. she pulls my shirt back down to signal that we are finished.

at its simplest, Southeast Asia is a mass of islands and small land masses crammed together with maritime and agricultural societies and fluid borders, marked by constant migrations of people, cultures, and traditions, until the colonizers came. we never considered ourselves the center of the world, unlike the empires that would come to claim us piece by piece. being Southeast Asian has always meant forever feeling like an outsider, forever on the periphery.

if I try to look up what we called this “magic oil” that cures everything from menstrual cramps to joint pains to tummy aches, I can’t find it. I don’t know what it’s actually called. I have vague memories of what it looks like. but I wouldn’t even be able to read the characters on the bottle if I did find it. at this rate, maybe it’s been discontinued.

my mother is a Penangite Chinese whose family has been in Malaysia for at least four generations after migrating from Southern China, presumably of Hakka descent. my father is a Peranakan whose Chinese ancestors came to Malaya beginning in the 15th century and intermarried with indigenous Malays. there are 27 generations of Khoos in Malaysia. my parents immigrated to Singapore, where I was born, a child of diaspora.

looking for my southeast asian american identity feels like looking for this oil. I dream of finding it because I want to believe that it will solve all my problems, cure all my aches, take away all my turmoil. but all I have are vague memories of a place I grew up in, feelings of diaspora in all its joys and loneliness, and the disappointment of no one else understanding. at this rate, maybe I’ll never find it.

my own heritage, with the history of my family and the way they have been implicated in Malaysian history and politics mean that I have a responsibility to move towards justice in every sphere of my life. I must recognize and learn about the violence and trauma of the past, while never allowing my Southeast Asian identity to be uncomplicated, to be simple. never just embracing my Malaysian-ness, Singaporeanness, or Peranakan-ness in some idealized, imagined, nationalist way, but really breaking it down and criticizing it and interrogating my own connections to Western institutions and my own proximity to whiteness.

JANUARY 21, 2016: Reiteration of 2015 Demands: Students demanded the creation of an initial plan by March 1, 2016 of implementation of the following demands: The Duke Community Standard and Office of Student Conduct’s Undergraduate Policies explicitly address discriminatory, marginalizing, and oppressive conduct; the hiring of four full-time tenure stream faculty members who specialize in Asian American Studies in any humanities or social sciences field, as well as the development of a certificate in Asian American Studies; and the creation of an Asian American Cultural Center.




throughout parts of Southeast Asia, tanah air kita means our homeland; tana air literally translates to “land and water” in Malay.

our culture isn’t cute. at best, our cultures taste good, are cheap, are the prime destinations for young wanderlusters and older retirees alike. at worst, our cultures are savage and dirty and third world: they don’t want to see us.

someone once described Southeast Asia to me as abstract, nebulous, resilient through adaptability, anxious, adept at shaping itself to external circumstances. it felt like they were describing me and my bodily experience as a Southeast Asian. I wonder if the parts of me that always felt like they didn’t fit in Southeast Asia, in East Asia, in America, weren’t just my particular neuroses, my own anxieties, but were inherited feelings coming from a deeper space within my lineage, a placelessness that had a much longer history. the term Peranakan is a Malay word that means “this person was born here, but descended from elsewhere,” this person seems like they fit in and like they don’t. the Chinese characters for Hakka (客家) directly translates to guest families. unlike other Chinese ethnic groups, the Hakkas are not named after a geographical region, no province, no village, no home. how can I belong to tanah air kita if I have no home. this body of mine can only exist in paradoxes. if you are too Asian to be American and too American to be Asian, I'm too Chinese to be Malay, too Malay to be Singaporean, too Singaporean to be Dai, too Dai to be Hoklo, too Hoklo to be Hakka. too American to understand any of these places, peoples, cultures. I don’t have an understanding of history, either of Malaysia, Singapore, or Southeast Asia. I am starved for a history to fill the gaps in my knowledge caused by the sanitization and erasure of Southeast Asians from my formal and informal educations. how can I belong to tanah air kita if I don’t even know it.

being Malaysian in America is a ghostly experience. even though you are living, you are only allowed to exist in the past. once in a while you will have a stranger tell you they have never even heard of Malaysia. how they thought you were either Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, maybe if you’re lucky, Vietnamese (but to be honest, you grew up not only wishing you were white, but wishing you were East Asian, wishing you were Chinese or Korean or Japanese). you will be angry. you will also feel reduced. so reduced that you will catch yourself referencing the missing Malaysia Airlines plane to prove your country’s existence. we break tradition and fumble over our mother tongue. we live as reminders of how imperialism conquers a nation, can stuff its language into our mouths and force social constructions to make us more “modern” and more “efficient,” but it cannot break a homeland, cannot break our longing for tanah air kita. and so, I exist, we exist. we go on.

APRIL 1, 2016: 2016 Allen Building Sit-In Begins: A group of nine students launched a sit-in after a protest that day calling for the resignation of Vice President Tallman Trask III, after he hit a parking attendant with his car and allegedly called her a racial slur. The sit-in lasted a week, ending on April 8. Tents set up outside of the Allen Building were referred to as “A-ville.”


v. homeland is the blood soaked into our earth and bled into our water. it is cheering for every Olympic medal won and for the familiar flag raised for exuberant faces. it is sharing cravings for ikan billis and laksa and sambal and finding for coconut milk and shrimp paste in our pantries. it is bumping into other people oceans away from tanah air kita, who speak the same way, who laugh at the same jokes, who have the same struggles, who ask the same questions, who miss the same things. it is the community of people who imagine this truth that are scattered, spiderwebbed across the world. homeland, in all its complexities, doesn’t exist bound to a nation and its arbitrary borders. it expands outwards and beyond, with people holding onto some traditional ideals, but with no solidity beneath their feet and no obligations that latch onto them. I exist in contradictions and paradoxes. this is the Southeast Asian identity I have carved out for myself in this postcolonial and globalized world: I am a part of everything and nothing, all at the same time. tanah air kita, our homeland, our home is not a place, a country, a person—it is the memory of bodily existence I hope to keep coming back to.

FALL 2016: An Asian American space (AAPI BASE) established in the Center for Multicultural Affairs: With the creation of spaces for Latinx and Asian American groups, Duke fulfills a demand made by Mi Gente on January 25, 2016. (Note: Duke did not fulfilled a promise of a dedicated space for Native American students until Fall 2019.) Mi Gente made ten demands, threatening to pull its support from the Latino Student Recruitment Weekend if they were not met. Joanne Kang joined the CMA as the first Asian American student development coordinator in Fall 2016.


enough JYT

culture’s double standards inflict double injury, pit mind against flesh I hate my body but acceptance counters shame – our minds can still name love

allow me to dive into my mind and divulge those memories most deeply held, promising not to dwell there. give me freedom at the end of this, to hold others’ hands as they process through their own formation and tell them: “we are enough” when I was 6, I had one friend who would come play pretend she had a look of surprise one day when I got on the bathroom scale: I was 90 lbs I couldn’t play tag with anyone at school my brother told me I should listen to our parents my parents told me I should be the happiest kid in the world I tried to be obedient enough when I was 8, my dad took me to a checkup he waited for the nurse to take my weight and height and when we got back, she looked at me and raised a brow: “aren’t you gonna tell him how much you weigh?” I told him: 140 lbs and wanted to hide from my best friend in the world he looked at me blankly when I was 12, I had learned what a calorie was, started going on 1-minute runs, then 5, then 10 my friend complimented me on my thighs in the car she blurted, “how’d you get skinny so fast?” at home, my mom told me when she was my age, she was poor, so her waist was tiny I tried to be small enough

SEPTEMBER 30, 2016: Formation of the Duke

when I was 14, I went to swim practices but not the meets brought lunch to school but only ate half there was a scene from TV that showed fat globs in a Ziploc bag and I pictured that every night after I showered I knew this wasn’t sustainable and cried in the hallway at school but didn’t care when I was 15, I stopped getting periods and my parents were so worried they gathered dried herbs and animal parts, made me a bowl of black soup every morning instead of cereal for breakfast they took me to the gynecologist who said everything would be alright he turned to me and said: “you’re still a whole woman” I felt like that wasn’t enough when I was 16, my goal was to get to a BMI of 16 to impress my family when I visited them in China when I got there, they said I looked pale I climbed the 22 flights of stairs to my grandma’s apartment 4 times a day for exercise once, my cousin offered for me to try his McFlurry and after one bite, my body felt so good it was gonna fly but I wanted to vomit cried in the car without anyone noticing until we got home and I could go for a run even if for just 1 minute when I was 18, I slept in the top bunk in my dorm and went to sleep early because I’d get too hungry, would feel my stomach growl in bed and rise to exercise before breakfast one morning I woke up and couldn’t move any more without my back hurting it hit me: those Insanity workouts were a bad idea my body made me rest my periods came back

OCTOBER 4, 2016: Launch of ‘Petition in Support of Asian American Studies Group (AASWG): The group that Asian American Studies at Duke’: The petition garnered more became AASWG had been active since fall of 2015, but gave than 500 signatures in two days. More than 1600 signatures themselves an official name at the start of the 2016-2017 were received in total. school year.



now I am 25, and eat more desserts than my mind says should but I still FaceTime my parents and ask them, “do I look fat?” I can’t help but stress out when my period is late my mom tells me I weigh more than her and should aim for 130 lbs, and apologizes when I tell her that’s unhelpful she says that I am strong – that I could lose the weight if I want my dad says it’s strange when I say my body disgusts me and tells me that I am beautiful he doesn’t remember that mean nurse nor my weight at age 8

today I feel torn, as a little voice whispers, “you’re fat, and your period still hasn’t come” sometimes I find it hard to believe that I will ever be enough strong enough, though my cheeks are rosy and no longer pale slender enough, as I worry what the pants and scale will say generous enough, because I am stingy even towards myself good enough, because I’ll never fully repay the sacrifices made for me human enough, because I have always had to be happy “you are whole” that gynecologist knew what he was talking about 90% of conversations have some sort of plea for validation never explicitly, they’re there but who’s counting “you are enough” and even if I’m not, I have nothing to prove maybe together we are what does it mean to find with those souls next to me, each showing the face of Good, we are enough

I am a woman needing no confirmation, hot red flash or not I am a lady resting my hands on full calves – mind dancing with flesh

OCTOBER 6, 2016: Envisioning Asian American

Studies at Duke was an open forum hosted for students to share their research on Asian American-related issues and for the Duke community to discuss the possibilies and necessities of having Asian American Studies at Duke.

