as i am spring 2013 oberlin, ohio mission statement As I Am presents a collection of voices from the Asian/Pacific Islander Diaspora (A/PID) communities at Oberlin College. It is a publication that strives to reflect our communitiesâ€™ needs while serving as an outlet for the creative expressions of its members. While we acknowledge the fact that it cannot fully represent the complexity of our diverse communities, our hope is that As I Am will serve as an inclusive space for Asian diasporic narratives.
production & layout
with thanks to
Marion Park Tanya Tran
Joelle Lingat Kaela Sanborn-Hum Peter Nguyen Tania Mukherjee Tomoyo Joshi
words from the editor Dear friends,
I am excited to introduce this semester’s edition of As I Am. After a hiatus of five years, As I Am is back with stories and thoughts voiced through the forms of poetry, prose, photography, and more. This collection of stories and thoughts demonstrates a creative means for discovery and consequent rediscovery of identity within the diverse Asian/Pacific Islander Diaspora (A/PID) communities of Oberlin. When the racist, queerphobic, and anti-Semitic incidents that happened this semester shook our campus, we gathered together to walk in solidarity. These events called for a need for rediscovery on an individual and on a communal level. As I Am was reinstated in order to provide a space for this reevaluation of the exploration of identities and beliefs. I hope that you enjoy this semester’s As I Am and hope that it will inspire you to contribute in the future. Thanks for reading, Marion Park
about the cover
Constructing an identity always takes multiple steps. First: a blank sheet of paper, waiting to be influenced. Each successive fold or crease represents a personal event or discovery that shapes not only how one appears but also how one is held together. Some steps hide previous folds, but marks still remain. Each crease is never permanent; each one can always be revisited and readjusted. The foundation of an identity is always more complex than it seems.
Asia America Art Collective, Asia House, Asian American Alliance, Creative Writing Program, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Filipin@ American Student Association, La Alianza, Multicultural Resource Center, Plum Creek Review, President’s Office, Rhetoric Department, Third World Co-op, Vietnamese Student Association
The Water in Jiuzhai Valley (a wonderland in Sichuan, China)
AAArt Collective Poster
The Memorial Arch
Joe Con-ui & Karl Orozco Asian Restaurant Identity
Hope Goodrich Chinese Eyes
Taiyo Scanlon-Kimura Mother Dearest
details of color | stories
my punjabi father talks to me one night
To the white man who told me I
look like I should have a tentacle
up my skirt at the Rocky Horror Picture Show:
The Philippine Scene
Karl Orozco & Tanya Tran Lights a Match & Counts to Three
Peter Nguyen Banh Mi
Ramblings of One Filipino-American
Chen Liang Untitled
fingerprints joe con-ui
the water in jiuzhai valley (a wonderland in sichuan, china) chen liang
Beauty is alive there. The rootless creature stumbles down the rugged rocks. It seeks for a conclusion deep in earth, always on its way. There are times when life’s in need of a pause, short or long. Look, those tranquil seas—soft, clear blue, chaste helpless girls’ sentiments, enchanting melancholy. In concealed pursuits, they gather strength, and in patience Wait for another big moment to come. Beneath the water, drowned boughs live for an eternity. They would have some wisdom but refuse to tell any beliefs. All is fulfilled. No more is needed there. Take my poem, soft wind. It rests anywhere.
mother dearest taiyo scanlon-kimura
Somebody once told me to fly, To reach and look up at the sky It took a few tries, but I started to rise Then I turned and I told her goodbye.
aaart collective poster karl orozco
silkscreen on paper, 2013
(a)sexual being cuyler otsuka
In one of my classes this year, we talked about the politics of desire. In other words, who gets action at Oberlin and who doesn’t? I couldn’t help but feel that, as a queer Asian American and Polynesian man, I’ve received the short end of the stick. Last year at Drag Ball, I arrived with my friends, feeling ready to dance with cute guys. I immediately became overwhelmed by the large crowd, and was frustrated with the people around me pushing and shoving me to the side. In the corner of my eye I saw a person I had a crush on. He was beautiful in drag, with a dress that revealed his chest and his long hair swooping across his face. His steel blue eyes met my dark brown eyes. I made my way over and said hi, but was greeted with a lukewarm wave of the hand. I danced with my girlfriends, but he was still on my mind. When I looked over at where he was, I saw him grinding up against another man. A white man. I walked home, tired and frustrated and alone. I closed myself off in my room and began to cry. I opened my laptop and went on Tumblr. I remembered each time I visited a dating profile that read, “White men only, please.” I remembered each time I asked a crush to have lunch, only to have my e-mails ignored, my calls unanswered. I thought of another class in freshman year. A sociology class. We talked about racist beauty standards, and my white classmates all said uniformly, “We can’t help who we’re attracted to.” “You can’t say I’m racist if I only want to date white women.” Deep within me, a frustration surged. I didn’t know how to say it at the time, but the politics of desirability in Oberlin does not exist in a vacuum: my queer Asian and Polynesian male body in a white space like Oberlin has been marked by an expectation of asexuality or celibacy in a way that I had never experienced, having growing up around other Asian and Polynesian people my entire life.
