Envisioning and Building a Stronger Asian American Community
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS Fall 2005 VOLUME vii, ISSUE 1
One sunny, slightly blustery Wednesday afternoon in early November 2005, a couple of neurotic editors and a dedicated Asian American History Month programmer met on the top floor of the Third World Center. We gathered in a circle and rummaged through boxes of old pamphlets full of ‘Asian Thoughts,’ ‘Asian Voice,’ and other precursors to this magazine. We flipped through an original mockup for an ‘80s publication, columns of writing glued onto yellowing paper, and sketches drawn in paint and ballpoint pen. Holding the physical product of past struggles to assert an Asian American presence on the Brown campus had a profound impact on us. We dedicate this issue of VISIONS to the many startups, discontinued pamphlets and photocopied single sheet newsletters that came before us…And to our dynamic Asian and Asian American community, that makes this publication possible.
Thank you for picking up this issue and continuing our mission of Envisioning and Building a Stronger Asian Community. Yours Truly,
Sunisa Nardone ‘07
Jessica Kawamura ‘07 Brian Lee ‘06
Erin Frauenhofer ‘09
Karynn Ikeda ‘09
VISIONS is a publication that highlights and celebrates the diversity of Brownâ€™s Asian American community. We are committed to being an open literary and artistic forum for Asian Americans, as well as other members of the university community, to freely express and address issues relating both to Asia and the Asian American experience. VISIONS further serves as a forum for issues that cannot find a voice in other campus publications. As a collaborative initiative, VISIONS attempts to strengthen and actively engage Brownâ€™s vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as the larger Providence community.
CONTENTS OPINIONS 6 12 26 48
LOVE IS (NOT) BLIND Erin Frauenhofer Multiracials Cindy Beavon American Japanese Sarah Kasuga DEAR ASIAN/ASIAN AMERICAN AT BROWN Juhyung Harold Lee
PROSE 8 16 29 36
Moon Cake Festival Jane Mee Wong Monkey Play Lana Zaman The Little Library Koji Masutani PHO GA FOR THE SOUL JoAnna Liu
POETRY 5 24 34 40
Feeding Lam Phan The Blackbirds, A Sestina Alison Nguyen Sweet Barley Soup Sunisa Nardone Story Vanessa Huang
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY COVER 4 9 11 15 18 21 22 28 33 39 41 44 47
Panels Brian James Lee (Design), Katherine Mann (Original Painting) Untitled Sheena Sood My Neighborhood Amy Hsu Arlington Jonathan Cho Sign Maysa Jarudi Rainforest, Malaysia Julian Ming Leichty Cape Sunset Mathew Oommen Apples Jonathan Cho Looking Up Maysa Jarudi SciLi at Late Afternoon Brian James Lee Sunset Mathew Oommen Calvin and Hobbes Jonathan Cho Things Look Up Brian James Lee Untitled Jonathan Cho
UNTITLED Sheena Sood ‘06 Guage on Paper
Feeding Lam Phan â€˜07
unwrap the silk worm and place its worth in your mouth like forbidden candy and shame
Lam Phan â€˜07 will bring Lindor Truffles, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Gap jeans to the picnic. What will you bring?
Love is (NOT) Blind Erin Frauenhofer ‘09
He says it was her smile. My father had not seen an Asian woman before he met my mother. But I doubt he had visions of mailorder brides dancing through his head when he met her, and even if he had, my mother certainly cannot be classified as a subservient woman. They really are in love. Despite their external differences, despite stereotypes, despite being born in different countries with different cultures – they truly love each other. But what did it take for them to end up this way? What does it take for true love to exist between two people of very different backgrounds? Recently, Brown Theatre presented 36 Views, by Japanese-Latina playwright Naomi Iizuka. The plot of the play involves a relationship between a white man named Darius Wheeler (Jon Magaziner ’07), who is a dealer in Asian art, and an Asian woman named Setsuko Hearn (Zoe Chao ’08), who is an East Asian art scholar. As the two examine an enchanting pillow book supposedly written by a court lady of ancient Japan, they find themselves becoming more and more enchanted by each other. The character of Wheeler is, as Hearn calls him, “a man with a weakness for stereotypes.” It’s true that when he first meets her, he looks at her like she is just another beautiful piece of artwork in his gallery, describing her in terms of “the way the light hits the skin; the shape of the mouth.” He certainly would not have paid her such special attention if she had not been an exotic-looking Asian woman. But if Wheeler is expecting something exotic, Hearn
makes sure to bring him back down to earth. Wheeler assumes Hearn is from Tokyo or Los Angeles, but Hearn simply tells him she is from Fairfield, Iowa – and her “earliest memories are of cornfields and big sky and college football.” And forget about that image of the quiet, obedient Asian woman. At their first encounter, Hearn offhandedly dismisses the stories of Wheeler’s adventures in Asia, saying there is “a sort of wilted quality” to them. In fact, Hearn contradicts just about everything Wheeler has to say: He says, “I feel as if I know you.” She reminds him, “We’re perfect strangers.” He says, “I think you’re beautiful.” She says, “What do you mean by ‘beautiful’?” He says, “Beautiful means beautiful.” She says, “That’s a dead end, don’t you think? It’s so absolute.” This is not how the Asian woman of myth talks to a man. But she is the woman Wheeler finds himself falling in love with. And Wheeler is the man Hearn finds herself falling in love with, too – until the pillow book proves to be no more than a captivating fake. Although Wheeler had no knowledge that the pillow book was actually written by his white (Caucasian) assistant, Hearn thinks Wheeler is a liar. “I look at you, and I don’t know what I’m seeing!” she cries. “Tell me something about yourself!” Wheeler tells her about his father, an amateur
collector of woodblock prints. Wheeler remembers the day he realized one of his father’s favorite prints was a fake. But, he says, “My father loved the print. He loved it with a big and undiscerning heart. It didn’t matter.” “Love is blind?” Hearn cries, “Is that it???” The cliché does not satisfy her – and it does not satisfy me. People like to say that love is blind, as if it explains everything, as if the blindness of love can solve every problem that might arise from an interracial relationship – but being blind is not the answer.
to face and eventually overcome these disparities of culture that they were able to find love. True love between people of different backgrounds is only possible if they love each other for more than the ways in which they are compatible; they must also love each other for the ways in which they are unalike. True love is only possible if two people love each other for everything that they are. True love is only possible if love is not blind.
Love is not about ignoring the things that could make a relationship difficult. Love is about seeing everything – seeing a person inside out and outside in, from top to bottom and bottom to top – and loving it all. This is exactly what Wheeler does as he falls in love with Hearn. He has his stereotypes, but she breaks them – and he loves her anyway. From there, it is just the average relationship killed by issues of trust. So, my father says it was her smile. He saw my mother’s smile, and he was enchanted. But my parents would not be in love today if they had chosen to be blind together and ignore their differences. My mother had grown up speaking Korean; my father had spoken English his entire life. Until she met my father, my mother had only dated Asian guys – and my father had only dated white girls. My mother was forced to convince her family that marrying a white man was not the end of the world; my father was forced to convince himself that eating Korean food was not the end of the world, either. It is because they chose
Erin Frauenhofer ‘09 wants more people to appreciate chocolate yogurt.
Moon Cake Festival Jane Mee Wong ‘06
Tonight is the Moon cake festival. The bright full moon sat comfortably like an egg yolk, beaming in the cool darkness of night. There, legend has it that Chang-er sits with her rabbit after she took the elixir of immortality four thousand years ago, to prevent her evil husband, Hou Yi, from ruling eternally over all heaven and earth.
because there was no choice but to go through with her choice? And how much choice was there, really, if the stakes for not doing it, were so high? He could have turned on her and killed her too because he was so evil… Did he beat her, was she abused, and any escape would have been a good reason to get away from the man who once was kind to her?
