Page 1

voice(s) 1


visions   Spring 2009 2a

Smoked Fish Michelle Lee ’10 oil painting


voice(s)

Letter from the Editors Spring 2009, Volume X, Issue ii We decided to try something new this semester. If you know anything about visions, you know that for the past nine years, we’ve served as the Asian/Asian American forum at Brown. Our theme for this semester is “voice(s)” and going along with that, we’ve decided to expand our voice. We all know that Brown students aren’t the only ones on College Hill, so we’ve opened up visions to risd. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but we had the help of risd’s Asian Cultural Association, and without them this issue, which features a combination of Brown and risd voices, would not have been possible. This issue brings together our many voices that are distinct and diverse, that have something to say, and that are united as one voice through visions. You may have noticed that this semester’s E-Board predominantly consists of members of the Class of 2011. We also have three new editors on board—Melanie Chow, Kenji Morimoto, and Alex Toyoshima. As a new group of editors, we’ve seen many changes in visions this semester. We’re happy to say that our pool of submissions has increased significantly and that we can also print a larger number of issues, so that everyone in the Brown/risd community can hear our many voices.

Kenji Morimoto ’11, Melanie Chow ’11, Yue Pang ’11, Alex Toyoshima ’11 And now we invite you, our readers, to join us in Envisioning and Building a Stronger Asian/Asian American Community. Peace & Love, Melanie, Yue, Alex, and Kenji

We would like to thank Dean Kisa Takesue for her endless support and dedication. Thank you to the risd Asian Cultural Association for their cooperation and their desire to work with us to promote the Asian/Asian American community here in Providence. Thank you to our staff, E-Board members, contributors, and everyone else who has been a part of visions.

3


visions   Spring 2009

Editorial Board editor-in-chief  Melanie Chow ’11 layout editor  Yue Pang ’11 art & photography editor  Alex Toyoshima ’11 managing editor  Kenji Morimoto ’11 copy editors  Alicia Chen ’12, Amy Chen ’12, Jeehyun Choi ’11, Katrina Chu ’10, Courtney Clark ’11, Kathy Do ’12, Melissa Dzenis ’11, Jean Guan ’11, Marisa Ideta ’11, Jiwon Kim ’12, Huan Ting Lee ’11, Jennifer Lee ’10, Yasmin Or ’11, Jessica Pan ’11, Hayoung Park ’09, Allison Peck ’11, Manasa Reddy ’12, Wendy Sekimura ’11, Sabrina Skau ’12, Maya Stroshane ’11, Jennifer Tan ’11, VyVy Trinh ’11, Vivian Truong ’12, Star Wang ’11, Susan Yue ’12

layout staff  Franny Choi ’11, Marisa Ideta ’11, Jiwon Kim ’12, Yukiko Kunitomo ’12, Harmony Lu ’12, Allison Peck ’11, Manasa Reddy ’12, Wendy Sekimura ’11, Alex Toyoshima ’11

cover designer  Alex Toyoshima ’11 cover photography  Matthew Reichel ’09 illustrators  Harmony Lu ’12, Wendy Sekimura ’11, Alex Toyoshima ’11 publicity   Kenji Morimoto ’11, Wendy Sekimura ’11, Vivian Truong ’12 freshman representative   Debbie Lai ’12 webmaster  Jihan Chao ’10 outreach  Jilyn Chao ’11 advisor  Dean Kisa Takesue sponsor  The Office of Student Life printer   Brown Graphic Services

4

a very special thanks to The Third World Center Kisa Takesue, Associate Dean of Student Life The Office of the Dean of the College The Office of Campus Life & Student Services Undergraduate Finance Board Lauren Sun, risd ’09 Caitlin Chan, risd ’10 The risd Asian Cultural Association The risd Office of Student Life All our contributors and staff

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


voice(s)

