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Envisioning and Building a Stronger Asian/Asian American Community


Fall 2008 Volume X, Issue 1


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Authenticity Han Yang Lee ‘12 Marker and Acrylic

Letter From the Editors Fall 2008  Volume X  Issue 1   It’s not that we have a penchant for ripping off Jane Austen novels, but this semester’s theme of Pride and Prejudice takes on new meanings in the context of VISIONS and its history. Last year, we had themes of Revolution and Rebirth, and now, we are ready to reflect on our past and its effect on who we are today as a publication and a community. Along these lines, we wanted a theme that would embrace the pride that we have in our community and acknowledge the prejudice that exists within it and ourselves.   This semester, two of us, Clayton Kim and Eric Lee, will be leaving the editorial board and joining the illustrious club of former editors of VISIONS. Ever since we stepped foot on this campus as lost and amazingly good-looking freshman, the two of us have worked on VISIONS and witnessed its amazing growth and development into a student group that serves as a voice in the Asian/Asian American Community. The two of us know how far this publication has come, and are proud to have been a part of the history of VISIONS. We are also excited about our new editors, Melanie Chow and Alex Toyoshima, who will be joining Yeppii Lee and Yue Pang next semester. We look forward to the

Clayton Kim ‘10  

Yue Pang ‘11 

  We would like to thank Dean Kisa Takesue for her support and enthusiasm for VISIONS and what it continues to stand for today. Thank you to our new and veteran E-Board members for their dedication and hard work in putting together another fantastic issue of VISIONS. We would also like to acknowledge the commitment of our staff and contributors in making VISIONS possible. Finally, we thank you, our readers, for joining us in Envisioning and Building a Stronger Asian/Asian American Community. We now welcome you to enjoy the Fall 2008 issue of VISIONS! Love & Peace,

Yeppii Lee ‘11   Eric Lee ‘10


wonderful things that are still to come for VISIONS as it continues to be an important part of Brown and our community.


Editorial Board





Vijou Bryant ‘09 Melanie Chow ‘11 Eunice Chyung ‘10 Rachel Economy ‘10 Michael Enriquez ‘11 Michael Frauenhofer ‘11 Jean Guan ‘11 Yeppii Lee ‘11 Jean Hazel B. Mendoza ‘12 Kenji Morimoto ‘11 Yue Pang ‘11 Soyoung Park ‘09 Tho Phan ‘11 Elaine Tamargo ‘11 Corrie Tan ‘10 Cherilyn Vy Vy Tran ‘11 VyVy Trinh ‘11 Vivian Truong ‘12

Melanie Chow ‘11 Devon Cupery ‘11 Lyla McBeath Fujiwara ‘10 Caitlin Ho ‘10 Marisa Ideta ‘11 Karynn Ikeda ‘09/’10 Jiwon Kim ‘12 Debbie Lai ‘12 Han Yang Lee ‘12 Theresa Lii ‘12 Kenji Morimoto ‘11 Hannah Schafer ‘09 Wendy Sekimura ‘11 Kam Sripada ‘09 Elaine Tamargo ‘11 Alex Toyoshima ‘11

ASSOCIATE EDITOR  Melanie Chow ‘11 COPY EDITORS  Alicia Chen ‘12, Amy Chen ‘12, Courtney Clark ‘11, Jean Guan ‘11, Jiwon Kim ‘12, Huan Ting Lee ‘11, Jessica Pan ‘11, Allison Peck ‘11, Wendy Sekimura ‘11, Maya Stroshane ‘11, Star Wang ‘11, Susan Yue ‘12 ASSISTANT LAYOUT EDITOR  Wendy Sekimura ‘11 LAYOUT STAFF  Melanie Chow ‘11, Marisa Ideta ‘11, Jiwon Kim ‘12, Wookun Kim ‘12, Debbie Lai ‘12, Lolly Lim ‘12, Michelle Nguyen ‘11, Tho Phan ‘11, Wendy Sekimura ‘11, Alex Toyoshima ‘11, Star Wang ‘11 ASSISTANT ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY EDITORS  Alex Toyoshima ‘11, Jilyn Chao ‘11 ILLUSTRATORS  Jiwon Kim ‘12, Debbie Lai ‘12, Wendy Sekimura ‘11 COVER DESIGNERS  Melanie Chow ‘11, Yue Pang ‘11, Wendy Sekimura ‘11, Alex Toyoshima ‘11 COVER ILLUSTRATORS  Wendy Sekimura ‘11, Alex Toyoshima ‘11 FRESHMAN REPRESENTATIVE   Debbie Lai ‘12 OUTREACH  Kenji Morimoto ‘11 PUBLICITY  Melanie Chow ‘11, Wendy Sekimura ‘11 WEBMASTER  Jihan Chao ‘10

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A Very Special Thanks to


The Third World Center Kisa Takesue, Associate Dean of Student Life Undergraduate Finance Board (UFB) All of our contributors and staff ADVISOR  Dean Kisa Takesue SPONSORED BY   The Office of Student Life PRINTED BY   Brown Graphic Services

CORRECTIONS In our Spring 2008 issue, Kevin Kenji O’Brien’s piece stated that “In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled in Korematsu v. United States that the detainment of loyal citizens was unlawful.” The court actually upheld FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced evacuation and imprisonment of 120,000 loyal U.S. citizens. Korematsu v. United States is remembered as one of the most infamous Supreme Court rulings because it upheld the blatant discrimination of an ethnic group. Fred Korematsu died at the age of 86 in March 2005.

Table of Contents PROSE & POETRY


VISIONS of Pride and Prejudice Melanie Chow & Yue Pang   4 Harabuhji  Yeppii Lee      6 Kolkata Man Eunice Chyung        9 “Our sameness brings us together, our differences drive us apart:” recognizing, accepting and celebrating our differences towards building community    Vijou Bryant       10 Unlocked Tho Phan         11 diaspora Vyvy Trinh 12 remembrance Kenji Morimoto 15 Sometimes She Had Dreams About Being in Love Michael Frauenhofer    17 Personal reservations Elaine Tamargo 19 Citywide Economics at 11, Backyard Sandbox at 50 Cherilyn Vy Vy Tran 22 Noise Vivian Truong 24 Search for Life Jean Hazel B. Mendoza 26 Fla-Vor-Ice Jean Guan 29 Dear Journal Michael Enriquez 32 Tsunami Rachel Economy 35 Chasing Light VyVy Trinh 39 Aquariums Corrie Tan 45 Where are the Asians in the 2008 Presidential Election? Soyoung Park 46


Han Yang Lee  



Hannah Schafer



Kam Sripada



Kenji Morimoto



Jiwon Kim


Two Unknown Skulls

Theresa Lii     


Feet Speak

Alex Toyoshima       18


Marisa Ideta   



Karynn Ikeda



Kenji Morimoto



Devon Cupery


ElaineBeach, TamargoIllocos Norte, From the Scenic Route (Pagudpud 27Philippines) Untitled

Debbie Lai


A Geisha in Disguise?

Melanie Chow


Running through a maze

Devon Cupery


Hokusai Revisited

Han Yang Lee

36 41


Marisa Ideta



Lyla McBeath Fujiwara



Caitlin Ho Who Says Cambodians Can’t Break Dance?


VISIONS of Pride and Prejudice   It is a truth universally acknowledged (in Asia) that a single, non-Asian man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of an Asian girl.   However little known the feelings or views of such a non-Asian man may be on his first entering a [insertAsiancountryhere]town, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful phoenix-dragon-pearl for some one or other of their Asian flowers.