JANUARY 18, 2017: Release of External Review

for AAS at Duke: Sylvia Chong (University of Virginia) and Miriam Lam (University of California, Riverside) visited campus on October 5 and 6, 2016 to assess the current state of AAS at Duke.


new york

jake wong | he/him/his | c/o’20 He stood at the top of the stairs, waiting before entering the subway. With his back against the streets, he lingered a second. Behind him were the honks and sights of rush hour, of taxis blaring and headlights streaming. The winter wind untied his scarf and broke his coat, swirling into spirals and mixing with the breaths of people passing close to him. Any moment now, the wind might pick him up and drop him somewhere else. And before he disappeared, he wanted to know what it felt like to be here. To stand and have the cold seep in with the setting sun; to see neon signs spill pink and purple across the evening sky; to feel safe in a throng of people, their bodies a shield against his own. One day he wanted to return. The platform trembled suddenly with heavy footsteps, and even in the blistering cold, all he wanted was to stay. But just as he closed his eyes, trying to feel the city through his feet, a woman appeared from behind and shoved him aside, her patience worn, and he fell into the air. Then the crowds caught him, pouring into all the places he once thought safe and sweeping him into the shadows, into the dark and clamoring tunnel where there was only the stampede of strangers all around.

JANUARY 31, 2017: MARCH 2, 2017: Launch of ‘Duke Doesn’t Teach Me’ Photo Campaign, a photo project led Intro to Asian American Studies (Working Group) Event.

by the AASWG in the Spring and Fall semesters of 2017. The photo campaign asked students to think “[think] about the missing pieces in our education and imagining what our lives would look like if we had access to the knowledge that makes us who we are.”


a i s p D ora e Dancing in t h lucy dong she/her/hers c/o’20

Dance is movement in a liminal space. So is migration: travelling across the vastness of oceans and continents, carefully choreographed or hastily improvised; travelling that defies borders and lacks final destinations. A transnational social space is as liminal as a dance space: they are inbetween spaces pregnant with ambiguities and possibilities.1 Movement in liminal space refers to the movement of migration. It refers to the movement of our bodies, both choreographed and improvised, which draw from diverse dance traditions and lived experiences. And it refers to the movement of change, as Chinese dancers in diaspora push the boundaries of what Chinese dance can encompass, asserting the flexibility of tradition. Through movement, dance makes radical space to engage with diasporic identities beyond oppositional binaries. The ocean is familiar to the diasporic imagination. Though by now a cliched symbol of sacrifice, the water was for those who uprooted their families both bridge and barrier, a vastness of hope and uncertainty. Many of us did not cross that expanse. But on stage, our bodies form the outline of a boat; our chests bow down in timed succession, mimicking waves; we reach for each other’s hands before stepping into darkness–the music fades. This is also Chinese dance. The ocean is familiar, but it is rarely seen in stagings of Chineseness. More often, we see the swish of the long red ribbon characteristic of Han ethnic dances welcoming the New Year; the folk dances of minority groups, signalled by a specific kind of sleeve or headdress; the canonized legends of heroic poets and gods of creation. All these things we call tradition, that which we enshrine and freeze in antiquity. The engagement between dance studies and Asian American studies is concerned with the materiality of the body as it contributes to the formation of otherness and belonging. Ethnographic studies of major Chinese dance organizations across the US find that many immigrants have maintained nationalism via the performance of cultural symbols. In many contexts, staging a uniform (and constructed) Chineseness has been important to fostering cohesive communities amongst immigrants of diverse origins.2 These ethnographies follow spaces whose professed goals center cultural transmission to future generations, leaving no room for the possibility of cultural transformation. The emergence of Asian American cultural nationalism in the 1970s ran “counter to the impulse within dance studies to link racial minorities with traditional practices,”3 instead rooting identity in the

1 Author quoting self-reflection (2009) in Hui Niu Wilcox, “Movement in Spaces of Liminality: Chinese Dance and Immigrant Identities,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 34, no. 2 (February 1, 2011), 314. 2 Sau-ling C. Wong, “Dancing in the Diaspora: Cultural Long-Distance Nationalism and the Staging of Chineseness by San Francisco’s Chinese Folk Dance Association,” Journal of Transnational American Studies 2, no. 1 (2010); Hui Niu Wilcox, “Movement in Spaces of Liminality.” 3 Yutian Wong, “Introduction: Issues in Asian American Dance Studies,” in Contemporary Directions in Asian American Dance, ed. Yutian Wong (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016).

MARCH MARCH7,7,2017: 2017:Release Releaseofof‘Asian ‘AsianAmerican AmericanStudies Studies MARCH SEPTEMBER 16, 2017: 30, Publication 2016: Publication of Letter ofofSupport Letter offrom Student StudentBody BodySurvey’ Survey’li: A majority of the 100+ students surveyed cited that it is extremely important to them that Duke hires Asian American Studies tenure-track faculty and funds a visible Asian American Studies Center.

East Support Coast Asian from ECAASU American Student Union: “The urgent need for robust Ethnic Studies programs is evident when remembering the 2015 murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, the eruption of Black Lives Matter protests after the death of Keith Lamont Scott, and the controversial HB2 Bill.”


racialized experience of being Asian in the US. Asian American cultural nationalism rejected Asia as a source of cultural identity, wary of the danger of engaging in Orientalist imaginations. In both immigrant and cultural nationalist imaginations, we find little space to engage with the dynamic between Asian American identity and so-called tradition. When we assign rigidity to tradition, we run up against the anxiety fostered by aspiring towards authenticity. Nowhere is this more evident than in cultural dance spaces, where we lack the language to code movements as anything beyond a binary of traditional and modern; of Asian versus Western. When I joined Duke Chinese Dance (DCD) in 2017, DCD already had a long history of staging traditional dances despite most members lacking Chinese dance training or any dance background entirely. The language of traditional versus modern is more recent, and it was that year I first joined that we performed a modern-contemporary piece entitled “Oceans” at the annual Lunar New Year showcase, hosted by Duke’s Asian Students Association. Since then we have grappled with our long-standing commitments to cultural expression. We have questioned whether we have enough ‘traditional’ or too much ‘modern’ repertoire. We have questioned whether our choreographies are authentic to traditional Chinese dance when we draw so much from our exposure to balletic and lyrical dance forms. These questions, which presume a split between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ leave us paralyzed and confused. The concept of “dynamic inheritance”4 provides novel space to imagine cultural transformation. Coined by historian Emily Wilcox, it describes a core commitment in the history of modern Chinese dance development which understands cultural inheritance and individual innovation as mutually reinforcing. One prominent form of experimentation in the early twentieth century involved using existing cultural materials to generate new interpretations. Mei Lanfang was one famous early twentieth century artist who took from Tang dynasty visual art and literature to create costumes and movements for his operas. Similarly, choreographers in DCD often look to existing performances of Chinese dance as well as classical folklore to generate new interpretations on stage. Imitation and improvisation based on Chinese dance practitioners in the mainland have long been inherent to our choreographic processes. These processes mirror, rather than reject, those of pioneering Chinese dance practitioners. Rather than aspiring towards a purist notion of culture, we may embrace the beauty of taking cultural continuity in new directions. This will require abandoning the way we conceptualize the way our bodies move as ‘traditional’ versus ‘modern’, posing the two as oppositional and discrete. By claiming the potential of cultural transformation, Chinese dancers in diaspora have a stake in contesting assumptions of Asian bodies and cultures as frozen in archaic notions of tradition. And by locating diasporic identity in movement, we may claim the agency to define Chinese dance in liminal space–to move while defying borders and binaries. 4 Emily Wilcox, “Introduction: Locating Chinese Dance: Bodies in Place, History, and Genre,” in Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, 1st ed. (University of California Press, 2019).

OCTOBER 18, 2017: Publication of Letter of Support from Reappropriate: “Ethnic studies programs enable education on people of color’s history as well as contemporary racial identity – topics not comprehensively covered in traditional American history, sociology, or political science classes – and access to such curricula is valuable for all enrolled students.”

NOVEMBER 1, 2017: Remembering Vincent Chin Event: This was a film screening and discussion honoring Vincent Chin and exploring how he has shaped the Asian American community. 35 years later, he remains a catalyst for the AAPI community.



The sexuality of Asian American women is often described in specific ways: we’re quiet, demure, submissive, but we’re also erotic, exotic fruit. These descriptions are different, but all equally degrading. Navigating between these external labels on my sexuality has been complicated, but one thing has always been clear—my sexuality and my identity as a woman is rarely associated with strength. Marilyn Chin’s writing questions that weakness. Her writing flaunts Chinese American female sexuality, brandishing crass words and sexual acts in a way that is equally shocking and refreshing. In one particular short story, “Immigrant Dreams I: Sister and Serpent,” she crafts a characteristically shocking metaphor: the Chinese American female protagonist, in a fever dream-like sequence, describes how in the place of her twin sister’s genitalia is a cat’s head. Her sister’s “pussy” cat is ravenous and violent—when it bends over at the stream to feed, it mercilessly bites the heads off of all the fish in the water. Yet, when faced with the serpent genitalia of a blond, jeweled, Western man, her sister’s cat is consumed. Such an ending was deeply unsatisfying to me. This fearsome pussycat has the strength I’ve always wanted to see in a depiction of Asian/ American female sexuality. I was inspired to paint the scene, but before the ending of the story occurs. I wanted to showcase the terrifying serpent, but also, the pussycat, monstrous and majestic in her own right. In this way, I hope to give life and color to this startling and powerful representation. lucy zheng she/her/hers c/o’21

NOVEMBER 13, 2017: What is Asian American

Studies?: This was a workshop covering the history and present of Asian American Studies at Duke.

NOVEMBER 15, 2017 A Duke Student Government resolution supporting the creation of an Asian American Studies Program was unanimously approved by the DSG Senate.


Undocumented reg ledesma she/her/hers sanford c/o’21

They take me to the immigration office. It’s just a check up, my parents reassure, but their taut muscles, their hurried way of speaking, betrays undercurrents of anxiety. It can’t just be a check up, I think, not if we’re getting ready to go back to the Philippines. I’ve already told my middle school friends that I might be moving, returning to a country foreign to me. I feign excitement, exclaim of the possibilities in a new place, through clenched teeth. But it’s not exciting; it’s horrifying, to be plucked from the only place you remember and forced to make a life somewhere else. **From an early age, through practice and repetition, I’ve become an expert at lying. When people would ask where my parents worked, I had my rehearsed responses: my dad was an engineer, my mom was an accountant. I was an actor, performing, telling people what they needed to hear. Internally, I felt a disconnect between who I was and the story leaving my lips. I didn’t have this word then, but I was undocumented, living on the margins. **Being Asian-American, no one in my predominantly white community would have suspected this. After all, Asians were model minorities, the ones who did well in school. There was no such thing as an undocumented Asian. No such thing as a poor Asian either. We scraped by on my mom’s under-the-table paycheck from the hair salon, where she labored 50-60 hour work weeks. My parents were paranoid: Would we be discovered? Deported? What was there for us in the Philippines? It was a childhood shrouded with fear and paranoia, not trusting anyone with my secret. **While those early experiences were formative and essential to shaping my identity, I can’t help but feel detachment. Maybe it’s repression. Maybe it’s disbelief that this was my daily reality for so much of my life. It still baffles me how citizenship can be a singular factor in determining a person’s experience—and how easily citizenship can gift you with privileges and protections while the lack of it can smolder you with fear. Citizenship status is a way to surveill the body, a groundless label monitoring the body’s movements. I see my immigrant friends and extended family—those who don’t have to worry about their immigration status—flying back to their home countries, visiting their relatives. For them, their emotional ties to a place and country aren’t restricted. For them, there’s a consonance between the geography of their bodies and their minds. I don’t have the luxury of reuniting with a homeland that I only hear about on travel videos or from snippets of my parents’ recollections. My body is confined to borders, to the United States, because if I were to go back to the Philippines, there’s no guarantee I would get back inside. The government is responsible for deeming the undocumented body as useful, or disposable. Recently, ICE has been asking immigration courts to deport DACA recipients. To the government, undocumented bodies are merely inconveniences. When we can produce, contribute, achieve, give, we’re worth keeping around But when our bodies become burdens, our deportations are justified. “Labels don’t define you”: it’s a common saying. And I believe this in most cases. But in my case it can be a lurking force, controlling my movements, controlling my body.