Four thousand years ago, Hou Yi was a good man who shot down nine out of ten suns to save heaven and earth from being scorched by the blasting heat of the ten suns combined.
Did she just happen to save heaven and earth? Or did she really intend to give up all to save heaven and earth?
Four thousand years ago, Chang-Er exchanged her freedom for eternal solitude to save heaven and earth from being ruled by one evil man, her husband, Hou Yi. She is so beautiful like a glow ing gem hanging in the sky. Yet she is so alone in the vast vacuum of the soundless universe. What were the thoughts that ran through Chang-er’s mind when she popped the elixir of immortality into her mouth? Was she nervous, frantically popping the pill in her mouth, in fear of Hou Yi’s sudden arrival into her room? Did she in her frenzy, grab the nearest thing next to her when swallowing the globular object and did it happen to be the rabbit? Was she nervous and afraid was she not sure what would happen next was she suddenly a moon first and then flew up to the sky or did she first fly up and then become a moon? Was she as bright from the beginning and how did she feel about the choice she made? Could she have regretted and it was too late to regret
When Papa sat by me and Nin’s bed on those nights when he was not traveling to those far away countries, I relished the stories he would tell. Running out of new bedtime stories, he repeated them one after another. There would be the story of Changer, and then sometimes there would be the story of Momo Taro, the little peach boy who grew up so quickly that his elderly foster parents couldn’t believe it for all that their old eyes were worth. When narrating these stories, Papa’s eyes danced with the fiery heat of the nine suns that Hou Yi had shot down, his voice suddenly trembling, suddenly angry with the angst and hatred of the villagers who felt betrayed by Hou Yi’s deception. The five-syllable “Elixir of Immortality” that he would utter, was like a consonant-cluttered conundrum with a pronunciation that my early years could only recognize but not repeat, with a mysterious significance I could only imagine but not empathize. What could be so exciting about staying young and juvenile, when age and maturity was all that my young body was craving? Chang Er was a symbol of strength and resilience as I sometimes filled my little bolster with clothing
My Neighborhood Amy Hsu â€˜06
to escape from home because the noise was too much and Nin was too annoying and I didn’t think Mama and Papa loved me because she loved her business more and he loved the far-away countries more. Especially those nights when the sounds of vases and plates breaking, and Mama’s cries mixed in with all that were a little too much cacophony for comprehension. Knelt knees with caps cutting coarse ground, salt-stung eyeballs staring into far away distance, I wanted to grow old instantaneously so I could be big and strong to protect Mama. Those nights I would be Chang-Er, who would leave home and fly to the streets and seek out an adventure by venturing into the city where excitement and adventure burst through the colorful sidewalks onto the roaring asphalt roads… I would say bye-bye to Papa…to Mama…to Nin… We will meet in our next life and thank you very much for the care that you have bestowed unto me while I have lived and sometime somewhere I will express my gratitude and repay your kindness…. How did Chang-Er feel when she flew to the moon? Did she feel like Papa did when he left home to find work as a construction worker in the jungles of Brunei at age 18? Perhaps with that tinge of desperation that inevitably transforms itself into anticipation and excitement because one cannot live in downtrodden conditions without venturing onto new grounds? Or, did she feel like Mama did when she scrubbed toilets of the ritzy and the glamorous and felt her dreams disappear into the sewage of waste water and poop? I mean, did Chang-Er feel for a moment that the moon could potentially be a very wet and dirty place where she could easily slide and slip into
potholes and crevices if she just was just careless for a moment? Or, did she feel like me? Like me, when I attempted to sneak out of the house in the wee hours of the night with my clothes-filled, toothbrush and toothpaste-packed, walk-man and cassette tape equipped, ramen noodles-stuffed bolster? In other words, was she prepared for the unknown like I was when trying to launch an escape into the unknown streets of a scary and suspicious night?
Tonight, Chang-Er lives again as I share moon-cakes whilst drinking fragrant jasmine tea on a warm night. Tonight, the fog shades the bright moon glow into a cloudy orange. Her distance made painfully clear as the mist carelessly hides the night we pay tribute to her sacrifice. How many sacrifices must be made before one becomes a pedestal of generations of imagination? How many other unrequited, unrecognized sacrifices has she inspired by her magnanimous departure? Tonight, shelving dreams away silently and neatly into dusty drawers to live out the ambitions of partners and loved ones continues to be a reality too often lived. Chang-Er, I believe that you would rather one night of laughter, tears and insane drunkenness, than many of distant worship and intangible admiration.
Jane Mee Wong ‘06 will makan nasi lemak anytime, any place also can lah. 10
Arlington Jonathan Cho â€˜06 Digital Painting
Multiracials Cindy Beavon ‘07
Hapa, half and half, mixed, luk krung,- there are now more multiracial Americans than ever before. As of 2003, 1 in 15 United States marriages were multi-racial, up from 1 in 23 in 1990. In California and Washington State, the number of multiracial births exceeds that of any ethnicity besides white. The exact consistency of Asians and people of color are quickly changing, but has this change been accompanied by a change in the constituency of minority politics? Unlike racial movements of the past, the limited history of the multiracial movement has actually imperiled civil rights institutions. This is so because the language of multiracial pride, which celebrates tolerance, cultural enrichment, and universality has been co-opted by neoconservatives. The question “who are the multiracials?” is as important to a movement as it is seemingly impossible to answer- in the US, individual racial homogeneity is rare indeed. For instance, most all African Americans descend from many different regions of Africa, but in the US, they are all simply “black,” whereas most American “whites” descend from a multitude of European ancestries. To make sense of the history of racial politics for multiracials, it makes sense to look at how power elites define racial categorization to determine resource allocation- access to employment, social programs, and elections are all very much influence by racial categorization. For years the courts and legislature upheld the notorious “one-drop rule” that legally considered anyone of partial African descent “black,” and during the Second World War, any American children of mixed Japanese descent were subject to the same discrimination in education as
Japanese immigrants. Beginning in the 1960’s, racial projects took on a new meaning. The state intervened in race relations with a series of legislation intended to ensure equal treatment of people of color. The US Census Bureau aimed to augment political power of minorities by monitoring the spatial representations of inequality, including residential segregation and incidences of racial profiling. They also inadvertently mobilized a group of multiracials. From 1980-2000 the Census asked respondents to “check one box only” from a selection of “American Indian or Alaskan Native,” “Asian or Pacific Islander,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” or “White.” These categories made multiracials invisible, subsuming them into a larger race category in which they were neither fully included nor excluded. They felt the Census marginalized them, and that the state ignored multiracial legitimacy by forcing them to choose allegiance to one race, thereby invalidating the meaningful cultural experiences of their own. Multiracial support groups surfaced over twenty years ago, although they were and still remain divergent on defining multiracial concerns and come from all sorts of political perspectives. Organizations such as the MAVIN Foundation and the Hapa Issues Forum have expanded rapidly and lack any political or progressive agendas, focusing on raising awareness of multiracial health and identity. On the other hand, the Association of MultiEthnic Americans was founded in 1988 (AMEA), and Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally) in 1991. In 1993,