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  Mr. and Mrs. Fortune, the proud owners of Fortune’s Cookie, the thriftiest pan-Asian restaurant in [insertAsiancountryhere]town, were hosting two Asian businessmen and their dashing non-Asian friend, Mr. Da-lo-see, as they discussed the falling dollar over a bowl of rice.   As they split their wooden chopsticks, GentleBlossoming Flower, the Fortunes’ daughter, silently appeared with a pot of hot green tea. Smiling shyly, she poured the steaming liquid into their red plastic Dixie cups. After GentleBlossoming Flower glided away, Asian Man Number One turned to Asian Man Number Two, raising his thin, black eyebrows up over his metal-rimmed spectacles.   Pondering his “paid escapades” from the past evening, Asian Man Number One said to Number Two, “LoudOvergrown Weed dress up for me just like—” he flicked his head towards the kitchen knowingly and smiled, his thin, black mustache curling up, “—I enjoy much.”   “For me, I prefer quiet woman who cook me good food and lay still in bed. Bear many sons,” Number Two said, staring longingly at the kitchen.   “She is tolerable. But not handsome enough to tempt me,” Mr. Da-lo-see sneered.   Little did he know, GentleBlossoming Flower was standing behind him, holding a chilled Tsingtao beer, compliments of Mr. and Mrs. Fortune (who hoped his inebriation would lead to a newfound passion, and hopefully marriage). In a fit of fury, the

By Melanie Chow and Yue Pang suddenly not-so-gentle GentleBlossoming Flower poured the contents of the bottle over his $500 haircut, much to the horror of the Fortunes.   After she ran away, Mr. Da-lo-see, licking the tasty beer streaming down his face like tears (or maybe sweat), thought to himself. Moments before, Mr. Da-lo-see had scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without lust at the restaurant table, but now it was clear to him that she was more than just a dutiful daughter and gentle woman. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of manners and obedience, he was forced to acknowledge her bold spirit to be fresh and spunky; and in spite of his asserting that her behavior was not typical of his non-Asian race, he was slammed in the face by the cold beer…of love and passion.   Of this, GentleBlossoming Flower was perfectly unaware; to her, he was only the non-Asian man who made himself agreeable nowhere. t   Two weeks later, Mr. Da-lo-see opened the door, like a phoenix-dragon-pearl, to Fortune’s Cookie. Mr. and Mrs. Fortune gasped, hyperventilating in shock at their unexpected fortune. They pushed their daughter to the front of the restaurant as she looked back at them in disgust.   On bended knee, Mr. Da-lo-see spread his arms out like an eagle and declared, “If you know what’s good for her, you’ll allow your daughter to assist me in my house.” Seemingly out of nowhere, he brandished a [insertAsianracehere] traditional costume.   The Fortunes, unable to believe what was happening before their squinty eyes, nodded violently and pushed their despondent daughter into the kitchen to change. t   After working for Mr. Da-lo-see’s estate for two days, Gentle-

Illustration by Wendy Sekimura have always been open…I am just now running through them.”   “Is that a yes?” t   Ten years later, they were the proud parents of three beautiful girls. And what good fortune they had, for, in this day and age, Asian girls only need one line of dialogue to secure a happy marriage.

MELANIE CHOW ‘11 and YUE PANG ‘11 split their T’s and H’s.


Blossoming Flower’s heart began to whisper sweet-nothings to her mind every time she dusted his diamond-encrusted lion statue and cooked meals with his gold-plated wok. After all, an Asian lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.   As she administered his nightly sponge bath, Mr. Da-lo-see said to her, “Are you enough of a proper woman to not be tempted by all of this?”; he used one hand to gesture toward his soapsudcovered body.   In an inexplicable fit of rage, GentleBlossoming Flower dunked his head underneath the water. However, she soon realized that his suggestive comment was like a breath of fresh air after having been treated like a gentle blossoming flower her entire life. At this epiphany, she violently pulled his head out of the water and kissed him, only to have him cough and sputter at the soapy water that filled his mouth.   “Now that you’ve finally submitted to your carnal desires, will you not agree to marry me?” he asked.   “Oh trust me, the doors of the [insertAsianreligionhere] temple



By Yeppii Lee

My grandfather is ninety years old. He immigrated to the United States when he was sixty-four years old. One year later, he was joined by his wife and two sons. My father was twenty-eight; my uncle, thirty-one. My grandfather was a farmer in Korea. His skin is forever tanned to a leathery brown, and his hands are like stone hewn by stone. He left his home, his language, his people. He left them for a country and a people that do not understand his home, his language, his people. Nowadays, my grandfather hardly speaks of long ago or memories of home. His walks are slow and calculated, each step a potential disaster. This country stripped my grandfather of his youth, his freedom, his voice. My grandfather didn’t come here for himself. He was willing to lose that youth, that freedom, that voice. His dreams for an American life were not for himself, but for me. I will not be stigmatized by a hyphenated American identity. It shows me his history, his sacrifice. It shows my grandfather’s youth, my grandfather’s freedom, my grandfather’s voice. I’m not just living for my American way, but for my grandfather’s Korean way too.

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My roots are deep—my roots are his. I know my roots, and with those roots, I like my hyphenated American life. I’ll find my grandfather’s youth, my grandfather’s freedom, my grandfather’s voice, and they will give me mine.


YEPPII LEE ‘11 microwaves ramyun and smells yellow roses.


Construction Hannah Schafer ‘09 Digital Photography


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Rickshaw Kam Sripada ‘09 35 mm Color Print

Kolkata Man   He asks me, “Please, what country?”   “America.”   He either laughs or says “No” or “Eh?” or just looks at me blankly.   Sometimes he doesn’t even ask. He just sees me on the street and calls,   “Konnichiwa!”   “Annyung!”   “Hello, Madam!”   Sometimes I only respond when he gets it right. Otherwise I just look at him blankly or I don’t look at all. It’s like earning points on a game show. Most of the time he loses, but I’m the one who gets the penalty. He’s at his shop in New Market and quadruples the price for me because Asians are too meek to barter. He’s taking orders and replaces the menu in my hands with one written in Korean with only Korean options. He’s walking down Sudder Street and follows me to my guesthouse because I’m a Japanese tourist looking for an easy lay.          

By Eunice Chyung   I think that I have to stand my ground, stand tall, and just stand, so I can teach him that there is no one type of American and that the U. S. of A. has many people who look like me. So for a while I tell him “America” and sometimes “Yes, America” and “I grew up in America” or “I learned English in America” and “My parents are from Korea.”   But maybe it doesn’t matter so much.   I am American and Korean. But to him, these things don’t go together. He doesn’t believe in my political correctness and while I’m here, neither do I.   He asks again, “What country?”   “Korea.”   “Korea! Annyung!”

Sometimes I make things up. “What country?,” he asks. “Canada.” “England.” “Vietnam.” “Malaysia.”

  Sometimes it’s useful. If he’s bothering me, I speak only in Korean. He knows Bengali and usually Hindi and a good amount of English but no Korean. So he leaves me alone.

EUNICE CHYUNG ‘10 has barely seen India.


  Once, he tells me he doesn’t like my people, the Chinese. “They are very bad,” he says, “they try to take our country and our business and they are very violent.” But then my white friends tell him that I am American, and he laughs at himself and apologizes, saying that my country is very beautiful (“But George Bush is a no-good president!”).


“Our sameness brings us together, our differences drive us apart:” recognizing, accepting and celebrating our differences towards building community By Vijou Bryant

  I am a multiracial, queer, Asian American woman. Those are a lot of identities and I even left out a few.   I want to vent some of my frustration about discussions, groups, and spaces with which I have been active and engaged. Very few of our differences within our respective communities and groups are acknowledged, confronted, and understood. Ask yourself: when was the last time we had a discussion in <<insert cultural group here>> about class? Have we ever included a discussion about sexuality in any of our meeting agendas? Think about your last experience talking about the intersectionality of your race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, and gender among any of your communities. When was that? Have you ever had that?

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  I think it’s time we take it there. It’s time we take our conversations and actions to a new level and address intersectionality.


Asian Americans, let’s take it upon ourselves and demand it as a responsibility of our communities towards raising consciousness and awakening ourselves to our differences and to the similarities we share. FA, my family, when was the last time we had a discussion around queer identity in the Filipino/Filipino American community? BOMBS, my heart, our meetings can be thoughtprovoking and truly amazing, but when’s the last time we had a conversation about exotification and its intersections with gender, sexism, and heterosexism? KASA, how about organizing an event around immigration, race, and class? How about collaborating on an event like this with M.E.Ch.A.? I’m not calling out any groups in particular, but rather the Asian/Asian American community in general.   One of my all-time favorite writers, thinkers, and powerful women—Papusa Molina—was the creator of the title and inspiration for this essay. And she is absolutely right.