SPRING 2018: House course

APRIL 6, 2018: 1st Annual Research Symposium: Duke students (and faculty) “Asian America through Immigration have managed to find ways to do research pertaining to Asian Americans and the Policy” — Christine Lee ‘18 Asian American community, whether by choosing AAS topics for research projects in not-explicitly AAS courses or through independent study. This symposium celebrated and amplified the work done at this university in AAS, and demonstrated that AAS is a academic field rich for future inquiry.


Baggage: The Journey of One Family’s Immigration to America alex kumar he/him/his c/o’23 It is strange to say that I owe my existence to a singular piece of legislation: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Thank you, Emanuel Celler and Phillip Hart!). With arcane quotas removed—allowing for more diverse Asian immigration—the 1965 Act put a special emphasis on family reunification and skilled laborers, setting the scene for my parents to come to America. Opponents of the bill worried that the US would become flooded with immigrants, so President Johnson declared that “‘this is not a revolutionary bill….It does not affect the lives of millions’” (Lee 284). However, I am living proof that the lives of millions were not only changed, but created. The story of my mom’s immigration to the United States starts with my grandma, Lilian. As the youngest of her eight siblings, she chose to stay in Beijing for her studies, not wanting to give up on the education she fought so hard for, while the rest of her family moved to Hong Kong for greater political freedoms. In the middle of her college education at Beijing University, rising political tensions between Hong Kong and China led Mao Zedong to close the borders, effectively stranding my grandma. At that moment, she solidified her resolve to leave China, now only a matter of time. But, that time would have to wait as my grandma met my grandpa, Aidan, and my mom was born soon after. Bringing a daughter into the world, Lilian saw that she had no future in China, furthering her resolve to emigrate. However, at the same time, the Cultural Revolution was coming into full swing. The Cultural Revolution directed its sights towards the elites and highly educated, and as my grandma was a lab researcher and my grandpa was a doctor, their lives were suddenly uprooted, forced to move to Shanghai to work the farms and treat the villagers. During their two year tenure, they farmed sweet potatoes day in and day out, and left my twoyear-old mom to stay with my great-grandparents in the city. It turns out that Aidan grew to love sweet potatoes while only Lilian grew to detest them more and more. I can remember visiting my grandparents in Miami, every time my grandpa would fire up the grill to caramelize sweet potatoes for me and my sister. I always wondered how he made them so unbelievably tasty: the smokey sugar glazed on the outside, the fragrant

The 1965 Immigration Act opened the doors for Indians to move to the United States, a relatively new ethnic population in America. As a whole, Indian-American immigrants are the “most successful racial or national subgroup in the United States” (Chakravorty). This apparent exceptionalism is due to the caste system in India, as the most educated and wealthy are the most likely and able to immigrate. Immigrants from 1965 to 1979 are dubbed “The Early Movers” by Chakravorty. As the most educated and skilled Indians, especially in medicine, they consisted of most of the early wave of immigration to the US. The story of my dad’s immigration does not exactly fit the definition of the “Early Movers” proposed by Sanjoy, nor does it end with his arrival to America. His dad, my grandpa Ramlal, wanted to leave India to pursue his dream of transitioning from a veterinarian to practicing internal medicine on humans. He saw no future in India, as there were not enough opportunities for occupational or educational advancement. This was made even harder by the caste system as they were born into the Merchant class, and upward social mobility was essentially impossible. Ultimately, Ramlal wanted a higher quality of life for himself. So, he set out to pursue his dream in America. Luckily, he had an older brother already in the US, and he was able to sponsor him to migrate in 1971. Attaining a visa, Ramlal moved to Ohio State University to work in a research lab, as he had to attain a PhD before he could be accepted into a medical school. Sending over money he earned from the research lab, my grandpa worked until he had enough money to bring his family over: my grandma (Shakuntala), my dad, and his two siblings.

APRIL 2018: Hate speech incidents: April 26, 2018: In a post on the Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens Facebook group Thursday afternoon, a sophomore student was called out for posting Snapchats with text that included the word “n*****.” April 27, 2018: “N***** lover” was scribbled outside the door of an Asian 300 Swift apartment complex resident. Despite demands from students, Duke administration refused to (and still continues to refuse to) implement a standardized set of consequences for acts of hate and bias.


scent wafting from the soft, velvety insides. I would always wonder why my grandma rarely ate them with us. “They are too sweet,” she would exclaim. At this point, The Great Leap Forward’s attempt to rapidly industrialize was failing, and skilled workers were allowed to move back to Beijing where they could be more productive. Even though they were allowed to move back to Beijing, my grandparents still looked to leave for America through a petition from my great aunts and great uncles. However, as working skilled professionals, the Chinese government was not too keen on allowing them to leave and did not take kindly to their will to immigrate. It seemed as if the government took it as a betrayal of loyalty and wanted retribution. In the coming months, they were assigned worse and worse projects, effectively trapping them with nowhere to go. With nothing to do, my mom was a troublemaker. She stole dumplings from her neighbors, bit kids on the swings to get a turn, and snuck away from school during nap time to go home. Eventually, these…distasteful…acts drew the attention of the community leaders. They met with my grandparents, telling them that their daughter’s acts were unacceptable and if they continued, would warrant worse repercussions. Being held responsible for my mom’s antics, my grandparents knew that they would have to move, unable and unwilling to wait to be outed from the community. An opportunity arose when my greatgrandma, who lived in Hong Kong, was blinded in a working accident. Even though foreign relations were still shaky, Lilian was granted a visitation— with the contingency of returning right after. But my grandma had no intent on coming back, taking my five-year-old mom while reluctantly leaving Aidan behind, as they both knew this was the only opportunity they would get. While in Hong Kong, they applied to immigrate to the US through the Family Reunification Law through my grandma’s relatives in California. In the meantime, in order to pay the bills, Lilian took up work as a seamstress, their relatives in America sent money, and Aidan—stressed from

My dad remembers that in the three years that his dad was gone, he expected him to fly overhead and pick them up. Whenever he or his siblings saw a plane, they were sure that it was their dad finally coming back for them. Although that did not happen, three years later they got their plane tickets to New York. When my five-year-old dad saw his dad in the airport, he instantly recognized him and ran into his arms. Now in the US, my dad wanted to focus on excelling in school. At first, he took a special interest in the arts, but Ramlal quickly told him that he would become a doctor. In fact, my dad clearly remembers Ramlal introducing him as the future family doctor at family gatherings from as young as six years old. Luckily, he was also gifted in the sciences and found it just as interesting as history and art (although, I think my dad just liked learning in general). However, his life became turbulent as Ramlal moved again, becoming a professor at another college in Ohio. Still not satisfied and not willing to give up on his dream, he applied for medical school, and eventually was accepted into a university in Mexico for an MD program. He left his family for school as they moved to Missouri for a cheaper place to stay. With the pressure from his dad to become a doctor, not wanting to disappoint him and feeling obligated to be successful, he somehow persevered. At the end of the four years, Ramlal struggled to find a residency program to accept him as the priority was on American graduates, not foreign medical graduates. Because of the competition, he was forced to go into psychiatry instead of internal medicine. Begrudgingly, he compromised on his dream and dragged his family to New Mexico. After completing his residency program, the only thing left to do is take the USMLE to get a license. However, he failed both of the tests and was forced to relocate to New York in order to take a temporary job. With no licensing, despite a few more attempts, my father’s family was never settled, always moving around looking for work. Raised in all of this chaos, my dad

APRIL 14, 2018: People’s State of the University (PSOTU) Protest: A group of students calling themselves “People’s

State of the University” walked onto the stage as President Vincent Price’s stood at the podium and issued a dozen demands, including implementing a $15/hr pay for all Duke employees, making Board of Trustee meetings open and transparent, renaming the Carr Building on East Campus, creating a space for students with disabilities, hiring tenure-track faculty who are African American, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian American and committed to Ethnic Studies, and more.


the separation from his family—took up smoking. Soon after, my grandparents and my mom were approved to immigrate to the United States, but to move without Aidan would severely lower his chances of being able to leave Beijing. So, they waited three and a half years through countless appeals from the US to China, counting on the foreign pressure for a miracle. One day, that miracle came. China finally approved for my grandpa to move to Hong Kong, and my mom remembers meeting him at the airport, albeit a little distant and foreign in her eyes. As soon as Aidan lit up a cigarette, revealing his new habit, Lilian told him immediately that he had to stop: they did not wait all these years just to have his life cut short from smoking. And so he put it out.

was somehow able to persevere and find a way out. He was accepted to Emory and met my mom during their freshman year. He told me that she looked like she was the opposite of him: laughing all the time, having fun, and with no burdens. My mom later reminisced about how they used to draw each other: he drew her with big eyes and she drew him with luggage.

A New Home Both of my parents have endured many tribulations and worked exhaustively to get to the stable position they are in today. The unfortunate truth is that without the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, I would not exist. But, I am not alone. From 1961 to 1998, the Chinese immigrant population 38 doubled every decade, from 100,000 to 3.3 million (Lee 288). In the same time span, Indian immigration went from less than 10,000 to 80,000 (Chakravorty 29). My parents would probably still be in China and India. On my dad’s side, they would still be struggling at or just above poverty, and on my mom’s side, they might have been imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Red Army—my grandparents were not exactly the most soft-spoken people against Mao and his government. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act has had a large impact on Asian immigration to the United States. This immigration policy gave millions of Asians the opportunity to work for a better life, and also allowed millions of children to be born into better lives. Yet, it is not without its faults; although the Act greatly improved the number of people eligible to immigrate, it still excluded and continues to exclude many others based off of systemic factors such as income and social class.

Works Cited Banisalamah, Mohammad Abdelrahman. “Chinese Immigration to the United States of America in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century: Motives, Distribution, and Challenges.” Dirasat: Human and Social Sciences, vol. 45, no. 1, 1 Jan. 2018, p. 125. Chakravorty, Sanjoy. Other One Percent: Indians In America. Oxford Univ Press US, 2019. Das, Sudipta. “Loss Or Gain? A Saga Of Asian Indian Immigration And Experiences In America’s Multi-ethnic Mosaic.” Race, Gender & Class, vol. 9, no. 2, 30 Apr. 2002. Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America: A History. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016. Leese, Daniel. Brill’s Encyclopedia of China. Brill, 2009. Mukherjee, Anita J., and Sadhna Diwan. “Late Life Immigration and Quality of Life among Asian Indian Older Adults.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, vol. 31, no. 3, 2016, pp. 237–253., doi:10.1007/s10823016-9294-0.