these two groups joined to create the most organized multiracial political coalition ever. Both testified in Congressional hearings regarding the inadequacies of census classification. Susan Graham represented Project RACE by advocating self-identification as the sole means of identification, while the AMEA desired a question that would inquire the “races of parents.” Eventually, the Office of Management and Budget prevailed with the “check all that apply” format for the 2000 census that still exists today. The problem advocating on behalf of multiracials a census classification is that, while a new “multiracial” category might somehow validate some individual’s self-esteem, this platform damages multiracial’s credibility within the larger movement for racial equality. Other minority movements are aware of the purpose of the Census, and see the multiracial groups’ actions as counterproductive. People like Graham were so entrenched in the belief the census was a government plot to impose race and conformity that they divorced themselves from racial reality. The racial reality is that bigotry is rarely committed against someone who identifies as multiracial, since prejudice is actually based on perceived ancestry. For example, a multiracial person with dark skin selfidentifying as “multiracial” is as likely to be racially profiled as someone who self-identifies as “black.” Second, the Census, however flawed, is one of the only tools the government has to redress discrimination. The opportunity to check a “multiracial” box would likely obscure data on Americans most likely to be victims of crime or incarcerated for committing a crime. If people of color became invisible to the
government, the government can no longer keep track of race-based spatial inequality, and the purpose of the census is rendered moot. This invited neoconservatives into the multiracial movement. One good example of this cooptation is Susan Graham’s decision to align herself with the then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He supported HR 830, Graham’s bill that would add a “multiracial” box to the census. Present in the neoconservative critique of the Census was the sentiment that people should have the right to privacy in ignoring the question or the right to define themselves regardless of intent of the census. It was a symbolic and superficial show of interest in racial discrimination. It is from this paradigm of neoconservative individualism Ward Connerly emerged. His Proposition 54, the Racial Privacy Initiative, aimed to forbid the classification of students, contractors, and employees in California. It was an attempt to politically maneuver multiracials to defeat the victories in civil rights the census had facilitated. By co-opting the left’s language of fairness Connerly sought to abolish Affirmative Action on behalf of multiracials. To black conservatives like Alan Keyes and Ward Connerly American interraciality is enough to antiquate any laws that aim to address racial inequality. After all, how can we seek to ameliorate race-based disadvantage if race becomes indefinable? This line of thinking is flawed and dangerous because it would be wrong to abandon all vestiges of racial equality maintenance. The political right reaches into the concerns of multiracials with the hopes to subsume the objectives
of the multiracial movement, to make multiracials a puppet mouthpiece. Project RACE’s unwillingness to acknowledge the impact of their advocacy on dismantling civil rights has not gone unnoticed by other multiracial leaders. In 1997, Ramona Douglass, spokeswoman of the AMEA officially broke a longstanding partnership with Project Race on account of her concerns of being in collusion with right wing agendas.
census classification, which proved to be politically divisive. It is likely that forward minded multiracials have signed onto single –race justice campaigns. At this point in time, it remains too early to observe any multiracial political collective, but it is sure that as multiracials represent more and more of the American racial fabric, politicians will continue to find new targets for advancing or attacking race based legislation.
This dissolution between Project RACE and the AMEA is indicative of the current disaggregate state of multiracials as a political constituency. In addition to entanglement with conservative politicians, a number of electronic newsletters, such as the Interracial Voice and the Multiracial Advocate have gained a broad readership blurring the lines between multiracial pride and politically destructive tantrums. The purpose of these newsletters varies little from the neoconservative goal of breaking down racial/social labeling though both publications lack any explicit political objectives. Most of the articles just express frustration with identification and racial expression in the US. This forum of expression is understandably alluring for many, but Libertarianism and antistatism is couched beneath what initially seems to be a discourse of racial empowerment. Editors of the Interracial Voice have even gone so far as to encourage readers to sabotage the Census by just checking random boxes – a puerile outburst oblivious to the greater picture of civil rights institutions. This hopeless progressive/conservative political pull is what has prevented multiracials from truly coalescing. Since its inception, multiracial leaders have been unable to focus on any projects besides
Cindy Beavon ‘07 enjoys peaceful sunny days with blue skies. 14
SIGN Maysa Jarudi â€˜08 Print
Monkey Play Lana Zaman ‘08
Rain splashes over bubbly glass roads. Brightlycolored buckets hang in little shops as if they thought their colors could combat the dreariness. Huge purple raincoats float by on motor scooters. Little black eyes peek out at me from under them. I fold my arms across my chest, my white linen kameez now wet and see-through. I wish I had a raincoat. I block my ears against screeching whistles and obscene remarks. “They’re just breasts, get over it!” I want to scream. I tie my shawl tightly across my body and keep walking, the rain pouring down like a flood of tears. I used to love Kathmandu during the monsoon. Now I could hardly tell you why. I guess I found charm in the clumsiness of it all: the mosquitoes, the wet, scraggly hair, losing my slipper to the water. All of those things I would now find most annoying, I used to adore. I remember rolling my jeans up on my way home from high school, the mud splashing up against my legs. I think it was on such a day that I met Vivian. I stepped into the sitting room to see my cousin seated in the wooden chair by the window, awkwardly holding a cup of tea, her red curls spilling over her shoulders. I could tell she was watching me too. We looked at each other for a moment before we both burst into giggles and she threw her arms around me. The two of us had not met since we were eight years old. That one summer my family and I had spent at Auntie Camilla’s house in Virginia, Vivian and I had been inseparable. I couldn’t tell you what we had in common. There was nothing really, but the two of us had some impenetrable bond. She would tell me about Halloween and the immense amount of candy she received. I told her about Swayambu, the
monkey temple, where monkeys roamed as freely as if it were their own, and we the intruders. It never mattered that our backgrounds and beliefs were entirely different, or that her mother disapproved of the way mine had left her home and married outside of her culture. She was my Vivian and I was her Sonya. Best friends. “Need a hand?” I hear a voice. I look up just in time to see him wink. Just as I thought, gelled hair and an array of silver chains hanging around his neck. I look at the enormous puddle I’ve stepped up to and then back at him. He gives me that deliciously revolting grin. “No,” I reply and stomp right through the muddy water to prove it. “What’s wrong with you? Most ladies would be happy to get a helping hand,” he says innocently. “Yes, well most ladies spend their free time applying makeup and filing their nails,” I say gesturing to two girls in tight jeans standing a little ways behind him. He struts back to them putting an arm around each. They flip their glossy hair and strut into the movie theater, tripping over the rocky streets in pencil heels. I don’t understand women who find the time to adorn themselves for every occasion… rain or shine, lust or love, joy or grief. Even less do I value the men who climb into their arms. These women have an agenda; to find the most unavailable man and make him hers. It’s like a pursuit, first for the most handsome man, then for the richest, and lastly for yours. She sits sharpening their claws and preening herself, while
searching for a kind and wonderful fool she can take advantage of. My husband was such a fool. I told Vivian of how I loved him, in my enamoured folly. Vivian and I rapidly recovered our friendship, right where we’d left off nine years ago. She would tell me about the boy she toyed with at Sunday school. I told her about Anil. He was my high school sweetheart at the time, and we’d been together for two years. “Do you really love him,” Vivian would ask me as we wandered through the puddles of the city. “Always,” I would respond pounding my heels harder into the water and stroking a soggy lock out of my face. I refused to carry an umbrella. I never felt the need. I loved the rain. It was as if all the universe could no longer contain its passion and had to burst into this explosion of water. Vivian on the other hand couldn’t stand it. Unaccustomed to the rain, she hated that her feet were always wet and her skin clammy. We made quite a pair, the two of us walking down the streets of Durbar Marg, she with her ruby curls under a rainbow-striped umbrella, and me with my dark eyes and soggy hair. I spent most of that summer with Vivian. At night we would stay up late sitting on the terrace and chatting. During the day I would take her out to all of my favorite places. We would go shopping in New Road or walk around Patan, and every once in a while she would come with me to Helena’s to see him. The three of us would sit on the roof, Anil with his arm around me, and Vivian sitting across from us. We would sip our tea and talk about religion and politics