  I believe in building a strong multiracial community, Filipino community, Asian/Asian American community, and people-of  It’s time we recognize, accept, and celebrate our differences. In color community, but, in order to do so, we must confront other doing so, our larger visions of community building and individual 1 oppressions that often separate and divide us from each other. and collective growth will no longer be visions but realities. In the In our meetings, we must begin to share our gender, sexuality, feminist spirit of Molina, I leave this essay with a few last words: and class alongside our racial identities in the hopes of becoming “We struggle each day to get clearer and clearer about who stronger, more loving, and liberated. We must do this in a trustwe are and about the task in front of us.”2 We need to struggle ful, open, and patient way. I have felt a deep sense of love and together, in solidarity and in love. We need to start by having the respect for those in my communities; yet, addressing our differconversations we are too afraid to have around the intersectionalences can only make this love and respect even deeper and more ity of our own identities. real for all of us. This is not an easy task. However, I genuinely ____________________________________________________ 1  Molina, Papusa. “Recognizing, Accepting, and Celebrating Our believe it can be done not only through our discussions but also Differences.” Making Faces, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspecthrough our individual and collective actions. The Third World tives by Feminists of Color. Ed. Gloria Anzaldua. San Francisco: Aunt Center does not have to be the only political space addressLute Books, 1990. 326-331. ing race and people of color. Let’s not leave it up to the Minor2  Ibid. ity Peer Counselors and MPC Friends to lead discussions and organize workshops and events around the “-isms.” As Asians/ Vijou Bryant is a senior (09!) committed to community, justice, and truth.


By Tho Phan

IN. Long history. Straight places, straight faces. Just plain straight...forward! To walk this lonely path. Hidden. And. Dark. Just plain fright...full. Fears. Confession. Rejection. Tears. The first and only? Broken generation. Street life.

OUT. Same (her) story. Safe places, strong faces. Straight up open! I met a girl... Who had my key. It’s just my turn. Key. Unlocked. Uncovered. Free. Not. A(lone)r. No more. Reassembled and living life!


THO PHAN ‘11 is hoping for peace and waiting for love.



By VyVy Trinh

i. grew up around tofu shops and strip malls of a fishy character, where they imported oceans into frying pans we drank the skies at night— stars like grass jelly and tapioca dots floating in mist, the ghostly trails of coconut milk twice a year, lion-caterpillar hybrids escaped their thin-eyed masters’ leashes and danced like wind to the thick falls of drumsticks friends exchanged low gossip, heavy with hot oil, over fat fragments of meat lounging in foot-deep bowls, skinny-dipping with inextricabilities, strings of white flour


VISIONS   Fall 2008

things gather: water, running down smooth glass, catches in the nooks of dirt. blood, flitting through veins, clots. things gather.


iii. once there was a history, which fragmented and splashed, red, over the earth’s smooth glass face. the narrative’s particles collected in pockets of silver cities, and regenerated, as starfish, the things lost fly to the moon and look back: you’ll see a constellation, a snake-image connecting a thousand dots

iv. grew up around sandwich shops where a girl could walk out to a tinkling bell holding a baguette stained dark with soy sauce

VyVy Trinh ‘11 took Writing the Southeast Asian War in the English department, and it was the shit.

Pontocho Kenji Morimoto â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;11 Digital Photography


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Untitled Jiwon Kim ‘12 Graphite


By Kenji Morimoto

i look at my hands wrinkles have already formed, etched on sculpted with .5 lead made in japan sepia-tainted reminders blurring beneath the autumn maple, as dry leaves show their

fronts and backs. cascading dimly,

crunched with each step i make while .5 lead bleeds into a river of black ink seeps through rice paper fibers and bamboo shadows until i am under the suffocating, engulfing ocean of sepia wrinkles sculpted leaves autumn bamboo fibers until i have drowned in a river of forlorn memories, black ink, and i look at my hands

and reflect.


Kenji Morimoto â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;11 misses sunday dinners of fried chicken, onigiri, and tsukemono.


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Two Unknown Skulls Theresa Lii ‘12 Oil

Sometimes She Had Dreams About Being in Love

By Michael Frauenhofer

She says she only ever fell in love once. He bends over the dirty glass bottle and makes it submerge. The water is light gray and speckled with hair, bits of paper, a cough drop. When he pulls out the bottle and sucks, all the water churns back and the bucket is full. He was pretty she says. And he wrote her such beautiful poems. In the big empty room someone laughs. It didn’t last she says. He sticks his tongue in and out and makes fists. It is ugly but the medicine works. So she tries to get used to it. He is still beautiful she says. But he stopped writing poems. Someone plays with their lighter, puts the flame in and out. She says it was a bad year. He says he feels like the blade. They just give their love the only way they know how to and it cuts and it hurts. But when he smokes he feels better. He is doing his best she says. What is a disease anyway. Someone is playing guitar and the metal strings cut into their skin. Sometimes you just have to walk away she says. He curls up in a ball in the corner and tries not to breathe as the room fills with gas. He can hear them outside knows they poisoned his food. He calls her on the phone and he cries says it’s starting again. Sometimes love is running away she says. I don’t know what to do. In the big empty room someone leaves.


MICHAEL FRAUENHOFER ‘11 never really existed all along at all nope not the case.


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Feet Speak Alex Toyoshima ‘11 35 mm negative

Personal reservations By Elaine Tamargo It only takes one word, one thought, one touch, to remind me of how I used to be, A believer in consistency, An inventor of fantastic dreams,   Sure of her past and present as a basis for her future. But it only took one dose of reality or one flash of unpredictability to take me back to who I’ve come to be, An advocator of instability, A creator of confusion,   Uncertain of her idea of history, her presence in the now, seeing both as shaky foundations hiding her from what’s to come. And because I believe in a right time, I don’t make now the right time—   and my silence is seen as ignorance,   my hope a sign of inexperience. But I know that pain is the absence of love—   set off by the torment of disappointment,   that the beliefs I depended on, the people I relied on— now are changed and out of reach, and that sudden realization of a phenomenon long coming, of a wave seen from far away but felt only at that point when it hits, chills the soul as if freezing the heart, leaving its owner trapped within a frame of insecurity.

Elaine Tamargo ‘11 will always be a clumsy ballerina.


And still I reside in this world of confrontation and opposition, Perfection, although accepted as the unattainable goal,      plagues all who strive for those moments of glory. For those moments when the heart aligns with the mind       and the lines between expected and accomplished are blurred and undefined, And one is free to pass and decide       whether the passion outweighs the fear.


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Maze Marisa Ideta ‘11 Digital Photography


Untitled Karynn Ikeda ‘09/’10 Digital Photography


Citywide Economics at 11, Backyard Sandbox at 50

By Cherilyn Vy Vy Tran

VISIONS   Fall 2008

  Time does not age a woman like my mom. Her unwrinkled eyes accentuate her silky black curls and demonstrate her naive dependence on an unfamiliar world. Mom attempted to open her first bank account shortly after her separation from Dad, but she encountered a teller who suggested that she learn how to count in English before engaging in the complex world of credits and debits. Prejudice, no doubt. Outraged, I dragged her out of the marble and glass coldness of that capitalist temple. Pride, I figured. I was the mother that defended her child from discriminatory words and sarcastic speech, while she was the unaware daughter. Unsatisfied, I tried to comprehend an incomprehensible financing book and later taught Mom how to balance a checking account. I was 11 years old; Mom was 50. I realized that, like other first generation American children, the distinct line between mother and daughter was drawn, but the roles between “teacher” and “learner” would remain ambiguous between Mom and me. I would be Mom’s social guardian long before time could ever take away her independence.


at Brown, through successes and failures in life—by being the powerful center of my knowledge and universe. Her untainted view of traditions and adherence to expectations motivates me through my journey in life to constantly look back at my roots as a first generation college student, as an Asian American woman, and as a Vietnamese war refugee. Mom’s pepper-turned-salt, pinned curls-turned-thinning hair is now a symbol of her wisdom and understanding as she sends me off, hoping that I will bring my vibrant Asian heritage, sprinkled with touches of Southern tradition, to Brown’s campus. Mom, You are my PRIDE.