APRIL 27, 2018: The Asian American Studies Program (AASP) was launched, directed by Prof. Aimee Nayoung Kwon, Associate Professor in AMES. On March 29, 2018, Dr. Esther Kim Lee joined Theater Department. On April 23, 2018, Dr. Ryanson Ku joined the English Department as a postdoc fellow. Both professors have appointments and commitments to Asian American Studies.


alethea toh she/her/hers c/o’20 This summer, I had my first taste of working in tech in the USA. Imagine my excitement when I was invited to meetings with high-level managers and executives only to find myself often one of few, if not the only, Asian woman at the table. Day in and day out, I vacillated between two separate yet congruent realities: walking around my office campus, I was just another Asian face in the crowd but at the table, I felt the pressure to express my individuality, to prove myself, as the youngest and only Asian woman in the room. I have come to learn that Asian women face the Bamboo Glass Ceiling. As we climb up to the highest echelons of the industry we are hardly seen. In corporate America, the glass ceiling may have been at least cracked for many groups but for Asian women, the Bamboo Glass Ceiling has barely been touched. Perhaps the Bamboo plant is symbolic of the Asian community: both have roots from Asia, possess strength and versatility, yet are incredibly undervalued in Western society. Why are we so visible, yet so invisible? Representation does not by default lead to inclusion. When you are subject to intense racial stereotyping you are not valued for who you are but what you have come to represent. This isn’t just about climbing up the career ladder as high as possible. When you see people who look like you stuck to the floor, with no one relatable at the top, you become discouraged and less confident of your own abilities. It makes you feel like you are not qualified to lead. Just because of who you are. When I start working in the tech industry I hope I will have the courage to embrace my individuality, express myself fully and truly as a young immigrant Asian woman, be it in the face of a Bamboo Glass Ceiling. As an Asian woman in tech, I hope I will be valued for who I am, as a whole, dynamic, and complex woman.

FALL 2018: Hate and bias (racist and xenophobic and anti-semitic) incidents: August 2018: ‘Heinous racial epithet’ was written on sign at Mary Lou Williams Center two days before classes start. September 2018: Latinx Heritage Month mural was found defaced on East Campus Bridge. October 10, 2018: Swastika was found carved in bathroom stall of Languages Building. November 1, 2018: Pumpkin was carved with swastika, flyer saying ‘It’s okay to be white’ found on East Campus. November 18, 2018: Swastika was found painted on top of students’ mural memorializing Pittsburgh shooting. November 23, 2018: Identity Evropa (a neo-Nazi and white supremacist organization) stickers were placed around campus.

Sanha Lim Sanha Lim Sanha Lim Sanha Lim


If you spend enough time with Korean American suburban church boys, you may notice their strange fascination with each other’s butts. The ass slap, in particular, is a classic. It’s usually done in passing, with a quick love-tap to the friend in question. There is no eye-contact, but depending on how playful he’s feeling, you may get a quick “Looking firm!” or “Nice ass, bro.” On special occasions, there may even be a little squeeze. Growing up in the Korean American church, I would see touch everywhere. I would see the college church guys sitting on each other’s laps; grown men sidling up on each other in a tiny chair, despite being surrounded by rows of empty church pews. They would look each other in the eye while the rest of us would look on with a disgusted curiosity. It was always a curiously homoerotic action in a homophobic church, but one we also all understood as “no-homo.” And this was just one of the many very touchy ways that Korean boys show affection. We’d flick each other’s nipples, doing it so frequently that we’d walk around with our hands covering our chest. Woe be to the unprepared! Their shirts would bear the marks of their foolishness. Our bonding activities would often feature sports. We would run out after lunch to spend hours shooting around in the makeshift hoop in the parking lot. We would playfully wrestle, like many boys do, trying to pin the other person to the ground. Most of the time, we took it lightly, breaking it off before someone would win, pushing our bodies to the ground in submission. Our social calendars revolved around two sporting events – KACY for basketball and Turkey bowl for football. All the local Korean churches would gather for a weekend to play and enjoy fellowship with each other; the winner would have bragging rights for the entire year. They were the victors of the ancient trial of sport, our bodies performing the rituals of strength and power that defined the alpha huntergatherer. We pushed into each other, sweat flickering between our chest, twisting each other in competition. We caught passes, our hands stretching in the air, straining to gain an inch, grab some space from the defender ahead of us. We yelled and bumped our chests in celebration, finishing with, of course, the solid slap on the ass.

And yet, the weight of our bodies hung on us. It pulled us from our flight. Even though we smacked each other, God forbid we ever hug or greet each in any other way than a dap and risk looking uncool. We grieved for the lost hugs and caresses of our parents, a love language we would never know. We struggled with the curse of unmet expectations. We loved basketball, but the best of us would sit on the benches at varsity games. We would act like kings at Sunday bible school, but in the school yard, be meek. To be cool was to have a lot of white friends, to hang out with the ones who would quickly grow bigger and stronger than us. Our bodies screamed for recognition. We screamed to be masculine. Yet the people around us seemed to tell us different. We fought with each other, raced with each other because our strides didn’t reach, couldn’t reach the American body. Even the ways we showed love, our touch, had problems. See, it wasn’t always consensual. The first squeeze, the first grab, wouldn’t be solicited. The problem was, there wasn’t a really clear way to say no. We couldn’t overreact because our brothers only meant these in jest, of course. If you were bothered, it was on you. There was a clear hierarchy where this was acceptable. There was no way to joke back, to respond in any way but quiet submission. We were left defenseless to the monarchy of touch. We were told that this was what it meant to belong in the cool squad. We were told that this was what the “hyungs” back in Korea would do. We were told that we needed to accept this touch to be connected to our motherland, to really be Korean. And so, amid our affection, we would lie to ourselves and assert dominance over each other. To acquiesce to another’s touch meant to accept the other as at least equal, if not greater. During our annual “lock-in”, a few of us went outside to play basketball, sleep-deprived and delirious. One of my friends, the best at basketball, took on the moniker “Coach.” Coach was the perfect incarnation of the high school drill sergeant coach.

sanha lim he/him/his c/o’21

NOVEMBER 7, 2018: Duke University Ethnic Studies Teach-In: In celebration of the 50 year anniversary of the Third

World Liberation Front (TWLF) student and faculty strike at San Francisco State University, during which Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American student groups came together to protest the school’s Eurocentric curriculum, AASWG hosted an ethnic studies teach-in. This was an opportunity to spread information about the formation of ethnic studies, consider the power of student protest and coalition-building, and recommit to ongoing struggles for the implementation of Black, Latinx, Native American and Indigenous, and Asian American Studies programs.

He whipped balls around, made us do laps, and we’ve been ostracized, we’re not dead yet. There is would berate us constantly. “STAND UP, YOU P*SSY!” something here, something in between the lines of he would shout. His favorite target was a chubby hands and sweat and chest and butt that says, “I love underclassman. That underclassmen ran around, you,” that allows us to be vulnerable, to celebrate our doing zigzags and catching passes that were way bodies, our strengths. too fast. We stood around laughing as he huffed and I remember standing around awkwardly, wheezed, only stopping to glance over to check our the new kid, before being playfully punched on the faces. He laughed, and so often, we would slap him arm and dragged along to throw a football outside. on the ass. Eventually, we walked back in, with the I remember the pec squeezes, the bicep squeezes, underclassmen in tow. casually flirting with each other, letting each other Sometimes, we would turn to violence. My know that we saw their efforts, that we knew they friend and I, we were fighting with words, about had worked out. I remember the first time a girl broke something dumb, I’m sure. We spat at each other, my heart, shedding a tear, the ultimate taboo, into a unwilling to stand down. I turned around to leave, brother’s arms as he comforted me. I remember the and under my breath, I hug I gave my friend whispered, “bitch.” Weak, the next Sunday after pitiful, feminine. I have we had viciously fought never seen someone turn each other, too proud We are alienated from around so fast. We were, to say I’m sorry, too the things that make us after all, closet misogynists. close to not make it human, from the things He jumped on me and we work. I remember the that give our life meaning. grabbed each other’s arms, warmth, the belonging, tumbling to the ground, the love. Our touch, our bodies locked in stalemate. My If by chance, you reflect this brokenness, shins grated across the find yourself at one of the feeling that the means gravel. Our friends came the Asian American and tore us apart. I cried in of human connection are Christian groups on the shower afterward. campus, you may see reserved for people who Being an Asian one of us slap another don’t look like us. But for all American male is strange. on the butt and run our ostracization, we’re not It’s a slightly suffocating life, away, giggling. It’s not accented by the swirling always a pleasant thing dead yet. contradictions of privilege to see. When you see and discrimination. We them, you wonder if have our issues with toxic they’re comfortable, masculinity: the ways that we demean those weaker if they’ve consented to the rough and tumble of our than us because we ourselves are weak. We have our masculinity. And like our masculinity, these actions issues with relationships and dating, trying to navigate are incomplete in their love, burdened by the messy a world where we’re simultaneously told that sex is history that we’ve learned it from. I long for a time dangerous for you but that marriage and relationships when who we are is defined by a strength that is and sex are the thing you should live for. That our gentle, vulnerable, and rooted in knowing that life isn’t small eyes and small penises exclude us from ever a zero-sum game. But I also treasure these moments, finding love. because at the core, these are gestures of affection. We are alienated from the things that make us Gestures of love. human, from the things that give our life meaning. Our In a world where “I love you” isn’t always put touch, our bodies reflect this brokenness, the feeling into words, this is us proclaiming it in the ways we that the means of human connection are reserved know how. for people who don’t look like us. But for all the times

JANUARY 23, 2019: Megan Neely emailed to ask Biostatistics students to use English after two unnamed colleagues approached her about students speaking Chinese in lounge or study areas. The two colleagues were trying to identify the students they heard speaking Chinese to record their names in case the students ever applied for an internship or were interviewed by them, she wrote in the email.

Sanha Lim Sanha Lim Sanha Lim Sanha Lim



Grocery Lists Whenever I visited the interracial family next door, I would stare at the grocery lists clipped neatly on their fridge. In cursive handwriting, they listed pancake mix, baking flours, and the names of soft cheeses that I couldn’t pronounce. As I chalked stick figures into the driveway with their young daughter my age, the blondheaded mother would bake potato casseroles. I knew they always finished each meal with a dessert—peach pie dolloped with whipped cream. My Mama only cooked Chinese food, and our refrigerator wasn’t as pristine. In a hodgepodge on our fridge were letter magnets, business cards, and baby photographs. My parents never made grocery lists, either. They always seemed to know exactly what they wanted every time they’d take me shopping at the Publix five minutes from our house on Kingsbrook Lane. There, they’d purchase staples for those quick weekday mornings before school and before their eight-hour long stints at the engineering jobs that they immigrated to this country for: orange juice, whole-wheat bread, cereals that I chased into my mouth before chasing the yellow bus. Each weekend after I attended Saturday morning Chinese school, an initiative founded by parents in our metro Atlanta suburb that every kid dreaded, they would parry through the H-Mart a grand ten minutes from home without needing to consult any hastily-scrawled reminder for wontons, bok choy, or soy sauce. This is what our family shopping list would look like, I thought, if my parents wrote anything down: …

- One box Honey Nut cheerios, one box Trix cereal - Asian Best brand Jasmine rice - Garlic that they sell in white nets - Two watermelons—give each melon a hard slap, because the ones that are the ripest will proudly sing out the fact ...

