VOICES ON RACE, CULTURE, AND MINORITY IDENTITY SPRING 2017 VOLUME II
THE STRIPES editorsâ€™ note Dear Readers and Contributors, This year has been a time of incredible change for The Stripes. We have revamped, reconfigured and refocused our efforts to better fulfill our mission of providing relevant and engaging content from diverse perspectives. With change comes growth and with growth comes growing pains; but we are here and better than ever. Over the past nine months our writers, editors, and graphic designers have worked tirelessly to produce the body of work in your hands. The Stripes Volume II features poetry, prose and reflective pieces on topics ranging from politics, popular culture, personal relationships, activism and more.The breadth of this content reflects the diversity of thought that The Stripes aims to provide. We hope that you will continue to engage with the works presented before you: acknowledge them, question them, perhaps even critique them. Share your thoughts with your community and ours. This process would not have been possible without the help and support of many people. First, to our incredible staff of writers, editors and graphic designers whose vision, passion and commitment has molded The Stripes: thank you for your hard work throughout the year. Also, to our predecessors, Emily Tu and Aisha Oxley, who worked tirelessly last year to transform The Stripes from an exclusively online magazine to a multi-medium publication: thank you for your legacy. Finally, to you all, our dedicated readers: thank you for helping to make The Stripes what it is today, a publication for all. We truly appreciate your patience, dedication, and encouragement. It is our pleasure to introduce you to the second edition of The Stripes in print. Enjoy. Lauren Richardson and Cierra Robson Editors-in-Chief
staff Editors-in-Chief Cierra Robson Lauren Richardson Production Manager Rosed Serrano Design & Layout Annabelle Tseng Ananya Malhotra Somi Jun
Staff Editors Taylor Branch Youri Lee Asia Matthews Amina Simon Nora Schultz Danielle Taylor Imani Thornton
Treasurer Raji Enjeti Publicity & Recruitment Chair Josephine Pinnock
acknowledgements Special thanks to USG Projects Board and the American Studies Program for their generous support and funding.
“THE BLACK KIDS TABLE” BY DESTINY SALTER | ART BY ANANYA MALHOTRA
A SONG FOR US BY AMANDA HAYE
HOGAR BY SERGIO CRUZ
FICTIVE KINSHIP IN THE DYING AGE OF OBAMA BY IMANI THORNTON
THE IMPORTANCE OF AFFECTION BY LEEZET MATOS | ART BY ANNABELLE TSENG
THE WAY WE CHAT BY CHRISTIE JIANG
FALLEN FRUITS BY ASIA MATTHEWS
SELF-EVIDENT BY SERGIO CRUZ
SPEAKING OF FRIENDSHIP BY CHRISTIE JIANG
HOW TO BITE YOUR TONGUE BY MALACHI BYRD
TO THOSE WHO WON’T SEE ME BY OZICHI OKOROM | ART BY ANANYA MALHOTRA
“THE BLACK KIDS TABLE” understanding self-segregation
This past summer the University of Connecticut made headlines when it announced that it would establish a separate housing section particularly for black male students. Immediately, this decision sparked outrage and criticism, with detractors accusing the administration of encouraging a separatist atmosphere. The magazine The National Review went so far as to say that the new policy encouraged “racial isolation and stereotyping, along with a sense of grievance and a victim mentality”. It reopened a larger conversation about the role that race-specific spaces play on college campuses; the term “self-segregation” began to fly around. Certain sources like the NPR and FoxNews paralleled Uconn’s new project with the racist policies of the 1960s. “Self-segregation” almost always has a certain ‘tsk-tsk’ connotation, as if minorities were doing themselves a disservice by primarily associating with those that belong to the same race and/or culture as them. I can’t help but notice that whenever this topic is discussed, debated, or analyzed it’s in a negative way. Having attended racially diverse schools for most of my life, the first time I really encountered this phenomenon was in high school. Predominately white, with a socio-economic spectrum that mostly ranged from upper-middle class to extremely wealthy, there were hardly enough black kids to even form a group. My school did however, have a
lot of international students from China. These kids consorted almost exclusively with each other. They sat together in classes, at lunch, and only joined clubs that already had a significant number of Asian international members. I remember at the time, I too, looked upon this behavior with disapproval. Didn’t they know what they’re missing? I thought. What’s the point of coming to a different country only to befriend others of the same race and background as you? Cultural organizations on college campuses are often accused of fostering this mentality. That by creating social groups along racial and ethnic lines, members of these groups are isolating themselves from the greater community. Supposedly, the whole point of college is to experience diversity at its fullest and to be placed in a situation where you are forced to interact with people different from yourself. Those in favor of these associations say that their purpose is to create safe spaces for minorities on campus, where they can feel welcome and comfortable. ‘But college should make you uncomfortable’, detractors say, ‘that is its purpose’. To me, these types of comments always sound incredibly tone-deaf. Chances are, unless you are one of the few white Americans who decides to enroll in a historically black college/university, you will always be the majority. The entire college campus is a safe space for white Americans by default. It’s
not just reasonable, but healthy for ethnic minorities to carve out cultural spaces for themselves in these predominantly white institutions. Usually in the context of this debate, college campuses are made out to be this hypothetical “utopia” free from prejudice and tension. In reality, however, this is obviously not the case.
I have had to live and learn in a place where white is the default, the exemplar, and the standard. Speaking from my personal experience as a black woman, I can say that attending a predominately white university such as Princeton as a minority is difficult, to say the least. Even taking out the possibility of experiencing outright racism, one still is forced to operate in the smothering, eurocentricallyoriented, racially-biased atmosphere that is inherent at these elite institutions. Thankfully, I have never experienced any direct racially-motivated aggression from my peers. I have, however, had to sit through Near Eastern studies classes that only talk about the Middle East in the context of its interactions with the US and Europe. I have experienced the constant tug-of-war between cultural pride and assimilation, that is part and parcel of existing in a majority white community. I have had to live and learn in a place where white is the default, the exemplar, and the standard. Therefore, I appreciate the fact that there are places where I can be free of that, even if only for a few hours. My desire to hang out with other black people doesn’t discourage me from making friends of other races as well, and I’ve never felt that the Black Student Union’s presence was so demanding or restrictive that I felt pressured to only socialize with people of the same race. We should also keep in mind that the topic of self-segregation is not a cut-and-dry issue. It raises the question of what exactly the purpose of diversity on college campuses is. By nature of being a minority, one is usually forced to interact with others of a different race—that race being the majority race.