Table of Contents prose & poetry where are you from, Franny Choi The One Puka Puka, Kara Kamikawa The Way We Know, Hana Kawai running away, Yeppii Lee Brooklyn Boulevard, Ho-Shia Thao Ancient Roots, Melanie Chow Living Stories, Diana Huang Transparencies, Yue Pang Tita, Tim Natividad Grandmother, Vivian Truong Strands, Susan Yue Pop, Corrie Tan The Future Voice(s) of Asian America, Soyoung Park Late winter; early spring, Indrayudh Shome The space between our clasped hands infinite, Indrayudh Shome Vacationing, Elaine Tamargo Aliens, Tessa Zeng Day, Dream, Tessa Zeng Somewhere in Between, Eric Lee

art & photography 4 6 10 12 14 19 20 22 23 23 26 32 34 37 38 39 42 42 45

Smoked Fish, Michelle Lee The Ruin, Taiyang (Sunny) Chen 地法天 天法道, Yao Cheng Tooth Fairy, Robyn Ng I Wish, Hannah Schafer Wood-fired Bizen Ware, Louie Rigano Stare, Tiffany Jon flyboys, Chenxi Nancy Li Golden Bag, Hyun Jin Yoo Exposure, Kristie Huey Entrance of a Home in Fenghuang, Hunan Province, China, Brian Chang Two Windows, Inle Lake, Myanmar, Matthew Reichel Love is Like Oxygen, Xin Xin Korea within Korea, Janice Kim Mindblowing music, Han Yang Lee A Moment of Zen, Winifred Hwang Pot au Feu, Karen Wang Handprints on a temporary wall, Devon Cupery July, Athena Lo Godavari     , Kam Sripada blue, Yukiko Kunitomo Kite Store, Robyn Ng Sticky Situation, Celia Chung Bánh Mì, VyVy Trinh

a 5 7 8 9 11 12 13 16 18 21 24 25 28 31 33 35 36 38 40 41 43 44 b

Submissions from Brown Submissions from risd

5


visions   Spring 2009

where are you from  by Franny Choi i.

iii.

New Haven

dad had eight brothers and sisters— one of them very beautiful grandmother never mixed up their names.

In July they could tell us the noises were just fireworks—still, home before dark to faded sofa-cover apartment to stale mattresses, Yale-sponsored whitewash.

six months in the army, they wrote letters — pink in the shoebox. puddles in pots, but jump rope. all the girls stockings. two braids.

Linden Street is pansies and porch swings, old trees grown restless, cracking the sidewalk. Bruschetta from Bravo’s round the corner, thin brick-oven from Modern’s makes you melt.

on the subway even the smallest children, with yellow umbrellas, backpacks even the ramen stands even midnight soju books in chinese.

Three churches still ringing bells on the green While their congregations swap prayers, dope. Summer nights, families and hookers sit under the black trees to watch La Bohème.

there are too many cites here but each layer like every pedestrian

Watch the city limp by, not with neon, but graffiti on the bookstore window.

ii.

6

Seoul

real.

Madison

iv.

Decatur

on icy afternoons, hello to the crossing guard balloon shoulders hiding mittens chained like a tin-can telephone over the years i lost so many hats.

Forgotten city, lost among the streets That dwindle into peeling garden fence, Where teenage couples hungrily now creep To break old vows and feed each other tongues,

once sneaked onto the big kids’ playground, why woodchips, it is so much worse for knees. skies too tall even if i jump but just a few years til I am like the sixth graders.

A city disavowed by rebel flag Hung wrathfully from brazen Chevy truck, By shackled steakhouse every Thursday night, Asthmatic wall art, dirty linens whine.

blackberries behind parking lot chain links mom on the kitchen floor making raisin cakes she was honest. finish your homework first in fall the light was always yellow

Abandoned spectre of plantation past And razors memory only knows as phones, Where is it? Drawn apart by freeway crammed, Where mufflers dream of sunny front door kiss.

patches of wisconsin—hills, somewhere a pond. classmates and field trips are the only shapes.

