SEEKING COMFORT IN A BICULTURAL IDENTITY POEMS, ARTWORK, INTERVIEWS, STORIES, TRUTH TELLINGS COMPILED BY ANNE LI
A huge, huge, huge thank you to all the people who took the time to talk with me, who let me photograph you, who so openly shared your art, and your words, and your stories. You make me realize more and more that I am not alone in not completely fitting into either culture I come from, but rather a part of a growing group that is learning to create our own unique and beautiful version of what it means to be multicultural. I hope this collection of work allows its readers to gain a perspective they didnâ€™t have before, or at the very least, begin their process of becoming comfortable with a bicultural identity.
CONTENTS P 4-23
SEEING THE SAME BEAUTY: A JUXTAPOSITION OF PERSONAL PHOTOGRAPHS
POEM BY ANONYMOUS
ILLUSTRATION BY KENNETH CHRISTIAN
“NOT A REAL AMERICAN” BY LINDSEY WANG
INTERVIEW WITH ALEX RIOS
THOUGHTS BY ANONYMOUS
THOUGHTS & PHOTOGRAPHS WITH ALEXANDRA JACOB
SPOKEN WORD BY LEESY
INTERVIEW WITH ANDRES DOMIT
ESSAY ON INDIGOFERA TINCTORIA
INTERVIEW WITH MAX KITABAYASHI
“TRUTHFULNESS & TRAGEDY: NOTES FROM AN IMMIGRANT’S SON” BY DARREN YAU
“BONES IN TRANSIT” CAPSULE COLLECTION BY IRENE LU
INTERVIEW WITH SOLENNE TRADROS
POETRY AND SOFT STRUCTURES BY CHING LAN
INTERVIEW WITH JON LEE
PHILOSOPHY AND RACE BY ALICE NEOMOTO
THREE POEMS BY ANJU KASTURIRAJ
SEEING THE SAME BEAUTY: CONT
POEM // 7.22.2015 by
My family takes them so seriously that I didn’t even know the Partition story until my dad told his friend, on the way home from one of my many soccer games. My friend and I were in the backseat. He probably didn’t even think I was listening. I was vaguely annoyed. It seemed an unfair way to discover a tragic piece of family history. Of world history. And I was ignorant. I spoke only English. Then again, my parents never taught me much about religion or politics, either. Not explicitly, that is—not in a pontifical way. To this day, I don’t know all their opinions, only those I’ve overheard in party chatter. (As I’ve observed, my parents are basically bleeding-heart liberals.) My family and I—we’ve been strangers in stranger lands. At first, my brother’s only awareness of uprootedness, of perhaps belonging elsewhere, came from his dependable knack for tanning in summertime. But my parents should understand, from not Punjab but Chittaranjan; not Gujarat but Mumbai, to Mumbai, to the American Midwest and Pennsylvania, to the Bay Area. Student visas, scholarships, lucky timing. Not a unique path—a stereotypical and historically accurate one, in fact— but they still couldn’t understand my anxiety at the god-awful shallowness of rich American middle-schoolers. The Toni Morrison quote about physical beauty and destructiveness. I forgive them, of course, and am deeply sorry they received a phone call telling them of their daughter’s alleged and former suicidal musings. Thank goodness there was no drama over a horrible
misinterpretation I’m still bitter about. Parental fears and confirmation bias— I’m truly sorry. But hey, we are all alive and well, and we’ve got the great wealth of multiple homes. As I germinate in Boston, my brother sprouts in my childhood house, eating the same food our parents did. (Sprouts.) We hear about every monsoon, every hospital visit, every PhD thesis. Every home in Mumbai (or Valsad, Chandigarh, London, Toronto or over half the major American cities) is on our radar. We hear about all the homes, and we try to maintain meaningful correspondence. WhatsApp is at our disposal. Home, though, is always the place you’re missing. Even when you, all grown-up and ignorant and still financially dependent, thought homesickness made an exception just for you. And family, and love, and bonds, and stories can make you guilty for your whole existence. For not knowing your history. For not appreciating the hardships you never had to face—they were dealt with for you, before your privileged birth, irrelevant to your own innocence apart from ensuring it. For feeling uprooted, dissociated, lost, you feel guilty. For what’s your own grievance compared to the theft of a homeland? What’s a small feeling to the weight of the world?
HINDU COWBOY by
Kenneth Christian is an illustrator and animator currently based in New York City. Mainly working with pen and ink illustrations, he focuses on producing stop motion animations that feature personal thoughts and experimental techniques. Instagram: @kennethkchristian
This illustration focuses on the duality of what it feels like living as a first generation Indian American in the United States. Growing up, people would see me as a POC who practices Hinduism when really I practiced, at the time, Christianity. Therefore, the United States never felt like home to me because people wouldn’t see me as a citizen, but rather more of a visitor. I experienced the same feeling in India where society there would see me as an American who practiced Christianity and portrayed more western traits. Since I have always been interested in classic western films, I drew a character as a cowboy with a red dot on the middle of their forehead which represents an aspect of Hindu culture. The dualities collide to create a unique and individualized self portrait titled “Hindu Cowboy,” which I personally connect with.
NOT A REAL AMERICAN by
Lindsey graduated from MIT in 2016 and now works for the Luminos Fund, helping bring educational opportunity to out-of-school children in Africa and Syrian refugees. In what spare time she can find, she loves baking cookies and singing along to broadway musicals.
“The two versions of me didn’t have to conflict with one another. They could coexist.”
Before heading to Chandigarh to present to the Mahindra R&D team, we took a quick trip to Nagpur to field test our cottonpicking prototypes. We met with a researcher from the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) as well as a member of the Mahindra engineering team. They took us to a village called Navegaon Sadhu where one of the farmers partnered with CICR let us use some of his cotton plants to test our machines. When we arrived, the farmer presented me with a bouquet of flowers which was extremely kind of him. We posed for pictures with him and his daughter and it was all very nice and ceremonious, but as I was setting up the devices, I noticed the farmer carrying on a side conversation with one of his cotton pickers. One of the Mahindra team members translated for me: “he’s saying you don’t look like a real American.”
MY CULTURAL IDENTITY IS SOMETHING THAT I’VE STRUGGLED WITH FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS, AND I STILL DON’T COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND MYSELF IN THIS RESPECT.
I’ve had a difficult time deciding whether or not I wanted to write a post about this. My cultural
identity is something that I’ve struggled with for a number of years, and I still don’t completely understand myself in this respect. However, my experience with this farmer and with other people I’ve met in India has caused me to reflect on this topic quite a bit during my trip. I think writing some of these thoughts down will help me sort through my ideas, and I’m sure there are some people reading this who might relate to some of what I have to say. First, some background information: the last time I visited China was in 2011. I was on a school trip, and a couple of my classmates and I participated in a home stay. I was the only one among the four of us of Chinese heritage, and I remember feeling a sense of responsibility for our group. This feeling quickly dissipated, however, as I was continually shamed by our host throughout the evening for not being a “good Chinese.” My Mandarin was broken, I didn’t know how to properly fold dumplings, and my chopsticks technique was sloppy. In their eyes, I was hopelessly and shamefully American. Fast-forward one year and I’m interviewing for colleges. I’m settling down with my interviewer, making small-talk, when he point blank asks me when I moved to the United States. I stutter a bit, nervously laughing:
“Oh I wasn’t- I mean I’m not- um... I was born in California?” It comes out a question. He doesn’t apologize. By the way, this interview was for Harvard. I went through a bit of an identity crisis. I know for a fact that I am not the only person in my generation to feel split between two cultures. I look Chinese, but I act American. I’m Chinese when I’m in the United States, but I’m not Chinese enough when I’m in China. I was confused, but I eventually found solace in the term “Chinese-American.” It was such a simple solution, not novel in the slightest, but it meant so much to my conflicted, little brain. By identifying as Chinese-American, I could be both the Chinese girl that people see in America as well as the American girl people see in China. The two versions of me didn’t have to conflict with one another. They could coexist. The incident with the farmer in Nagpur was not isolated. Every person I’ve met in India has assumed that I’m from an East Asian country, and honestly, I don’t fault them for that. I look Chinese. It makes sense that they think I’m from China too, so I always go on to elaborate in hopes of clarifying things. However, even when I told these people that I was born in the United States, that I’ve only visited China a couple of times, and that I don’t speak the
language, they still only saw me as Chinese. I wasn’t a real American. I’ve experienced this kind of interaction throughout my travels in India this month, even in Auroville which is distinctly more diverse and accustomed to foreigners than some of the other cities I’ve visited.
I THINK THE REAL REASON WHY THESE INTERACTIONS HAVE STRUCK A NERVE WITH ME IS THAT THESE PEOPLE WON’T ACCEPT THE CHINESE-AMERICAN CULTURE THAT I IDENTIFY WITH. I think the real reason why these interactions have struck a nerve with me is that these people won’t accept the Chinese-American culture that I identify with. The concept of hybridizing cultures is foreign to them. I find myself growing increasingly frustrated every time I have to explain myself to someone, and that has caused me to grow increasingly worried as well. If I’m going to continue pursuing a career in international development, I will inevitably
spend more time in homogeneous cultures with people who won’t see past the way I look. Somehow, I’m going to have to learn to quell the frustration. It could be as simple as reminding myself that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But other people’s words have always carried a lot of weight with me. Even though I choose to see myself one way, I am not impervious to other people’s thoughts of me. It’s something I’ve been working on, but it’s a slow process. It’s 3AM right now, and I’m tired. This post is a little out of the ordinary and it’s very incomplete, but it’s been an important part of my trip. I don’t have any definite conclusions at the time, but it feels good to share at least some of the ideas running through my brain. Thanks taking the time to ready my still confused, slightly disjointed thoughts.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
ALEJANDRO AMADOR RIOS Alex enjoys life. He realizes that he is living a life as complex and vivid as everyone else around his, therefore he tries to apply empathy and perspective to all things. He’s also quite stubborn and lives life on his own terms. He’s always messing up but is always learning. Instagram: @alexamadorrios
“I didn’t know until very recently, I just want to be me.”