The opposite is true for those in the majority race, for whom it is wholly possible to never have to mingle with minority races. Data released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that 75% of white Americans have completely white social circles, while less than two thirds of African-Americans can say the same. Statistically, if anyone is guilty of unconscious self-segregation, it’s white people. I feel a twinge of guilt now, when I think back on my criticism of the Asian international students at my high school. When I think about it, it’s human nature to want to associate with those with whom I have something in common, whether that thing is athleticism, socio-economic class, a passion for a particular hobby or activity, or even gender in the case of sororities and fraternities. However, often that unifying factor is less visible than something as obvious as race, such as in the above examples, and therefore is subject to less criticism. Despite the statistics quoted in the last paragraph, because white is the default in America, seeing groups of white Americans is not just considered normal, but expected. When we see a social circle made up completely of a certain minority race, it seems unusual, conspicuous. We automatically get the impression that the people in question are trying to sequester themselves and avoid interacting with other people, rather than that they may just feel more comfortable around people with whom they share race and/or culture. Is there not a space for individual communities within the broader one? It is entirely possible to be a part of multiple social circles, one that is made up members of one’s own race, and others that are not. The existence of cultural organizations or spaces set aside for minorities does not demand isolation of its members. If we put this in the context of Princeton as an example, it is obviously possible for one to be an active and involved member of Princeton Latinos y Amigos and still have the opportunity to interact with people of a different heritage through classes, clubs, and residential colleges. Whether or not one wants a homogenous social circle is an individual choice--so the existence of an all-black dorm, or an organization specifically for Hispanic people cannot be blamed for these decisions. These spaces provide us with that option, give us the ability to have that choice. And I for one, value it.
The bass comes in - high and bright. The steady, slow knock of the snare. Simple, clean, groovy. In true R&B fashion, this tempo makes you want to move your head and snap your fingers keeping your hips still. The bass dips quickly, bringing the mood down. The tone is a bit solemn now, but still groovy. In the background Solange Knowles sings passively the words, “One for us.” The keys enter with a fresh, simple progression and, just as they simultaneously, Solange simultaneously inhales in anticipation of delivering the thirteenth heartfelt message from her newest album A Seat at the Table. Her soft voice finally emerges above the instrumental – its sound effortless and delicate. She starts. “All my n*ggas in the whole wide world.” Hold up. My sweet Solange, did you just use the N-word? Should you even be singing that? She, of course, does not stop to answer. She continues, “All my n*ggas in the whole wide world Made this song to make it all y’all’s turn For us, this shit is for us” Us? Who are you talking about? As a black woman myself, I have never thought of myself as a n*gga. I have never walked up to a group of my best black girlfriends and addressed them as “my n*ggas”. That word has always been reserved for the boys to use among themselves. The N-word is an evolved word, it has changed alongside its dark, cruel past. It is a hardened word, used to hurt and degrade people for much too long. It is a powerful word. And very often, power translates to masculinity. So when black people began to take ownership of the word, it made sense that black men and boys wanted to assume that power first. Rap music is a traditionally masculine art form, so rap artists have followed the unwritten rule that they can use the N-word as many times as they want. But singers, especially female singers, stayed away from it. And black women were, once again, left without. Solange must know that. She must be trying, like her sister, to speak her truth with the knowledge that black women will be listening intently. So whether or not she is speaking to black women directly, by using “us” throughout the song she is at least including herself in the narrative, and taking power over the N-word. She is a black woman, like me. So, as she sings of various instances of racial profiling she is, by association, singing to me. As she sings of experiencing yet another microaggression, she sings to my mom. As she illustrates the frustration of being overlooked because this skin color often transforms into an invisibility cloak, especially when one wants to be seen, she sings to my sister. She sings to my friends. She sings to black women, whose part in the painful past of black people in the United States, encapsulated within the N-word, is often overlooked. She sings to black people. She sings to soothe the hurt that many people of color feel. She sings with a soft, pure voice. By choosing to sing the N-word in the way she does, she is loosening the word’s masculine shell just enough to let black women in. Solange’s song F.U.B.U. continues to blur yet another line that separates black people from each other.
sergio cruz | poetry
Hate has been elected and infected our nation’s trust Filled it with fevered visions That immigrants are terrorists Talked them into attacking our pana musurmana. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, or demon, even darker, than a political and ethical blackout. Nadie arriesga ahogarse si tiene hogar. No se marchan de casa hasta que’l techo se tumbe, y su nacion lo arrumbe No se hacen imigrante hasta que’l lago de agua pura se haga agua ardiente. I don’t really wanna know where your ancestors are from, honey bun, Cuz at the end of the day they had privilege or status or money son. The mayflower would have been a space ship craft, To those who escape persecution on makeshift rafts, They actually seem like rough drafts of anything that belongs on the water, But we’re rapists and terrorists, and they were founding fathers. Upon arriving they had Ellis Island, Barely surviving we found hellish violence, I done must’ve gone deaf, silence from all lives matter, Cuz between humanity and whiteness, they’ll always exercise the latter. Every day I pray my parents are proud of what I make, My heart breaks thinking of opportunities they didn’t have and I didn’t take. My immigrant blood is the only thing running, I’m planting my feet, aiming, and gunning. I’m a heavy sleeper because someone’s always tryna take my dreams away from me. But I must warn immigrants of the coldness of this nation, Gotta let them know that ice means immigration. And if you ain’t white, turn it down some degrees, Listen there’s a reason there’s ice in police. And I know I’m up here spitting venom, But if I have kids I’ll prolly tell em, I know you’re exhausted and frustrated, but it’s only ever gems that are jaded. We will never be without power, This is the hour to see our collective strength Bench press red states, conquer racist head space. Make a home out of every acre begrudgingly given, If your heart can pound, it means you still livin’. Y voy a seguir escribiendo estas rimas, Hasta que llegue al fin del hilo, Hasta que termine de llevar esta Cruz, Que Jesus me puso de apellido. Estimado Señor Presidente, cada humano, es residente y si quieres guerra, espero que sepas, de este lado, se enseña luchar con justicia y amor, Y quitar el rincor es terminar como vencedor.