  A strong heroine with a social handicap, Mom never allowed her lack of English skills to prevent her from putting sufficient food on the table and ensuring that her two daughters would receive the golden college education that neither she nor any of her ten siblings ever obtained during the war. Education is not free. Mom paid for it with her hands, her time, and her youth. Mom wanted that education for her children, but she was still unreceptive to the notion of her young 18-year-old daughter fighting that academic battle alone 1,275 miles away from home. Mom would not hear about my college choice until the honeysuckle in her backyard released its ripe tangerine scent, indicating the end of spring when I received my acceptance letter from Brown. Brown was an unfamiliar term in our household, and it would become the geographic divide between Mom and me for the next four years. Yet, Brown is somehow filling a mental and emotional gap between me and my family that has long been, literally, lost in translation.   Though she may not realize it yet, my mom has always been there for me—through daily struggles and accomplishments

CHERILYN VY VY TRAN ‘11 is a fighter.

Obon Kenji Morimoto ‘11 Digital Photography



By Vivian Truong

He asks me why I’m so quiet. His words are loud and smiling; he asks me why those Chinese girls never talk. And I tell him: Boy When I walk I don’t just move upon the earth but with each step I make the world Spin. Sweetie when I dance the soft padding of my feet makes the ground

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Baby when I sing, my heart throbs against my voice and I make the air Quiver. And honey I may not be the loudest girl you know and I may not be one to scream my words and I may not be someone who fills the air with useless babble— but when I speak, yes, when I whisper I make men Listen.

Illustration by Debbie Lai

VIVIAN TRUONG ‘12 wonders if her ancestors can understand her when she’s holding incense in her hands and praying in English.

Mops Devon Cupery ‘11 Digital Photography


Search for Life

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  During those long, hot summer afternoons, it was the children who dominated Parañaque Drive. All twenty children living within a two block radius of my cousin’s house would gather in the middle of the gravel street for tumbang preso, a game that involved knocking down a tin can with a slipper. The intensity of the game was matched only by the pulsating sun, the kind that insists on being perpetually in one’s eyes, and the thick dust stirred by an occasional breeze.   No one stopped our game or bothered us, not even our mothers, who stayed at home while each of our fathers was at his hanap buhay, or job (literally, search for life). Our mothers would hear every shout from the street and know to which child each voice belonged to. None of us cared about the numerous scars and scrapes we acquired by the end of the day. My lola, or grandmother, would heal my wounds with boiled guava leaves while I told her my day’s victories, thrills, and defeats.


  It seemed like the game would go on for hours—at least until the sun went down. Approaching darkness always signaled each child’s calling for home. My siblings and I would then climb to the top of our tank. Water was scarce and had to be bought in the Philippines. My family was one of the few in the neighborhood who owned a tank, which stored water delivered by truck, while others had to buy water as needed. The tank was probably only a floor higher than our one-story house, nothing compared to the skyscrapers of the city I would soon move to, but to my childhood self, it was a sanctuary. At the top of that tank, I would watch the sunset—a brilliant display, the beauty of which can only be seen from the earth’s equator. My siblings and I would joke around and tease each other, savoring the day’s last sunlight, for soon it would be the grown-ups’ turn.   All the men in our neighborhood would gather in my family’s house once a week to eat, drink, and talk. They would sit around tables of beer bottles and slices of mango with salted fish. I never really paid attention to their conversations. After all, they were old men. But I would never forget their laughter. It was men’s

By Jean Hazel B. Mendoza laughter, filled with snorts and grunts, accompanied by the clink of glass bottles on wood. After an hour or two, they would all be pretty drunk. They cursed and laughed about themselves, their neighbors, and ridiculous events. They joked as if God heard, but didn’t care—as if God himself had joined in on their fun.   Meanwhile, the women gossiped, debated about the best preparation for certain dishes, boasted about their children, or complained about their husbands. I remember my mother once recounting the story of my brother’s illness. When he had been very sick, my mother called the neighborhood albulario, a healer who was also a soothsayer. After studying my brother, the albulario took a lit candle and held its flame steadily above a bowl of water. Drops of melted wax fell onto the water’s surface, forming a figure of a woman with a pointed nose and broomstick. We were terrified, for the albulario announced that my brother had been cursed by a witch. As a cure, my mother was to place a towel soaked in jasmine water on my brother’s forehead. My brother got better a week later. The other women were amazed and soon the floor abounded with stories of “encounters.”   Filipinos are a superstitious people who constantly live in fear of offending and suffering the retribution of the unseen. We live in a world of spirits, dwarves, white ladies (ghosts of ladies in white dresses), mananangals (witches who can detach their upper torsos from their bodies and fly around during full moons to devour the fetuses of pregnant women), and kapres (man-beasts who sit on treetops smoking thick cigars, waiting for passersby on whom to cast an evil spell). To Filipinos, these beings are real. We feel their presence, see them, are haunted by them, even if they are often just fragments of our imagination, products of our fears.   That was the reality in which we lived. Things were hard to come by, even water. To us children on those long afternoons, tumbang preso was not merely a game, but something we held onto as long as we could. Men struggled in their hanap buhays, literally searching for and trying to earn a living for their families, sat together afterwards, and drank their worries away. Women

cooked, raised their children, and tried to make a home. With other housewives, they not only hungered for tales and gossip, but also for hope and fortune to relieve their hardships. Though at night they fought against spirits and monsters, their daily battles were very real. Time wore on like that, and at times, the people stopped searching and simply lived.

Jean Hazel B. Mendoza ‘12 prefers to spend her time in cafés looking for the story in a photograph instead of dividing the universe into a system and the surroundings.


From the Scenic Route (Pagudpud Beach, Illocos Norte, Philippines) Elaine Tamargo ‘11 Digital Photography


VISIONS   Fall 2008

Untitled Debbie Lai ‘12 Acrylic Paint on Canvas


By Jean Guan

  A half-hearted breeze makes its way into the kitchen, bringing with it the acrid smell of manure and unwashed bodies. Pieces of what might have been white wallpaper maintain a fragile grip on the walls, stirring a little as I walk by. Large patches of chipped cement indicate places where the wallpaper has given up its precarious hold entirely. As I wipe the accumulating sweat off my forehead and upper lip, a dirt-encrusted dog slinks its way through the kitchen and into the room where the animals are kept. A goat I met on my earlier tour of the house bleats its disapproval at its new roommate. The relentless sun has stripped away the painted flowers on one side of the stove, lending it an oddly lopsided look. Steam rising from one of the holes in the stove carries with it the sweet smell of freshly cooked rice, which mixes with the scents of sweat and dung in the muggy air.   Scanning the fragile, splinter-encrusted table, I realize that I have already forgotten the names of the relatives seated around me. I’ve even forgotten how they’re related to me. All I know is that their hands are hard and callused, their teeth are crooked and yellowed, and their clothing consists of pieces of torn, sunbleached cloth colored with sweat stains.   The strappy summer dress I had donned that morning in an effort to stave off the heat and humidity of southern Chinese summers suddenly feels uncomfortable. The last time I wore it was to my high school graduation; perhaps I’ve grown out of it in the past couple of months. All of a sudden, I notice that the ribbon around my waist is too unnecessary, the cut of the dress too impractical. The white and blue pattern is too white and blue; I look around for some way to dirty it. My throat closes up for a brief moment when I realize that there is no way for me to make the dress fit in. Maybe if I offered it to one of the women at the table she would exchange her clothes with me.   My aunt—cousin?—cousin’s wife?—stretches a bony, heavily suntanned arm toward the supply of rice. A black cloud of flies buzzes into the air, revealing that the cover of the rice barrel isn’t black but brown. She scoops out some of the sticky white grain, bats a fly out of her face, and replaces the cover. The cloud settles back onto its original perch.   My eyes drift to my mostly-full rice bowl. The white granules

seem to move lethargically, convincing me for almost a full minute that they are actually hundreds of fly maggots before my brain finally catches up and scolds my overactive imagination. Even though I’m pretty positive that my rice is maggot-free, I’ve lost my appetite. I lost it during the first deodorant-less hug I was given when I walked through the door.   I open my mouth to lie that I am full, but am forced to close it again when I remember that I can’t speak my father’s dialect. I can understand every third word, but speech evades me. The words have slipped away with misuse and time, and now the only thing I know is “zai-wei”: good-bye.   My dad had spent most of the car ride from Shanghai to here reminding me of all the phrases I picked up the last time I visited his hometown eleven years ago. “When you go in, make sure you say ‘m’ba’ to any male with white hair—there should be two of them—and ‘biao-gu’ to the ones that look my age. ‘Qing-ma’ is what you call your older aunt and ‘n’niang’ is what you call your younger one. The older one is shorter; I know it’s counterintuitive, but try to remember that. I don’t think any of your girl cousins will be there, but if they are, call them ‘biao-ji’. Don’t be so nervous! You’re a good girl, even if you say something wrong, they’ll still like you. If worst comes to worst, just address them in Mandarin. They won’t understand, but it sounds better than English. And of course you still remember how to say hello, right?”   “No.”   The Disturber of the Flies looks up from wolfing down her food and shakes her chopsticks in my general direction. A grain of rice falls from the end of her chopstick and onto a plate of bean sprouts. Not even waiting to swallow, she babbles something at me accusingly, smacking her thin, cracked lips between words so the food doesn’t fall out of her mouth, “…eat…little…eat…more… big!”   The next thing I know, she has deposited something from each one of the eighteen dishes into my bowl. Most of it doesn’t fit and tumbles off the small mountain of food to land on the table. Satisfied, she returns to her task of eating as much as she can as quickly as she can. A strand of lank, oily hair falls into her face. She throws her head back like a horse, removing an unnecessary