Q: Where were you born? Alex: Madrid, Spain, I was born and grew up there. Q: When people ask where you’re from, what do you normally answer? Alex: I say Madrid, it’s the capital and I don’t want to explain the fact that I live in the suburbs and it makes the conversation longer and I just want to get to the interesting stuff (laughs). I have a twin brother, for 22 years my whole life people aways ask “who is older?” and I say “oh my brother is older”. But after people find out we’re twins I’m like “he’s older by seven minutes” and everyone always makes fun of me for it! He’s older it’s seven whole minutes but it’s that twin competition because we’re so close to each other. But it’s always the same reaction, you know? Q: Where are your parents from? Your grandparents? Alex: Uhhh ok my dad is from the South of Spain, *starts spelling out name of town* Q: (laughs) I like how you started spelling that before I asked Alex: Well it’s my life you know, it’s Antequera, it’s a little town close to Malala, it’s honestly one of the best places. It feels medieval, people aren’t on the internet so much and haven’t been. But I don’t really like that. I like being around it for a little bit and just seeing how much the world has changed but I don’t wanna go back, life isn’t more comfortable there. But with the speed at which information travels here in San Francisco, I’m just used to it and it’s my life here now. I don’t appreciate history too much but I really should. My mom is from San Francisco, she finished school and then went to Spain for a job and then they met at a party that my dad threw. He was a partier so he probably just swept my mom off her feet because he’s a super romantic guy like James Bond, you know? (laughs) Q: When did you move to the United States? Alex: I moved to the states when I was 14, the summer before high school, didn’t really know anyone here. The only people I knew were from tennis camps that I knew froom when I visited my grandparents. Q: What influenced your decision to come here? Alex: It wasn’t really my choice, it was like one of those things where family decides, you’re just a kid you know - you’re just 14 and it’s out of your control and you have to go along. Just one of those things. The decision is made for you and that decision is not necessarily about you but the people deciding are taking into acount their own interests also. So you know it’s just life. You’re not that conscious about it at the time but you’re always learning so you’re better off making the best of it. Q: How’d you feel about the fact that the choice was made for you? Alex: I was super excited about it (laughs) America was poppin, High School
Musical was the biggest thing at the time. All of my Spanish friends back in Spain speak English now because of Instagram. That’s so insane it’s actually so interesting, their photocaptions are all in English now. I was super excited, my brother and I picked out two characters from High School Musical and picked who we wanted to be. My brother wanted to be Zach Efron and he said in Spanish “listen to me this is what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna be the guy that leans back in the locker room with one hand on the locker and one foot propped up and just casually smirk”. I just have such a clear memory, I remember him telling me that and it was so hilarious. Q: Which character did you want to be? Alex: I didn’t know until very recently, I just want to be me. Q: What was your biggest initial challenge? Alex: I didn’t know how to make people laugh, I didn’t really understand pop culture, and I didn’t really speak the language. It’s hard when you’re coming from Spain and you’re used to talking about certain things and the humor is different, the way people flirt is different. One of the ways as a guy, it’s easier to get accepted in society is if girls like you generally, which would’ve made it easier in high school I guess. Not only that but also just being in school is academically challenging, especially at one of the most academically intense high schools. I feel like I was just thrown in there and they announced it on the school newsletter “oh we have two twins from Spain and they’re amazing tennis players” like oh my god tennis saved my ass (laughs) but that’s a different conversation. And just adapting to that sort of environment and not performing well in school was hard. First of all, I don’t like sitting in a classroom it’s just not really me, and then on top of that it’s like I was the second worst graduating student at Branson. I had to have meetings with my parents and my deans and there were semesters where I would have really good grades but most semesters were C-’s, B-’s, and D-’s. I think it was because I didn’t understand, academic competition was just something I was used to. It’s just different. And then that hurt my self esteem a lot. Q: How or when do you think you eventually overcame those barriers? Alex: Not till recently Q: You say recently often, did anything happen specifically? Alex: By recently I mean about a year and a half I think, I don’t care about people’s opinions, but I do care about people’s opinions. I care about them in the context depending on how much I trust them. People who I know have my best interests in heart, who are open to learning and also reciprocate, people who are kind and empathetic, those are the opinions I care about, but I try to block out the rest of the noise. The frustration was a combination of a whole bunch of things, the shyness, the self esteem thing, being small, like I was the small kid, I think I came into high school like 5’5 or 5’6. 36
Q: Do you feel like your biculturalism is a large part of who you are? Alex: I feel more American than I do Spanish (laughs) because it could be, for example, my brother gave up his Spanish citizenship to be in the United States army. I was there when he signed the papers. It’s great to live here, we came here so young so that after a while you get used to it, like in high school, where you really become who you are, we had that happen in the states, I only go back to Spain twice a year. Q: Were you surprised when you came to the united states? Alex: I just realized that High School Musical was a movie. Q: What was your first “American” experience that really stood out? Alex: Grinding (laughs). Honestly I love the fact that I grew up in Spain because for some reason, people identify me as an above average dancer. But for sure, the only time I danced a good amount was when I lived in Spain. Yeah dance is very important there, it’s not so raunchy, you gotta romanticize it, you know? You 38
won’t see people here dancing like people there do, the process is just slower. Q: What things do you get homesick for? What do you miss the most about Madrid? Alex: I miss the food, I went to a Spanish restaurant the other night, I got chorizo, tortilla batata, mussels, croqueta oh my god those are the best (laughs). They’re like fried and it’s just creamy inside. I also get very homesick for my little brother. Q: Looking back on how you got to where you are today, would you have done anything differently? Alex: I can’t see it any other way so no. I love theoretical situations, which is why I need to stop myself from doing it. Putting yourself in that situation, that’s why I was so depressed in college too, it’s a crazy fucking story. Like when you go through a breakup for example, if you put yourself in theoretical situations it just happens, and after a while it keeps happening. You shouldn’t keep pushing the story where you want it to go to, that example stands out to me the most. You can’t just keep going in circles. Q: Were you ever embarrassed or ashamed about your biculturalism? Alex: I was in high school because of the whole “insecurity” thing I had, people used to make fun of it because it was such an elitist school. Someone wrote a song about my brother for example. Like thinking back on it, kids took the time to record a song about my brother going back to Spain in rowboat. Like it was not an open minded place, especially for my first three years. I like to keep my circle pretty small but I love socializing, but that’s another “opposites” thing. Q: When you go back to Spain, do they treat you differently as an “American”? Can they tell you’ve lived in a different place? Alex: They’re intrigued, because America is very much put on a cultural pedestal. It works to my advantage and I realize that I’m really lucky, i’ve been handed a good hand when it comes to first impressions (laughs) I’m like a white american male. And it’s unfortunate to say that, that it’s what gives me an upper hand.
THOUGHTS // 2.17.2018 by
THOUGHTS ON BICULTURALISM by
Alexandra Jacob is currently a freelance ballet dancer based in New York City. During her ten year career at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, she performed featured roles by Peter Pucci, Donald Byrd, Christopher Huggins, Lowell Smith, and George Balanchine. Recently, she has done collaborations with Zana Bayne, Jaguar USA, Vie Active Activewear, Things Power Themselves, Beacon’s Closet, Tag Heuer, and Dirty Churches. Instagram: @alexandra jacob
“I’m bicultural since I’m Americanborn from two Philippine-born immigrants, but I’m not genetically biracial. It’s weird because most of my life, I have been mistaken for being a biracial mix of some sort, or a full blown ethnicity of something other than Filipino (even Filipinos I meet commonly confuse my background based on my racially ambiguous appearance).”
“I STRANGELY FEEL LIKE A PERSON FROM ALMOST ANY OTHER CULTURE CAN RELATE TO THE WAY I FEEL.” 47
It’s all I’ve ever known, so it hasn’t really bothered me, however I do get offended when people refuse to see that I am not what they ethnically assumed I was (I’ve been reprimanded for not knowing the language of the assumed race, etc). I am very proud of my Filipino American upbringing, however being ethnically confused by most people on a daily basis my whole life has made me not as personally connected to one specific race or culture.
LET THE MIND SPEAK by
LEESY is a visionary working out of New York City. She uses spoken word, photography, and performance as mediums. She recently dropped her first music project “Nonchalant” and a photo series titled “Why Do We Like Girls”.
Instagram: @MFIN.LEES Website: MFINLEESY.COM
See once upon a time not too long ago... It was a shorty from E.O. with no where to go. Don’t kno’ reflections, and them distant lessons hesitant moments of self acceptance. You see she craved affection, but didn’t know her preference. So she moved close to the edge to find a message. One day all day or any day man, she gone find a place to stay then. Where her mind could take a va-voy, to ease the pain of giving a fuck too much, she’s sensitive to the touch. It’s a must to conceal ...but how they gonna know if you don’t tell how you feel? CAUSE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE REAL and find somewhere to chill where theres a little less judgement. Where I’m no less of a women without a husband. Hustling for the green, like dime bags on the street. It’s the simple things in life that ignite inspiration, contrary to basic. I’m waiting, I’m praying hoping that my time isn’t wasted... Now I’m wasting time contemplating, To light or not light tha’ spliff hit after hit then I forget. Clouds start moving in, thats why I spill my heart in verses , so I dont pull the trigger and end up in them hearses. Perfectly un perfect, but I’m working till its curtains. Its always gonna be somebody lurking, not liking,
ANDRES DOMIT DEL VALLE Andres is a performer, designer, educator, and artist from Mexico City. Due to his global perspective, he draws inspiration from different cultures, ideas, and people. He values human habits, actions, and relationships when designing. He believes there is never enough learning. Instagram: @domia118 Webste: www.andidom.com/
“I think it’s value, those values that you have to work hard for what you want. I really like that because I have it too.”