in the dying age of obama
“All kinfolk ain’t skinfolk.” - Zora Neale Hurston When faced with the astounding fact that there are very few black folks at your institution, any black person may initially seem like a sibling. I remember when I first arrived at Princeton and immediately had this urge to join the Black Student Union. I was simply not used to being around many non-black people, considering my predominantly black hometown. I assumed that by joining the Black Student Union, I would find unity in just being in a room with people with mocha, caramel, burnt sienna skin like mine. As fellow black people, we could understand an arena like Princeton in a way that a non-black person could not. Who else could understand inside jokes about “black culture” and how difficult it is being a black Princetonian sometimes? As a first year, I did not consider or find it particularly relevant that
just because someone “looked like me” (which is complicated because black people are perhaps some of the most aesthetically diverse people in the United States), did not mean they had my best interests at heart or even considered our fates aligned. Only later I began to question what words like “community” and “unity” meant, especially in such crucial times when the idea of fictive kinship is perhaps the biggest roadblock to a dialectical understanding of racial community. Fictive kinship is the anthropological idea that someone not “blood related” to an individual can be considered that person’s “mother”, “father”, “brother”, “sister”, etc. Within the black community, black people have historically considered fellow
blacks be their “brother” or “sister,” especially when that fellow black person has similar political views or is fighting with them in the good fight. And like kin, one perhaps overlooks some key conflicts in a person’s character or goals because of their relation to you. This connectedness to other black people, per Wilson Jeremiah Moses, is connected to the idea that all blacks have a “shared racial heritage and destiny.” Although not often explicit, this is perhaps one of the reasons people like myself rushed to Black Student Union events. It is perhaps the reason that I assumed another black student would automatically understand my plight at a Predominantly White Institution, simply because they were black.
an automatic indication of whether we employ respectability politics. Our blackness does not provide an automatic indication of our feelings on a woman’s right to choose or the role of black women in civic life. Our blackness does not provide an automatic indication of our feelings on whether LGBTQ+ rights be placed in as much priority as racial issues. For myself and others, Princeton has been a place where we discover that while fellow black people can be some of our greatest supporters, they can also be our foes. When we purport the idea of unity, what harms do we perpetuate when for so many of us, our views of the future are not necessarily aligned?
Of course, not all black people are the same. At an institution like Princeton, this is evident if you attend any events hosted by groups like the Black Student Union, Princeton Association of Black Women and Princeton’s African Students’ Association. Although Princeton is not indicative of the United States’ black population, it serves as a petri dish of elite black students who come from varying backgrounds - some more represented than others. This view of black life is perhaps the most valuable thing about the non-monolithic nature of black people; I have friends whose homes range from Nigeria to the South Side of Chicago; who speak multiple languages or have Southern twangs.
Eventually, I would like to return to a time when I could look at any black person walking down the street and consider them to be an ally. Presently, I cannot assume that just because of shared skin color, I can overlook internalized racism or misogyny. I do not want unity just for the comfort of it. In the dying age of Obama and a period of white backlash, unity may be more important than ever. As Obama leaves office and Donald Trump’s fascist regime makes ethnic and racial identity all the more stratified, the question of unity is poignant. Feigned and symbolic unity is perhaps as pointless as no unity at all. Ideally, we should acknowledge our differing goals as black people, many of which may be shaped by several historical factors. For example, while class should not be an ultimate barrier to black unity, it is important to acknowledge how class privilege plays a larger role in the goals of many black individuals. Once acknowledged, ideally we can coalesce these goals by understanding that certain goals that leave behind some black people and deify others, hurt more people than they help. With this, we can progress toward a brighter future for all black people, where we reject homophobia, colorism, ableism, classism etc. as a community built on love and accountability.