and how to save the world. Vivian couldn’t get used to seeing so much poverty. She would slip hundred rupee bills to the children in Thamel. When I told her they would probably spend it on glue, she would cover her ears. Anil was a little more ambitious. He was going to medical school to become a doctor. After lunch he would walk the two of us to a taxi. Before saying goodbye, he would say to Vivian, “you let me know when you want your marriage arranged. I know an actuary who would be perfect for you.” She would punch him in the arm and he would give me a quick kiss before we slid into the car. “Can I ask you something?” She said one night, stubbing her cigarette out on the terrace banister. “Sure,” I replied, staring into the starry sky. “Do you think you’ll marry him?” “I hope so,” I responded in my glitter-eyed exhilaration. “And you know, I really think I might.” “It’s funny. I never think about marriage,” she said, lighting up another. “Anil is great for you, though. I like him. But for myself, I could never imagine marrying someone.” “Why not?” “It’s just so final. I guess I would always be too scared, you know? People change over time. What if the relationship changes, or worse yet what if it always stays the same… Nothing new, nothing exciting, and never to be free…
Rainforest, Malaysia Julian Ming Leichty â€˜06 Digital Photograph 18
Vivian is married now. And I am divorced. We spent most of that night on the roof chatting about marriage in all of its crazy forms. We might have stayed there the whole night, had it not been for the rain. I of course would have been content to stay out, but Vivian couldn’t light her cigarettes. On her very last day, I took her to Swayambu. She’d been dying to see it since I’d told her about it when we were eight years old. When we reached the top of the stairs we looked out at the view of the entire valley. Vivian looked so beautiful and content. I felt like I had just brought Cinderella to the ball. She looked around wide-eyed and all of the monkeys were ogling at the beauty I had brought. One of them grabbed on to Vivian’s bag. She pulled back and they played tug-of-war for a minute before he gave up. Just as we were leaving and I thought I had shown her everything, we both received the biggest shock of the summer. As we were walking towards the parking lot, our flip-flops slapping water up our legs, we heard a cat moan. Vivian grabbed my arm and I saw it. They were rocking back and forth. The cat was moaning, the monkey was moaning, and they were both acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary- as if this was how nature had intended it. We stared at each other for a moment, our eyes as round as rasgullahs, and we both burst out laughing. Vivian flew into me, knocking me over and the two of us rolled around in the mud, immobile from laughter. Soon enough there was a whole flock of laughing idiots. The fruit vendor, the man selling tikka powder, the sweeper woman, all had come to see what was
so funny. I can’t even tell you why it made us laugh so hard. It was just so ridiculous, so sick and wrong, yet at the same time, so foolish and absurd and unforeseen. Every time I caught a glimpse of that cat preening itself, sharp claws gauging into the dirt, or that monkey pulsating and protruding his chest as though to impress her, I burst into laughter anew. When we finally managed to hold still long enough to get up, we got into a taxi and started home. “You know what the crazy thing is,” Vivian said to me “What?” I asked her. “I know I’m not always that religious, but they told me once that one of the signs of the apocalypse is animals of different species having sex.” “Do you honestly believe that?” “You know, there’s a little part of me that does. Part of me feels like the world is gonna end.” I looked into her hazel eyes. We gazed out the window at the storm and flood. Neither of us laughed. Vivian left. Life went back to normal. I went on to university. I got married. To Anil of course. Life is so strange. It’s a combination of stagnance and change, and whenever one comes around you wish it was the other. It’s hard how things change when you most want them to stay the same.
It’s been two years now, since the last time I walked into that master bedroom. I could hear my husband from outside the door. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to. I nearly turned around and left, like it had never happened at all. I turned the knob and swung open the door. Her glossy red claws were gauging into the mattress. He heaved proudly at the trophy he’d won, making a fool of himself in the process. He protruded his chest and stroked her silky hair before he even realized I was there. I hear a honk and realized I have stepped into the road. I step aside only to be sprayed by the muddy water. I realize my selwar is now clinging to my legs. I hear a whistle and turn around, to see a couple of Bhuddist monks. They’re all baboons really. I hate Kathmandu during the monsoon. I hate soggy hair. I hate wet clothes. I hate the rain. Twice in my life now I have seen those crazy apocalyptic signs. Twice in my life I have seen a monkey having sex with a cat, and maybe the world didn’t end. But mine certainly did.
LANA ZAMAN ‘08 loves to dance. 20
CAPE SUNSET mathew oommen â€˜07 Digital Photograph
Apples Jonathan Cho â€˜06 Digital Painting
The Blackbirds, a sestina Alison Nguyen ‘08
Saddaam’s medical exam airs repeatedly. The clip occurs six times in my dreams And in the drizzly market, one can’t see the blackbirds. Laughter, my currency; bitten off local words Yet for coins, I’ll hang damp linens, the texture of lies. You vomit in a city elevator, somewhere. I only tell them that I am from somewhere But where? Where? they ask repeatedly On any day, I’ll trade bread for good lies While the drizzle, it collects in many of my dreams. The television next door likes American words. Is your roof, too, so filled with blackbirds? A man kisses me and his mouth opens with blackbirds. Saddaam’s medical exam is airing somewhere. The bulbs in the plaza, they’re raw like new words Things I’m bound to use out of context, repeatedly. I choose my mother tongue in most of my dreams, I liked how you lacked accent when you lied. Mother taught me the necessity of lies But, Mother, what to do with all these blackbirds? They scuttle as I reach toward her in dreams. Six women drowned while swimming somewhere And in the alley, the chatter, the chatter, it airs repeatedly Blackbirds carrying drunk-past words. Grey words, heat words, what to do with these words Though I am not fluent, I am well-versed in lies. Stories I’ve strung down and told repeatedly That try to shoo away the blackbirds, these blackbirds. A woman swats them with newspaper, somewhere; I hit empty air in several of my dreams
Last night our elbows touched in a dream And today, as I fold, I speak so few words. In the city I hear they’re marching somewhere Neighbors knock, scared, and ask for lies Just enough to feed the blackbirds That strum across blank sky, repeatedly. I know, I preserve because I lie. The day is bare; the clip of Saddaam airs somewhere And in the market one can’t help but see the blackbirds.
ALISON NGUYEN ‘08 will air-condition the universe by batting her eyelashes. 25
American Japanese Sarah Kasuga ‘06
The Legacy Japanese by blood Hearts and minds American With honor unbowed Bore the sting of injustice For future generations
I feel the shivers run like electricity down my spine, shocking my nerves, pumping my heart to an unbearable speed. My eyes burn and fill with tears. I swallow desperately and open my eyes wide, trying to keep the tears from slipping down my face. Innocent people. Innocent citizens. American citizens. My family and I are standing in the Japanese American Memorial in Washington D.C. We are silent and positioned at different areas of the circular cement structure, but I can feel the bond that holds us together like an invisible web.
I stand in front of the cement wall where Poston is engraved in strong, solemn letters. Underneath, 17,814 and Arizona are engraved in slightly smaller letters. My grandfather was there. I move to another section of the wall that remembers those interned at Gila River, Arizona. 13,347 other people in Gila River with my grandmother. The memorial is beautiful in its simplicity, exhibiting silent strength and pride. Turning towards the center I see a magnificent statue: two elegant cranes trapped in a web of barbed wire. The wire is caught in their mouths, and wrapped around their bodies, hindering their flight. Cranes have always been a symbol of peace and grace, and have been an important figure for Japanese and Japanese Americans. The wordlessness of the statue keeps me rooted in my place and I try to imagine what it was like for my grandparents during the war.