There are stories about kids who are fascinated by the little sanctuary that a grocery store makes itself. These are the kids seen riding regally in elevated shopping carts, gazing at the wonders of the world. This is not one of those anecdotes. I hated shopping. I thought it was a waste of time. I couldn’t even sit in the shopping cart because my little sister, who Mama definitely liked more than me, got that privilege. I had to trail behind on tired legs. But of course, I would pay attention to what my parents were purchasing, even if I didn’t enjoy it. Clearly, as someone who would soon be an adult one day, it was important for me to note these facts. I would play teacher with the mini whiteboard, and tell my sister she was a bad student because she didn’t know how to subtract. I would play cook with the toy kitchen set, and if I was going to do that, I needed to know what to buy:

- One box Honey Nut cheerios, one box Trix cereal-

(Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids! the cartoon child shouts to a bunny whose long, white ears look like the bows on my shoelaces. In pre-k, my Baba buys me my first pair of non-Velcro shoes. He ties them like a magician, with a whip of the hand so deft that it must be some sleight too complicated for me to learn. Only “big kids” know stuff like that. Whenever my laces untie, I ask a teacher or another student to help me. Except I can’t do that in the afternoon, pre-k session because I pretend I can’t talk there, fascinated by how much I can compress or expand the space my physical body occupies through the vehicle of speech, or the lack thereof. One day, the girl with the pink bows probably tires of my shenanigans and teaches me the art process herself: first, you cross the laces and tuck one under and pull, then you make a pair of bunny ears...)

FEBRUARY 28, 2019: Subtle Asian (Class) Trait(or)s

Workshop: This was a workshop that took a critical look into the discourse of Asian American identity and how it reflects economic anxieties of racial capitalism, centered around analyzing and navigating through the creation, sustainability, and proliferation of Subtle Asian Facebook groups.

MARCH 27, 2019: Self-Care Won’t Save Us Workshop: This was a workshop and discussion on the limitations of self-care and its over-commodification, mental health in the neoliberal era, and how this feeling of alienation is proliferated in the university and wider political context.


I was not supposed to play with my food. I was supposed to eat it. But objects had so many stories embedded into them. The coat hanger by the front door has heard so many of your conversations. An apple isn’t really just an apple; it has memories of how it burgeoned into form on its mother tree and colored itself red, how the farmer chased away flies and worms that tried to contaminate it, how it mistook these actions for some type of love, but the same farmer was the one who packed it in a cardboard coffin and shipped it away, and now it is sitting on my kitchen counter. How could I not play with my food, if everything really lacked object permanence and could turn into a memory? How could I know where my meal truly went, or be assured that it wouldn’t just shimmer into nonexistence after entering my body? …

- Asian Best brand Jasmine rice

(My family sits down on the dinner table. We eat rice, mifan. Rice is what built my ancestors’ bones; it is the subsistence that gave their bodies the endurance, if not always the robustness, to keep at life. Rice is woven into so many of the Chinese stories I hear, so much that it seems like a character, a body of life, itself. Rice is even synonymous to food in general, fan. I look down at my bowl. A few vegetables, cai. Only tiny bits stir-fried pork, zhurou. But the rice grains are so small and numerous in the porcelain cocoon. I don’t understand why my parents like rice so much; I don’t think it tastes like anything. But I guess there is a reason why people drink water even though water tastes like air. Maybe they are drawn to rice the same way.)

- Garlic that they sell in white nets

(A bulb of garlic breaks into crescent moons. I wish I could collect crescent moons on my bedroom walls to join the fluorescent light-up stars already there. I am in first grade. I am too mature for a night light. When Mama turns off the lights each evening, the stars illumine slowly, as if they needed a few seconds to recover from the darkness suddenly cast upon them. Something tells me that we, as a human people with mortal bodies, act the same way as these celestial bodies.)

- Two watermelons—give each melon a hard slap, because the ones that are the ripest will proudly sing out the fact

(There is a baby bump protruding from Mama like a melon, and over months I watch her body assume a rounded form. I don’t know what the word pregnant means yet, but I know what an abortion is. Abortion is a word I learned recently from a commercial, and I wonder why Mama keeps the child if she didn’t want a baby at all. All the other Chinese families marvel at her decision, since most of them only have one or two children, and all of her friends at China (at home), of course, were only allowed to have one. Sometimes I wonder what the baby can make of the outside world. Can he distinguish whether Mama is passing through light or dark? Can he hear us singing?) Near the end of second grade, my family moved across the Chattahoochee River into the richer neighboring town, where more people had light skin, their pale bodies generally lithe from lifetimes of delicious, readilyavailable food. There is a Kroger five minutes away and another smaller H-Mart ten minutes away from our new house. On weekends, we might drive into our old town’s Great Wall Supermarket, a new store catered specifically towards the influx of Chinese American families. With the shuffling of homes and the fact that I had come back from the elementary school cafeteria beaming about burgers, cheese pizza, and lasagna, the metaphorical grocery lists in my head also had to shift. Now, they encompassed a conglomerate of Western staples:

APRIL 3, 2019: We Are What We Eat: Intersections of Food and Race: This workshop APRIL 17, 2019: 2nd asked participants to think critically about race and food, discuss the intersection of food and Annual Asian American our experiences as Asian/Americans, learn the forgotten histories of Asian/American narratives Studies Research that intertwine, and explore the social and systemic forces that have shaped Asian foods and Symposium. the communities behind them into what they are today.


- Eight ears of corn

(My brother is born when I’m eight. June 4, 2008—as I found out much later, twenty-nine years after the night Baba listened to the exciting, squirming images on TV instead of his parents’ warnings, leaving Beida for the square with rioting students. Later that night he saw giant tanks trampling bodies, snapping them in half as easily as Mama snaps the ears of corn. So I’m not sure if my brother’s tiny body emerging into the world that specific day is tragic or regenerative. One day, we go to Great Wall, and when Mama has placed the stalks in the basket, my six-month old brother grabs an ear and starts chomping at it with his rice-shaped baby teeth. He finishes the raw cob when we reach the checkout line. My mom snaps a photo of him with the yellow stars around his mouth.)

- The plastic bags of thirty bread rolls

(Although my parents were raised on rice, I seem to have become obsessed with wheat products. I have abandoned Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs because Mama decided cereal was too sugary for growing bodies. But I don’t like eating xifan unless I pile brown sugar into my bowl, which Mama determines will also plant cavities. Baba comes home with a bag of bread rolls one day in fourth grade. We toast them and eat them with cream cheese, something else I have recently discovered. Baba starts buying the rolls every week; I turn them into my new breakfast regular. One day, Baba rubs a roll with butter instead of cream cheese, and when Mama learns what I’m eating, she snatches it away, reminding me that my heart is still nestled in my body even though I can’t see it, and that I should exercise caution lest it implodes from fat.

- Mozzarella string cheese

(A stick of mozzarella cheese splinters at its end into messy hair follicles. I relate well to it for this reason. I am in fifth grade, and in my two years at my new school, I have learned that I am ugly. I am ugly because I never know what the crowding bodies of white kids mean when they start jabbering about fumbles and touchdowns and if the Packers or the Steelers will win at the Superbowl. I am ugly because I always strike out first in dodgeball, my soft body crumpling at the force of the ball that came at me quicker and more unexpectedly than an idea. And I am also ugly because I have tangled hair that I tie back every day—instead of leaving it down, as a girl should. As we leave the computer lab one day and stand in a single-file line, the girl behind me asks, “Do you ever even brush it?” Yes, I snap.)

- Two racks of ribs, to roast with Southern BBQ sauce

(A pale scar will crackle down my sister’s torso forever, from when she received surgery as a toddler for cancer that destroyed one of her eyes. I’m realizing that that might be why Mama was so much more protective of her than of me. I don’t have any scars on my unremarkable body, except one on my knee from pre-k when I fell on the playground over my untied shoes and the wood chips all turned to swords against me. I forget the scar’s there most of the time. I forget about so many things in the here and now, about my body in whatever physical space that surrounds it, because I’m always thinking about the past or the future. I have two friends in my elementary school. I had many more at my old one in my old town where not everyone wanted to be like the white kids, but we are never returning there. In the fall, I will start middle school, and maybe I will talk more there. I determine that I’m capable of making friends, even though I’m ugly and my ribs don’t show through my skin, even though my body will never be a white body.)

carrie wang she/her/hers c/o’22 JULY 15, 2019: Duke received $4 million for African, Asian American and Latinx studies faculty. Beginning in Fall 2020, the grant would fund up to six new junior- to senior-level faculty to join Trinity College faculty; however, there has been no official confirmation on faculty in any of these disciplines.

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“Before you ask, this ain’t the alphabet. It takes someone with my skin tone, between Tupelo honey and dark mahogany, Who hails between the Himalayas and the Indian sea, To understand that these letters poke fun at people like me. Abcd stands for American-born, confused Desi, referring to all the Indians born in this country... I call this country my home, but it’s never quite felt like a home, not when our white neighbors leave us out on the porch to scorch in the Sun of oppression.

Darwin taught us the fittest survive, that in order to thrive we have to adapt, and just like that I morphed a bit to fit in through the back window...”

abcd. bcd. a

pranav athimuthu | he/him/his | c/o’23 “They went from laughing at the dot on my forehead to asking for a dot on their own, and own is exactly what they did.

They took my culture to the register and asked, “Can I get a discount price on that one exotic holiday with the fireworks?” Excuse me, but my culture is not your bargain-bin, thrift store find, my identity comes in a bundle pack and the contents are not sold separately...

I have to be versatile ‘cause my existence demands it. And what a beautiful existence it is: since I can never be an Indian, I am reduced to the hyphen, the tiny dash that holds the two together. But one thing I can promise you is I’m far from confused, the man standing before you is an abd. If you got a problem with that come take it up with me.”