In the dying age of Obama and a period of white backlash, unity may be more important than ever. However, such “diversity” is not all daisies and roses. Our political views, gender identities, sexual orientations, classes and nationalities are just a handful of identities that interact with our blackness in often conflicting ways. Our blackness does not provide an automatic indication of our feelings on violent protest. Our blackness does not provide
the importance of affection
This past semester was my hardest semester at Princeton thus far. As a junior, I was confronted with taking five classes for the first time, having to think about my independent research, producing independent research, attending to a more rigorous work schedule, the thought of actual post-graduation plans, familial tensions, maintaining entire relationships and, of course, having to sit through and then attempt to swallow the detrimental results of the election. All this on top of the usual stress—read pervasive daily turmoil—of being a black student on this campus and a black person in this country/world. Yes, this semester was a particularly emotional and vulnerable one. For this reason, I was continuously reminded of the importance of self-love. Self-love, in its many forms, was absolutely essential in the fight to effectively make it through this semester—more so than previous semesters. Therefore, as the semester progressed, my reliance on self-love naturally increased. The concept of self-love is very much at the heart of our community. Loving your whole self in the most complete way leads to acceptance and love for your intersectional blackness. Self-love is the foundation of being unapologetically black. It is a tool of active-resistance against a society which demands black bodies do the opposite. It is the path to self-worth, success, and the key to happiness. Self-love is everything! I would have never challenged this conclusion not too long ago. However, I now see how the “self-love is everything” narrative has a subtle “self-love is all you need” undertone. Looking back now, I realize this might lead to a trend of over-reliance on self-love in our community. As a black woman, I have all the love to give to others and myself. The importance of the love I give myself cannot be understated, by any means. As mentioned before, radical self-love is utilized to fight against the self-hate narratives our society enforces. My conclusion that self-love is everything made me start to think the love I give myself is my only reliable source of love, and therefore strength, instead of my foundational source of love and strength. I thought, at the end of the day, I got me so I’m good. Without realizing it, I was distancing myself from the ideas of external love, acceptance, and appreciation because I could provide those things for myself and that was the only thing that mattered. Aside from the isolating effect this had on me, I was forgetting about the importance of that external love, acceptance, and appreciation—forms of affection. Forgetting the importance of these forms of affection, because of the “self-love is all you need” narrative, can reinforce the societal oppressions self-love is used to combat. These forms of affection important to humans as social beings but, they are expected from some members of society. I have been conditioned to live with a lack of love, acceptance, and appreciation from society as a black woman which is why my reliance on self-love became so important. Therefore, the lack of external affection is the very thing that drove me to the “self-love is all you need” narrative in the first place—but therein lies the bloop. I wasn’t just forgetting about the general importance of societal affection, I was forgetting about my right to societal affection as a black woman. I, too, should expect this affection. Feeling love, acceptance, and appreciation of my short, curvy, kinky black existence from society should be a normal thing. So when I decide to only rely on selflove, I not only forget about this critical fact, I am internalizing the opposite—that it is indeed not normal. This internalization forces me to accept society’s rejection of blackness and black-womanhood—which is so whack fam. Although I have reached this conclusion, I know expecting societal affection where there is none is much easier said than done. However, as per usual with our journey to liberation, baby steps are necessary. This is why we should remember to accept, call out for, and give affection to and from our community—especially when we find ourselves trying to solely rely on our self-love to get us through. Remembering to participate in the act of affection, in its many forms, then becomes a crucial practice of liberation. One that I am now making the choice to no longer ignore.
chat chinese americans, social media, and trump
In the months leading up to the election, the prototypical “Trump voter” was endlessly described, dissected, and puzzled over. Summer 2016 gave us extensive post-primary analyses, comparisons to Brexit, and Hillbilly Elegy, with the terms “xenophobic,” “misogynistic,” and “racist” used to describe our fellow Americans with astounding frequency. On the other hand, we were given the assurance that minority voting blocs, at least, would vote in favor of Clinton. Nearing the election, I noticed articles from the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight telling their readers that Asian-Americans were safely in the Clinton camp, based on results from a national survey. This would have been comforting if it resonated with what I had been observing on the ground. It didn’t. The various articles all drew from a single survey. Nevermind that Asian Americans are projected to be the largest immigrant group by 2055. Nevermind that Asian Americans come from countries with vastly different political, religious, cultural, and economic histories. Nevermind generational divisions regarding social issues and exposure to diversity. Nevermind the spread of Asian American experiences from New England to the Deep South to California. Rest assured: one survey says enough, and it says that Asian Americans will be voting for Clinton. Perhaps it is true that, overall, Asian Americans leaned Democrat during this past election. But as a firstgeneration Chinese-American Clinton voter from North Carolina, I was far from convinced by the sweeping, impersonal story told by the data. I came across another story, by journalist Kaiser Kuo, entitled, “Why are so many first-generation Chinese immigrants supporting Donald Trump?” Kuo writes of his recent relocation from Beijing to North Carolina with his wife Fanfan. Fanfan quickly became involved with the local group chats on WeChat – a messaging app with over 700 million users – and soon observed an incredible amount of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton sentiment. This was much closer to the reality that I saw playing out. For the uninitiated, WeChat may need to be explained. Released in 2011, WeChat has become the primary social media used within China and by the Chinese
diaspora. Group chats serve as a way to connect family members who are abroad with those still in China, and as networks for Chinese communities all around the world. The primary user base outside China seems to be first-generation immigrants like my parents, who grew up in China. WeChat has an astounding ability to bring together Chinese people in America, with countless groups that reach the maximum cap of 500 members. For instance, there is a group created by a husband and wife who go to the Carolina shore every day to catch fresh fish. They make the two-hour drive back to Raleigh to sell the fish to their WeChat customer base out of an acquaintance’s backyard.
WeChat has an astounding ability to bring together Chinese people in America. There are groups that coordinate bulk purchase of fruit from local farms, bringing together hundreds of Chinese Americans in a parking lot to pick up their grapes and peaches from bewildered white American farmers. There is a group for my parents’ Bible study group. There is a group for parents of Princeton students. There were groups used to organize political support during this election cycle. Within the many social groups, memes, viral videos, and links are commonly shared and can spread quickly to millions of users. My mother had friends and acquaintances who would use the app to message her directly, trying to sway her vote to Trump. She passed on to me the reasons given to her by Trump supporters, asking what I thought of them. I was frankly disturbed by the sloppy, confusing arguments. Once, she asked me, “Isn’t there something about the husband sending photos in the bathroom?” It took me a few moments to realize that she was referring to Anthony Weiner and
not Bill Clinton who, as far as I was aware, had never gotten into sexting. In some roundabout way, Hillary Clinton’s morality was being attacked through the sexual activity of the husband of her close aide, Huma Abedin. I told my mom that this argument didn’t make any sense, but she told me that the Anthony Weiner example was used in conjunction with Bill Clinton’s scandal from two decades ago to explain an overarching immorality and destruction of marriage in the Democratic Party. In late October, I was on the phone with my mom and she told me, “One of my friends keeps telling me that there are more of them [Trump supporters] than the media wants us to believe. In fact, there are more Trump supporters than Clinton supporters.” I could believe it. These impassioned conversations were not geographically limited to WeChat users in North Carolina. A friend from California told me that both of his parents had voted for Trump. In the fall, his father sent him a California voter guide that was circulating on WeChat. My friend opened the guide, and discovered that it was written by members of the Silicon Valley Christian Assembly, with the express purpose of informing voters who wished to prevent the reinstatement of affirmative action. The guide was filled with detailed reasons for choosing mostly Republican candidates on the ballot, for national, state, county, and city government elections. In the summer, another friend of mine sent me a letter that his parents, evangelical Christians who live in New Jersey, had sent to him on WeChat.