native tongue tanya tran
The following is an essay I wrote in my senior year of high school. These words mark an important f irst step in my personal narrative.
When a small and unassuming kindergartener brought durian to snacktime, (a) the olfactory assault unleashed by the fleshy yellow weapon caused other students to flee in terror, (b) the nickname “rotten egghead” was formed, and (c) as a result of the previous consequences, the small and unassuming kindergartener began to cry and vowed never to eat durian again, even though she loved the taste of what is known as the stinkiest fruit on earth. As a child, this imagined classroom scenario would play through my head every time I was offered the fruit. While I wish I could say I was once that small and unassuming kindergartener who one day learned to overcome her fear of being called “rotten egghead,” I cannot. I have never tried durian in my life. In fact, on the occasions that my mother would bring the smelly fruit home I would lock myself in a closet, not wanting anything to do with it. As far as I was concerned, none of my friends or classmates knew what a durian was, and I did not wish to set myself apart from the rest of my peers. In my mind, normal people did not eat stinky Asian fruit. Abnormal was the last thing I wanted to be. Two summers ago I found myself in Costa Rica. Once again, I did everything I could to fit in, but these efforts were veiled under a different concept: to let my eyes be opened by a different culture. Every task set before me I attempted with gusto. I memorized addresses comprised of landmarks such as churches and cows instead of street names, I used knives to push rice onto forks, I took showers at specific times in the morning to catch the warmest water; and at the pinnacle of it all, at the insistence of my host parents, I ate lengua. Despite being doused in sauce and garnished with spices, I could not forget that I was tasting something that was once able to taste back. Nevertheless, in the spirit of widening my cultural horizons, I ate, and genuinely enjoyed, every bite. Full of new experiences, I returned from Costa Rica proud of myself for overcoming the challenges that came with such an opportunity. In the slow, retrospective process of reflecting on my time in Costa Rica, I realized the importance of other cultures. As I thought about my experiences with eating lengua, I suddenly remembered the durian, and how insistent I had always been in my refusal to eat one. This thought process led me to acknowledge a truth about myself that I had so far chosen to ignore. The truth is that I can dream in Spanish, yet I cannot speak
the same language as my grandparents. I can name the volcanoes in each Costa Rican province, while I would be stumped to name a single Vietnamese landmark. I have had the pleasure of eating lengua, but I still have never tried durian. The reality is that I am Vietnamese—but to what extent? My parents immigrated to the United States as teenagers, but all my life I have lived in suburban white America. I have never fully allowed myself to embrace my heritage; haphazardly straddling two cultures, I always let one side give in to the other. Acknowledging the ironic nature of being eager to travel and see the world while at the same time neglecting to address the culture right in front of my eyes has been a turning point. I learned in Costa Rica that cultural differences are important to embrace, but I have never done so—and have never wanted to do so—with the culture imbedded in my blood and bones. Living in Costa Rica taught me that while there is much in life for me to discover, the first of these discoveries must start from within. My childhood worry about eating a strange fruit went beyond just trying to fit in. It was a desire to repress my cultural background. I cannot say I have since mastered the Vietnamese language or that I have booked a plane ticket to visit my family’s roots. But small steps will take me in the right direction, and that begins with eating the stinkiest fruit on earth.