Q: Where were your parents born and raised? Andres: They were born born and raised in Mexico, Mexico City. Q: Where we you born and raised? Andres: I was also born and raised in Mexico City but I moved here for college when I was 19, 20 actually. Q: Have you ever felt frustration or confusion about your identity? Andres: I’ve never actually thought very deeply of it because I consider myself Mexican but in my blood I’m actually not Mexican at all, well I am, actually it’s weird. Mexican culture is so mixed with Spanish culture that there’s not really pure Mexicans anymore - maybe one percent of people. But that’s why I consider myself Mexican. My dad was born in Mexico but both of his parents are actually Lebanese, he is full Lebanese but he was born in Mexico and he speaks Spanish and he’s Mexican too, you know? I had never really given it thought because I wasn’t raised with Lebanese culture. My dad was but he doesn’t even speak Arabic anymore, he can understand it a little bit but yeah I had never really experienced the Lebanese culture up until this last summer. I went to Lebanon with my family for the first time, it was so amazing, we got to meet my grandma’s brothers and the whole family. My grandma and grandpa’s families are super cool, it was like reconnecting with my roots. After that trip I wanted to explore more and interview my grandma. For her it must have been really hard, she was 21 in Lebanon and my grandfather was 40 and he was already living in Mexico, he had already lived there for 20 years and opened his own shoe factory and was making a lot of shoes. So he went back to Lebanon and found my grandma who didn’t speak a word of Spanish. I have no idea how he found her but she came here without speaking a word of Spanish and after that trip I took to Lebanon I was super intriqued by that change, it’s so different, we’re so far apart and even with today’s technology it’s still so separate, the cultures are so different. For me it’s just amazing how a person 21 years old can do that without phones, computers, it was so impressive to me. Q: Do you ever see little parts of Lebanese culture coming into your life? Andres: Yeah totally, we’re always eaten Lebanese food, becuase even though I wasn’t ever really aware of it I was eating Lebanese food my whole life, my grandma cooks a lot and it’s so delicious, and I never realized it was specifically Lebanese food my grandma makes but when I went to Lebanon I thought “wow” this is multiplying my grandma’s food by a thousand. And yeah, the food is super important and the values is an important one too that my dad implemented. He is a very hard worker and my grandpa too, my grandad in Lebanon was very poor, so he took a donkey from town to town and picked up medicines, and when he came to Mexico he opened his own shoe company and that all happened on his own. That’s a thing I see in a lot with Lebanese culture and especially in my family becuase I actually don’t know a lot of other Lebanese people, but the culture of really working hard for what you want and for what you like is so important. When we went to Lebanon we met my grandmother’s 54
brother and he’s a construction worker, and he had a lot of financial problems in his life because of the wars. Lebanon is a place where there have been many wars and there’s ongoing conflicts with Israel, and my grandma’s brother had to move out of his hometown, and they had to reconstruct their house and things like that, but now he’s building a university and it’s amazing just to see how he doesn’t fall down, he doesn’t let things like that push him down and I see that in my dad too. He’s a construction worker too and he opened his own company five years ago and it’s amazing to see the amount of work and time he puts in and I think that sort of, I don’t think it’s passion but I think it’s value, those values that they have to work hard for what you want, I really like that because I have it too. I’m really ambitious, and I really try to pursue everything that I want and I do my best work and I also see that a lot in my mom’s Mexican side too. My grandpa is really successful and he’s my life example, he was also someone who started from nothing and was very self made and I think that I was very lucky to be born in a mixed culture family and I’ve had a lot of opportunities. I love my background. I love that I’m half Arab and half Mexican and if Trump knew, it’s the two worst nationalities to be in the United States (laughs). 56
Q: Do you think you’re going to stay in the United States after college? Andres: So yes and no, I don’t like the president right now and I’m not sure, I feel like New York has been very tough to me. It’s a very hard city, it’s a lonely city, and I want to get out of New York. The States I like, there’s a lot of opportunity and things I can do. I’m applying for two jobs in Los Angeles and I’d like to go there because I’m an actor as well so i’ll see if I transcend in that hobby of mine, but ‘m applying to jobs in LA and Mexico and I would also love to go to Europe. I would love to go to Lebanon. I don’t know if I could live there, but it’s weird, it’s such a completely different culture. I don’t speak Arabic, it could be interesting. I would reimpersonate my grandma’s experience by going there for a year, that could be cool. Honestly I’m open to anything, I’m looking for jobs and I’m skeptical, but i’m nervous about being an international student here in the states because it’s hard to get a job, hard to get a work visa. Q: What was the biggest culture shock when you came here? Andres: I had come here before not to live so it wasn’t really the same as the college experience, I think the shock was the amount of diversity that there is, the diversity not only physical diversity but the diversity of thought, psychological thought, but I also was struck by the drug and alcohol culture. In mexico we have a very alcohol oriented culture so we start drinking at 15 or 16 and the legal age is 18. Here you start at 18 or 19 so it was funny for me to see people blackout drinking and puking everywhere and that was what I went through when I was 15 or 16 but that was fun too, New York has been great even though I’ve had some difficulties. I was depressed and I failed a few classes but I got up and it was great. Q: Are your parents really academically... Andres: So that’s actually another thing I forgot to talk about, when my family went to Lebanon my grandma’s brother was very strict about studying engineeering because my dad is an engineer, he’s a civil engineer, so he wanted me to follow my dads career so he could give me a job, it’s very traditional and very Lebanese and my dad always wanted me to study engineering and I actually started studying it in Mexico becuase of all the peer pressure, I always said I wanted to study design and art and my dad was always putting thesse ideas in me like “Why can’t you study engineering first and then study design, you can be a designer with an engineering background” and I thought to myself “Oh that’s a good idea!” He wanted me to follow in his footsteps but I’m showing him every year that design is also a valuable career and now he understands and it’s great that I’m almost graduating and I feel that the moment I graduate they’re going to completely understand what I do, like when they see my thesis.
INDIGOFERA TINCTORA A i z o m e i n J a p a n a n d i t s U s e i n Te x t i l e s From 1895-1945, the island of Taiwan (at the time named Formosa) was under Japanese rule after it was Ceded to Japan after China lost the Sino-Japanese war. With the Japanese government forcing Taiwan to take up the Japanese language and culture, historical textiles and elements of culture between the two countries became occasionally blended. The influence of Japanese flowers, colors, imagery, is often very present in that of the Taiwanese even today. This is especially clear in regards to folk textiles often made by peasant women, where textures and designs that collectors now see as beautiful, once were made merely for the purpose of functionality and frugalism. My upbringing in California close to Leviâ€™s and the history of the gold rush, further pushed my curiosity on the topic and history of indigo and denim, and the more I researched the more connected indigo workwear from two opposite sides of the world became. There is a romanticization of both sides in regardes to collecting historical workwear; Japanese collectors fly to the United States to buy multithousand pairs of jeans dug up from American mines while American denim collectors travel hundreds of miles to collect antique boro rag fabric. This dual romanticization continues to fascinate me and influence my workwearbased silhouettes and textiles.
Blue jeans have become so common that we rarely notice people walking down the street wearing them. They’ve become a casual uniform, both a way to blend in as well as self customize and stand out. However, we don’t often think about where that blue color comes from or realize how long the history of indigo really is. After visiting the store Self Edge and seeing all their beautiful Japanese denim, I became curious about the history of indigo dying in Japan and how those traditions are currently still continued. Denim produced in japan is often said to be the highest quality both in terms of textile and dye, and is often sought after by enthusiasts and collectors. Several modern day Japanese brands such as Samurai, Evisu, Flat Head, and Studio D’Artisan are popular even in the United States for their raw, unwashed denim, where the indigo wears off as a result of natural movement by the wearer.
THE INDIGO ON THE UNWASHED RAW DENIM WEARS OFF AS A RESULT OF NATURAL MOVEMENT BY THE WEARER. THE FADED MARKS CAN ONLY BE AUTHENTICALLY CREATED BY THE PATINA OF TIME.
Indigo has been used for thousands of years all around the world, produced from the leaves of the Indigofera Tinctora and often molded into tradeable blocks. In Japan, however, the Persicaria Tinctoria (called Ai in Japanese) is the name of the plant used to make indigo. It grew abundantly along the banks of the Yoshino river in the Tokushima prefecture, and that quickly became the place that produced the highest quality dye in Japan. Indigo dying in Japan was originally reserved only for clothing worn by aristocrats and samurai, who would wear clothing dyed with indigo beneath their armour, but the dye quickly spread to the general public due to its antimicrobial properties. Even now there are soaps that can be purchased that have indigo in them, advertised as naturally antiseptic.
In Tokushima, Indigo dye is made in the same way it was thousands of years ago. The harvested Ai leaves are cut up and fermented (during this process they are called Sukimo), and then mixed with lye and lime in order to balance the chemistry of the dye. Japanese Ai is traditionally fermented in ceramic vats placed so the main body of the vat sits
A collection of raw unwashed denim jeans showing off their prized “fade” marks authentic ones can only achieved by wear and tear over time and mass marketed faded jeans are sandpapered by hand to achieve artificial fades.. Photographs from articles by Deena D’Amato on Heddels.
A recolored photograph taken by Felice Beato, one of the first war photographers, shows the Japanese samurai in their traditional garb (Getty Images). The man on the right seems to be wearing a outer layer norabi as well as hakama pants that have been indigo dyed. The antibiotic properties of the indigo garments made them ideal for wearing underneath armour both for protection from injury as well as for general health. Photo to the right: Found in the Universal history archive through Getty images, this recolored photograph shows both the traditional Samurai armour as well as detail elements of indigo. Underneath the armour, the traditional indigo dyed base layer shirt peeks out at the neckline.
the balance of the dye is correct, blue bubbles often referred to as indigo flowers, will rise to the surface, “signaling that the mixture can be used to dye fabric”; the flower signal the reoxidation of the dye. With each dip, the fabric that is being dyed will become darker. When first pulled out of the indigo bath the fabric is a dark green that needs time to sit and naturally oxidize, after which it will become the sought after dark blue. With more dips, the dye will become darker and darker shades.
In Tokushima, Indigo dye is made in the same way it was thousands of years ago.
The dye of the woad plant is a unique dye in that if there’s something blocking the dye, it won’t dye that portion, which is the reason why it’s such a versatile material. The Japanese people developed several different methods of dying and manipulating the fabric with indigo to create results that have undyed parts, called shibori. The word shibori comes from a root shiboru, which means to wring, squeeze, or press, and emphasizes a three dimensional manipulation of a fabric in order to create different dye patterns. The different thicknesses of different fabric often dictate which technique can be used, but textile artists throughout history have create thousands of different interpretations of these methods. There are six main techniques of shibori; Kanoko, Miura, Kumo, Nui, Arashi and Itajime. Kanoko is binding sections with cloth and tying it off much as we know tie dye today, and it creates circular resist shapes. Miura uses stitching and looping thread, Kumo is done by wrapping fabric around found objects to create shapes, Nui uses thread to gather the fabric, Arashi involves “twisting and wrapping and binding the cloth around wooden or 63
copper poles”, and Itajime uses two pieces of wood to sandwich fabric and prevent the dye from getting to certain parts of the textile. Another technique often applied to japanese textiles and indigo fabrics also include sashiko stitching - where patterns of stitches are threaded through layers of fabric with a long needle in order to connect the layers. This can either be in long running stitches either in straight lines or following complex patterns, and was used on everything from a functional element on workwear to enhance warmth, to kimonos as decoration. Like many other mending techniques, it was first developed and used by the “folk textile” because peasant women were the first to use it to extend the life of garments.