But missing from the loudest conversations were economics, healthcare, education, and the environment, just to name a few. The letter, typed in simplified Chinese, was a call to Chinese Americans everywhere to support Trump. It was written in a pleasant tone and primarily
emphasized the need for conservative Supreme Court justices. There was no indication of who wrote it. The anonymity of the letter perhaps made it even more appealing to circulate, as if allowing the sender to claim the views as their own while not bearing the burden of authorship. I sent it along to my parents, curious as to whether they had seen it. They had. There are an estimated four million Chinese people in America. I don’t know what fraction of us are U.S. citizens who are registered to vote, but I do know it is a significant population whose political leanings should be taken seriously. The scandals and gossip that rocked this past election, along with emphasis on the politics of sexuality, reproduction, and family, clearly touched a nerve for many first-generation Chinese Americans, especially those within the evangelical Christian community. But missing from the loudest conversations were economics, healthcare, education, and the environment, just to name a few. Furthermore, there was no talk of history – the history of Chinese Americans, of Chinese Exclusion, of illegal immigration from China, or of all that we owe to Black, Latino, and Native Americans. There are only a couple of swing states in which the Chinese American population is large enough that it could have swung the vote the other way.
The Chinese American community is massive and it is complex. But lest we forget, even in the decidedly blue state of California, 4.5 million people (or 32% of its population) voted for Trump. I am not surprised – and I was not surprised by the outcome of the election. I saw how ideas were collected, shared, and legitimized through WeChat. We know that Trump’s appeal to many American communities, white or of
color, immigrant or not, had much to do with the ways in which information and misinformation reached them. WeChat has brought connection, belonging, and convenience to my parents and their generation in incredible ways. But it has also proved to be instrumental in activating political sentiments among Chinese Americans – acknowledged in a piece published in The Economist on the day before the inauguration – for better or for worse. While many Chinese Americans certainly despised Trump and voted for Clinton or a third party, many became passionately invested in Making America Great Again. The Chinese American community is massive and it is complex. We differ in our ties to mainland China, our political and social views, our religion, our language, our family values, our access to education, and our communities both local and global. There are significant cultural gaps between different generations. Not everyone uses WeChat, and not everyone votes. But four years from now, the Chinese American vote will be more powerful than ever. And WeChat will probably still be around.
asia matthews | poetry
fallen fruits You would think that black men just don’t take care of their little girls, As if it’s the drugs and women prettier than her mama keeping him away. You would think that money is the only thing that can make a black man love, As if he can’t tell the difference between the jewel that he purchased and the one he created. Don’t let BET fool you. Black fathers are too busy at war with guns. Too busy running from the cops Too busy trying to make sure that the last of his humanity doesn’t keep slipping away or dripping away or drying up like the last drop of blood in his bullet hole Like the last drop of blood in his bullet holes. And this is a conflict where the innocent black man gets buried too. Making their daughters, victims too. This fate chose him and not the other way around, so there was nothing his momma’s prayers could do. This war is an unfair two-on-two The cops and their guns VS the black man and God. The cops don’t let black fathers be kings. I’ve seen too many graves disguised as thrones, that the black princess has to sit upon on her own. So now she’s a bastard instead of a princess|a fallen fruit instead of an empress. We know how this story ends, Cuz not even God can make a nigga bullet-proof. And so my father was added to the list of black men who were falsely convicted of not being enough of a man to be a father, falsely convicted of not being enough of a human to be alive. They keep this list in the same place that they keep the black man’s justice, that’s why we never see it. Daddy,
if I had a nickel for every time I wish I knew what a hug from you felt like, I could’ve paid for 6 of your funerals by now. If I could gift you days off my life in exchange for days added to yours, Daddy, I’d be dead by now. If I could change vacant years into memories too sweet to bring to heaven, I’d have to spend an eternity getting to know you.
sergio cruz | poetry
I’m called a Cinderella Story, gory, cuz glory is blood, sweat, and guts Cinderella Story, praying for midnight My whole life all I’ve seen is red and white. White like the dice we been rolling in the ghetto, Life hood’s like Yahtzee, half gamble half calculation, Avoiding hood Nazis, who are half blind half extermination. White’s what they called me in school cuz I’d read all the books, Looking to cop a Crimson crewneck and trade it for the hood. Face red at the induction, NJHS, Kept my ass put, did not pledge allegiance. I remember Arizona rounding up my people like odd digits. But that’s just the way of the white man po-litics. We’re protesting and praising, they look at us like prey, Even Deray is in the paddywagon, red meat for the day. I’m called a Cinderella Story, gory, cuz glory is blood, sweat, and guts Cinderella Story praying for midnight All I’ve ever known is red and white. Stepped off the bus, I was young Moses, splitting red, Blood gang waiting to soowoo and shoot another homie dead. Red high-school dawns listening to Nas- Good Morning, Early morning grind, I was finna beat the sun to shine. I was finna beat privileged, racist sons who made me feel like I was nothing, Who came to my neighborhood and played pretend poor to feel something. But even when I beat them, they cast shadows on my brow, White teeth sneering, “I bet you make the whole barrio proud” I thought of the kids in the barrio who couldn’t get ahead. It’s looking close to celestial warfare in my head. Angels who are part of the pavement now, Demons that wanted me part of that ground. I’m called a Cinderella Story,
gory, cuz glory is blood, sweat, and guts Cinderella Story praying for midnight All I’ve ever known is red and white. Hollywood white noise is Bates and Buffalo Bill, Dressing like a woman means you’re ready to kill. Pedestals say we’re still a city on a hill, But we ignore the cross that “cross dressing” is. I don’t mean to brag, I won bronze doing drag, Right in front of the high school bully who called me a fag. But the next day I killed Canela, Drowned her in the body of a fella. I bundled bits of beautiful body into boxes and bags. From black glass slippers, to eye shadow too smoky to drag. The red lipstick ran between my fingers and lingered, Pontius left the water pungent red with blood, From another body considered other. And I cried. But I knew when my mom told me she was ashamed, She just didn’t want her baby getting maimed. But mama, look at me! My pulse is still here! But mama, look at me! Pulse is still right here! Mama look! Pulse is right here! A woman was killed for helping a boy find his Grace, Every day women are killed for not feeling out of place. Abused because humanity is a radical act. I choose humanity because it’s a radical act. Red states mean white states, Survival means white face. I’m irate, But we’re just supposed to smile and shake hands. Political binds are the rinds of a forbidden fruit, And I guess that is why Cinderella wore blue.