My American-born grandparents were interned in these camps during World War II. I’ve grown up with this information in varying stages of knowledge. I knew as a child that during a big war people had made Grandma and Grandpa move out of their houses and live somewhere else. I learned about it in U.S. history in middle school, a brief paragraph in the 1000 page textbook, stating the ordeal matterof-factly, without apology or compassion. Something stirred inside me as I began to learn what injustice could look like. I started reading novels based on the humiliation and miserable conditions Japanese Americans had to endure during the war. Shocked
I’ve asked them on multiple occasions how they felt when they were told to pack up and leave, allowed only to take whatever they could carry. What it felt like when people ransacked and looted their houses as they were still walking out. How was it going to high school in the camps, what was it like eating watery rice and army food? How did it feel to live like animals, in stalls meant for horses with no privacy to go to the bathroom? I’ve asked them these questions and get little or no remarks from them. I see their faces tighten and cloud over, protecting me from their memories. “You don’t want to know about it, Sarah-chan.” I insist and they feed me little
-Akemi Matsumoto Ehrlich
at the ability for a country like ours to uproot and lock up a whole group of people without reason, explanation or trial, I remembered all the different injustices that dirty this country’s history.
sugar-coated tidbits only to appease my growing appetite. “I remember the heat. It was so hot there. Some people bought air conditioning from the Sears catalogue, but we didn’t have that much money,” my grandmother says. “The latrines were pretty bad. There was one latrine for men and one for women. But once you were inside, there were no stalls, so you just had to go right next to another person.” “But how did you feel Grandma?” I push. “It was hard. But it’s over now,” she says slowly. A pause ensues, and I hold my breath waiting for the pain and confusion to pour out of her lipsticked lips. “Anyway, so how is school going?” she says with finality, shutting the door to a room I desperately want access. The consequences of this war have trickled from my grandparents, through my father, and are pooling at my feet; thick and sticky. I do not speak Japanese. My grandparents made an executive decision, or perhaps there was no decision in the matter, only a silent agreement, that they would not teach their children Japanese. Their children would be more American than they had ever been. They insisted my father and his sister to choose a church and be involved in it, believing that being Christian was equated with being American. Evidence of anything related to Japan was hidden or thrown away or forgotten, save for the hashi that my grandfather used every night at dinner. My father grew up with hardly any knowledge of the details of the camps, little knowledge of Japanese celebrations, no language to connect to the Japanese culture. I still remember him going to Japanese lessons every Thursday while
I was in elementary school, trying to fulfill a desire he had rediscovered as an adult. I’ve always slightly resented my grandparents because they didn’t raise my father speaking Japanese. But how can I really blame them? They had to prove their American-ness to America. Today, my withering and wrinkled grandfather refuses to speak Japanese to people who speak Japanese to him. My grandmother, in embarrassment, steps in and responds in Japanese. My grandfather shakes his head and states firmly, “I am American first, Japanese second. American-Japanese, not Japanese-American.” I am disappointed. I love hearing him speak Japanese, hearing the watery words flow over me and through me, quenching a thirsty soul. The little birds splash around in the fountain off to one side of the memorial. I envy their bath, as the humid heat presses me under its invisible weight. I survey the entire memorial, scanning all the cement walls. The inscriptions leave me shaking, filled with humility, peace and hope. I bow my head in reverence and turn to leave, watching the little birds lift out of the water and fly away.
Sarah Kasuga ‘06 loves fall leaves, peanut butter puffins, the Beatitudes, and snuggling. 27
Looking up Maysa Jarudi â€˜08 Print 28
The Little Library Koji Masutani ‘05
In a small, book-cluttered alcove within a miniature library, a little professor sat and marveled at the immense collection of books he had amassed over many years. He ran his fingers over handsome, leather-bound books from India, Spanish manuscripts found -- of all places -- on the Scottish Isles, and a few books -- rediscovered just recently -- bound in multicolored threads by elderly Tibetan women. On rare occasions such as tonight, as he admired his books in their entirety, the little professor contemplated his life. In doing so, as always, he grew puzzled. The chain of events that led to present circumstances did not align with his initial ambitions as a youth. To begin with, he had originally built his library for the purposes of appealing to the opposite gender on intellectual terms. In his youth, he invested tremendous time and energy to constructing his library, only to realize upon its completion that books were needed to fill its shelves. It can be said that things naturally fell into place from that point. In seeking books, the little professor (of course, he was a little student then) reasoned that, since he will gather many books, he might as well distinguish good ones from bad, so he collected those that were deemed to be scholarly or literary gems. He then thought, “Well, with so many splendid books, perhaps I ought to read a few,” and he soon submitted himself to a rigorous routine, reading one book per night regardless of its length, weight, or color. The content of his readings did not always sit well with him, so he published papers and produced literature to refute and challenge ideas and notions that he felt needed to be refuted or challenged. His efforts earned him respect and a doctoral degree, and
several years later, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Political Science; and so, it soon came to be that the professor was considered quite a brilliant man. It was while in his late forties that the little professor first noticed women did not flock to his library as he had anticipated. He tried to recall an occasion when a woman strolled into the library to ask about him -- or even to borrow a book -- but he could not call upon such memories. One of the professor’s assistants once suggested that he should leave the premises every now and then to initiate relations with the opposite gender. To this, the professor politely waved his hands in the air, mumbled something inaudible, and nervously wandered away. But the assistant was persistent and did not let the professor dismiss the matter so easily. “If I may speak frankly, sir,” said the assistant, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were shy when it comes to women.” “That’s… that’s preposterous,” stammered the little professor. “Preposterous… really, you shouldn’t make uninformed decisions like that… you have no evidence to support such a… such an absurd and… and…” “Preposterous?” “Yes – that’s right, a preposterous claim.” “I see.” “I have many relations with women,” announced the little professor. “I enjoy their company intensely – immensely.” “Yet, with all this acknowledged,” said the assistant, “I fail to actually see any of your female acquaintances.”
“But I have many.” “Where?” “Everywhere.” “Everywhere?” “Yes.” “India?” “I’m sorry?” “Do you have any in India?” “Yes… Calcutta and Bombay… and… many, many other places… in and around India. The Himalayas for example. I really don’t see the point in discussing—” “—Turkey?” “Turkey?” “Turkey.” “What about Turkey?” “Any female acquaintances in Turkey?” “In fact, yes,” said the little professor. “Many. Hundreds. If not in the thousands.” “Really, sir?” “Indeed, as much as I enjoy chatting—” “—Spain?” “Spain?” “Spain!” “Spain is a beautiful country,” said the little professor. “Yes, and the women?” “The women?” “The women, sir, I assume you know many women in Spain as well?” “Yes, everywhere. So yes, Spain… as well.”
dance that somewhat resembled a tango. Perhaps he was attempting to provoke humor with allusion to their conversation about Spain, but this is unclear, even to the storyteller. His performance only baffled the assistant. The little professor stopped himself, mumbled something and -- pretending someone had called for him from another alcove -- hurried away.