lights a match & counts to three karl orozco & tanya tran
details of color | stories marion park
the philippine scene karl orozco
silkscreen on paper, 2011
the memorial arch karl orozco
As I was biking towards Tappan Square on a particularly rare spring day, I was met by a white male, perched on the steps of the Memorial Arch preaching, “Praise to the Lord!”, guitar in hand. Although Oberlin graduates no longer walk beneath the Arch’s gateways at the end of our commencement ceremony, this incident highlights my desire to continue the discussion of the Memorial Arch’s contentious place on this campus. Architecture is an exceptionally unique art form, in that it is a medium that everyone must interact with daily. Its permanence, as well as the time, money and labor required to complete a single work, gives architecture a considerable amount of weight. There are thus few coincidences in an architectural work; everything is intentional and predetermined. Whether we are reading a structure’s material, historical or geographical qualities, these implications can never be too closely examined. Some students may be aware of the decision Oberlin soon-to-be-graduates were forced to wrestle with during commencement: to walk, or not to walk, underneath the gates of the Memorial Arch. Those graduates unaware of the Arch’s implications strutted along that brick-paved path, proud to have completed their four (give or take one or two) years at this prestigious and progressive institution. For those conscious of this large monument’s historical weight, they were faced with a second set of questions: Do I choose to walk up the steps and through the pillars of the Arch, so long as I don’t take that direct route underneath its gate? Or do I walk along the perimeter of the Arch so as to avoid any contact with this structure’s significance, and scurry to rejoin my place in the line? Or perhaps, do I stay in line and follow the majority of my peers?
Common knowledge of the Memorial Arch and its controversies usually begin and end with the work of Oberlin missionaries in China at the turn of the twentieth century. The Memorial Arch was built in 1903 commemorating the thirteen Oberlin missionaries and their five children stationed in Shansi Province, China who lost their lives during China’s Boxer Rebellion. The Boxer Rebellion, which took place between 1899 and 1901, was a nationalist uprising opposing the waves of foreign imperialism and Christian missionaries entering the country. Some may argue that these Oberlin graduates had no business being in China in the first place, as their work supports the imperialist system that is the root of nearly all our world’s inequalities. However, the Memorial Arch’s problems lie beyond debating the work of missionaries that took place a hundred years ago: its implications concern Oberlin students today, as well as the duties and conscience we as educated individuals must always carry. At commencement, students have historically proceeded from Wilder Bowl and into Tappan Square—a march from Oberlin’s Western half onto its Eastern half, with the Memorial Arch marking this directional axis. West of the Memorial Arch lies the College’s temples of knowledge: King Building, Peters Hall, Mudd Library, Wilder Hall and so on. East of the Arch? A vast plain of grass and trees, interrupted solely by the Tappan Bandstand.1 This long-standing graduation ceremony mimics the wish for Oberlin to send its Western-educated graduates eastward into the barren expanse of nothingness,2 but not before paying homage to the Oberlin graduates who gave their lives to this “noble” cause. Oberlin students are accordingly tasked with educating the other hemisphere of uncivilized minds with this prized Western knowledge. The problem with the Arch isn’t only that it commemorates imperialism; the college wants Oberlin students to continue this tradition by taking their Western knowledge into the Eastern abyss, dearth of any meaningful thought. Oberlin has since changed this route—perhaps to symbolize their changed worldview, but more importantly, as a means to avoid this conversation. In knowing this history, it is crucial for Asians, Asian Americans—anyone affected by imperialism—to reclaim this space. When I saw OCTaiko performing inside the arms of the Arch at the March of Solidarity, it was not only an act of solidarity, it was a rejection of the ideology the Arch monumentalizes. This is the kind of music I want to hear while biking past the Memorial Arch.3 1 The Tappan Square bandstand bears much resemblance to Indian prayer chariots. Next time you are at the bandstand, note the two sets of wheels on either side of the structure, as well as the long, stone path to enlightenment that leads to the bandstand’s entrance. If you want more proof of this purposeful East-West geographical divide on Oberlin’s campus, riddle me this: Why is it that the only building on Oberlin’s campus that pays direct homage to traditional Asian architecture is also the only building standing in Tappan Square? 2 After a fire burned down the buildings previously sited on Tappan Square, this plot has remained building-free. Several site plans have tried to make use of this large area of unused land, but these designs were all rejected. Again, there is no coincidence with architecture. 3 Not to mention, the acoustics inside the Arch’s gateway are great.
untitled. nicole mak
Foreword This is a text concerned about first impressions. First impressions are a combination of a lot of things: ideas of race, physical attributes, gender, etc. In this piece I just briefly talk about an encounter I had that has resulted in the self-reflection and ultimate growth of my awareness in feminism and cross-cultural identities while being abroad. This encounter, along with lots of other similarly tiny ones, has led me to try and conceptualize exactly what are the assumptions that are made about me as a person, a woman, as an Asian American that are linked to generalizations and racism. Here we go.