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the thehouse houseisistorn tornin inhalf halflooking lookingfor foraapen pen-mumbling numbers & mouthing mumbling numbers & mouthing sounds. sounds.Courtroom Courtroomshuffle. shuffle.Legs Legscrossed crossed&&recrossed. recrossed.

theo cai he/him/his c/o’21

InInsearch searchof ofthe theultimate ultimatepoem poemabout aboutDiaspora, Diaspora, aaspelling error is made. Sorry, spelling error is made. Sorry, IImean meanDysphoria: Dysphoria:its itsteetering teeteringcarafe, carafe, the well providing the water. the well providing the water. In Insearch searchof ofthe theultimate ultimatepoem poemabout aboutDysphoria, Dysphoria, glass careens into walls of its own volition, glass careens into walls of its own volition,and andtheories theories proliferate. the body is touched proliferate. the body is touched only onlyto toquell quellits itsuprising uprising--that thatis, is,with withintent intentto tokill kill-and andwhen whenI,I,in intears, tears,beg begmy mymother motherto toask askme mewhat whatit’s it’slike, like, she does and I say that it hurts. she does and I say that it hurts. ititalways alwayshurts. hurts.that thatgrowing growingup, up,IIalways alwaysfelt feltapart. apart. But where there is a split, there is a chisel, But where there is a split, there is a chisel, so sohow howare areall allthe thedrawers drawersempty? empty?another anothermetaphor metaphorfor for the well. another for the body. this is everything the well. another for the body. this is everything you youcould couldhave havegiven givenme, me,IItell tellher, her, but still, it is not enough, so but still, it is not enough, so while whileininsearch searchof ofthe theultimate ultimatepoem poemabout aboutDiaspora, Diaspora, IIalso consider changing my middle name. also consider changing my middle name. IIsay sayititout outloud. loud.IIam amcareful carefulwith withthe thetones. tones. IIdo not know what it looks like on paper do not know what it looks like - on paperor orotherwise. otherwise. We Weare arenot notspeaking speakingright rightnow, now,but butififI Iwould wouldadd add anything, it would be this: metaphor as truth, anything, it would be this: metaphor as truth, metaphor metaphoras asWhite Whitelie. lie.all allbinaries binariescan canbe bedestroyed. destroyed. the body and its hurt are everything, but when the body and its hurt are everything, but whenIIsay saythey they

are i arenot notenough, enough,IIdon’t don’tmean meanfailure, failure, i a a C IImean opportunity. & when I C mean opportunity. & when Isay say o o i e e I gave up looking, I Idon’t mean a h h I gave up looking, don’t mean TT eo C i ititwill willnever neverchange. change.IIam amjust justwaiting waiting Th o Ca youto toteach teachme mehow howto towrite writeititfirst. first. Theeo Caii ononyou Th eo Ca i Th eo Ca h T OCTOBER 31, 2019: What is Asian NOVEMBER 18, 2019: Andrew Yang: The Man, The (Model

American Studies (Working Group)?: This was an information session/workshop to learn more about the history of Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies and the current state of AAS at Duke.

Minority) Myth, The Legend: This was a workshop that took a critical look into the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. It analyzed Andrew Yang’s memetic popularity in order to take an in-depth look at Asian/American issues and American electoral politics.


“Portraiture, especially self-portraiture, has always been an important tool for me to explore identity and sense of self. In my submission, I have used composition and color especially to both represent and subvert notions of Asian American-ness and femininity.� hannah miao she/her/hers c/o’21


Yellow anonymous

In the darkest depths of my sister’s anorexia, my mother snuck into her room to read her journal, hoping to find some insight into a mind shut off from her for far too long. She flipped through the pages while my sister dozed off against a bathroom stall wall at school, exhausted from another hollow day of hunger. I wish that I were white. She called me to tell me what she’d seen written; she called to question where she had gone wrong. I had no answers to give her. How do you explain to the mother who crossed oceans for your unknown future, who scrubbed bathrooms on her knees pregnant to make ends meet—how do you explain to the mother of both your wildest hopes and dreams and your most aching nightmares, that she can do nothing to help her child? That this was born of something entirely out of her control? My father was the first person who told me I was yellow. I remember being very young, coloring a scribbled self portrait. You know, he pointed out, we’re not really that color. We’re yellow. For him, it was a point of pride, something that bound us to a far off homeland I never thought of as my own. For me, I was the peach crayon in my hand—it was inconceivable that yellow was any sort of skin color. My parents say that our generation is a bunch of Cavendish bananas, wearing yellow skins over white bodies. We want to be all-American, we want to be recognized as just as much as any other white picket fence child, even though we brought dumplings to school instead of Lunchables. Even though on Sundays we went to Chinese school instead of church. Even though all these things set us apart from the American families on television.

FEBRUARY 20 2020: Asian American as a Political MARCH 2, 2020: Lighten Up: Unpacking Colorismin Body Workshop: This workshop asked the question “How should we discuss this depoliticization of the term 'Asian American' despite it being inherently political, and what does its history compel us to do today?”

South Asian Communities: This workshop explored the extent of colorism in popular media and the 20th century, examining the connections between race, power and privilege, and how we can challenge our own internalized anti-Blackness and socio-cultural colorism.


So how does a banana live with herself? How do I love my yellow skin, how do I treasure the gap between the hexadecimal for my olive hands and the green veins mapped underneath, and a pristine Pantone Peach? And isn’t that the hardest thing to do, to live with yourself, the one person you have no choice but to keep by your side the whole of your life? I think, at the end of the day, when we look in the mirror too long we all see strangers staring back at us. It is the job of a lifetime to figure out what the face in the mirror is asking of us, to decipher the yearning behind dark pupils to see the soul underneath. When my sister wished to be white, I had to rethink what yellow meant to me—to rethink the pieces that made up the stranger I was courting in the glass. Yellow is the girl who told me in third grade that I’d never be American because I wasn’t white, her light eyes looking into mine, irises too dark to fathom that I was another little girl just like her. Yellow is the red and gold of New Year's in February, the taste of fish and tangyuan for good fortune. Yellow is piano lessons and Chinese school lessons you’ve long forgotten by now. Yellow is fresh cut fruit to say I love you, the smooth skin of apples split open.

MARCH 25, 2020: Although the Margins Launch Party was postponed until next semester In light of Duke’s cancellation of all on-campus activities due to COVID-19, this issue was released digitally on this day!


Yellow is a nose bridge too low to comfortably support glasses, eyes missing a second lid to properly flaunt eyeshadow. Yellow is slippers indoors, plastic for the summer and showers and soft for the winter.

Yellow is all this, and more.

My sister is now in college. Last year, her five foot eight inch frame weighed over one hundred pounds for the first time in her life. I’m happy to say, she can’t fit into her old clothes anymore.

Yellow is her favorite color.

Our Asian American panethnic community, particularly since we choose to name ourselves Asian Americans, is an imagined community that is reliant on our remembering and forgetting in order to create a shared and collective past. Our shared past as Asian Americans is a collective memory built from individual memories, and the search for that past is an active act of remembering. We include this timeline in Margins because as we continue to demand Asian American Studies at Duke, to fight against injustices that happen locally and globally, and as we work together towards our collective liberations, we must remember.

a story of

resilience and strength



ppreciate what you have now. My aunt waited for a different boat with first-class amenities to take her out of Vietnam, and she was left behind with the communists for fifteen years, my dad warned.

Growing up, this was a cautionary tale. Surrounded by a loving family, a safe neighborhood, and food on my table, I have always felt secure in my privilege. Yet, the sacrifice and loss that my dad’s family faced has reminded me to never take my blessings for granted. My dad was only thirteen when he had to flee his home in Saigon, Vietnam. My dad’s father was a major in the army of the Republic of Vietnam, so he had no choice but to leave the country with his wife and six children to avoid being forced into a concentration camp or executed by the Viet Cong. In the weeks leading up to his escape, he could hear bombs flaring in the city outside his house and the screams and cries of civilians who lost their loved ones. They left Vietnam on April 30, 1975, the morning of the siege. At that time, the first wave of political immigrants, primarily comprised of South Vietnamese government officials and the wealthy elite, were evacuating by U.S. airplanes and helicopters (Zhou and Bankston; Lee 321). However, my dad’s family, who was among the middle class, left among the seventy-three thousand who escaped by sea in hopes of encountering a U.S. naval vessel (Lee 321).

coming to



Everyone sat, slept, or prayed

tamara tran she/her/hers c/o’23

SITTING UP , waiting with waning hope of rescue.

My dad and his family took a taxi East of Saigon to the Vietnam coast, where they planned to escape on a large fishing boat. At the harbor, they ran through crossfire with hunched backs, passing bloody corpses and injured bodies grazed by bullets. However, when they reached the water, the tide was low and their boat had gotten its propeller stuck in the sand. Desperately, my dad’s parents hired another fisherman to take their family out to sea, where they drifted for two weeks until finally crossing paths with another fishing boat. The boat was expensive and crammed with the bodies of other evacuees, with no room to stand. Inclement weather kept my father and many other Vietnamese immigrants on the boat constantly sea sick. Meanwhile, no passengers had any food or water. Everyone sat, slept or prayed sitting up, waiting with waning hope of rescue. My dad remembers being frightened as he watched my grandfather begin to go crazy with the worry that his family would be caught by the communists. “We all drank the dirty rain water and became sick. The children and babies were hungry and crying,” my dad recalled. “Finally after two weeks, we were picked up by Thai fishermen. They gave us food and water and brought us to their Thai port. All of us immigrants stayed there waiting to be aided. Eventually we were turned away by the Thai because they did not know what to do with any of us. The Thai reached their last straw when some Vietnamese men stole food from their kitchens. They sent us out back into the boat where we floated for yet another week.”


it was like a

Finally, as my dad recalls, their boat reached Malaysia, where an American Navy Patrol boat directed him and his family to a refugee camp. There, they lived in an overcrowded camp for six months, waiting for the U.S. government to process their papers. My grandmother was confident that the U.S. government would take care of her family because she thought that the U.S. government felt responsible for the fall of Saigon and the future of the South Vietnamese people. While she was feeling nervous about starting life in a new country, she finally felt secure about the safety of her family. Meanwhile, my dad enjoyed his time on the island, where he taught himself how to swim in the ocean and spent his days trying to catch fish. “[It] was like a vacation for us kids,” he shrugs. “We did take a few English classes, but we barely learned anything.” After months of instability and chaos, he had found himself at peace in this transitory period.