The assistant eyed the little professor suspiciously and the professor looked back at him with evident anxiety. The professor then wobbled his hands in the air, gave a shaky laugh and proceeded to perform a
In next to no time, assistants caught secret interactions take place between the little professor and the puppy. Initially, it was unclear whether these interactions were imagined, but it quickly became
Shortly after this exchange, the little professor left the miniature library and returned with a grey puppy - astonishing all his assistants. Few questioned that he took in a dog to initiate relations with women. In the little library, a book entitled, “Sparking Romance Through Dogs,” was available, but only when it was not in the hands of the little professor. The puppy grew up to be a nuisance, bounding wildly between shelves, across desks, around assistants, and barking playfully when it was supposed to be silent (which was all the time). Briefly put, the puppy did not belong within the library’s walls -- or indoors for that matter. Yet, despite its scholarly limitations, the puppy contributed something to the library that had been wholly absent until now. Some might describe this contribution as a sense of playfulness. Others might argue that it was more mischief than mere playfulness. Still, others would maintain that the puppy’s only contribution was disorder. Yet, out of all these different versions, there was a common underlying theme.
apparent to all that the professor and the puppy were quietly communicating. The professor was typically caught whispering words like, “It can’t be helped! I really can’t possibly!” to the puppy. Within days of these interactions, the little professor had begun taking the puppy on walks, and these walks grew increasingly frequent as months passed. Then, one early afternoon in the Spring, the two went out and simply never returned. Worried, the assistants contacted local authorities and an investigation took place at once. There was no evidence of foul play within the professor’s private quarters, and the only conjecture that authorities could draw was that the professor in fact prepared for his departure, then left. His suits, toothbrush, and other personal articles had been packed in suitcases and were taken along with him. The investigation was naturally and swiftly dropped. But the assistants, still unsatisfied, posted disappearance notices for miles around and throughout many seasons. Seasons passed, then years. The little library continued operating, but entirely under the direction of the assistants, who by now still had not learned about the little professor’s whereabouts and condition. They only hoped that, wherever he was, he was content -- or at least, more so than they. The assistants in time grew uncertain about calling themselves “assistants,” as doing so implied that they “assisted” someone at the library. In the end, however, they realized that maintaining this implication preserved their hope that the little professor would one day return, excuse himself for being late, and resume his work. The assistants in fact kept his pencils sharpened and ready for use, and had tea ready to be served
upon his arrival. One fine day in the Spring, a striking middle-aged woman with a slight aristocratic air strolled into the library, marking the first time in the library’s history when a woman entered on her own accord. She asked for one or two books about rare antiquities and a dozen or so on Dalmatians. When politely asked how the library had become known to her, she answered that a friend of a friend’s cousin’s colleague from university days had heard about it from a little professor she had met while vacationing in Turkey several years back. When politely questioned further -- specifically about this professor -- the woman could not give more details as she was too far removed with respect to relationships. Not two weeks passed when more magnificent women entered the library. Soon, the assistants heard a dozen more stories about a little professor: one woman apparently met the little professor and his beautiful family (two children) in Morocco; another saw him vacationing with two female companions in Tibet; two women -- sisters -- had chatted with the professor and his family of twelve during a luncheon in Sweden; and yet another woman saw the professor at a party in Singapore, accompanied by a well-known Chinese actress on his left, and a Russian ballerina to his right. Remarkable stories and adventures of the little professor continued to arrive at the little library and circulate its little shelves. Since many stories directly contradicted the content of others, not all accounts of the professor could possibly be true. Yet, with so many splendid women now visiting and exchanging stories (that shared an underlying theme), the assistants grew to be quite
contented. It is said that the professor might still one day appear, but it seems the stories alone are enough to keep the assistants cheerful.
KOJI MASUTANI â€˜05 prefers tea to coffee. 32
Scili at Late Afternoon Brian James Lee â€˜06 Digital Vector Illustration
Sweet Barley Soup Sunisa Nardone ‘07
Climb the towering mango tree. a trail of red ants march up, after you I slip on a low branch and you send me down, it is a job for grownups. But I want to help. I hide in the bamboo grove so overgrown I get tangled in the branches. Ah Ma will cut it down when I turn 14 but for now you keep on climbing, nimble leaping branch to branch, defying old age and the red ants marching steadily to catch you up like I cannot. Barely ripe the green-grey oval fruit will turn a sunshine colour soon. You pass the mangoes down the tree down, to me. I wait. You tell me our mango is better than anyone else’s. I am raised on Ah Ma’s food because to you, women work in the kitchen. You cook selectively.
Your mangoes are best with hand-scooped sticky coconut rice, molded by your fingers. “Eat! Eat!” as I dive into a second bowl of sweet barley soup, made for me, crunchy garlic fried pork, bitter herbs stewed many hours, orange bloated seeds floating, swimming, in a Chinese all-purpose remedy. The tree will outlive you, your worn hands, your sharp eyes. You say your ability to keep climbing the tree will last long enough. And when I miss you (because I will) red ants will march up the tree, up like you, getting mangoes for me.
Sunisa Nardone ‘07 doesn’t take milk with her cereal. 35
Pho Ga for the Soul JoAnna Liu ‘07
A few months ago, I sat down to lunch with my family at the local Saigon Restaurant for our usual, postchurch Sunday lunch. We were still dressed in our church clothes—my little sister in a floral dress that was three years too young for her, and myself in a silk skirt and cardigan. My mother was impeccably dressed in her stylish yet conservative BCBG suit, and my father was wearing his summer shirt and slacks. “Maybe I should leave my sweater in the car,” I started, moving to get up and save my cardigan from smelling like heavy fish sauce and five-spices. “No, no,” my mother shooed me back into my seat. “Leave it on, you look nice that way.” I grumbled and left it on, resigning myself to the fact that I didn’t take care of the laundry or dry-cleaning. While we waited for Auntie Mai to bring out the spring rolls, my mother started her Sunday noon gossip, more to herself than to the family—everything from the Sunday School children to the pastor’s wife’s cooking. Suddenly she turned to me, obviously having remembered something to scold me for. “You know,” she said, “you didn’t make much of an effort to be nice to Michael today.” My little sister giggled and I grumbled again. Michael Guo, the “new kid” at the Chinese Church, was an intern for Union Pacific Railroads and a senior at University of Michigan. He was in town until December to do a work-research program, and though he felt that Omaha, Nebraska was a “pretty boring town,” Michael Guo himself did not exactly add any color or life to the room with his charm or personality.
“I think he has a girlfriend,” I lied lamely while I poked at the peanut sauce in front of me. My father was looking out the window of our booth, most likely tuning out the conversation and worrying about his workload for the following Monday. “So?” shrugged my mother. “He’s not married yet. And you aren’t either, so maybe you can just start out as friends.” “He hunches over when he eats,” I complained. “Not just a little bit, Ma— like, his nose is two inches from the plate and he doesn’t talk.” “That’s just how boys eat,” she soothed. “He’s very nice, and he’s very smart. And he probably has no friends or girlfriend for the summer.” “Ma,” I give up on avoiding the real issues, “he’s small, he’s weak, and he’s boring.” My mother straightens herself up and winces a little, letting me know that my difficult behavior is taxing on her. Chi Tina comes out with the plate of spring rolls and takes our orders just in time, drawing our attention away from the dull Michael Guo. “I’ll have the pho ga,” I tell Chi Tina. I’ve been craving chicken soup all week, but my mother waves me off. “Actually, maybe she’ll have the shrimp salad?” she suggests to Chi Tina in Vietnamese, and then she turns to me, pleased.