speaking of friendship I began every interview in the same way: “I have only one question, and then we’ll see where our conversation goes from there. Why did you respond to my email?” This past midterms week, I shared over 8 hours of conversation and 100 emails with 27 Asian American Princeton students on the topic of friendship. I met with them in Frist, Tower, Murray-Dodge, Wilcox, T.I., Campus Club, Whitman, the E-Quad, Spelman, and at Triumph. These interactions involved hearing childhood stories from close friends, catching up after months or years with acquaintances, and finding common ground with complete strangers. What had begun as a hunch had evolved into a whirlwind of a project that, while brief, exposed me to incredible depth and range, joy and pain, fear and hope in the voices of my peers as they articulated and generously shared perspectives on what it meant to be Asian American, to be a friend, to be “yourself.” Recently, certain pairs of words have been on my mind: self-loving and self-loathing, visibility and invisibility, affinity and aversion. In my final year of college, old insecurities related to friendships and race have come back to haunt me – why do I have so many Asian friends? Why can’t I help but be self conscious of this in public? Why does our racial homogeneity seem to mark us in a certain way? At the same time, I feel a certain sense of home and comfort around other Asian Americans, and Chinese culture and history form some of the proudest parts of my identity. I have my own reasons for dwelling on the intersection of friendship and race, but I had a hunch that I had perceived those questions expressed, often subtly and involuntarily, by other Asian Americans around me. Instead of speculating, why not ask others to put specific words and stories to these feelings? So I sent out a call for responses to a number of friends and acquaintances and then through the Asian American Students’ Association (AASA) mailing list, describing the general topic and questions I had in mind, including those three particular pairs of words. Of the 28 who responded and participated in the project, 22 are ethnically Chinese- or Taiwanese-American – including three whose families are culturally Southeast-Asian – three are Korean-American, two are Indian-American, and one is half Southeast-Asian. A majority – 17 – are seniors, two are juniors, four are sophomores, and five are freshmen. A majority – 19 – are women, and nine are men. Most respondents are children of immigrants, and many are immigrants themselves, having moved to the U.S. at a young age. Most respondents identify as heterosexual. Some went to high schools that were majority Asian; others to schools that were majority white; others to schools that were majority Black. I mention all this to show that the following quotes, excerpted from interviews and emails, are specific, personal and varied. At the same time, I present them decontextualized and independent from the speakers – to protect the anonymity of the participants in this project, to suggest that their words communicate powerfully on their own, and to put them in conversation with each other. I have taken the liberty of editing the quotes for clarity, and while many edits are indicated by brackets or ellipses, they are unmarked in cases where I believe punctuation would detract from the meaning and flow of the words.
SELF-LOVING/SELF-LOATHING How does our own sense of self seep into our friendships? After all of the interviews and emails, I organized transcribed quotes according to the categories that had been on my mind. This first pair of words deals with internalized hatred or love (or both) according to one’s personal identity as Asian-American. Inevitably, one’s feelings about their own race affect their friendships with those of the same racial identity, and this came through in many of the interviews.
“In middle school, I was very – I did not want Asian friends and I did not want to be in that Asian culture, and when I grow up, I don’t want to marry an Asian guy, I wanna marry a white guy. . . I really wanted to be white when I was younger. You know how you have like dream worlds? In my dream world, I was a white girl named Jamie, and I would be like a graphic designer in San Francisco. But yeah, I don’t wanna be white anymore.” “Thinking back on who I was freshman year, and what my relationship was with my ethnic identity was, it has completely changed. I honestly didn’t grow up with many Asians. I always felt like a foreigner in retrospect. I almost felt ashamed of it growing up, because I had no role models essentially, other than my family. There were no older kids in my high school who I could look up to . . . In the last two years I really re-evaluated myself and a big part of that is my ethnicity, which I had never really confronted before. If anything I’m trying to like make up for lost time. . . Coming into Princeton, I didn’t want to be associated with my race at all. But now, I guess it’s changed.” “Eventually I realized that there’s no point in actively trying to be something that I’m not. I’m comfortable with my identity and comfortable with where I am, and there’s no point to actively avoid people who are the same as me.” “I’m Filipino, but I still consider myself part of the Asian American community. Growing up, I self identified that way, and even though a lot of [my friends] were Chinese or Korean, I still felt like we had a lot of cultural commonalities, we all ended up liking similar things . . . My dad has never outright said, ‘I don’t love my Filipino heritage.’ But that was kind of the message I got, and it made me want to reconnect with that. . . Actually every time I meet a Filipino person, it’s usually in a city with a large Filipino population and I get very excited because growing up I didn’t have any opportunities to figure out what it meant to be Filipino.”