VISIONS   Fall 2008 32

obstacle in the path from her rice bowl to her mouth.   My eyelids flutter rapidly up and down as I wish frantically for some way to get out of having to eat everything in front of me. The heat and the smell prevent me from thinking up any clever escapes, so I resort to cursing the Chinese tradition of stuffing a guest to the point of bursting as a sign of hospitality. Swallowing thickly, I pick up a green bean gingerly.   It actually isn’t half bad. Sweat streams down the bridge of my nose and I only just manage to catch it on the back of my hand before it plops into my food. I try a spicy bamboo sprout. It makes me tear, blurring the sea of prematurely wrinkled faces with down-turned lips and eyes unused to smiling that surrounds me.   Unintelligible conversation battles its way through the muggy air, the words arriving muted at their intended ears. In any other weather, it would be called “chatter,” but heat and humidity never lend themselves to chatter. A fly buzzes past my ear, making me swallow the bamboo sprout before I can finish chewing it. Choking, I grab the nearest bowl of water and down it, spilling even more of the lukewarm liquid on myself than I have since I first abandoned my sippy-cup for a real one. The Disturber of the Flies looks up from her bowl and guffaws, pointing at the front of my dress and announcing, “…baby…drinking!” The table erupts in an off-key chorus of cackles and barks that disappears as suddenly as it began. I smile-grimace into sudden silence.   The water soaks into the cotton of my dress, leaving a dampness rivaled only by the humid air. Eyes downcast, I pick up the next food item in my bowl, intent on finishing the task set in front of me. As I am about to put it in my mouth, something stops me. Arm stiff in the air in front of me, I lean forward cross-eyed to inspect the pinkish-orange thing trapped between my chopsticks. The air I was breathing sticks in my throat. I lower my chopsticks, uncross my eyes, and verify that the object I was just about to consume is what I think it is. The heat is suddenly replaced by a cold, clammy horror. Slowly, my breath unsticks itself and rattles into my lungs. My limp hand drops the chopsticks and the piece of shrimp they had been holding. Even though I know I’m fine

because I haven’t touched the shrimp, I can still feel my throat closing up of its own accord and begin to see red boils forming all over my body.   Noticing that I have stopped eating, the Disturber of the Flies hollers encouragingly, “…so good…eat…best…lots of money!”   “I—I—I’m sorry. I’m allergic,” I stammer in Mandarin.   Her eyes glaze over and her brow furrows. She raps my dad on the arm with her chopsticks and demands a translation. Before a full sentence is even out of my dad’s mouth, she turns back to me and insists, “Not…eat…is sad!”   I haven’t eaten the shrimp, but my throat constricts anyway. “I’m so sorry,” I repeat over and over again in Mandarin, as if she can understand what I am saying.   She waves her chopsticks at me, dropping another grain of rice in the bean sprouts, says something I can’t understand at all, and disappears up the stairs. My dad yells after her, but she seems to ignore him because he turns back to me and says, “You don’t have to eat everything she gives you.”   I swallow loudly and slowly, “I’m fine, Dad,” and force a smile. He raises his eyebrows, making his forehead look very much like newly plowed land.   “Really.”   At this point, the Disturber of the Flies has returned with an armful of long, stick-like objects and a pair of scissors. She deposits them in front of me and contorts her mouth into a wide, yellowed grin. Wrinkles crease her cheeks. “Eat!”   I pick one of the sticks up and almost drop it because it’s so cold. The family must have acquired a refrigerator in the past decade or so because I don’t remember any from the last time I was here. Upon closer inspection, the sticks are actually a Chinese version of Fla-Vor-Ice. Once, when I had the stomach flu, my mom asked me what I wanted to eat because she felt bad for me and I told her to buy an entire box of the stuff. I rip off the wrapping and grab the scissors, cutting off the top of the plastic casing before squeezing out some ice and sticking it into my mouth. The coolness seeps in and makes my mouth numb.   The Disturber of the Flies laughs a scratchy laugh and pro-

claims, “…happy!” I smile, no doubt revealing that the artificial coloring has already dyed my entire mouth blue. Curious as to the flavor of my snack, I pick up the wrapper and inspect it. She sees what I am doing and quickly snatches it out of my hand, but not before I see that it was two yuan. Of course that only translates into a little more than a quarter in the U.S., but that’s expensive for a bit of flavored ice in China. I am reminded of this as I take in my surroundings—the wax paper in place of glass for windows and the dirt that functions as flooring. I look at the last bit of Fla-Vor-Ice that has already melted in the heat. My throat feels sticky from all the syrup and sugar, and I swallow thickly. The dog slinks back into the kitchen, bringing the smell of decaying fecal matter with him. I’ve lost my appetite again. I bite my lip and close my eyes, hoping that when I open them, things will be better. They aren’t.   Finished with his food, my dad yawns widely and informs first me, then everyone else that he will be going upstairs to take a nap because he is so jetlagged. I shrug my consent. His family ushers him up the stairs with smiles and laughed words, very few of which I can really understand.   The Fla-Vor-Ice falls out of my hand and lands on my dress. I’ve gotten my wish; my clothes are now dirty like everyone else’s. But it doesn’t help. The combination of sugar and sweat seeps into the cloth of my dry-clean-only dress, leaving behind patches of sugar-stiffened cloth and yellowish fabric. The empty Fla-VorIce casing sits on top of the unconquered mound of food in front of me, mocking me for not being able to finish it. My throat closes up for what seems like the hundredth time that day, but this time, tears mix with the sweat on my face, and I push away from the table. Mumbling “zai-wei,” I walk up the same set of stairs my dad took, trailing the stench of manure and Chinese food behind me.


Jean Guan ‘11 is scared of her pyromaniac roommate that likes to burn Waffles.


Dear Journal

By Michael Enriquez

Dear You, We need to talk. Yah … that awkward talk With words that finally escaped this dense brain of mine People talk about walls and fortresses of ice to those with the solid faces To those whose hearts are not strong enough for the world I am not them, and I am not the world. I will talk Jell-O The one with the right amount of grape flavor to make me sweet And just thick enough to keep me safe I’m not who you thought I was There’s more to me than my family More than the mess they made me I won’t apologize from within this tangled prison for not talking My silence is my fortitude So I will sit here and organize in my quiet Making sense of the love of my parents with the love for myself In this fallen Jenga pile I’ll find what it means to be family

VISIONS   Fall 2008

Its stories and teachings trace wispy patterns on my skin Tattooing lessons into every scar and bruise With morals that you couldn’t grasp because they aren’t yours Morals that you wouldn’t grasp because they weren’t yours


I may not always love my family Or their morals and foundations Yet a well-meaning heart with edges not so refined Holds me more than the cold bed you left behind So I pride myself in knowing that I am one of them

Not an American because I live in America Why? Because I am Filipino That makes me the Son of my papa Son of my mom Brother of my Ate and Kuya of my brother They may not know me as much as you did but who’s still here? Watching me grow. It’s hard to grow When you want to change When you’ve changed too much When you can’t change fast enough When you’re forced to change And when you just really, really fucking don’t know So no… I did not appreciate when you inferred from that stereotype —It wouldn’t work ‘cause you’re Asian. And Asians just don’t communicate feelings well— But I’m not, you know…just that That label, that boy, that whatever you care to insert here. << >> I am… I am happy being who I am So I choose my ‘refuge’ and discard yours

MICHAEL ENRIQUEZ ‘11 is currently growing that part that lets you speak what you think in a pot back home.