Like many other mending techniques, it was first developed and used by the “folk textile” because peasant women were the first to use it to extend the life of garments. Traditionally, Sashiko is off-white thread stitched on dark indigo dyed fabric and a long needle is used to ensure evenness. It is thought to have developed in Tohuku which is in Northern Japan, due to a colder climate. Hemp was the primary material grown there so was the primary textile used - only when fabrics began being imported into Japan was cotton more commonly used. With different geographic areas came different specific techniques and designs but the general concept remained the same. Boro fabric, a multi-layered quilt work of 64 several textiles including indigo dyed linen,
“Layers of rags worn by ancestors would be the first thing the baby would touch”. has its roots in sashiko stitching. The more a garment was mended and patched over, the more it became a true boro fabric. Eventually, these boro textiles gained cultural significance as important family heirlooms that would be passed down for generations. Also worn primarily by “peasants, merchants, and artisans”, a garment made from boro such as a Donja (a sleeping jacket) could be shared by a parent and a child during the winter to keep warm. A Bodoko, “life cloth”, was a piece of boro textile used as a bed sheet on a daily basis but in the instance a baby was to be born, the mother would kneel over the bodoko and “Layers of rags worn by ancestors would be the first thing the baby would touch”.
MAX (Kei / Kita / Kitabayashi) Kei lives in a small NJ town while attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. He makes jewelry and leather accessories in a small studio in his attic, and writes short fiction on the side. His parents immigrated from Japan and Germany to NYC where they too attended FIT. He currently works as a studio assistant at Izquierdo Costume Studio. Instagram: @k.kitabayashi
â€œI have three citizenships which is weird, but when I was younger it felt like I had so many places to call home, but none really felt like home.â€?
V I N TA G E J A C K E T / / M O M â€™ S O L D R E D H E A D B A N D / / S E L F - M A D E J E W E L R Y
Q: Where were your parents born and raised? Kei: My mom was born and raised in Germany but my dad was born and raised in Japan, but my mom is actually half Turkish, so she moved between the two a lot but she was German, German. Q: Where were you born and raised? Kei: Brooklyn, well I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Jersey. Q: When people ask you where you’re from, what do you usually say? Kei: (laughs) that’s a good question, I just say I’m from here but if people press me, which they usually do... Q: Do people try to guess your ethnicity a lot? Kei: Yeah always, they’ve never gotten it right though, not once but no I usually just say I’m mixed, half Japanese, I think that’s usually the part they’re wondering about. Like “I can see a twinge of something”. Q: Have you ever felt frustration about your bicultural identity? Kei: Not really by my parents you know, they’re fashion people (laughs) they’re pretty chill they’re not tiger parents, some people have an asian mom, like a white dad and an asian mom and the mom is, you know what I mean, but my frustration is more just with the fact that I don’t feel like I fit into places. I have three citizenships, which is weird, but when I was younger it felt like oh I have so many places to call home but none really felt like home. If you have three it sounds like you have a bunch of homes but you really don’t. Q: Did you ever live anywhere besides the United States? Kei: No but I usually spend a month out of every year in Japan Q: Do you feel comfortable or at home there? Kei: I used to, but Japanese people are...shitty (laughs) you probably can’t use that. They aren’t very accepting, they have a lack of knowledge of other places. They ask me if I’m half Japanese and when they say yes they say “Oh you’re not really Japanese” even though I am. And it’s whatever, I get a pass for it. Q: In what part of your life is your biculturalism the most present? Kei: I think the food kind of, if you grow up in the states and your parents are from different cultures and you’re out and about doing all these American things, and I go out to parties, and then I go home and have to do something Buddhist, my dad is Buddhist, it’s just some little stuff every once in a while. In my house everyone sort of speaks the three languages, my mom doesn’t speak Japanese and my dad doesn’t speak much German but they know little bits of both so they’ll start in English and then use a Japanese phrase that ends in German. Q: Are you fluent in either or both?
Kei: I’m not fluent in either really, my Japanese teacher has said it’s because my dads Japanese and my mom isn’t Japanese, but I never really tired to learn German because it never really interested me. Then I kind of started hating Japan so.... Q: Why did you start hating Japan? Kei: It’s probably just becuase of my personal experience, my cultural history doesn’t have that many great things... and Germany and Turkey it’s the Axis powers. It’s funny becuase growing up with a Japanese parent, I only hear the Japanese side of things and Japanese and Chinese families don’t get along that well (laughs). I don’t know if it’s the same for people our age because we’re a little more liberal about things and I grew up hearing “Chinese people are bad”. I had this one teacher and we were talking about production and there was a kid from Taiwan, and all this Chinese production was happening and he was so soft spoken and she was like “you probably know all about this” and he said that he was from Taiwan but she really brushed it off and said “Yeah whatever same thing.”, and it’s just really not. It’s strange becuase at school I’ll be with Japanese people and they say “oh you’re not really Japanese” and it’s so rare that Japanese people really accept me as one of their own, and then I have to go home and talk to my dad in Japanese and sometimes I wonder why I bother with the nonsense, it’s such a pain in the ass, just close mindedness is so frustrating. Q: Do you go back to Germany ever? Kei: I did more when I was younger, I guess that now I’m in college I don’t care so much about it, I care a lot about motorcycles and cars and in Germany they have a lot of that like BMWs and Mercedes and Porsches but that doesn’t interest me I like Japanese cars and bikes. Q: Do you think that’s because your dad got you into the hobby? Kei: Ummmmmm I don’t think so actually, I liked those fancy cars initially but I’m broke and they were unattainable and my friend and I were always talking about drag racing our cars and then they put up speed bumps, but then we were trying to figure out which cars we could actually afford. And then I startred reading this Japanese manga, called Initial D, and it was written with this guy that invented drifting. And the writer of the story fact checked the story with the guy who invented drifting so all the technical things in the movie are super accurate which is cool becuase the fast and furious movies are just full of shit, they always say “pump it full of nitrous oxide” like guys if you do that the whole thing would just go up, so it’s great that it actually teaches you about it. But my dad isn’t that into motorcycles but I wasn’t that into them until I realized that I really couldn’t afford a car.
Q: Hows rebuilding your motorcycle going? Kei: I had to rebuild that engine three times before it was up running again, there was oil everywhere (laughs), the clutch blew out and I took a flashlight and looked into it and it was just filled with oil. It’s from 1979 though, so it’s kind of cool. That bike was made when my dad was my age, they’re troopers. It’s too cold to ride now anyways.
Truthfulness & Tragedy Notes from an immigrantâ€™s Son by
DARREN JIN-KUEN YAU Darren is a recent graduate of Wheaton College, where he earned a B.A. in Philosophy and a Certificate in Early Christian Studies. His intellectual interests include ethics, multiculturalism, and the philosophy of history. He currently resides in Chicago. Twitter: https://twitter.com/thedyau
2 0 1 7 w i n n e r o f Th e E l i e W i e s e l Fo u n d a t i o n Pr i z e i n E t h i c s E s s a y Co n t e s t ***Please note that all essays are the property of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and may not be published elsewhere without written permission from the Foundation. All views and opinions expressed in the winning essays are those of the individual writers. The Foundation does not necessarily share these views.
A bad lie hides the person telling the lie. Working in layers, it covers the person from head to toe so that you can only see through the dry cracks a sliver of what is left. A good lie is different. A good lie strips a person naked and unveils the deepest parts of their being, disclosing their cares, wants, desires, and loves. These lies are truth-telling lies. I. In the spring of 2012, my uncle was notified that he had stage four pancreatic cancer. My uncle was a healthy man, lithe and well built. As an immigrant from China in the ’80s, he arrived in New York and started a Chinese restaurant, working long, grueling hours in the kitchen. It was no glorious chef’s life. As a kid I would watch from the corner of the kitchen during rush hours. He would stand in front of several blazing woks splashing with oil, tickets and orders moving back and forth in a relentless blaze. Three broccoli chicken! Two pork fried rice! Four General Tso’s! Meats and sauces were stirred together in a calculated and precise fury. When the lights turned off and the tables were wiped, he would go upstairs to the tiny flat above the restaurant, skin musty with soy sauce and oil. He would brew some tea, light a cigarette, sit down next to my father, and in rugged Fujianese banter talk late into the night about their youthful days in China. My dad had three brothers, and family was everything. Amidst the social upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, the family drew together tightly to survive the stormy chaos. When relatives were accused of bourgeois intellectualism and thrown in jail, the family went hungry to bring rice to the jail cell and collected scrap metal on the streets to sell for bail money. My great-grandfather would lie to Mao’s Red Guards about who was home and give patriotic lip service to the regime at the local political meetings. At school, the siblings would watch out for each other, tipping one another off to escape the school bullies that strutted through the playground. In the 1970s, my great-grandfather was falsely accused of being a Nationalist sympathizer. The local guards burst into the house and dragged him to the local schoolhouse, locking him in a small room. When he refused to falsely confess, the local guards made it a point to interrogate him daily, attempting to coerce a confession by finding tiny cracks in his story. Word spread in the village about my great-grandfather, and the gossip produced a deep and horrified blush of shame among the family. Village members would avoid talking to them; neighbors and shopkeepers now seemed distant, leering, and suspicious. The village kids constantly teased my dad and uncle at school. Your grandpa is a capitalist liar! Once, my father, sick of shame, almost beat his tormentor to death in the schoolyard; he stopped only when his malnourished arms could punch no more. My uncle walked my father’s limping body home and bandaged his bloodied knuckles to keep it a secret
from the rest of the family. Weekly, my grandfather pressured my great-grandfather to falsely confess. He had heard stories of local villages where people had failed to produce the “right” confession and were beaten to death with belts and sticks. My grandpa insisted that, for my great-grandfather’s safety, he ought to produce a false confession. Moreover, it would be better for the family to be together again: it would be better for us to be shamed together than apart, he said. It was this latter reason that drove my great-grandfather to the edge of suicide. As a grandfather, it was unbearable to hear of the public shame and physical abuse heaped upon his family, and he held the trigger in his hand to end their suffering. Every morning the guard handed him a blank paper to write his confession. But he refused to lie and again and again told the same story—he did not work for the Nationalists and was an innocent man. When a new guard cycled in who knew my great-grandfather, he took great sympathy upon him. “You could just write a couple of sentences, you know, and this will be over for all of us.” My great-grandfather refused and solemnly gave him the same answer he had told his son: “If they take away my integrity, I will have nothing left in my family name.” Out of both suicides placed before him, my great-grandfather stubbornly chose neither. He was released after seven months. When the doors of China finally opened in 1979, the family made the daunting decision to leave the home of their ancestors. The village they left was one that had seen much of world history: my ancestors had lived there before the bloody World Wars, before the Western powers demanded China to open their gates, before the rise of colonies and empires. It was a humble village by the sea with thick roots of tradition that bore deep into Chinese soil. But in the present moment, like refugees, one by one each member untethered himself from home and struck out for America, hoping for a life with less tyranny and more freedom. The brothers arrived first and worked hard to survive. Eventually, they brought my grandparents over and the family was reunited. In the early 2000s, they lost the first family member when my grandmother passed away from cancer. The grieving was raw and fierce, with depth. By the time my uncle was diagnosed with cancer, it was thirty years since he had left China, and he was in a doctor’s office in Queens, New York. II.