There are times I don’t think I’m in another country. Then I realize over breakfast that the man who’s at the computer isn’t my father, nor does he actually live in this house. The woman who says my name every night for dinner is not “Mom,” nor is that what even happens in my real home. I’ve been 14 hours ahead of America for almost two months now. There are times you just go with it. Then there are moments you feel completely separate. Like the time an 8 year old figured out I was “外国人” from my gait and blue runners jacket. Or the time my host mother said, “there aren’t that many Asians in America right?” Before leaving I knew I’d meet sexism. I haven’t done my research but the only matriarchal society I know of right now is that of the Bonobo’s. I think what surprised me the most is how often the sexist and subtly racist comments run through everyone’s mind here, and how often they come out of people’s mouths.* Only a few years ago did Japan’s Equal Employment Opportunity Law get rewritten to include stronger protection against women and stricter punishment for their sexual harassers. I tend to think in a lot of ways Japan is only a decade behind America. Soon there’ll be legislation passed for LGBTQ issues too. But for now these things are only recently coming onto the radar, and now I think people don’t even consider what they say. Their casualness can be a little shocking sometimes. For example… Saturday, March 22nd, 2013 At Waseda University there is such a club that welcomes international students. To officially welcome all who have come into the new school year, there is a barbecue every spring in Kasai Rinkai Park, which is nearby Tokyo but even closer to the Pacific Ocean. The cherry blossoms weren’t expected to be out yet. It was way too early. Yet there they were, slowly peeking out every few branches in small bundles. Everyone thought it meant something. Like the spring was surely going to come soon and be a favorable one. I thought it meant this semester was going to be a good one.
See, in Japan the school year doesn’t start in fall. Why would it, that’s the season for harvesting and the coming of sleep. No, in Japan the year starts when things have begun to grow, when the plants shake off their sleepy frost and get to pollinating. Rachel bought me a beer and we clinked cans to celebrate the new beginning, to new connections. After the barbecue everyone got back on the train to make the long journey home. There wasn’t too much energy to practice Japanese, so we broke off into nodes for small conversations. The president had been at the barbeque too. He was just a sophomore but everyone had taken a leap of faith and elected him. We had spoken often before, conversations at other meet and greets, but this time we talked close at the center of the train.
“Have you adjusted to your family?” “Hm, actually my host family is on vacation right now, so I’m living by myself for the week in Otsuka.”
His face didn’t make a reaction. But as he moved to respond, his cheek lifted and lips lilted in a slight smirk. He asked,
“What do you do in your free time…porn?”
EXCUSE ME WHAT was what I wanted to say. He said it almost in a low mumble, as if our private conversation was going to involve some secret joke between us. Was I supposed to quip something? Was it a joke? Did I even hear that right?
“Oh…Uh, no…I don’t do that.”
Was he talking about me or asking me if I watched? I just flat out didn’t know what to say. I just changed the subject awkwardly, asking about his family instead… School has started and it’s been well over three weeks since the barbecue. I’m still part of the club and I still see him around every two or three days. It was only words, but every time I see him I think about the experience. By saying those words he relabeled me everything I’ve been trying hard to break free and disassociate from. When I was younger, horridly creepy men would always come up to me. I think it was part of that “Oriental Obsession,” but I was really young and it really just freaked me out because all of the men who would speak to me gave off this feeling of domination, like they were more examining me than anything else. Since then I have always been hyperconscious of my appearance, aware that anyone could just assume some things about me based off the color of my skin, my face, the shape of my body. I looked forward to coming to Japan partially because I wanted to know what native residents would say. I did not realize I would be bombarded by both the subtle comments like the one above, and the blatantly ignorant, “so, if you’re from New York are you from Queens?” * This is by no means me saying that everyone here is really racist. There are plenty of people who I have
not had an experience like this with. I think it is just the lack of exposure to some social issue concepts, as I say later in that same paragraph.
peter nguyen Banh Mi It’s April in Ohio and I miss you You remind me of home and just like warm weather now Your comfort always seems overdue and out of reach Seeking you is out of the question So I’m stuck dreaming of our next encounter The smell of fresh bread is enchanting Eagerly I pick you up off the table Squeezing you with both hands like I used to do my mother’s It’s amazing the warmth you both have The bread crumbles Shattered pieces fall to the table and floor The sound is deafening Torn, I use my right hand to reach for scraps not wanting to waste a thing With one finger I examine you slightly above eye level Admire your crispy, flaked edges This moment is perfect Placing you on the tip of my tongue, I savor this moment This is what colonization tastes like Instead of dissolving in my mouth, each jagged edge tears at my insides Multiplying with intensity Blow after staggering blow My stomach cramps and my knees buckle Maybe this is my wake-up call Folded over and looking up Desperately trying to remember what my parents are always trying to forget I ask you “Are you ashamed of being forever molded by foreign hands?” You smirk “How do you think you got your name?” I feel it On my body are the hand prints of all those that who made me Both seen and unseen Their grip tight, threatening to tear me apart I frantically try to free myself of them And you laugh “You can’t pretend that these people Have no influence over you The only thing you can do is survive”
asian restaurant identity joe con-ui & karl orozco
my punjabi father talks to me one night nasimc
own land. in the room drink gin and sell the land to send her and her brother to school. its this way in the schools in america the school kids. land or gin. this way and not another. invest to send. mathenglish sciencehistory what type of drink or land profit uncle, brother i am having another glass
in school and exams will and once eighteen she can do whatever sell land and when grades come. school again. i will have this Drink a glass of drink.