Your lawns so perfect mown are far too still, Though not so dead to be proud of the kill. franny choi

’11 is still piecing together her Providence.


voice(s)

The Ruin Taiyang (Sunny) Chen ’11  digital photography

7


visions   Spring 2009 8

The One Puka Puka  by Kara Kamikawa At my grandparents’ old house, every time I went to get playing cards from my grandpa’s room, I snuck a look at the picture in the middle of his shelf. A young man in a military uniform looked back. I have since learned that the picture captures a defining moment in American history: when Japanese boys rose above prejudice to serve their country during the most difficult time to be a Japanese American. I have always been proud that my grandpa and his brother served America in the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regiment, respectively—both segregated units of Nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans. Growing up in Hawaii, I always learned about the Nisei story, visited their graves, and met the veterans. After coming to the East Coast, I was shocked to find that many people only think of internment when they think of the Japanese American experience during wwii. While many of the Japanese Americans on the mainland were interned, many of the Japanese Americans from Hawaii served in the military. I want to tell their story, and let their voices speak through mine. At ninety years of age, my grandpa still remembers: he received his draft notice on March 24, 1941—eight months before Pearl Harbor. I did not ask my grandpa about the “Day of Infamy,” but he started his story there. Early on the morning of December 7, 1941, he returned from a night at home. He caught a taxi at 6am in order to be back by 7am for KP duty. Just before 8am, while he was in the kitchen, bombing and shooting erupted. Noise. Confusion. Enemy planes. He dropped his work in the kitchen and hurried to his post at the garage. The dispatcher of the motor pool ordered him to go to the ammunition dock, load his truck with ammunition, and drive to Waimanalo. Life had changed, and everyone knew it. Daniel Inouye, a Japanese American veteran and current Hawaii Senator, ran outside and yelled, “Damn Japs!” My grandma cried while her Japanese classmates cheered. Now she would be an American citizen stuck in Japan, where she was studying at the time. The U.S. declared war with Japan and turned to the question of what to do with the enlisted Japanese boys, as my grandpa calls them. Did they help the enemy? Would they now help the enemy? What should be done with them? Incarcerate them? Segregate them? Discharge them? This was war. They were enemy aliens, unfit for service. Pearl Harbor marked the start of America’s engagement in

wwii, as well as the Nisei fight to prove their loyalty on the home front. Leading up to the decision to create a segregated unit of Japanese Americans, some boys pledged their loyalty in a petition. “Hawaii [was their] home; the United States [their] country. [They knew] but one loyalty and that [was] to the Stars and Stripes.” They were ready to serve, ready to fight for their right to serve. Without time to say goodbye to their families, my grandpa and the other Japanese boys from Hawaii boarded a ship and left the islands on June 5, 1942. They did not know their final destination, and no one would tell them. When they landed in Oakland, California, rumors circulated that they were heading to an internment camp. There was truth in the rumors: their final destination at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, served as an internment camp before the boys arrived for basic training. My grandpa remembers one boy in the 100th who thought that his father was interned at Camp McCoy. Yet he still fought for the U.S., a country that questioned his loyalty and discriminated against his ethnicity. After delayed deployment and further training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the 100th boys finally went overseas to fight in Europe—as far away from the Pacific War as possible. They landed in Oran, North Africa. From there, the boys prepared to invade Italy, to push up the boot. Without hesitation, my grandpa recalled that on September 29, 1943, the 100th suffered its first casualty. The boys did not forget the casualties. My grandpa will not forget that a land mine exploded under his younger brother, killing him instantly. He will not forget that he did not have time to see his brother’s grave because he was getting ready to pull out of Italy and invade France. He will not forget his 100th buddies, his childhood friends who gave their lives to serve America. I saw that he highlighted their names in his 100th/442nd book. The men’s sacrifices in the 100th and in the later-combined 100th/442nd proved their loyalty over eight major campaigns. Whether he drove the ammunition truck, like my grandpa, or grabbed a gun and started shooting, each Nisei sacrificed and contributed to the collective legacy of the 100th/442nd. It was the most decorated unit in U.S. military history, and honors try to capture that legacy: eight Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 9,486 Purple Hearts, 22 Legion


voice(s)

of Merit Medals, 559 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars—and the list goes on. We also honor their heroic acts and sacrifices in rescuing the “Lost Battalion” by listing it as one of the top ten battles in U.S. military history. However, much of this recognition did not happen until well after the war. On August 15, 1945, the day the 100th/442nd boys returned to Hawaii, sirens resounded across the island. But the sirens blew to signal Victory Over Japan Day—not their return. This prompted me to ask my grandpa if anyone thanked him. “No,” he said, “we were just lucky to be home.” The veterans who visited my high school history class said the same thing: we were just happy to be home—just happy to be alive. Here is my “thank you.” I lift my voice to thank them and to continue their story. Because of them, I am proud to be a Japanese American. Because of them, I live comfortably in a culture in Hawaii that respects and affirms Japanese Americans. I will remember them as fathers, brothers, sons, friends, and neighbors, and follow the motto of the One Puka Puka (100th) Infantry Battalion: “For Continuing Service.”