There is good reason to think the story of my great-grandfather has a happy ending. He avoided lying, was able to reunite with family, and eventually escaped China. Yet we may be tempted to ignore the story’s tragic character, as if the ethical dilemma my great-grandfather faced was not really a dilemma because of its happy ending. Alasdair MacIntyre once observed, “The true genre of life is neither hagiography nor saga, but tragedy.” Here tragedy does not simply mean lamentable or sad. The sense of tragedy we are reaching for is closer to the stories told by Sophocles: a drama wherein the actors are motivated by fundamentally conflicting cares and loves that inevitably lead to 74
some demise. Thus Oedipus’s blindness or Antigone’s defiance led to some tragic ending for each, not because they are more foolish than us, but because each person’s cares and loves led them to a certain ending that seems, from the outside, at once fated and free. The immigrant life in particular embodies this tragic quality. Leaving one world for another, the immigrant is always in conflict with the world because the world inside of them is carved in too deep. Sometimes this inner world can be erased, as in the case of small children; their pliability allows the carvings of one home to be filled in by another. But even they may find traces of a world they do not remember in their adult minds. Like homeless Adams and Eves, immigrants and their families carry within them the sharp sense of a fragmented world; their worlds are constantly being revised and negotiated, interrogated and destroyed, built and constructed. Children of immigrants who know their family stories intuitively know this because our stories are so different from those of the dominant culture. The roots of our homes trail behind us in our moral decisions; they form the shape of the ethical life we desire, even if it is a life obsessed with weeding out the roots that gave it life. The rebel too is a tragic character. Moral philosophers are often guilty of attempting to rid life of these tragic qualities. Tidy moral systems with rationally weighted variables, moral syllogisms, and technical terminology often fail to capture the thick dramatic sense of life embodied in the stories we inherit from our parents. Stories are like tapestries, and some moral philosophers spend too much time on one thread, as if a single thread could show us the entire picture. Some moralists insist on thinking of the ethical life as a set of rules: “do not steal,” “do not cheat,” or “do not lie.” This last rule—“do not lie”—is particularly interesting in light of the complex tapestry of narrative. In the story of my great-grandfather, several intertwined threads of lying occur from various perspectives: my family’s false patriotism, my father’s lying about his bleeding knuckles, the lying Communist accuser who insisted day after day that my greatgrandfather was a liar. Deception is thick and interwoven in a story; it causes and is caused by other deception. Because there are various moral actors in a story, each action opens up the possibility for other decisions to occur. Without the false accusation, my great-grandfather could not have been truthful, nor would my father have been able to lie about his hands. But the ending of this story, the moralist may point out, is not tragic. My great-grandfather is freed without harm, and the family escapes to America. Is this not a happy ending? There is a sense in which one is right to say that this is happy; we are glad that he escapes with his integrity. But does not a happy ending presume that there is an ending to a story, as if our life had a clear viewpoint from which we could reflect, a finish line from which we can see the rest of the track? Death is the only true ending of the stories we live. We cannot, as it were, maneuver behind life to get the sort of perspective to say, “Now this is a happy ending to my life.” We cannot be God and declare over our stories, “Now that was a good decision.” Our moral speech is not God’s; it is a mere airy puff over the chaos of the deep. We may be able to speak a sure word but certainly not the final one.
The immigrant is especially used to speaking sure words and being challenged of their surety. The world around them and the world inside constantly clash—there are no neat systems here, no one simple story to tell. They must navigate various forms of life that tell them their conception of life is not worthy; it is awkward, quirky, or downright disgusting. And yet, I have observed a strange dignity about the immigrant. It is similar to the dignity my greatgrandfather had when he refused to falsely confess. When I imagine him locked away in that small, lonely schoolroom, I do not think he was thinking about gritting his teeth and following a rule. He was not thinking, “Lying is always wrong. I will not do what is wrong; therefore, I won’t lie,” out of respect for the law of truth telling. Instead the various moral choices available hung around him like various threads; some were nooses and others were escape ropes. Ultimately, I think my great-grandfather did not lie because he was attempting to be true to himself. He was not trying merely to tell the truth, but rather be the sort of person that is a truth-teller, a person with coherence, with integrity. And fundamental to him being truthful was his moral awareness that his most basic loves compelled him to defend and protect the family name, which only lying could destroy. The dignity of the immigrant is similar. Knowing that he or she will be thrown into a world rife with conflict, the immigrant attempts to maintain a sense of self-coherence. In negotiating with their new world, the immigrant is forced to clarify and identify her deepest loves, to hold on to that which is most precious because she knows to lose it is synonymous to losing herself. Yet she must act with the limited and contingent options provided by the world in which she now stands. The immigrant thus knows in a distinct way what it means to be “condemned to action,” as philosopher Christine Korsgaard puts it. Perhaps the immigrant’s ethic is an ethic that a world constantly in conflict should ruminate over in respectful silence. Yet in offering this portrait of the immigrant, I do not want anyone to think it rosy or quaint. It is a picture of survival amidst a tragic world. And the story of my uncle with cancer in Queens, New York, might show us how this wish for selfcoherence, for authenticity, is sometimes odd, or even downright strange. It may drive us to do what seems most contrary to our loves, even if it is to tell a lie that can never be revoked. III. My uncle was well known among the Chinese immigrants in Queens. After he sold his restaurant, he spent most of his time working at organizations that helped fresh Chinese immigrants survive in New York. My uncle would arrange for jobs and housing, connect friends, arrange dates, and lend money to those in a financial pinch. I did not realize how loved he was by the local community until several hundred people crammed into the church sanctuary for his funeral service. There I heard person after person praise him for his kindness and 76
benevolence. One person told a wonderful story about how my uncle helped him get a job when he was homeless. Another person testified to my uncle’s remarkable warmth and charisma. Many admitted they did not know he had gotten cancer and were surprised to find out he died. There was one person who was never given the chance to be surprised at my uncle’s death: my grandfather. Nobody told him that his son had stage four pancreatic cancer. Nor was he told his son was critically ill. We buried my uncle at a local cemetery later that day, and my grandfather was not there. He had simply not been told anything, and while we laid flowers on the casket, my grandfather spent the day reading newspapers in an apartment two blocks from where his son once lived. Several months before the funeral, my father and the brothers gathered at the apartment to discuss my uncle’s cancer. At that point, the doctor had notified them that my uncle had little time left, and so the siblings sought to make preparations for his death. As they discussed details about the coming funeral, my father raised the awkward question: “So, when do we tell Dad about this?” The brothers looked to my uncle pensively. “We don’t,” was my uncle’s reply. A verbal fight broke out. On the one hand, my uncle had hid his cancer treatment from his father out of concern for his health. My grandfather was in his late nineties and was hard of hearing. He could not walk very much and was often sick. He spent most of his time reading Chinese newspapers and writing little notes to his grandchildren between long pauses of staring out the window. My uncle said that if he told his father he had terminal cancer he would unnecessarily worry his father. A Chinese son must always honor his father, and to burden the father with the son’s weaknesses and sufferings is dishonorable. Even worse was the possibility that the news might shock him to death: there is no greater way to shame the family than by killing your own father because of your suffering. It is better to die unnoticed than to dishonor the person who brought you into the world. My father insisted that there was something untruthful about this. “Shouldn’t dad know if his son is going to die? Can’t we at least invite him to the funeral?” Yet my uncle’s arguments prevailed. The closer he was to death, the more shock he would bring to his father; dishonor grew as death drew near. “I think it is better for all of us if we kept this a secret,” he concluded firmly. The other brothers nodded their heads. My dad uncomfortably agreed. He was the youngest and could be overridden by the oldest brother’s authority; there was no use in protesting. So the funeral took place without my grandfather’s knowledge, and for the next several weeks, the remaining brothers were careful to make sure my grandfather never found out. They switched out his newspapers so he would not see the lengthy obituaries and updated his visitors about his poor health. Occasionally, my grandfather would ask about my uncle’s whereabouts, and my uncle would always be mildly sick, or away on a business trip, or busy with his newborn grandchildren. On my grandfather’s 95th birthday, my uncle sent his sincerest apologies through one of the brothers—he was at a dear friend’s funeral and would not be back in time for the party. To this day my
grandfather still does not know his son is dead.