A Geisha in Disguise? Melanie Chow â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;11 Digital Photography


VISIONS   Fall 2008

Running through a maze Devon Cupery ‘11 Digital Photography



By Rachel Economy

He leaves a track through Damp morning sand, Dragging the vessel In the salty light of Sunday. His white beard collects Grains and flies and the taste of the sea. Old friends, the man, and the boat Shuffle endlessly down the shore. White paint, weather-worn, Cracking off seasoned planks As he knits his ancient white brows At the sight of the waters Too calm for the beating in his veins. *** Bells peal in an infinite cadence of salvation Calling the wayfarers home to rest In the withered hands of long-told tales To reach as the steeple towards the peaceful sky As if it holds some secret knowledge of what is to come. Reverberating through their marrow Through the polished pews Crafted lovingly of sea-boned driftwood The joyful vibrations pull at the very waters of their blood And they bow their heads in prayer. ***


The priest’s wrinkled elbow rests on the pulpit As he reminds them of their wrathful God How he wrought upon his sinful and war-making people A purge such that for forty nights The moon was made to relinquish Her hold upon the tides. Yet as she wept in a corner of the sky For her lost daughters One man and his sons boarded An ark above the arching waves. Caretakers of the beings that would rebirth the world, They rode the flood to its extinction And found the water and the land once again Sleeping peacefully side by side. “God will not tolerate war, injustice, deceit. He will cleanse the world of sin. Therefore make peace with your neighbor So that you need not ask who will float And who will swim in vain.”



Twenty meters too soon he reaches the edge The sinister wetness of a tide rising Towards the empty sky slips in. Ankles lapped, toes submerged And in his panic he has dropped The rope. He watches his boat dancing As the waters begin gently to froth, Then whips around to stare In the direction of his sisters, kneeling blind behind Stained glass, Searching for some reason to be.


VISIONS   Fall 2008 38

Hokusai Revisited Han Yang Lee ‘12 Pen and Acrylic

He is running. The boat floats forgotten On the now roiling tide. His voice rips from his throat To soar up the hill wind Drowning out the echoes of Church bells In a desperate warning cry. Behind him, the seeping salt tears of the moon Rise another meter up the beach.


Their glass haven shattered by the sounds Of one man’s anguished yells, Churchgoers turn in confusion As the wooden door slams open against The wall. Hinges straining to save it from falling, falling. Five minutes streak by before His words permeate the now panic-swamped room. “It is coming, it is coming, None will be spared.”


The sandy gravel of eons falls away in chunks Beneath feet both bare and shod Crumbling as their hope. Souls torn apart by the cries Of the children on their shoulders, They scramble through the scrub. Rocks masquerading as stable, solid, Unchanging earth Shift as they climb towards The salvation of shelter high above The hungry sea. None take time to look back and watch As She ravishes the helpless dunes.




The balance of everything hangs In the temple on the hill, In the lilting swing of the gong As it twists in the shifting wind The ancient peace high above The angry frothing lips of the waves Waits on an intake of breath. A world stops as they watch Their brothers and sisters Mounting the shale-strewn hillside Scrambling towards the same God Hidden within a different book.


In a distant land, the war-makers Are parched for lack of water. They fight heedlessly on Spilling the same color blood in every direction. *** The give and take of sea devouring shore Sounds in a discordant ringing Echoing across the dunes Broadcasting notes of power Into the souls of wrenchingly humbled beings Strewn across the indifferent land Helpless against this force. She is their God and their hell. But atop the sacred hill Joined beyond hate, beyond reason Beyond the worshipped words of ancient men Sit the Buddhists and the Catholics And the white-bearded man Wondering at the floods that Gobble the sleeping sand. Above the raging, heaving waters They feel as if they float And they bow their heads to a journey’s beginning And the ending of a world.

VISIONS   Fall 2008


RACHEL ECONOMY ‘10 enjoys writing poems in the vicinity of tea.

Chasing Light

from their room above us, which I later suspected was not crying but secret, loving moans, and which I now know was both. That was my coming-of-age, I guess. Realizing my parents were not just my mom and dad but individuals who had their own childhoods, too, and their own preoccupations. Discovering that they did not just create me one predestined night but that they still fucked, and cried, like kids. Once when I was eleven, my friend Byrd told me what an aphrodisiac was—like strawberries and clams, he said. And summer, and grief, I said. ii.   My birth was a byproduct of Van’s death and marked the beginning of my family’s calling it such, calling it her death. Until I slithered from my mother’s womb and into the shadow of Van’s absence, my family had been referring to the incident, on the rare occasions they mentioned it at all, as her “vanishing.” “Because that’s what it was,” Mai told me when I was six. “She went into the sea and vanished.”   This is my imagined truth: The night after, my parents sat in silence on the opposite sides of their hotel room. Ma sat atop a wooden window seat, forehead pressed against the cool glass, eyes on the moonlit sand outside. The cold glass numbed her face, and my mother could only sit there, fighting an urge to close her hand into a fist and thrust it into the glass and beyond. She imagined the shards that would cascade back toward her, drenching her skin in its own redness. Dad sat on the edge of the bed, facing the opposite wall, holding the edge of the unfamiliar, sterile blanket and trying his hardest to tear it. And then, with a cosmic simultaneity, they turned around, met each other’s eyes, and rushed at each other, and my dad, transferring his burgeoning pain from the blanket to my mother’s clothing, rent apart my mother’s shirt at the buttons, tore down her jeans, cast them violently aside. As they fucked with an unprecedented urgency, my mom clenched her fingers into a fist and pounded with all her strength—not the cool window but my dad’s hot back, reaching around his torso as it lay atop her and punching his smooth, pale back with such force that its sound echoed in her soul. Entangled in one another’s arms and in their own snot and tears and blood


i.   We had a deck in the backyard made of wood. Long, thin planks lay parallel like popsicle sticks and stretched over the bright lawn like the deck of a ship. In summer, Mai and I would jump rope barefoot on the deck, tip-toeing lightly and squealing with delighted pain as the balls of our feet touched the wood, which drank the sun and stored the heat in its wrinkles. As the sun melted behind the hills, the deck would cool, and we, fatigued and sweaty from swinging and skipping rope, would lie in the growing sliver of shade cast by the edge of the roof of our house, listening to the hushed buzzing, the noisy friction of wings against wings, the creaking of unseen creatures clicking into the darkening dusk that settled on our corner of the world like paint sliding down the surface of the sky.   At night we sprawled ourselves out on the deck like rag dolls, lying on our backs and looking up into the glow of the paper lanterns dangling above us from wires strung across poles, winged creatures fluttering in swarms toward their radiance. We could lie there for hours, watching the moths spastically orbit the little lamps, chasing light like dreams. We pressed our bare, thin arms against the cooled wood, hoping for an occasional breeze.   The spectacle of the moths dancing about the lanterns; the silver pinpricks of stars splashed across the sky; the weighty heat of the air pressing against the cold, dark wood; these were our refuges in the summer, that broken season when our parents would change, smiles deteriorating into hollow glances, solid postures collapsing into faces, wet, resting in hands. Mai and I couldn’t be in that house where Ma would lock herself up in their bedroom all day and Dad would join her as soon as he returned home from work, where the air itself became heavier with the shared memory of an absent daughter, where the wallpaper began to smell of the dust left on the furniture as Ma stopped maintaining the house. The backyard was our escape.   Splinters were a part of every summer, and so were moths, and light, and heat, and quietness, dashed by the throaty mating calls of crickets. Ma’s tightened throat, and Dad’s preoccupied gaze rendered Mai and me as invisible as the ghosts that haunted us. Locked bedroom doors and the sounds of distorted crying