“You can’t eat too much today. I invited Michael over for dinner tonight and I’m making vermicelli.” Micheal Guo is twenty-two years old. Barely taller than myself, and probably weighing in just under me, he has chalky, dry lips and this hunch that reminds me of my grandpa, Ong Pham. Michael is shy when he speaks— he possesses this insecurity in the volume of his voice, as though it’s too loud and too bothersome for people around us. His small, black eyes are blank and plain and expressionless— and not in the way male supermodels are, where their emptiness is gorgeous and sensual— but in the Chinese boy way, like his mother is asking him what he wants for lunch and he doesn’t really know or care. I would love to tell my mother that as friendly and welcoming as I will be to Michael Guo, I still intend to play my tomboy role, my strictly platonic buddybuddy role, to make sure Michael knows I have no intentions of betrothing the two of us despite her creepy, meticulous invitations. But nowadays, I can hardly bare to break my mother’s heart, especially after ending my relationship with Alan. “Alan,” my mother still shakes her head wistfully at the memory of him. Her eyes fill with a pretentious sorrow and her trademark, manipulative yet harmless voice wavers, leaving a lingering breath that seems to sigh, what a shame. “Chinese!” she throws the garlic in the frying oil. “Premed!” as she hurls in the onions. “And he’s in an ivyleague!” she cries exasperatedly as the hiss of the beef and ginger hits the wok. “How could you let a boy like that one go?”
“Ma!” I’m still pleading with her. “That was four years ago. We were sixteen, we met in summer school, and he’s from another country!” She ignores me. “Then you go off,” she turns her head, “prancing around with your white boys,” (as though they’re mine) “and I have to hear about it from people at the Chinese church! They say, ‘Do you know your daughter was at the Kona Grill with an American boy?’ And what am I supposed to say to that?” I feel angry and indignant. Tell them I love whitey is what I feel like saying to my mother. And tell them it’s none of their goddamn business where your daughter is and who she’s out with. And tell them maybe if they’d raised their own sons to be anything remotely resembling real men, maybe I wouldn’t be out with Yankee Doodle— maybe I’d be in the backseat of Charlie Chan’s rice-rocket instead. But none of that is really true. This, like all the other things I swallow back down, is just an outburst in my head—a rambling, and raging, and ranting of all the meanest things I’d like to yell at people who make my mother feel like she doesn’t know how to raise her family. The truth is that I have nothing against Asian boys and nothing for white boys and that in fact I like all boys just fine, and that it’s inevitable that the community meddles in everyone’s business because it’s too small in Omaha, Nebraska to have your own “business,” and that their sons are probably fine, upstanding specimens—but they’re just not my type, and I’m not theirs.
So I do my best to unclench my jaw, and I sigh, like I’ve given up and given in to my mother’s wishes. And I tell her what she wants to hear. “Tell them,” I say for the hundredth time, “that whomever I’m with—we’re just friends, and that I’m not dating any Americans.” My mother looks at me with fretted brows and a frown upon her face, because there’s no way anyone in the church will approve of that explanation. But the deeper wrinkles above her forehead are gone—if I say that’s how it is, that’s how it is. For now, I have no boyfriend, no interest in Americans, and Michael Guo is coming over in half an hour. “Fix your hair,” she says distractedly. “It’s always in your eyes.” She turns around and her mind has traveled to another worry, and I know for now that I’m off the hook. With our backs to each other— she to her wok and myself shuffling away to make the table with chopsticks and place settings in hand— I wonder. Is it wrong to lie to someone who could never accept the truth anyway?
Joanna Liu ‘07 loves dim-sum and pancakes, but not simultaneously. 38
SUNSET mathew oommen â€˜07
Digital Photograph 39
Story Vanessa Huang ‘06
my mother speaks to me in collage I speak back in kaleidoscope I speak to grandmother in Mandarin through the phone cord grasping
a girl from Vietnam unknowingly speaks colored girl
tears fall surfacing pain echoing herstories of black women and Chicana sister
American billboards don’t advertise colonialism and slavery
the language of American Dream hides the violence
killing fields don’t go down easy aren’t easily packaged and labeled and sold
Calvin and Hobbes Jonathan Cho â€˜06 Digital Painting
my mother speaks to me recently learning of colored waiting rooms colored bus seats and white water
I speak to people caged in womenâ€™s prisons in this language disconnected from monolingual Asian and Latina sisters
as cops blast Black Whores and Kung Fu Girls over loudspeakers across the yard
reenacting the rape of the land of the womb of the heart beat of a peoples
on city streets young black men magnetize cop shots
reenacting the naming and the branding the take-home postcards
I speak to people caged in womenâ€™s prisons in this language offering cultural ammunition sharing the shrapnel I have gathered
blasting our own stories across bars
digging our own railroads to freedom
on city streets older black men speak to me Hey, How U Doin’ Ni Hao Ma Ko-Ni-Chi-Wa on city bus lines Scrappy Gook tagged in graff perpetual foreigner I don’t take it personally
Pentagon data label soldiers Asian and Hispanic
Pentagon billboards employ hip hop and madres for target practice
killing fields don’t go down easy aren’t easily packaged and labeled and sold
Things Look Up Brian James Lee â€˜06 Digital Vector Illustration
on city streets I speak to young buffalo souljas street scholars and griot-historians in training stringing rhymes for civil war, demanding more
refusing to police the global lockdown bringing Agent Orange to sister shores
withdrawing their labor to honor mother, the true heroine of labor cultivating life-lines
my mother asks me to edit her life story names three goals: honor father share story improve English she writes in Mandarin translates for me to edit her life story a Real Immigrant Story to fit my allegiances
Vanessa Huang concentrator. 46
UNTITLED Jonathan Cho â€˜06 Digital Collage
Dear Asian/Asian American at Brown Juhyung Harold Lee ‘06 Written by Juhyung Harold Lee with love, support, and guidance from Myra Pong ‘06 and Noel Reyes ‘06. I hesitate to turn this into the narrative of yet another “suburban, white-washed Asian kid who comes to Brown and turns militant.” I know that my experience does not necessarily speak for you; not everyone grew up how I did nor did everyone evolve in the same ways upon arriving here. Yet while I understand that you and I may be coming from entirely different places, I still believe that we both stand to gain from creating a cohesive Asian/Asian American community at Brown. And so I write to you not because I think that I have all of the right answers or because I want you to think and feel exactly like me. I write not just to share my own experiences with learning what it means to be Asian in this country or even to let you know that I am still learning what this means. I write because I want you to know how much building this community means to me – how much I feel my need for this community ache through my heart and resonate through every step I take on Brown’s campus. Coming to Brown marked my first experience with any semblance of an Asian/Asian American community. Granted, I attended various Korean community and church events when I was younger, but none of these gave me a sense that I belonged to anything more than my parents’ intimate social circle. I rarely socialized with other Asian students during my precollege education and even though everyone else always grouped us all together, I never saw a need to stitch together an identity around the common experiences and roots that we shared. And anyway,
I had too much to prove and too much at stake to be caught identifying with them. I focused much of my energy on resisting my Korean roots in a futile effort to assimilate into the largely white culture I grew up in. My insecurities especially affected my relationship with my family, who to me represented the very essence of being Korean – an essence that I was trying so hard to escape. I readily admit how uncomfortable and insecure I was in my own skin. I like to believe that a lot of things have changed since then. I can say pretty definitively that I went through two particularly transformative experiences right before I started classes at Brown. For one thing, I had the opportunity to visit Korea – begrudgingly, I should add – for the first time in nine years as part of a Korean American youth program. Not only did this program give me the chance to return to a country I had long since forgotten, but it also put me in close contact with other people who looked like me and shared similar experiences as me growing up – for once, I felt a connection with other Korean Americans, rather than the urge to run away. I later attended the Third World Transition Program (TWTP) at Brown. I suddenly found myself within a space where I could finally feel safe enough to identify as an Asian American and open lines of dialogue around issues of identity that had always impacted me but I had never openly addressed. TWTP also exposed me to the largest group of Asian American students that I had ever been a part of and helped me realize that my ethnicity was hardly an anomaly in society as a whole. These experiences later led me to join the Asian American Students Association (AASA) and get