“In high school, my close friends weren’t Asian and it almost felt like it was on purpose. You know there’s that saying that friends are like a reflection of your character? I think I felt similarly about culture. Like if I was surrounding myself with all brown people, that just wasn’t how I felt. But when I came to Princeton, I went from this like 65 percent Asian school to 20 percent, and I was like, oh my God. I was also away from home, where I would always have Indian food and have Indian TV playing in the background. Instead of having my fill of culture, I would be going back to a dorm room. And suddenly this gap appeared . . . It’s funny because there’s actually an exact moment. Every year there’s the Diwali-Eid Banquet, and when I went, I was surrounded by brown people for the first time on campus and I was like, this is amazing! It was freshman year, and I went there and suddenly I was like, yes this is what I was missing, this community that I have at home. I know that this was a moment for a lot of people. I’ve talked about it with my brown friends.” “This is kind of random but recently I restarted tweeting because I have a thesis and so I waste my time. And I was looking at my old tweets from freshman year. One of them was like, ‘Every time I make a non-Asian friend I give myself one diversity point.’ Yeah, I don’t know, I guess I felt pretty self conscious, coming from a mostly Asian high school and background. I didn’t want to be one of those people who come to college and don’t move on from where they come from.” “I’ve heard people express a certain disdain for other Asian people, a certain hierarchy. It makes you seem less socially competent . . . I have a high school friend who went to Penn, and anytime my other Asian friends refer to him, they say ‘Oh, now he only hangs out with Asians,’ or ‘I never see him because he only hangs out with Asians.’”
AFFINITY/AVERSION How does who we’re drawn to define our friendships? Sometimes, we can’t quite describe why we drift toward certain people. Many of the interviewees reflected upon what has felt “natural” or “right” – or not – in pursuing friendships with other Asian Americans, and how that relates to their own identity as Asian-American.
“It’s not that I sought [Asian American friends] out either, it’s just how it ended up. I think there was a time when I wondered why this was the case, and I felt there was something wrong with me, like I wasn’t able to make friends outside of people who were similar. But then it also came to my attention that we don’t think this when it’s an entirely white group of people. You know, no one asks them, why do you only have white friends?” “I think I have very few Asian American or East Asian friends . . . I always saw Asian American communities and never felt super integrated in them, and I feel like I think about it sometimes just because I wonder whether it’s like a deliberate thing or just something that happens . . . I remember my current roommate [who is not Asian] telling me at one point that she thought I was gonna be ‘one of those Asians who’s just friends with Asians,’ which I thought was interesting, because it’s really not the case.” “Experiences are different, right? It’s not a monolith. My first consciousness of race was when I realized I was not white. What race became to me was the way that white people would look at me, and that feeling of discomfort would naturally make me gravitate to people who did look like me. But then I realized there was not that much in common, I don’t speak the language, I didn’t have a cultural understanding of what it meant to be Chinese or Malaysian, I’ve never been to China in my life . . . that was unsatisfying. When I see an Asian person I don’t think like, oh, comrade! . . . once I realized ‘Asian’ isn’t really defined by any inherent quality but the racial structures in the US, I was like, oh. I realized that race in general, being non-white in general was important, seeking out people of color mattered to me and I didn’t care anymore if I was sitting in the dining hall and no one at the table was white. In fact I was like, this is really cool. My first semester at Princeton, a lot of my friends happened to be white, but over Intersession I tried to focus more on being friends with people of color. It wasn’t like ‘I need more minority friends,’ it was more like, ‘I need to be more intentional with seeking out people who can understand my experiences and can speak to me, who share my interests. Who do I really want to spend time with?”
“I guess the first time I felt like being Chinese was a thing was back in fifth grade. I remember, first day of fifth grade walking into class and then being automatically drawn to this Chinese boy. Like I don’t know why, but I remember thinking I just want to sit next to him because I felt like, like I was just drawn to him for some reason . . . That boy was such a huge part of how it shaped my character, mostly because I’ve known him since fifth grade. We’d been in the same class for years and years and years, but I’ve never gotten more than a “hi”. It’s always been very active, pointed distance between the two of us . . . Coming into college, I think a lot of Chinese people automatically wanted to latch onto me,, and they tried to kind of be friends with me because in their society I think they grew up being like that’s fine, like in fifth grade, when I gravitated toward that Chinese boy, they did that but they didn’t receive that rejection that I think I received. But I acted in the way I was used to and I kind of rebuffed them.” “Pretty much up until college I didn’t have much exposure to people outside of the Asian community, so I think ... for me it was difficult to adjust because then I was thinking like, who should my friends in college be? I had Asian friends my whole life. Should there be something different now? Should I be actively seeking to be friends with people who were not the same ethnicity as me, or is it okay to hang out with predominantly Asian people? And it’s funny because I found myself comparing myself to people I knew from home who were also at Princeton... it seems like a lot of their friends are non-Asian, while a lot of my friends are Asian. Is there something wrong? Is there something wrong with me? Am I, like, a bad person for not having a lot of friends who are not Asian?” “When I came to Princeton, I wanted to take the step to deliberately reach out and make friends with more Asian people. . . I was joking with my friend the other day that actually the number of nonAsian friends we have, we can count on our hands. And I’m totally happy with that.”
“I actually came into Princeton looking for an Asian American community, which I didn’t have at home in the South. I thought I would find it here, but I just didn’t feel exactly at home in the cultural groups on campus. For example, the kids from California who grew up in Asian communities seemed like they had their own culture that I wasn’t familiar with. So I realized a lot more factors into the support network and friendships I want to build than shared cultural identity . . . I’ve come to see “Asian-American” more as a political statement and a choice to stake my claim as citizen in this country. Most of my friends in college are Black or white, and it was that way in high school, so I wonder if people just go where they are comfortable. Defining comfort is a whole different story. Still, some of my closest friends are Asian-American – I think the immigrant experience is a powerful one to share. ” VISIBILITY/INVISIBILITY How do stereotypes and external perceptions shape our friendships? Throughout this project, some correspondents reflected specifically about the tendency to “blend in” as Asian-American individuals. In particular, this section explores how awareness of the gaze of non-Asian eyes affects the social behaviors and experiences of those I spoke with.