* * * *
When I tell this story to my friends at school, they find it deeply troubling. “That’s really weird,” one said. “Why doesn’t your dad just tell your grandfather?” Grasping for words, I attempt to explain the importance of honor and the special piety the son must show to the father. “You see,” I conclude, “that’s just not an option for them.” My friends scratch their heads in confusion. It’s an option for us, their faces say. When I asked another friend what he thought about all this, he blurted out, “Isn’t your uncle lying to his dad?” “I guess,” I mused. “Isn’t it wrong to lie about something that is so important?” “Isn’t it worse to kill your father?” I asked. My friend looked at me strangely. He was struggling for words, and after a moment said, “I feel like that’s so wrong.” But his reasons had bottomed out. The truth is I had wrestled with this problem many times with my father. In our heated conversations, we would go through the playbook, looking for alternative ways out. But every time we flipped through the script, we realized how little room there was to maneuver, and the only action that made sense for the characters in this story was to hide the truth from my grandfather. The strange paradox of context is that both my great-grandfather in China and my uncle were being truthful, yet one was lying and the other refused to lie. They both sought to be authentic to their deepest loves and cares; both desired to honor family, but the context offered different possibilities for truthful action. Truth is like that: it is sometimes rigid, unnerved, inflexible, courageous; other times, out of a deep and abiding love, it seeks to relieve suffering by telling an eternal lie—a lie that denies one’s own existence for the love of the other. I have come to see this dilemma as an illustration of the tragedy inextricably tied to the immigrant’s life and, in some ways, to all of human life. When someone moves from one world to another, they bring with them the spirit and rationality of a different form of life. When the immigrant brings these ways of thinking with them into my world, I, in my American upbringing, am always tempted to shout to them, “There’s a different way out!” as if my words could so easily expand their horizons to fuse with mine. I wanted to tell my grandfather that his son was dying and that because his son loved him too much to see him suffer, he chose to hide it from him forever with a lie. I wanted to tell my uncle that there was nothing to fear and that we had to trust my grandfather that he would not react badly to the news about cancer. But my dad said sadly, “Son, I hear you. But that won’t make sense to them.” We would be right to think that a story such as this one is a tragedy. It ends with a father sipping a cup of tea in his flat in New York while his son lies buried. But the temptation is to think that our stories are not tragic because we are able to reflect from a distance on stories like the ones I have told. If we were to step inside the world of another—like that of the immigrant, sojourner, or 78
refugee among us—then we would see that from the other’s perspective each of our lives has an inevitably tragic dimension because our loves and cares commit us to certain actions and restrain the possibilities of others. The immigrant may say to us, “There’s a different way out!” And we may respond, “I hear you, but it won’t make sense to the rest of them.” Alternatively, we might simply not hear the immigrant at all. Immigrants are a gift to their cultures because they bring out the tension latent within societies. Augustine, the famous North African bishop of Christianity, observed that humans are motivated by their loves. Beneath these loves, one could sense a primordial longing for a home, the final object the heart desires. Since various peoples have various senses of home, the world is rife with conflict; different loves form different ways of life. Stepping aboard their ship, the immigrant knows full well this sense of home. It groans loudly as it is torn from its roots and cast into the sea. Arriving in a new world, the immigrant comes to us as a foreigner, an alien and wanderer, bearing a strange world to our world where different expressions of loves have commanded different forms of life. Upon arriving, they are confronted with harsh difference, and this fated encounter of worlds demands of the immigrant an ethic that will stretch them in a way that their home never had. It is an ethic that attempts to maintain a flicker of coherence amidst warring worlds and uncontrollable circumstances. It seeks to be authentic to one’s own deepest loves in a world that is not always hospitable to them. It is this ethic the immigrant brings as a gift to his or her new culture. If we are welcoming enough, we might carefully receive this gift and listen for bits of wisdom. If we are courageous enough, we might even imitate it. And if our current era is marked by the specter of an aggressive nationalism, and if various nations are baring the fangs of ugly patriotism, then we might do well to not merely defend immigrants but learn from them as well. For their ethic is one forged in the hard fires of tragedy. It offers itself as a gift for those who sense a fragmenting world and are courageous enough to strike out into the stormy future, seeking to be truthful, even if it requires telling a lie.
BONES IN TRANSIT by
I focus on narrative-based and human-centric design. Whether it is designing with heavily conceptual ideas, or designing for specific individuals within a system, I aim to create garments that propose a unique outlook on subjects such as sustainability, speculative design, gender expression, human psychology, technology, and functionality. I am constantly looking forward in creating innovative and progressive designs through exploring new fields with textiles, construction, and process. Photographer: Chelsea Marie MacDonald // Model: Reed Gardner
Three garments inspired by the fusion of Western and Eastern clothing, inspired by the perspective of clothing from Chinese immigrants moving to the West.
â€œThe Jacket interlining is made from scrap fabric from my Chinese grandmother, attached to batik design patched lining with straight stitches. Scrap fabric is reused for both warmth as well as decorative purposes.â€?
The construction, color, embroidery, and textiles of these pieces are derived from traditional Chinese clothing and railroad workwear of the late 1800s. The Denim Jacket is naturally dyed from Indian Indigo and the Denim Jeans are naturally dyed from Woad Indigo.
The Striped Shirt can be worn in multiple ways using tabs and button closures.
سردات قئاف نّلْوس S O L E N N E M A R I E FA’ E Q J U B R A I L TA D R O S
Born with Jordanian roots, exploring who she is and pushing her own boundaries in New York. A love for discovering and meeting new people, at the same time discovering more about herself. She likes mom jeans, mangoes, is a matcha fanatic, a people person, and is learning to love and appreciate all dimensions of herself day by day. She could have written about her disease, diet or nationality even more, but knows that she doesn’t need those to be relateable and they don’t define who she is. Instagram: @solennethesixthspice Website: http://www.solennetadros.com/
“But a small part of me that wants me to bring this change back home. But is it my responsibility to do so? Because I come from that part of the world? These are the times when I question if I should go back.”
Q: Where were your parents born and raised? Solenne: My mom was born in Lebanon and she was raised in Lebanon, Jordan, she went to boarding school in London for a couple years and then Switzerland, and then went to America. My dad was born in Jordan and grew up there and then lived in California for ten to twelve years. Q: Did they meet in the United States? Solenne: No no they met in Jordan, but they lived abroad. Q: Where were you born and raised? Solenne: I was born and raised in Jordan but I’m not fully Jordinian because my grandmother is Palestinian so I’m a quarter Palestinian. Q: When people ask you “where are you from?” what do you usually say? Solenne: I say I’m from Jordan even though I hold an American passport because of my dad. Q: Have you ever felt frustration or confusion regarding your identity? Solenne: I’ve felt confusion because I was born and raised in Jordan so I was surrounded by the Jordinian culture constantly, the food, the ethics, the morals, the hospitality and all that, but all the media I was exposed to was Western, which is really strange. All of my manners and I think the way I speak and act is not only influenced by my surroundings but also what I’ve learned through the media which is strange. Growing up we’ve always been told that the Western world does things more advanced than us and better than us and the way they act is more liberal so we should kind of be like them. So I’m kind of in this limbo of “where am I actually from?” if my ethics and my morals aren’t really Jordinian but they’re not really American because I grew up in Jordan then which culture am I really tied to, and it’s very confusing for me. Q: Do you think that cultural exposure is because of the specific place where you grew up in Jordan? Solenne: A lot of my friends have the same feelings about that but their parents and their upbringing they’re more tied to home, but because my mom traveled and my dad studied abroad, I was more exposed to the Western world so I feel very in between both. I don’t feel like I’m fully Jordinian or that I owe my country anything. I don’t feel the need to go back which is really strange because all my friends want to go back, they want to live there and have kids there and I don’t see that for myself. Q: Did you move here for college? Solenne: I moved here for university but I also moved here because my dad was like “you need to go to California you don’t belong here!” he thinks Jordan is a hundred years behind and he thinks the mentality is a hundred years behind so I’ve always been urged to go abroad and learn from other people in America. 88
Q: Do you feel more comfortable in either place?
Solenne: I feel more comfortable in America because the way I act is more American. Although I was born and raised in Jordan for most of my life, I’ve only had one Arabic language class in school and all of my other classes you had to speak English. All my teachers were British and we weren’t allowed to speak Arabic, it was an international school. All the teachers were British and couldn’t speak Arabic, all the homework and readings and TV was in English. Q: What language do you speak at home? Solenne: English, unless my mom starts a conversation in Arabic but I don’t respond back in Arabic. Q: Which was your first language? Solenne: Arabic was meant to be my first language but it’s not. Q: When was the first time you realized this discomfort with biculturalism? Solenne: What’s really weird is that back home the day to day business is you wake up, do your activities, go to school, eat at a place, and then smoke shisha.
I’m allergic to everything, I’m allergic to carbs, I don’t really eat red meat, and I don’t smoke shisha so all these activities that were the norm, I couldn’t participate in them. But back here in New York, I can participate in most of the activities everyone enjoys whether it’s going to the park or any of the daytime activities so I feel more included in the culture, even though my family is all back home. Q: Do you notice a lot of the Westernization in your household? Solenne: I think my parents are very open minded in the way they live and their lifestyle is very Western and the way I’m not really limited, they never tell me to not drink or smoke even though back home it’s not seen as something that should be done. They ever set me limits because they don’t see restricting me as a good way to teach me. Q: In Jordan do you think women are usually faced with a lot of restriction? Solenne: I think not just women, I grew up with the 1% where the parents went out and got an education and there are a lot of people who tell their kids to not drink not smoke, but my mom and dad never did that, and because they never did that I never felt like I had to do it and wanted to rebel. A lot of my friends, because their parents restrict them and say they can’t go out with boys because it’s rude or it’ll ruin their reputation, becuase their parents say that, they do that purposefully. Q: in what part of your life is your biculturalism the most present? Solenne: I think back home a sense of community is really important, for you to have Arabs around you, and I think many Arabs who leave Jordan, they come here expecting to be surrounded by other Arabs and it’s true it’s what happens, they find their way to be together, but I felt so much more comfortable not being associated with Arabs or having close Arab friends, all my friends are from New York, and I just love New Yorkers, I don’t find myself gravitating towards people from Jordan. Recently I’ve reflected and I’ve realized I don’t really fit into the community. Q: Do you feel like you ever purposefully distance yourself from Arabs? Solenne: My mom always told me it’s good to have Arab friends, you need to have a community and make these connection, so I told my mom “why aren’t these people becoming friends with me because I’m going to be a connection someday”, and the second thing is I don’t feel like I need that specific community becuase they don’t push me forward. I think personally, I feel like my community is really toxic. All they do is talk about other people and hold people back, and it’s all about chit chat and gossip and everyone wants to put everyone else down. I feel like contrasted with that in New York, everyone else is comfortable with their diversity and everyone pushes everyone else forward to advance themselves and it’s the total opposite. Q: I know we’ve talked about how people respond to and talk about body
image and how that’s similar in both Taiwanese and Jordinia culture... Solenne: I know I know it’s so toxic I really had to grow out of it, for twenty years of my life I’ve put myself down and haven’t pushed myself forward as much as I could and haven’t fulfilled my potential because I felt like who I was was wrong. I felt that I was overweight, that was wrong, I couldn’t wear nice clothes and that was wrong because I was overweight, I had to lose weight first otherwise people would pick on me if I wore shorts, it was just so toxic. But then I came here and no one cared about anyone else and you just really focus on yourself and it’s a different mindset. Q: Was that more so kids around you or the older generation or everyone? Solenne: It was everyone, people at school told me I was fat, my uncles and aunts told me I had to watch my weight, since I was seven, seven years old. This is just how it is back home, it’s so toxic and they don’t let anyone thrive, the traits that anyone is born with they have to put them down. Q: Do you see that changing in the future? Solenne: No. No, it’s very sad, no. They’re very stuck in their ways, very very stuck. What I find really strange is people who say “Oh my god I love Jordinian culture, I speak Arabic, all of these things, but then they act very Western and I’m personally confused. I know that people back home take pride in their country but I don’t know what my country has to offer that I can take pride in, other than geographic location and it being beautiful to look at, but in terms of the ethics besides hospitality, even though my mom and dad know that I can go out wearing short shorts and a tank top, if I want to wear a tanktop outside I cant. Even if it’s forty degrees celcius outside and boiling, they’re always like “Do you know what that means”, we have two cars at home and I can’t drive one because if boys see me driving that car they’re going to follow me. I have to conform to the cultures and customs of where I come from, just so I don’t get attacked or shamed, just to protect myself. I think back home they’re just not educated about it, I want to find a relationship with my culture and where I come from because my family is from there but in my day to day life where I get things rubbed in my face like “You can’t do this becuase you’re a woman” or like guys make jokes about girls and if a girl does things with a guy she gets slut shamed, these are the times when I don’t want to be associated with my culture. Those are the times when I don’t want to say “oh i’m Jordinian” because it’s embarassing, it’s embarassing to come from a place that is a hundred years back. But I think education, to get a job to get money to travel and be exposed to other cultures and see other places of the world and how they moved foward, might be a step.