By VyVy Trinh


VISIONS   Fall 2008

and sweat, my parents pushed, pressed, and wailed. It was their way, and it would be until old age, peaking in summers, the anniversary of Van’s vanishing.   What they made was not love but rage, harsh rage, against the ocean, the stupidly helpless police, and themselves. They sought solace in one another’s hardness, their solid flesh, and the pressure they could exert on one another like a great, carnal stress ball. It was always violent like storms, or fistfights, and I wish that there was a word between “fuck” and “love” that I could use, that when I described them as fucking, they didn’t sound like drunken teenagers sliding in and out of each other in the back of a borrowed car. But maybe there’s some sense in linking them, even tangentially, to young, confused kids in backseats. In the wake of Van’s disappearance, they were reduced to children, to fools. They lost their footing and, like kids, had faces of disbelief as they engaged in their bodily escape.   I was the child, literally, of this carnal mourning. My conception could have only been a surprise to my parents, not because they were forty-three and forty-five at the time but because the idea of having another child to replace their lost one was impossible. To move forward with one’s life, to bring life into a household of death, was to abandon your little girl’s body in the sand.   But of course no one in my family had ever seen Van’s body in the sand. She left behind no such trace when she vanished, at least not in the immediate aftermath, except for little sandal-prints leading toward the sea. At night, the wind swept over them gently, filling the slipper-shaped grooves so that by sunrise it seemed they were never there at all.


iii.   As a kid, I learned all the immutable facts that all kids learned, and more. Sharing is caring, smoking is nasty, dogs say woof and pigs say oink, the Pilgrims and Squanto started Thanksgiving, and once you had a sister called Van. She died, but she is always with us. Ma, Dad, and Mai had all endured a paralyzing loss, whereas I had inherited it like a piece of family lore. I will pass it on, too, telling my children in the future of their late Aunt Van, or Dì Van, as one would say in my mother’s language. Mai will do the same,

but her stories will be different—quieter, somehow, and harder to reel out of her. As she wrote to me once in a letter from college, “We grew up in different worlds, Lan. I grew up in a world where Van was always there, and you grew up in a world where she was gone.”   She was using the term “grew up” loosely, as she was only five, almost six, when Van disappeared, and seven when I was born. She tells me her memories of Van have faded into a cloudy collage of little fingers, interlocked, of games of princess-andprince in which Mai was invariably told to play prince, of swimming together in light blue pools while wearing bright orange inflatable floaties. But even of these snippets of memory, she is unsure which are truly hers and which have just been gleaned from the fuzzy reels of old home videos captured with the shaky, amateur hand of our Dad before the day a deeper shakiness took him over completely. I often wonder what it must have been like to be Mai at age five, learning about mortality alongside other lessons of reading two-syllable words and telling time.   The winter I was twelve, Mai came home for Christmas after her first semester at college, wildly in love. Not with a boy or a girl but with a history, a polluted one of war and beauty and uprisings and imperialism and peace. She was in love with Vietnam. That Christmas season, while Ma cooked dinner, Mai would sit on the kitchen counter pressing Ma for more stories of the war, asking her to teach her more Vietnamese words, planning her summer trip “back” to Vietnam, and seizing any opportunity to roll her eyes and complain bitterly of communism. At the dinner table, she praised our mother’s cooking more than usual and complained about how impossible it was to find Vietnamese food in her college town and how the spicy, fruit-laden flavors of Vietnam trumped the bland, fattening American food served in her cafeteria.   Bewildered, I asked her one night why she was suddenly obsessed with Vietnam. She replied, “Because we live in a culturally imperialist, white-normative country where the pressure to assimilate is a system of oppression, and I’m tired of it.” I shrugged and walked away. For me, Vietnam had always existed in my periphery, especially because we were mixed with Chinese on my


Who Says Cambodians Can’t Break Dance? Caitlin Ho ‘10 Digital Photography


VISIONS   Fall 2008

dad’s side. Yet I spent my twelfth Christmas listening to her rapid talk of tracing her roots and of self-definition. She was chasing our family’s ghosts, taking our mother’s, grandparents’, and ancestors’ truths as her own, searching for her history. She still is.   Mai digs through what is left of our mother’s photographs, letters, and journals, hops planes to Saigon, studies Vietnamese, searches to fill the gaping hole that stands between her and truth. Me, I unearth old, unlabeled VHS tapes, sit in the dark and watch the past unfold itself again and again, and sift through archives of decades-old photographs. My favorite video clip is a mere eight seconds of Van and Mai sitting in the back row of a car, Mai asleep on Van’s lap, Van’s steady hand patting down her smooth black hair. Van whispers to me the way Vietnam does to Mai, our imagined memories of them pulling our hearts like ocean water to the moon, or moths to light.


iv.   Like many little girls growing up in suburban America, Nancy Drew colored my world. The glossy, blonde girl-sleuth spoke to me particularly because my own life had always been defined by the mystery of the missing sister. Curiosity drove me—for other than the one time Mai had told me randomly, in the middle of the night, that until I was born Dad and Ma had called it a vanishing rather than a death, I knew no details.   “How did Van die?” I asked my mother once.   “She vanished.”   “How did she vanish?”   “She died.”   The summer Benjamino Byrd introduced to me the concept of the aphrodisiac, he and I walked from his house to the public library. A talkative, wide-eyed boy with black-brown skin and a cloud of black hair, Byrd was my best friend for years. He was the only person who knew of my childhood search for the truth about Van, and he helped me loyally. We always worked together, or as Byrd always said, “We was in cahoots.” At the library, Byrd took hold of the first available computer and logged onto a newspaper database while I watched. In the search box: Vanessa Tran.   These were the facts, tucked neatly into headlines: “REMAINS

SUSPECTED TO BELONG TO MISSING SAN MATEO GIRL.” And “DNA TESTS CONFIRM BODY OF MISSING BAY AREA CHILD.” And “FAMILY GRIEVES OVER CHILD CORPSE, EXPECTS NEW DAUGHTER.”   And these were the phrases that inked themselves into my consciousness: “closing off the search area” and “negligence” and “investigating the possibility of foul play.”   And this is what I learned: She was found, months later, washed up at a beach three miles south of the beach my family had been at that day. All the beaches were connected, of course, belonging to one long coast, and the tide did pull toward the south. But the appearance of her body at a different beach, so far from the one where she vanished, may have also pointed to foul play, one article informed me.   I stopped reading then and shut down the computer. It was the solidness of the articles. The flesh. The finality. The image of her tissue—damaged, decayed, discovered, dissolved into dust. I had never thought of these things. My family had always used the word “vanished,” which caused me to imagine her softly slipping into another dimension of the world. A part of me had secretly thought she might actually be alive and that maybe, in a strange, unconscious way, my parents had given birth to me so that I might conduct the search that they were too fatigued and hopeless to do.   Byrd and I left the library and walked home in a fragile silence that part of me still hasn’t broken, a silence which is a sort of swallowing of ghosts. I understood my parents’ quietness now, and my sister’s. I stopped reading Nancy Drew, stopped fancying myself a dolled-up detective. I lay awake at night for two nights in a row and on the third, after Mai had nodded off to sleep, whispered to Van in the dark, imagining how she might have responded. I fell asleep dreaming of a dream, an old film reel replaying in my head of her and Mai spinning wildly on our deck. v.   Every summer Mai and I go back to our old home to visit our parents during our breaks from teaching. It’s as if a tacit, innate calling pulls us toward home every year when the air gets thick

with heat, and the sun doesn’t melt away until eight, and a quiet symphony of wings escalates in the bushes. My family revolves around the summer, the season of vanishing and fucking, and we spend the other nine months waning away from summer or waxing toward it.   Sometimes I awake in the night with the words “foul play” running across my lips and vague images of faceless, bearded men whom I regard with acidic hatred during the times I can’t convince myself it was the undertow that might have taken my sister. More gnawing than the nightmares are the mind games, the creeping illogic of my love for the big sister I never knew. The mind game starts out with my wondering if Van and I would have been playful together and then realizing once again that such a question makes no sense. Would I have been born if Van had not died? Do Van’s death and my birth have some sort of causal relationship? If one looks at the confounding metaphysics of the question, is it impossible for Van and me to exist together?   Because these nightmares and mind games peak in the summers, like my parents’ wailing once did, I am grateful to be back home, sleeping in the same room as Mai. Somehow she always senses when I have these nightmares; perhaps they coincide with her own. When this happens, or when we simply can’t sleep, or when we simply do not want to, we climb out of bed and walk outside, hand in hand, onto our deck. There we sit in silence with my head resting on her shoulder and watch the moths flutter, fighting to touch, and yet never reaching, the light glowing behind the glass in the lanterns dangling above us.