After six months of waiting, he and his family were flown out to the Guam Islands, where they lived in the barracks on an army base for three more months while their papers continued to be processed. Once allowed, they flew to Fort Chasse, Arkansas in July 1975. There, they found out they would be sponsored by a Presbyterian church in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. They were given a clean two-story furnished house to rent, a station wagon, and a job for my father at Phillip Moore’s cigarette plant. The family stayed in Virginia for three more months until a cousin who lived in Texas at that time came to visit, and my grandmother decided that she wanted to move to Texas. They lived in Austin, Texas for three years and then moved to Cypress, California so they could be near my granduncle. While in Virginia, my dad was able to go to an American school for the first time. My dad’s experience in the American education system was difficult because, although he learned English at an early age back in Vietnam, he could not understand or converse adequately with native speakers. “When I first came here, I only understood about fifty percent of what they were saying,” he recalled. “I could write, and I was great at grammar but it was hard to understand my

only understood 50%



many months homeless




coming to america

tamara tran


classmates when they talked during normal day-to-day conversation.” Feeling self-conscious from his white classmates, he developed a stutter and a tendency to speak in broken English. At home, he also faced a language barrier with his mom, who struggled with English and speaks only Vietnamese to this day. The adjustment to life in America was difficult for my dad’s family. Struggling with the uncertainty about their family’s future in America, my dad’s parents divorced, leaving my dad the eldest child in a family of nine children by a single, unemployed mother. He felt a great strain to support his family economically as well as to become educated and find a successful career for himself. He attended college at the University of California, Irvine on financial aid, but found himself stranded in the summer terms, during which he did not receive aid for housing. Without money for gas to drive back and forth to school, my dad spent many months homeless, sleeping in his car and empty spots on campus at night. To this day, my dad remembers the economic stress in his past and the tension he felt from his family’s expectations, leading him to continue to thrift and avoid indulgence. His experience may have been very similar to many of the Vietnamese refugees arriving in the U.S. To the Vietnamese refugee, resettlement was full of unforeseen setbacks and struggles. Refugees became especially concentrated in California, in regions like Orange County, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles, as well as in Texas, Washington, and Florida (Alperin and Batalova), and often struggled in school because of issues of language and unfamiliarity with American society. Finding themselves in classroom settings with very few Vietnamese counselors and where teachers’ knowledge about Vietnamese social backgrounds was marginal, Vietnamese refugees often attained lower levels of education compared to native- and foreign-born populations overall. Although my dad faced innumerable hardships, both in fleeing Vietnam and adjusting to life in the United States, he grew to understand the struggles faced by the other bodies of those fleeing their home and remain cognizant of his own fortune in overcoming these. My dad worked hard in school to earn his degree and to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, where he met my mom. Because of the bloodshed he had witnessed as a teenager, he became a safety engineer and is passionate about public health and well being. Through hard work and sacrifice, he and my mother were able to raise my sister and I in a stable household and send us to private universities. The strengthening of family and community in his life after coming to the U.S. has demonstrated how the displacement of bodies does not have to be destructive. For my dad and his family, and for the hundreds of bodies that relocated to America, life has been full of trials and challenges. Yet, in the face of chaos, fear, and loss, there is hope in unity and great resilience in the refugee body.

Alperin, Jeanne Batalova Elijah, and Jeanne Batalova. “Vietnamese Immigrants in the United States.”, 3 May 2019. Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016, pp. 212-250. Thomason, T. D. R. Stories of the Vietnamese Boat People. Elisabethgaarde52. 1403 KB Bussum. The Netherlands. 1979. Zhou, Min, and Carl L. Bankston. Straddling Two Social Worlds: the Experience of Vietnamese Refugee Children in the United States. ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Institute for Urban and Minority Education, 2000.



It’s the summer of 2013, and World War Z has just been released. You excitedly go with your White best friend and her father to a movie theater in Columbia, SC. Inside the theater, you notice that the majority of people are Black, yet you pay no real attention to it. But then, your best friend’s father, the one who won’t look your own father directly in the eyes when talking to him—the one who compliments your piano playing by deliberately attributing it to your Asianness—employs his finest southern charm and says, “World War Z? More like World War N” upon entering the theater. Your best friend laughs and you feel desperately uncomfortable. However, you want him to like you. You want to feel accepted. So, what do you do? You laugh too. I think about this moment a lot. Why did I feel the need to laugh at his overtly racist comment? Just like how all my friends were White and how I never defended my Black peers against the discriminatory comments of my White classmates, I laughed because I was relieved that he was not targeting my race nor using it against me. This sentiment is something that is often pervasive among the Asian American community, and even more prevalent among the Asian American community in the South where white supremacy is more apparent. As a result of wanting to assimilate into American culture,



many Asian Americans have adopted an antiBlack rhetoric and subscribed to the notions of White dominance. Although Asian Americans are influenced to feel superior to Black Americans, Asian Americans are placed in a triangulated racial position that is “meant to perpetuate white privilege at the expense of both Asian and African Americans” (E. Kim 4). However, just like Black Americans and other minority groups, Asian Americans share a complex relationship with the White American narrative. In order to alleviate the contentious relationship between Asian Americans and Black Americans, it is necessary to uncover the problematic factors behind antiBlack sentiment among the Asian American community—especially in the South—and explore the history of Afro-Asian alliances to determine the historical bases for future solidarity between the groups.

e you “ where ar

really from?”

is a question that I’ve grown accustomed to hearing after explaining that I’m from South Carolina. This question implies that as an Asian American, I am immutably foreign, that I’m not actually from the United States. This idea of cultural foreignness can be traced back to when Chinese immigrants first immigrated to the United States in the 19th century in search of economic advancement (Lee 64). Images of Chinese immigrants as “alien, despotic, and backward” formed as a result of Orientalist discourse and contributed to the American ostracization of Asians (C. Kim 109). When Chinese immigrants proved to be competition for White workers, stereotypes of Chinese immigrants as obedient and “machine-like” began to form, further differentiating Asian culture from White culture and thus enforcing the view of Asians as nonassimilative (Lee 89). Asian immigrants and their children began to feel the effects of American fear from the “yellow peril” as well as the racial

uncovering anti-Black sentiment among asian americans

prejudice and exclusion that followed (Ng et al.). Consequently, Asians and Asian Americans strived for assimilation and desired to be White— even if it came at the cost of marginalizing other groups such as Black Americans. This sentiment was especially prevalent in the South as Asian Americans struggled with “acceptance in southern communities and perpetual otherness” (Hinnershitz). In the late 19th century when Chinese American communities began to flourish in the South, Asian Americans began to “dissociate from Blacks over time,” giving their children White names and making donations to White organizations as an attempt to become White (C. Kim 112). Additionally, when the Jim Crow laws existed and were enforced, Asian Americans followed the rules of Jim Crow because as long as they did so and “accepted southern life as dictated by local laws and customs,” they would be artificially accepted and seen as “less” foreign (Hinnershitz). This ideology has carried through to contemporary society where the notion of success and acceptance is equated with whiteness. The perpetual foreigner stereotype enforced by White Americans has caused Asian Americans to adopt antagonistic attitudes toward Black Americans and to view affinities with Black Americans as equaling the “negation of ‘America,’ which can only be coded as ‘white’” (E. Kim 4). Not only are Asian Americans perceived as culturally non-assimilative, some Asian Americans are also stereotyped by the “model minority” myth. I cannot fathom the number of times a classmate automatically assumed I did well on a math test. As Asian Americans, we are surrounded by this ideal that not only must we be immersed in math and the sciences, but we also need to excel in them. The label insinuates that Asian Americans experience unparalleled achievement in educational attainment and financial statuses, deeming them theoretically


to other minority groups.

56 56

By reinforcing the notion that hard work pays off, it emphasizes “the subordinate position of other minority groups” and especially affects the relationship between Asian Americans and Black Americans (“Model” 175). The model minority myth was first pronounced in 1966 when William Peterson published an article entitled, “Success Story, Japanese-American Style.” The article “valorize[ed] Asian Americans relative to Blacks on cultural (or racially coded) grounds” and expressed that if Black Americans were to hold the same values of diligence and “achievement orientation” as the model minority, then they too, would become more successful as a group (C. Kim 119). Although the term is problematic because it homogenizes all Asian Americans and masks the needs of certain Asian American groups, perhaps its most provocative implication is that “lesser minorities” exist and these people fail to flourish due to their lack of desirable cultural values and intelligence.



minority The model minority myth encourages the idea of a racially colorblind society, diminishing the complex and tenuous relationship that Asians have had with White Americans and with their assimilation into American society. White Americans use the model minority label to enforce the ideal that Asian Americans do not face discrimination and in doing so, intentionally pit Asian Americans against Black Americans by representing Asian Americans as “proxy whites” to advance White prerogatives (C. Kim 123). A survey concerning Asian American racial attitudes conducted by ChangeLab, a grassroots political

hidden nuances

57 57

hidden nuances lab that explores structural solutions for racial justice, found that the majority of their participants—disillusioned by the surface-level aspects of the label—had adopted some sense of racial superiority to Black people (Jung and Miller 9). Truthfully speaking, although I was annoyed when my classmates assumed my grades in STEM subjects, I was secretly glad that I never had to extensively advocate for my smartness. Yet even with tremendous incentives towards anti-Blackness, Asian Americans have historically found ways to ally themselves with African American activism. However, these examples of Afro-Asian alliances are relatively obscured in the history of Asian American race relations. Why don’t we ever talk about how after WWII, Japanese Americans and Black Americans united to challenge the “Whites-only” rule in Los Angeles? During the post-World War II era, interethnic alliances between the Japanese Americans and Black Americans to combat white exclusivity in Los Angeles neighborhoods contributed to advancements in the city’s civil rights agenda and activism in later years (Lee 300). Later on, in the 1960s and 1970s, Asian American activists even began to frame the Asian American Civil Rights Movement in relation to the Black Civil Rights Movement. However, we seem to have forgotten about these moments of solidarity and only tend to focus on moments of contention. Why did the media place so much emphasis on hostilities between Korean and Black Americans but so little emphasis on people like Yuri Kochiyama who fought alongside Black Americans for civil rights? Kochiyama was a Japanese American activist who was incarcerated in internment camps during WWII and became incredibly influenced by NAACP leaders and activists after she was released from the camps. She became closely involved with Malcolm X and fought alongside him for Asian American rights, forging a formidable connection between

In reality, there is historical proof of

Asian Americans & African Americans working together

to promote civil rights.

the Asian American movement and the continual African American Civil Rights Movement (Lee 301). And what about the phenomenon, Grace Lee Boggs? Interestingly, although Yuri Kochiyama advocated for Asian American civil rights in conjunction to Black civil rights, activist Grace Lee Boggs became solely involved in advancing African Americans’ rights (Lee 302). She was inspired by the Black Civil Rights Movement and after marrying African American activist James Boggs, she and her husband worked together to fight for Black Power. Grace Lee Boggs believed that “all races and ethnicities [should] live together in harmony” and her involvement in the Black Civil Rights Movement illustrated this belief (Lee 303). In reality, there is historical proof of Asian Americans and African Americans working alongside each other to promote civil rights! However, it is also notable to emphasize the differences of Asian Americans in the South and the role of activism. Although activists such as Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs drew inspiration from African American demonstrations in the South, the most prominent Asian American civil rights activism occurred in the West Coast and in Northern parts of the East Coast (Hinnershitz). The pervasive nature of the Jim Crow Laws combined with the lack of Asian Americans living in the South resulted in essentially no collective “movement” but instead, in activism that was based off of an “individualistic nature” (Hinnershitz). When




sa lo



o .n




as e h


ans k r a

fw Gong Lum fought against school segregation in Mississippi and Lum Jung Luke fought against anti-alien land laws in Arkansas—issues that were not present in the North and in the West Coast—their objectives were not to advance Asian American rights as a whole but rather, to advance “their own civil rights as individuals” (Hinnershitz). Unlike in other parts of the country, Asian American “activists” in the South tried to distance themselves from African Americans and their Civil Rights Movement, leading to a gap between the two movements that was not present in the interracial Civil Rights Movement in other parts of the United States (Hinnershitz). The longing for assimilation that was perpetuated by racist southern attitudes and the Jim Crow laws hindered true solidarity between the groups. In contemporary society, discriminatory ideals of the past are still embedded (or outwardly portrayed) in many Southerner’s perspectives, like the comment made by my White best friend’s father in the movie theater. Racial attitudes in the South have thus, exacerbated factors for antiBlack sentiment—such as the perpetual foreigner stereotype and model minority myth—among Asian Americans in the South. Consequently, when looking at the historical bases for solidarity between the two groups in the South, we must analyze the historical relationship of Civil Rights Movements in other parts of the country, but with added emphasis on recognizing our complicity in white supremacy; Asian Americans in the South have more incentives when succumbing to the factors of anti-Black sentiment. It is imperative to uncover the history of interracial activism and specifically, the interrelation of the Black Civil Rights Movement with the Asian Civil Rights Movement. We share a multifaceted, yet, little-discussed history and relationship with Black Americans. In a sense, we, as Asian Americans, need to be reminded of our racial history and the considerations of our “Asian American identity.” However, it is also important to remember that solidarity between groups should not be based solely on activists of color bonding over shared victimhood; this insinuates the false ideal that all racial oppressions have been formulated identically. Andrea Smith argues that “we see that we are victims of white supremacy, but complicit in it as well” (Smith 69). This is why it’s so important to acknowledge the