Q: I haven’t talked a lot about religion in relation to culture but do a lot of people follow what religion dictates? Solenne: Where I’m from we’re equal, like for Christmas their celebrations we send them desserts and these things, everything is very equal and normal but besides this 1% of where I’m from where other things go down, the girls are really really really put away. There was a guy who did this interview in downtown which is the old civilization of Jordan, and the interview guy was asking some
men around the city what they would do if their sister wanted to go and work, and the guy said “I would shoot her, I would kill her, and my uncle and father would support me because the girl belongs in the house.” So these are the times when I wonder “Is this really where I come from?” and “Do I really want to be Jordanian?” because this is what most of society believes. It’s sad that the girl thinks that that’s ok, even the women think it’s ok. So this is the time when I really want me to disassociate myself with. But there’s also a small part of me that wants me to bring this change back home. But is it my responsibility to do so? Because I come from that part of the world? These are the times when I question if I should go back. My older sister and younger sister lived five years abroad when we were very young so from when I was two to seven. My dad opened the atlas and looked at the map and said “Where’s the furthest place from Jordan” and it was either New Zealand or Vancouver. So we chose Vancouver, so we all went and lived there for five years. I came back at an age where it was still primary school and from age two to seven that’s where you grasp all these things who influence who you are. So I was taught English first, my older sister was born in Jordan and then went to Canada, learned English, and came back. My younger sister was born in Canada so she’s a Canadian citizen and she was only five so she was able to grasp Arabic when she got back and she would read the children’s books, but I felt very in between, I so much clung to what I saw in the Western world. When I went back to Jordan I felt so Western like an international student, I was never in the main Arabic class I was always with the special students, and the people in this class have lived abroad for ten years and I was so young I should’ve caught onto the language but until that point, until graduation, I was seen as an outside kid. I really feel like because I spoke English and wasn’t very Jordanian, the popular kids were very Arabic and very harsh and witty and all these things, but because I grew up with these manners, I was fucking polite compared to them by the way, they’re all so witty I don’t know, everyone is so witty.
POETRY & SOFT STRUCTURES by
Ching Lan is a Taiwanese visual artist based in New York City. She is studying at Parsons School of Design for Illustration. Her work varies from colorful doodles to 3D sculptures, and she even dabbles in textiles. You’ll always find her nose stuck in her sketchbook wherever she goes. Her dream is to travel the world and collaborate with her favorite brands such as Lazy Oaf to create fun and cute illustrations. In her free time you can catch her binging on Netflix and experimenting various ideas for her thesis. Instagram: @chingaling_draws Website: chingalingdraws.com
“For my thesis I asked myself, “what makes art meaningful?” To me, it meant that the artist was 100% honest with their audience. In order for me to achieve this I had to ask myself, “what was I afraid to talk about?”; from there I compiled various themes to explore such as: anger, loss, and fear. I chose poetry because it forced me to pay close attention to the message itself rather an essay of ramblings. Each sculpture I felted related to a poem, so the largest one was a blue-felted character that portrayed a child while the other smaller sculptures acted as its “toys.” 94
I I hate I hate sickness I hate sickness that took you I hate sickness thatâ€™s incurable I hate sickness that replaced you I hate sickness that broke our family I hate sickness that made me lose faith in God I hate you for dying.
I am independent thatâ€™s a facade I am kind I hate everyone I am spoiled parents were never around I am terrified becoming my mother I am pathetic refusing to be better I am a procrastinator cause either way Iâ€™ll fail I am complacent lacking passion I am angry hoping someone cares I am insecure finally the truth 97
JONATHAN SUNGJIN LEE Jonathan Lee is a Corean-American artist & designer born in Los Angeles, CA. *Corea spelled with a c because it is how it was before Japanese occupation and the changing of the name so that Japan would appear first alphabetically
“If I could go back in time I would not change it. I am who I am with the way that I grew up.”
Q: Where were you born and raised? Jon: Los Angeles, California. Q: When people ask you where you’re from, what do you usually say? Jon: I say California, I say Los Angeles. Q: Have you ever felt frustration about being bicultural? Jon: I always identified as being Corean first because that’s how I felt. I think my parents rasied me that way, my dad is pretty decent in English, he speaks Spanish English and Corean but he’s not super fluent, and my mom only speaks Corean so we always speak Corean at home. I’m not good at Corean but I can get by, a lot of my friends don’t speak any Corean. Q: Did you have a lot of Corean friends growing up? Jon: I had strictly Corean friends.
Q: Was that due to the demographic of where you grew up? Jon: It was mostly white, and then Armenian, Corean, and barely any Mexican and a few Black people but for the most part it was just Corean Armenian and White and everyone for the most part, stuck to their own people. Q: Since you grew up with mostly Corean friends did you ever feel frustration about your biculturalism like you had to choose a side or did you always feel comfortable where you were? Jon: So I never had a problem with it because in LA it’s a super normal thing, like everyone is, everyone says LA is a melting pot but it’s not because it’s super segregated. So I never felt weird about only hanging out with Coreans because when we go hang out in LA we go hang out in Coreatown and so you’re just surrounded by your own. My frustration now came after I came to New York. All my Corean friends in LA either moved there when they were really young or were born there. Q: Do you wish it was less segregated when you grew up? Jon: Yeah, but if I could go back in time I would not change it, I am who I am with the way that I grew up. Q: In what part of your life is your biculturalism the most present? Jon: When I go drinking. Beucase I prefer, instead of a club or a bar, I prefer a place where you can sit and talk and drink and it’s a very Corean thing to do. Q: Is that a Corean thing or more a Korean American thing? Jon: I think it’s a Corean thing, like group drinking, I feel like Asians don’t really go to hit on people it’s always with friends and if you happen to see a group of the opposite gender then you might go and talk to them. But usually you just sit down and drink together. Q: Can you talk a little bit about your tattoos and their significance in relation to your family and culture? Jon: My back piece is a family portrait, so you didn’t get the butt but there’s three koi fish on the butt (laughs) for my me my brother and sister, and the dragon and the phoenix are my dad and my mom. The two names are really shitty Chinese because I had her write it out and then I took it to this Mexican guy who used to tattoo underage kids because I was sixteen when I got it done and he didn’t know how to do Kanji so he did it in this cholo, almost graffiti style where he ombre’d the whole thing, it’s not even the full thing it’s just like half colored. I know I need to get it colored in, I might get it covered with the actual kanji, but yeah it’s basically just a family portrait. Q: Do you have reasons for chooisng the specific animals for your parents? Jon: Well the dragon and the phoenix you know have very specific meanings in asian culture, like in Japan, China and Corea, so obviously the phoenix is my mom but the positioning is very specific. The phonix goes from bottom up and 102
the dragon goes top down because my mom, you know women have a lesser role in asian society and she’s the dominant one in the household. And my dad is the breadwinner but he humbles, he goes lower for my mom so that’s why they’re in that position. The crane on my neck is just for luck and good fortune, but the color red almost has a negative connotation in Corea because of North Corea. It probably has the same meanings of luck and things still, but is more associated with communism. Q: Do you ever talk about politics in your friend group? Jon: No. People don’t care, they’re so far away that they just don’t care. My 104
goal is to unite them though, that would be a dream. Q: Why are the names in Chinese Kanji instead of Corean? Jon: So Corea used to use Chinese alphabet, I feel like any developing country has either Chinese or Japanese influence. Our regular language is really similar to Japanese in terms of sentence structure, there are words that are the same too. But Chinese they used to call it traditional Corean, but it’s not traditional Corean it’s just Chinese. Just...no it’s not (laughs) Q: Do you think it’s a universal thing that Corean kids feel an immediate connection to each other? Jon: Yeah there’s definitely a comraderie between Coreans, that’s true for a lot of Asian cultures but if I was in a room and there was someone Corean i’d be like (makes face like you see someone across the room) and then if they don’t speak English and you speak Corean to them they go “oooooooh” I didn’t know I didn’t know, I think a lot of times people think I’m Japanese probably becuase of the tattoos or when I had the ‘stache, people were like “oh you’re Vietnamese” and they get super stoked when I speak Corean to them. Q: Do people try to guess your ethnicity a lot? Jon: Yeah, it’s always Japanese first (laughs), honestly probably the moustache and the tattoos.
PHILOSOPHY & RACE by
ALICE SAYAKA NEOMOTO Alice has no idea who she is and has realized through her work and in talking through her experiences, that maybe she doesn’t need to know who she is as much as she thought she did.