VyVy Trinh ‘11 took Writing the Southeast Asian War in the English department, and it was the shit.


VISIONS   Fall 2008 46

Memento Marisa Ideta ‘11 Digital Photography


By Corrie Tan

for my father

A blind man once taught my father how to sketch three fish tangled up. An exercise in symmetry, a fascinating procedure for the boy who would one day become an engineer and marvel at the physics of things. It was a mantra for him, these fish. He could draw them with his eyes squeezed shut. He wasn’t particularly artistic; art had never interested him. But these fish, they were different.    I remember learning how to draw them when I was very young, the fascinated father and the condescending child hunched over sheets of paper with the same three fish entwining over and over again in an endless sprawl of pages. Not understanding his preoccupation with three stupid fish, I wanted a dog. Or guinea pigs. Something I could cuddle.    Only to realize ten years later that these fish were no work of art. They were a mobius strip of his life: his three daughters, the perfectly trisected circle, the vanishing point at the center, the perpendicular tails. The miracle of parenthood. Completely unaware of how his future had been told all those decades ago by a man who couldn’t see and who trusted only in the intuition of his fingers. We weren’t perfect, these three fish—we wriggled and spun far beyond the reach of his protective sphere—but we stuck. Three heads going in different directions but never too far apart.     


Corrie Tan ‘10 is blowing soap bubbles in the bathtub.


Where are the Asians in the 2008 Presidential Election?

VISIONS   Fall 2008

  The 2008 presidential election has inspired a resurgence of racialized discourse among the United States public. The ever-so taboo subject of race seems almost excessively salient in the decision-making processes of Americans eager to place their vote. Even so, several scholars (including some political scientists at Brown) agree that white normativity pervades the political analysis of the election. When analysts conjure the image of the average American voter, they expect us to visualize a white man. In addition, when newscasters talk about the woman vote, they are in actuality talking about white women. Often, criticism against such white normalization centers on the notion that the black vote is not being recognized—a completely valid critique. The only time at which black voters are acknowledged is when Barack Obama surprisingly wins polls in Southern states and we attribute to that the high density of black voters in specific Southern cities. Minority populations are exclusively addressed as an entity separate from the “truly” American population and solely under unique circumstances.


  In addition, when we talk about minority populations in discourses surrounding the election, we really mean black people. We feed off of the white-black dichotomy that shapes race relations in the United States. Subsequently, we further marginalize other people of color such as Latinos, Native Americans, Middle Eastern people, multi-racial people and Asians. I use the word “we” to denote how much we, as Asians, perpetuate this marginalization through our complacency. By no means do I put blame on us for such discursive inequalities, but where is the critique against the lack of Asian voter recognition in this election? Asians are ignored by analysts and Americans who perpetuate white normativity and the white-black dichotomy of race simply by conceptualizing voters in a particular way. As a result, the 2008 election is yet another fastener on the straitjacket that locks Asians into the role identity of the perpetual foreigner.   In 2004, over 6 million Asians were eligible to vote, 51.8% of

By Soyoung Park

whom registered to vote and 44.1% of whom voted 1, making up about 3% of the total eligible voter population in the United States. Depending on the state, this percentage of eligible Asian voters increased. Some of the highest percentages of Asian voters by state, for example, were 2/3 of the electorate in Hawaii, 11% in California, and 6% in Nevada 2. We could question the significance of such numbers, but when nominees win states at paper-thin margins, does not every vote count? Furthermore, by dismissing this population as irrelevant, we contradict the very foundation of the electoral process. Voting intends to give a voice to all people who cast a ballot—regardless of whether or not their nominee wins, they were given the opportunity to state their opinion. By failing to acknowledge Asians in the election discourses, analysts and the American people state that the Asian vote and voice does not matter. And if our vote does not count, then are we really American?   I do want to credit that Asians were acknowledged once during the Democratic Primary in California. Even this recognition, however, merely served to perpetuate racial hierarchy with whites on top. Seventy-five percent of eligible Democratic Asians in California voted for Hillary Clinton, and 23% voted for Barack Obama. CNN experts hypothesized that anti-black racism lay behind this differential, and many other scholars and analysts agreed 3. So now, Asians are not only invisible in the election process, but the one time we make the headlines is to prove that we are racist. In effect, this kind of news coverage only enhances the divide and conquer phenomenon that continually separates Asians from other people of color, like blacks, pitting us against each other and preventing solidarity. Suddenly, white racists are not the problem for Barack Obama—Asians are. This kind of discourse allows majority populations to avoid taking responsibility for perpetual racism against blacks and direct blame elsewhere.   What is most depressing about all of this is the fact that racism towards Asians is not only dismissed, but it is made to seem

non-existent. By leaving Asians out of the election, we evade the need to discuss how class inequality affects Asian immigrant populations. Or how health care and education are inaccessible to Asian immigrants who lack English-speaking skills. The message that this failure to recognize racism towards Asians sends is that the American people do not care about this particular population in the United States. Our vote, as far as the American public can tell, does not count—we are too few in number. What have we become, then, in the eyes of the average American? Racist foreigners. We are not American since our vote does not count and we are portrayed as hateful towards the only minority group considered to be part of the American people, albeit not always with open arms.

____________________________________________________ 1  U.S. Census Bureau. “Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2004.” March 2006. 2  Jeffery S. Passel. “Latino and Asian Voters in the 2004 Election and Beyond.” Migration Information Source. http://www.migrationinformation. org/USfocus/display.cfm?ID=269. November 2004. 3  Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. “Does Obama Have an Asian Problem?” Time., 8599,1714292,00.html. February 18, 2008.

Soyoung Park ‘09 is an Asian American woman voter in the 2008 election who voted for Barack Obama.


  If this is the message that Americans send Asians, what do we as eligible voters who want our voices to be heard do? We can continue to vote until the American public finally notices us, and I firmly believe that we should exercise our right to vote. Voting alone, however, is not enough. Asians, particularly bilingual individuals, must get involved in campaigns to register more eligible Asians to vote. Furthermore, we should be at the forefront of advocacy against the consequences of racism that Asians face daily. Americans will not recognize the effects of such racism on their own. They need to be reminded, and not necessarily quietly. If we want Americans to remember that the economy affects Asians just as it does other populations, or that immigration rights has as big an impact on the Asian community as it does on the Latino population, we cannot remain complacent. As sad as it is that we are forced into conditions that require activism, we should welcome the responsibility so that Americans remember that we are an important part of the United States. Then maybe, in 2012, we won’t have to ask, “Where are the Asians in the Presidential Election?”


E-Board Bios Jihan Chao ‘10 signifies nothing. Jilyn Chao ‘11 is biding her time. Melanie Chow ‘11 will pass, because it’s not like it was that great to begin with. Clayton Kim ‘10 is preparing to be spontaneous. Debbie Lai ‘12 ‘s lukewarm life in the refrigerator was interrupted by the advent of melancholy emus. Eric Lee ‘10 is proud to have served as Editor in Chief of VISIONS. He hopes that VISIONS will continue to inspire the community to always seek truth, beauty, and justice. Yeppii Lee ‘11 misses the convenience of chopsticks. Kenji Morimoto ‘11 loves rainy weather, knows too much about his family’s history, and is searching for the world’s best gelato. Yue Pang ‘11 will accept, sans g-ph hairline. Wendy Sekimura ‘11 walks on unaccustomed earth. Alex Toyoshima ‘11 is staying hungry.

VISIONS   Fall 2008

Mission Statement


VISIONS is a publication that highlights and celebrates the diversity of Brown’s Asian/Asian American Community. We are committed to being an open literary and artistic forum for Asian/Asian Americans, as well as other members of the university community, to freely express and address issues relating both to the Asian 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 Brown’s vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as the larger Providence community.

Shimenawa Lyla McBeath Fujiwara ‘10 Digital Photography


Interested in joining VISIONS or submitting? Please contact: Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Please contact:

VISIONS   Fall 2008


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of VISIONS’ advisor, editors, or sponsors.

Visions Fall 2008  

The Fall 2008 issue of Visions, Brown's Asian/Asian-American Art and Literary Magazine

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