58 58

Asian American internalization of factors such as the model minority myth, and how complying to it reinforces the status of Black Americans at the “bottom of the racial hierarchy”—we end up remaining confined by our own “pillars of white supremacy” (Smith 69). Instead, by taking this scrutinous approach to history in order to acknowledge and discard our motivations for complicity, we can hope to develop strategic alliances framed upon the “larger political economy” (Smith 69).


e hit


pr em

ac y

Asian Americans are situated in a peculiar position in relation to the Black and White binary. We struggle with the dichotomous relationship between feeling like perpetual foreigners in our own country, but also with our superior valorization to Black Americans as the model minority. In the South, these factors are intensified due to the continual domination of white supremacy. Only by examining the historical bases for solidarity, recognizing our role in propagating white supremacy, and remembering that the “well-being of every American” depends on the “well-being of the collectivity” (E. Kim) will anti-Black sentiment disappear, will our country hopefully become a multiracial democracy, and will we finally know how to appropriately respond when faced with an explicitly racist comment towards a race that is not our own. Hinnershitz, Stephanie. A Different Shade of Justice: Asian American Civil Rights in the South. University of North Carolina Press, 2017. Jung, Soya and Yong C. Miller. “Left or Right of the Color Line? Asian Americans and the Racial Justice Movement.” ChangeLab, 2012. Kim, Claire Jean. “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans.” Politics & Society, vol. 27, no. 1, Mar. 1999, pp. 105–138, doi:10.1177/0032329299027001005. Kim, Elaine H. “‘At Least You’re Not Black’: Asian Americans in U.S. Race Relations.” Social Justice, vol. 25, no. 3 (73), 1998, pp. 3–12. JSTOR, stable/29767082. Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America. Simon & Schuster. 2015. “Model Minority.” Routledge Companion to Race and Ethnicity, edited by Stephen M. Caliendo and Charlton D. McIlwain, Routledge, 2011, pp. 173-176. Ng, Jennifer C., et al. “Contesting the Model Minority and Perpetual Foreigner Stereotypes: A Critical Review of Literature on Asian Americans in Education.” Review of Research in Education, vol. 31, 2007, pp. 95–130. JSTOR, www.jstor. org/stable/20185103. Smith, Andrea, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing,” The Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2006.

hidden nuances


1. When Creator made Mother Creator made a graveyard where dead men bury themselves, hairy hearts turn to rot. Creator made a shrine where men will worship manhood, ingest the clot of tears. Creator made mother, dead woman marching vessel for phallic dreams. mother: canvas for clotted child. eulogy for fallen kings. sirloin for hyena’d boys.

ayesham khan she/her/hers c/o’23

pinky dips in vat of antiseptic to wipe the milk off a cleft lip she churned the night she died.

2. Meet Cheat Street a rusty faucet drools yellow water, plumber swears roaring. (his rage is stored in a volcanic belly when he gets home to his wife it spews lava) the Missus watching cannot colour her lips between the lines, the Master toes across infidelity, wives, and not-wives, children and bastards, and policemen in whore houses, where they don’t belong.


3. my mother birthed my mother birthed a prayer not a child. how she sacrificed. flesh of cow leaps across oil. her hair turns from black to white. a single scar cracks her belly like an eggshell. a dove dropped dead from the sky as I leaped across her womb. here comes peace, thought she, a clotted salvation. fluorescent lights hum the hymns of chemo in a sterile room. your sister died in that corner! I made my bed on a tumor. but my mother birthed a prayer not a child, and prayer is a fist clenched around nothing. mother’s bats buzz around my heart, last night they spread their wings and screeched. and because my mother birthed a prayer not a child, her perfume is everywhere, in tree bark and prayer rug when my knees buckle to the earth. an invocation dripped from a trembling lip to coat me in pride the color of honey. saying don’t ever forget who you are and who you come from (the mother you come from).


Immigration Immigration Then, Then, Immigration Immigration Now Now jiahui shen he/him/his c/o’22 Asian Americans were the first illegal immigrants. Today, the charged term “illegal immigrant” implies wrongdoing criminals who don’t deserve residence. However, looking through the lens of Asian American history exposes that this concept is rooted in racism and xenophobia rather than any real basis. The concept of the illegal immigrant was developed from a slew of exclusionary immigration policies, beginning with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. These policies were explicitly designed to uphold white supremacy. The senator who introduced the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act even explicitly argued that “Oriental” civilization was incompatible with the United States, and that the Chinese were a “degraded and inferior race.”1 These racist laws created the first undocumented immigrants, many who were Chinese Americans who had resided legally but were subsequently criminalized. Agents dubbed “Chinese catchers” were tasked with detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants,2 who were in reality the victims of racism. There was no “problem” of illegal immigration until the United States created it with its arbitrary and discriminatory policy. Over a century later, the so-called “immigration crisis” remains a fabrication. It is easy to see the parallels between the first undocumented immigrants and the undocumented immigrants of today. The racist exclusion of immigrants may have been more explicit in the past, but make no mistake that racism and xenophobia still pervade the current exclusion of immigrants. The manufactured narrative of “defending our borders” from drug runners and rapists, policies such as Trump’s “Muslim ban,” the disproportionate targeting of and restrictions against people of color, and the dehumanization of undocumented immigrants and refugees all demonstrate how racism and otherization continues to pervade American discourse on immigration.3 Even if we work within the fundamentally unjust immigration system that the United States provides, we can see its arbitrary nature. The majority of undocumented immigrants are people who overstayed their legal visas due to extraneous circumstances or renewal difficulties—an unnecessarily and arbitrarily complicated process.4 Some are refugees who face negligent asylum policy barring them from entry.5 Some are unable to wait the decades it can take for legal residency. How do we justify detaining human beings in concentration camps where t3ey are denied soap, toothpaste, and vaccinations?6 The deportation of law-abiding residents who have lived in the United States their entire lives? The separation of families? The lives lost to these concentration camps or as a result of deportation? But focusing on the faults of the immigration system belies the root of the injustice. Even among people who recognize the atrocities committed by ICE and facilitated by our immigration law, there is a perception that “we just need to make the system better” or that “the system has its flaws but vetting is necessary.” However, injustice lies not only in the problems with America’s immigration system, but in the very system itself. 1 Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America: A History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016. Pg. 88. 2 Ibid. pg 202. 3 “RACE FORWARD: SYSTEMIC RACISM AT ROOT OF LATEST EXEC. ORDER ON IMMIGRATION” Race Forward. 2018. 4 McMinn, Sean and Klahr, Renee. “Where Does Illegal Immigration Mostly Occur? Here’s What The Data Tell Us” NPR. 2019. 5 Wilson, David. “The US Must Take Responsibility for Asylum Seekers and the History That Drives Them” Truthout. 2018. 6 Dickerson, Caitlin. “Migrant Children Are Entitled to Toothbrushes and Soap, Federal Court Rules.” The New York Times. 2019.


What right does a fundamentally settler-colonial society, literally founded upon the genocide of Native Americans, have to deny the victims of its hydra of imperialism? Migration does not exist in isolation; it must be recognized that the majority of migration is because Western imperialism has suppressed and destroyed the conditions of immigrants’ homelands. Do we forget (or even know) that the majority of migration from the southern border was created by continuous US intervention in Latin America on behalf of right wing militaries and multinational corporations?7 Do we forget that Vietnamese and Cambodian war refugees and immigrants were directly created by America’s support of colonial France during the Vietnam War?8 The United States’ intervention against democratically elected governments that were deemed “dangerous” by its irrational, warmongering, anti-communist Cold War mentality created violence and poverty that continues to this day. When America injects violence and extracts wealth from their homelands, to migrate to the source of wealth is the only logical conclusion for the immigrant. The migration to America is thus not a symptom of its greatness, but of its global exploitation. How hypocritical for the greatest purveyor of violence in the world to deny human rights to the victims of its imperialism. Today, a very specific image of the Asian American immigrant—the East Asian, predominantly Chinese American, middle-upper income immigrant—has been strategically weaponized to justify the inhumane treatment of immigrants. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which prioritized immigrants with professional skills and education after decades of Asian exclusion, was key to solidifying the Model Minority Myth.9 Largely because of the influx of technically skilled workers after decades of exclusion, Asians are seen as minorities who have supposedly “made it” in society. This creates a racist, anti-Black, anti-immigrant conception of the “good minority”—the hard working Asians that pulled themselves up by their bootstraps in ways that the “bad minorities” couldn’t. However, this is an ahistorical viewpoint that ignores the different histories and material conditions of different racial groups in the United States. The Model Minority Myth groups Asians into a monolith that masks the vast diversity of histories within the Asian American community. Asian immigrant communities, particularly Southeast Asian refugees and post-war immigrants, are under attack by ICE today.10 The very injustices the United States has committed against Asian Americans are exploited to further justify and mask the white supremacist structure of society. To view Asian immigration as a distinct success story is to buy into a racist paradigm sold to us by a society that treats us well in so far as we are a source of labor. Asian Americans involved with the civil rights movements of the 20th century stood against American imperialism and in solidarity with immigrants and refugees. They recognized the fundamental injustice of the American empire and its domination of the globe. To truly do justice to our history, stand in solidarity with undocumented immigrants and refugees of today. Stand in solidarity the victims of America’s continued human rights abuses, both within and outside of its arbitrarily-drawn borders. Stand against the corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Palantir that perpetuate and profit from the inhumane detainment and deportation of undocumented people.11 Fight for the abolition of ICE and the criminal legal system that dehumanizes and criminalizes human beings. Doing anything less is a contradiction. 7 “Imperialism, immigraiton, and Latin America.” Liberation News. 2013. 8 Morris, Brett. “Nixon and the Cambodian Genocide.” Jacobin. 2015. 9 Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America: A History. Simon & Schuster, 2016. Pg. 295-7. 10 Dreams Detained, in Her Words: The effects of detention and deportation on Southeast Asian American women and families. Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. 2019. 11 Molla, Rani. “Microsoft, Dell, Concur: Here are all the tech companies doing business with ICE and how much they’re getting paid.” Vox. 2019.


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