“The hardest part in a sense is this first step because it is an acknowledgment that there is no “ideal”, and that there will always be a tension or an unsettling feeling— it just no longer defines how we choose to see ourselves and understand our own realities. The next step is just learning how to live with this tension.” 106
This final paper is very much a return to my first paper, and in fact a return to my work throughout this course including both written and verbal reflections on my own perception and understanding of race. I think, however, that now I must lay it all out—to fully reveal myself, being direct and no longer using “deep” metaphors or only alluding to my own experiences and perspective.
I didn’t really think about my own race until I got to college, and until I was confronted with the fact that I never allowed myself to even bring up the questions discovered and asked in this class, for fear or realizing what I knew all along—that how I am perceived will never match up to how I may feel personally. That being said, I think a lot of factors within my own life allowed me to ignore and avoid these issues. Economically, I think I am at a level in society where my wealth or perceived wealth allows me the privilege to first be recognized and accepted as legitimate on this basis before any other considerations of who I am such as my gender or race. Socially, I grew up within communities where being “mixed-race” was not uncommon, and even more so having direct contact and association with other half-Japanese kids “like me.” Finally, I think my own upbringing contributed to my comfortability in not addressing issues within my own identity. I can’t remember ever actually having a conversation about these issues within my own identity with my parents. I mean my parents gave me unconditional love, acceptance, a sense of pride to be half-Japanese and to be a part of a multiracial family—but to this day, I don’t think either of them have ever really given me what I need, and in some respects I think the acceptance that I strive for can never be fulfilled by my parents. I can’t remember conversations about these issues within my own identity with my parents. All I can remember is feeling my whiteness on those Saturday mornings at Japanese school, always being the last one to finish our exercises looking at the small scribbles of hiragana and katakana letters mocking me, confirming my stupidity; all I can remember are my trips to Japan and the looks I would get from people and the awkward laughs—No I’m not his girlfriend/wife/partner, I’m his thirteen year old daughter; all I can remember is wondering why I didn’t look “as Japanese” as all my other friends—all I can remember is the pain, embarrassment, confusion, stupidity, sadness, rejection stored in my body that still brings a pain in my chest and tears to my eyes as I type this now. I bottled this up, and kept the lid on tight. It wasn’t until someone asked me about these things that I began to open up. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, and it amazed me just how freely it all poured out. She asked me the questions that I think deep down I yearned for. I’ve always been a very thoughtful and reflective person, but I never allowed myself to legitimize my feelings and my experiences by letting other people in—by letting those close to me feel bad, confused, or as if they failed me, and by letting the whole world know my feelings of inadequacy. Even now, I haven’t had these hard
conversations with my parents or with my friends—my wounds are still open scars, the only difference is that now I allow them to breathe and feel openly. The first step towards healing, and tackling this thing we call “race” is acknowledgment on the individual level. As Gloria Anzaldúa states, “The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in the outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads” (Anzaldúa 109). Race as a concept and category exists sort of in a third person perspective where we can understand it, see it, and experience it within our own realities but still not know what it means in terms of who we are. I think for me, what has helped me the most—and what I’ve been able to receive through this course—is reading and being introduced to the works of others, where I can identify and see my own struggles within theirs. It is gratifying to share the burden of their struggle and their hurt, to know that I am not alone and to affirm our shared existence in ambivalence. I agree when Bell Hooks says, “I am grateful to the many women and men who dare to create theory from the location of pain and struggle, who courageously expose wounds to give us their experience to teach and guide, as a means to chart new theoretical journeys” (Hooks 74). There is a great amount of relief that comes from the honesty of pain and struggle—from being able to be unapologetically our multiplicitous selves. As Audre Lourde reminds us (quoting Simone de Beauvoir), “‘It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting”’ (Lourde 113). We can only move forward in a healthy manner if we are just honest with ourselves and honest with others about what it means to be who we are, to allow ourselves to feel the uncomfortability, the pain, the confusion. The hardest part in a sense is this first step because it is an acknowledgment that there is no “ideal”, and that there will always be a tension or an unsettling feeling—it just no longer defines how we choose to see ourselves and understand our own realities. The next step is just learning how to live with this tension. To quote Anzaldúa once more, “The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity…She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode—nothing is thrust out, the good the bad and the ugly, nothing rejected, nothing abandoned” (Anzaldúa 101). To return to an earlier sentiment in my last paper: It doesn’t mean shit unless you do it yourself. Much of the struggle that will come with issues of race and identity will be felt and dealt with on the personal level—we can’t help but understand the world through our own perspective. What I think gets left out and forgotten—and I myself am guilty of this—is the fact that this process is one that includes others and the world around me. I need others around me to recognize and help remind me that I am different and that I do experience life from my unique perspective, but that I am capable of connecting and understanding others and allowing them to understand me and to share my pain, struggle, relief, and joy. As Lourde states, “Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an 108
individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist” (Lourde 112). Why is it so hard for us to accept that we are different, and that this difference is what in the end exposes us to different levels of insight? Why was it so hard for me to realize that there is no ideal half-Japanese person? Why did I feel that I had no one to talk to as a child, no one that could explain to me why I felt this way? I think that in the end our biggest struggle is learning how to deal with the past. We can’t forget, and we shouldn’t. The question is how we allow ourselves to remember this pain and struggle, and whether or not we allow it to control our perspective moving forward. Alla Al-Saji states, “The past is not the accumulation of events in a container, but the continuous immanent transformation of sense and force that is tendency. Newness, in other words, arises not only from the openness to the future but from the way the past is remembered in hesitation; memory and invention are here intertwined” (Al-Saji 143). Individually we need to realize that there is no one solution because in fact we will never be complete. All we can do is become conscious and honest actors within our own realities. With time and practice we figure out how to make ourselves more comfortable and open. Letting people in has been a very liberating experience for myself, and though I know there is much more work for me to do, I know that I can no longer ignore or mask my identity issues, and that allowing other people to understand my perspective allows for me to in turn understand their perspective. What we need to do collectively is have the courage to move forward in a direction that is forged entirely on the basis of understanding—understanding of ourselves as imperfect and incomplete beings, and understanding of others and the importance that we all have on impacting each and every life for the better if we just allow ourselves to work through our uncomfortabilities.
Works Cited: Al-Saji, Alla. Living Alterities: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Race. Ed. Emily S. Lee. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014. Print. Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 4th ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 2012. Print. Bell Hooks. Teaching to Transgress. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. New York: Ten Speed, 1984. Print.
THREE POEMS by
Anju Kasturiraj is a San Francisco based multi-disciplinary artist, daughter, poetess, photo taker, and sister. Her work focuses on themes of healing, Tamil femmehood, and queerness. She has recently put out her second poetry book, Songs for the Sun: a collection of spells, prayers and poems. Instagram: @saintanju
In dreams I speak with my ancestors, they live in ritual they don’t call me by a name, but a color, a number, a sunset. But, I cannot speak like the sky can, So instead I weep, do you watch me? do you know who and how I love? My grandmother sits at the feet of her mother, and her mother’s mother and her mother’s mother’s mother, I begin by drawing the circle by braiding my hair into theirs, by pricking my finger and tasting where I came from. I open my mouth to repent, But, I cannot speak like the sky can. My grandmothers rise too quickly, lifting skirts above their ankles, swearing in pinks and blues, “Who allowed the snake to enter?” An apology sinks behind my gums, the ground is cold, my skin slides off like it is nothing, it is nothing. I cannot speak like they can. 111
Free Day Museums are full of ghosts, cemeteries are not for tourists but my welcome map says “you are here,” and so I am. A plastic sign tells us not to leave coins or flowers under the statues. It is only a statue, and your prayers are only prayers. What freedom, not to believe in ghosts—not to see them in everything you do. I see my paati’s face in the stone, my mother in the clay. In the cracks, I see myself.
2:00 PM, Los Angeles, or Coimbatore From my grandmother: a package marked 1947. Wrapped in green and gold, pressed flowers, a dead lotus. A cardboard casket, praying to be filled, the insides already so frail it swears itself empty. We try to bury it not knowing it had roots and seeds.
Allowing the pain from her grandmother and her grandmother’s grandmother to grow / the way only fire can / to let out a scream so loud we get used to it / to avoid going mad we call it white noise / pretending that throwing our losses in won’t sear our wounds further / encouraging our neighbors to do the same / I will hold you / I will heal you / nobody has healed us / the neighbors smile and say nothing / to avoid going mad we call it white silence / and the fire warms us and spits at us the way only a soldier can.
SEEING THE SAME BEAUTY PHOTOS TAKEN BY ANNE BETWEEN 2011-2017
PAGE 6-7: Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan // the Bay Bridge in San Francisco PAGE 8-9: Feeding koi fish in Taiwan, one of my favorite childhood activities // my neighbors tabby cat PAGE 10-11: My mom in Taiwan in the morning fog // my Nick in San Francisco at my favorite beach PAGE 12-13: Fisherman in Taiwan // a man fishing in San Francisco PAGE 14-15: A quiet old structure by a parking lot in Taiwan // my neighborhood on a foggy morning PAGE 16-17: A construction worker in Taiwan // a family at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art PAGE 18-19: Rice paddies and in Taiwan seen from the HSR train // mountains in California seen from my dadâ€™s car PAGE 20-21: Ripples on a lake in Taiwan // ocean textures in San Francisco PAGE 22-23: Taipei 101 from a distant view // taken while driving under The Golden Gate bridge PAGE 122-123: An alleyway in the marketplace in Taiwan // looking down a San Francisco neighborhood hill PAGE 124-125: A quiet gateway in Taiwan // an empty dock in San Francisco PAGE 126-127: An old man at the market in Taiwan where my grandparents worked at when they first married // an old man volunteering at a community garden near my school in California PAGE 128-129: Driving down the street at night in Taiwan // Neon lights in California PAGE 130-131: My family hiking in the rain in taiwan // rainy day at my school in California PAGE 132-133: Green rice paddies in Taiwan // farms being prepared for the new season in California PAGE 134-135: A mountainside road in Taiwan // morning dew on a flower in my backyard PAGE 136: My grandfather in a quiet moment while visiting an old Taiwanese town
Seeking comfort in a bicultural identity: poems, artworks, interviews, stories, writings, and truth tellings compiled by Aj Li. A huge,...
Published on Apr 17, 2018
Seeking comfort in a bicultural identity: poems, artworks, interviews, stories, writings, and truth tellings compiled by Aj Li. A huge,...