a drink before bed and you will have your calculus when I will be gone.
youknow all the Chathas are warriors when I was young I was bad and in school our Family will cousin your take care of you you must always study hard at Math .
ramblings of one filipino-american cassie guevara
(Almost 22 years, and I’m still figuring out just what “Filipino-American” means.) I only speak English Apparently when I was around two (this was a momentous age in my life), I declared sassily to my parents: “I’m American, I speak English!” And so I never learned to speak Tagalog or Ilonggo (my parents’ dialect). This is one of my biggest life regrets. A huge Filipino family My mom is one of ten, and my dad is one of nine. My big-hearted grandparents were madly in love and didn’t believe in birth control. The greatest things that my beautiful Lola taught me are that having faith and loving family are most important. I’m proud that I have so many Ates and Kuyas that I don’t bother to try and count. My brother and I were some of the youngest cousins, but now that everyone’s having their own kids, I can’t help but feel old. And family gettogethers? So much food! Lechon, pancit, adobo, sinigang, lecheflan, cuchinta, siopao, lumpia… You’ll eat and eat and eat, then be force-fed some more while with your Filipino relatives. And then there’s singing… Since I was two I’ve been made to belt out Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand at every family function—often in front of a hundred distant relatives whom I’d never met. After years of resistance I’ve finally put the Reluctant Diva act behind me, though I’ll still be pushed to sing for all my Titas and Titos. Growing up in suburban New York I went to school in suburbia. In third or fourth grade I wrote a story on my family for class. The editor (my white classmate’s mother) “corrected” “kamusta ka?” to “¿Cómo estás?” I was bewildered at the time, but could never articulate how I felt. Shouldn’t that mother have realized that there are more languages in the world than English and Spanish?
“Where are you from, really?” I was often asked by classmates or strangers: “Are you Mexican? Chinese?” I am often told by Filipinos: “You look so Korean, or Japanese!” In America when I say I’m from New York, people ask, “but where are you really from?” And in the Philippines everything about me just screams “American.” And people everywhere are confused and curious as to why I study Japanese and plan to live there after graduation. Body image I was a self-conscious little girl; I hated my defined calves and wide shoulders. I thought I might be prettier with a slighter build and narrow eyes. Only after coming to Oberlin did I feel at peace with the shape of my body. I can’t imagine being in anything but my own skin. And speaking of skin, whenever I go “home” to Iloilo my cousins gush over how “white” my skin is. What’s so great about being pale?
Dancing for Lolo and Lola’s Golden 50th Wedding Anniversary. (front left)
chinese eyes hope goodrich
to the white man who told me i look like i should have a tentacle up my skirt at the rocky horror picture show: angry girl
ちっかん, Twelve years old, dressed like pint sized killer eyes like black holes, Sophie’s mom’s corset imma goth kid queen This “V” on my forehead isn’t some metaphorical shit and I don’t wear it like a Scarlet Letter Before I have my first kiss I know bodies aren’t the only thing that penetrate Ejaculate black ink You see me as war ship under siege Giant Octopus, I capsize You see me as fish bait butcher me inside out Before I know my own body I know bodies aren’t the only thing that penetrate へんたい, you caught in your screen not an おたく’s wet dream, I’m real Fucked the wrong girl, my body’s like warfare my body’s power I got yellow in my blood and I infect Imma a たこかき girl, I swell like ocean I got tentacles of my own and I can strangle the shit out of you
untitled chen liang
I hear a cuckoo chanting by my window— A Chinese lament: “Come back.” Its voice sounds dry. Numbly, I find my eyes moist and fold Another paper crane. It’ll never fly. No music’s heard. White moonlight dances on the wet thorn leaves. Memory’s wild blossoms. Connection seems not hard. “Their telephones work better.” Rainy told me. One more time, I fill my room with Handel’s C major Chaconne (our own version!) It never sounds, Never…Yet silent music sounds gentler. I start to know that life makes its own choice: Our time to meet, to part, and to move on. Dark night sheds tears. The cuckoo’s cry is gone.