involved with Asian American History Month (AAHM) at Brown. I recall how my initial interactions with members of these organizations left me imagining a strong, politicized Asian/Asian American base on campus. I admired and looked up to the few Asian American upperclassmen I met and I began to feel connected – like I was a part of something. It was rewarding to suddenly consider my race a source of empowerment rather than one of vulnerability or insecurity. But before long, the cracks and divisions in the community that I had envisioned became painfully apparent – and I realized that my experience and newfound sense of Asian/Asian American identity was not one shared by all Asians and Asian Americans at Brown. I remember being particularly hurt by the insistence of two former Korean American friends of mine that “there were no Asian American issues” for them to be concerned about. I was confused when several South Asian Minority Peer Counselors (MPCs) laughingly dismissed another MPC’s inquiry into whether they would be attending the following day’s Asian American Community Retreat, suggesting that “it wasn’t for [them].” I wondered why noted Asian American activist Helen Zia’s AAHM Convocation speech in 2002 turned out fewer members of our community than the after-party that followed. I became disillusioned with the notion of an Asian/ Asian American community at Brown, and while I still clung to the hope of this idea, I was frustrated and discouraged. It was not until the spring semester of my sophomore year that I truly began to think critically about my vision of this community. I was particularly struck by
the comment of one member of AASA one day as we discussed our low membership and lack of internal diversity. “It’s not like we’re going to save the world here, so why not try and build a community?” she remarked. Her words resonated with me because of their simple yet biting honesty. Organizing around political issues is important, but a lot of the times, we get so wrapped up in “being political” that we fail to model the very community that we hope to build. Or as a good friend of mine once said to me: “We spend so much time deconstructing things here that we never take the time to construct anything.” Now that I am well into my final year at Brown, I struggle with the notion that we have yet to construct a cohesive Asian/Asian American community on this campus. I often wonder: is this community even worth pursuing? After all, how can a Desi and an international student from Singapore or a Hapa and a third-generation Japanese American even begin to rally around some constructed, unified, racial Asian/ Asian American identity? Yet while it is impossible to construct one single narrative that is representative of all of us, I do believe that there are common struggles and experiences which we all share. A lot of times when I think about building our community at Brown, I think of those who came before us. I think especially about my parents, and how hard they struggled in this country as they navigated the terms that dictated their immigrant identity. I know that you may not necessarily share this immigrant narrative of your immediate ancestors, yet there was a generation in your family’s history that did in fact experience this, and maybe you are even experiencing this now yourself. At the very least, we
can share the struggle of our predecessors at Brown: the brave and few Asians and Asian Americans who – back when we could count the number of Asian/ Asian American students at Brown with our fingers and toes – fought so that you and I could ultimately attend this institution. Let us be proud of the rich history that we are a part of not only at Brown but also in this country and in this world. Because we belong to something that encompasses more than just good food and AZN Pride – we are immigrants, fifth-generation U.S. citizens, former colonial subjects, current neo-colonial subjects, student protestors rallying for justice in city squares and dusty streets, the children of war and genocide, brown, yellow, and everything in between, multitongued, English speaking, derived from divided nations, racially profiled, assimilated to the best of our ability, rich, poor, and middle class – we are each so different yet we each share the same roots in cultures and histories inextricably woven together by the very nature of our American existence. To build a community around these identities is to construct a space for ourselves to truly celebrate the fullness of being Asian in America. Examining our collective histories also leads me to recognize that we should embrace both the negative and positive aspects of our common experiences as Asians in this country. Rather than hide our encounters with white racism as I often did, we must acknowledge race and racism in order to defeat them. I don’t want our notions of self-worth and desirability to continue to be based on other people’s standards; I want us to mobilize and speak out for every family torn apart by deportations and
restrictive immigration laws; I want to stop feeling powerless every time someone ching-chongs the language of my ancestors into worthlessness and irrelevance, and this is why I am so dedicated to the building of an Asian/Asian American community at Brown. Racism will not be challenged by groups of people who are divided, yet in community we can collectively have the power to take control of our own futures. I’m not saying that I want to create an isolated and closed Asian/Asian American community. I really believe that there is a distinction between selfsegregation and belonging to a strong, supportive, and loving group of people. I consider myself a part of multiple communities here at Brown, though personally, it is amongst those who share a common Asian/Asian American identity that I feel most comfortable and loved. I know that not everyone feels this way – but then, why shouldn’t this be something that we should strive for? In the end, I think that it starts with love, with loving ourselves and loving each other. More and more, I am beginning to understand that this process of building a true Asian/Asian American community needs to begin with us – with me, with you, and with loving ourselves and each other on an individual level. Maybe you feel like you’ve already got that part down, but I know that I’ve still got a lot of work to do and a lot of room to grow in that regard – and I’d rather be loving and growing together than alone. Even if you’ve never really thought of yourself as Asian or Asian American before, this space that I am envisioning is just as much yours as it is mine, and I want you to be a part of it. So let’s love ourselves, yes
– and let’s love each other, let’s be friends, let’s hang out and not feel self-conscious about it, let’s support one another in all the work that we do and all that we are passionate about and all that we hope to be someday. Or, at the very least – let’s talk.
JUHYUNG HAROLD LEE ‘06, Myra Pong ‘06 and Noel Reyes ‘06 own and love the Mulan soundtrack. 51
a very special thanks to
Brenda A. Allen, Associate Provost and Director of Institutional Diversity
Sunisa Nardone ‘07, Editor in Chief Jessica Kawamura ‘07, Managing Editor Brian James Lee ‘06, Art and Photography Editor, Layout Editor Erin Frauenhofer ‘09, Copy Editor Karynn Ikeda ‘09, Copy Editor
WRITERS Cindy Beavon ‘07 Erin Frauenhofer ‘09 Sarah Kasuga ‘06 Juhyung Harold Lee ‘06
PROSE JoAnna Liu ‘07 Koji Masutani ‘05 Jane Mee Wong ‘06 Lana Zaman ‘08
POETS Vanessa Huang ‘06 Sunisa Nardone ‘07 Alison Nguyen ‘08 Lam Phan ‘07
ARTISTS & PHOTOGRAPHERS Jonathan Cho ‘06 Amy Hsu ‘06 Maysa Jarudi ‘08 Brian James Lee ‘06 Julian Ming Leichty ‘06 Katherine Mann ‘05 Mathew Oommen ‘07 Sheena Sood ‘06
ADVISOR Dean Kisa Takesue
SPONSORED BY Office of Student Life
Paul Armstrong, Dean of the College Asian/Asian American Alumni Alliance (A4) Asian American Student Association (AASA) Matthew J. Garcia, Interim Director, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America David A. Greene, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Juhyung Harold Lee ’06 & Minjeong Grace Sur ’06, Asian American History Month Programmers Karen McLaurin-Chesson, Director of the Third World Center and Associate Dean of the College Ruth J. Simmons, Brown University President Kisa Takesue, Associate Dean of Student Life The entire VISIONS Staff for its constant enthusiasm and devotion
If you are interested in joining the VISIONS Staff or would like to submit any pieces of work, please contact: Karynn_Ikeda@brown.edu and place “VISIONS interest” in the Subject heading.
Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Please Contact: Kisa_Takesue@brown.edu
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this publication do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of VISIONS’ advisor, editors or sponsors.