“Entering college, I made a deliberate and active effort to show, ‘Hi, I’m different. I don’t validate these stereotypes.’ I’m an Asian American female who is an engineer. So I probably fit a lot of boxes right off the bat. So I never introduced my major, I was very hesitant in validating all of those stereotypes.” “[The invisibility] didn’t really bother me too much because I like my anonymity.” “I think it’s just like I think there must be part of me that subconsciously fears this label, and that’s not necessarily a great thing but I think that it probably does have an effect on the fact that I don’t often tend to hang out with really Asian groups. And I think that sometimes they can be seen as very insular and I don’t know if that’s me just not really wanting to be a part of insular groups in general . . . I think in an unfamiliar setting like at work or starting at a new school or something, it’s really easy for me to be quiet and seem like the quiet Asian, and I’ve been told that that’s often a first impression, and I warm up to break out of that. Like that’s not me and I’m more than that. It’s easy to seem that way and part of me subconsciously wants to reject that or move past that or something like that.” “The Asians who have more social capital on campus associate less with Asian groups. And that seems natural just in that, it’s easier to stand out if you’re like different than the people you’re around. And that’s like even something I knew growing up.”
“I’m not very Asian looking, so a lot of people either think I’m white or Latino. And so the Asian male stereotype hasn’t affected me on a superficial level . . . I will say that it has really probably been, I don’t want to say unfair, but the sort of thing where I want to embrace my Asian heritage but I don’t have to. I have the choice. I’m not pigeonholed. There kind of is a question when you grow up, and that question is, am I going to, because I pass, just be American and reflect the culture around me or am I going to make the conscious effort to align myself with my ethnicity? And then it’s not longer a physical thing, like it is for people who can’t pass.” “I would say, [I have] like this weird sense that I don’t want to be seen as the same as every other Asian American or Asian in general.” “Before knowing I guess the context of who I was, not saying that I’m important, but the context ... [other Asian girls] definitely categorized me in a way that I think I might’ve categorized other people too, and kind of stayed away. Because there was kind of like, if you put me next to a blonde white girl, there was a less than or equal to sign like, so that directed [other Asian girls] toward talking to her instead of talking to me, which then kind of changed after I think I became an officer, in which the shift became like they tried to identify with me, which is an interesting dynamic. Like I’ve gotten, during initiations, this Asian girl came up to me and was like someone told me we’re so similar. It’s very interesting, the shift in what happened.”
malachi byrd | poetry
HOW TO BITE When I give my poverty a body of its own // I am a proud shadow Me // Concrete // Less Light // Yet, a content energy Because I love excuses more than exits and that // is why Iâ€™m writing this poem (eulogy) [graduation speech?] for balance // account // -ability
When I give my poverty a mouth of its own //
I mute my mother much more, Even though my loose change broke from her bills, Even though sheâ€™s made bread and butter into brunch
I am blessed to have the words to describe my humble // I am privileged to say hunger in the past tense // When I give my poverty a language of its own // It is the only person I listen to. The only one that gets me. I use it more than it used me.
*HindsightStruggle* That which safeguards my teeth from the wind, Only lets the pity pour from my cavities That which I did not feel at first because My family gives love a home of its own // So my houseless wasn’t my homeless // So my broke wasn’t my broken // My death wasn’t concrete / or below it Coffins have mouths of their own And they are greedy We are hungry Even though corpses roll off our tongues We call them by their full names every time because
When you give death a nickname of its own// You become friends and when you’ve lost enough friends, there is only family and closed mouths Mommy, You help it shine // You are warm I am everything this world has tried to freeze in me
Life gave you a sun of your own //
because You gave me a warmth of my own //
YOUR TONGUE 20
A REFLECTIVE PIECE
on my invisiblity at princeton
To the Population of White Liberals at Princeton, I call your name to ask you what time it is because my phone is dead. You don’t respond. I call your name the second time, remembering who you are despite having first met you less than 20 minutes ago. I know you’ll never remember mine until I repeat it to you for the 12th time, until I show you my prox and help you sound it out. There is something about societal invisibility that makes me observant of all that is around me. The professor brings up a topic related to minorities. I, being the only minority in the room, and having no interest in speaking for my whole community, suddenly feel the weight of your eyes all over me. One of you locks eyes with me. Another one of you suddenly notices how “different” my hair is. This exposure occurs without my consent, it makes me uncomfortable, like I am a rat being analyzed in a lab. Yet outside of this setting not one of you recognizes me when I wave hello. Your mutual obsession and disdain for my black body is a phenomenon that I always knew existed. I cited it in debates with teachers and friends, wrote about it in public and private settings. But now as a Princeton freshman, trying to acclimate to this exorbitant academic and social environment, I am acutely aware of the role that my social doubleness has on my ability to truly enjoy the Princeton experience. It’s the overarching idea that my visibility and invisibility is not up to me, but to you. You get to decide when my presence is valuable. My existence is solely for the purpose of affirming your morality and “wokeness” in the moments where you determine that being aware of my blackness is most beneficial to you. I never exist to you as a human being with desires, dreams, and needs. I am your Google search engine for when you want to verify your facts about the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Obama administration, but rarely do you stick around to hear about my passions, the things that make my life worthwhile, and the things that sadden me. I am your diary when you want to vent about how “fucked up” the world is, and how racist some of your white friends are, as if I don’t already know. There are times when I don’t want to know about the racist thing your roommate said, or how everyone you know (except for you of course) voted for Donald Trump. I don’t only exist to ratify your attempts at political correctness. You look for my approval when it comes to your political viewpoints, but ignore me when I want to share my opinion on a movie, song, or type of food. Don’t get me wrong, discussing social issues is one of my favorite pastimes.I love getting into debates inside and outside of the classroom about the condition of marginalized people in the United States, and this topic is something I am ready and willing to dedicate the rest of my life to. In these discussions I feel a great sense of belonging with you all, as it is one of the only times where I feel I am actually a Princeton student. However, I can’t possibly have these conversations 24/7, and at the times when I have needed you to see me in a different light, to see me as a human being who has other things going on in her life, you all have shown me that the only important thing about me is my blackness, and the convenience of your proximity to it. Sincerely, Someone Whose Name You Still Won’t Remember
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2017 Spring Edition