地法天 天法道 Yao Cheng ’09 graphic design

kara kamikawa

’09 lives by if can, can; if no can, no can.

9


visions   Spring 2009

Tooth Fairy Robyn Ng ’10 pen & ink, colored in photoshop

10


voice(s)

I Wish Hannah Schafer ’09 digital photography

11


visions   Spring 2009

The Way We Know  by Hana Kawai take a moment. what do you see, hear and feel? “I feel a breeze and I hear running water and voices.” fourteen 9th & 10th graders, feet pressed against fresh linoleum we are in the west lightwell. above you is lettercloud. “this installation reflects the experience of immigration. does anyone know what language this is?” this space provided residents with natural lighting and air around you are the original window frames and original wood of the East Kong Yick Freeman Hotel. 8th Ave S. and S. King St. the walls are heavy dark with stain. here, built in 1910 after the Jackson Street Regrade and relocation of Seattle’s Chinatown/International District. here, the Yee Family Association. tin-can fire doors. one phone/toilet per floor. “let’s move now to the Community Portraits Gallery.” “this is a converted SOR, single occupancy room. often, as many as three or four men shared this space.” it is white plaster, carpet lined with portraits. “what’s your name?” she asks. he is surprised. Taylor. “how old are you?” 15. no siblings. “you are Native Hawaiian, one of the first API immigrants in the northwest.” if you have time, visit our exhibit downstairs, ho’omau ka huaka’i. Rachel, 16, is Japanese. “after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, labor companies began contracting Japanese workers.” in Bellevue, 55 families worked the strawberry fields. Nihonmachi became a ghost town, after internment. Shawn, 15, is an Alaskero. Filipino cannery worker. Local 18257. Harrison, a white girl with braces, she is 14, turning 15 in march.

12


voice(s)

Wood-fired Bizen Ware Louie Rigano ’10 ceramic

“go ahead and take a minute to walk through the five gallery spaces.” each 10x10 converted hotel room dedicated to one ethnic group. the Sikh sponsored by Comcast. the Killing Fields Memorial by the Seattle Times. “we’ll meet back in the lobby.” the tour ends like this. weighted. weightless. my feet steady on a glass-bottomed boat. tour like this ends it. “class? dim sum for lunch?” like the tour ends.

hana kawai

'10 leads her first tour on Friday.

13


visions   Spring 2009

running away  by Yeppii Lee here is so different, a place where I forget where I don’t need to remember, don’t need to worry. in my own world, in my own thoughts consumed by all that is me and forgetting everything that is not. far from my eyes, my hands, my ears but then I catch that glimpse, that graze, that whisper something from long ago and far away that no matter how hard I run and don’t look back is always pulling, always holding on. it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, felt it, heard it but when I do it all comes back. I see the running has stopped and I’m going back. back to there.

Stare Tiffany Jon ’09  digital photography

yeppii lee

14

’11 remembers purple flowers, red stripes, and burning glitter.


voice(s) flyboys Chenxi Nancy Li ’12 oil on calendar

15


visions   Spring 2009

Brooklyn Boulevard  by Ho-Shia Thao Brooklyn Boulevard straddles the border of two Minneapolis suburbs, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. The road is straight for the most part—four lanes connecting two rival high schools, three gas stations, multiple convenience stores, three laundromats, four fast food chains, and two blue water towers, one much taller than its fatter sibling. Brothers are often that way. The only turn in the road twists the boulevard northeast through a graveyard, the bend splitting the tombstones into two separate enclosures, one containing the earliest founders of the brother cities and the other containing the tombs of the newest generation of Brooklyn citizens. The lights of the adjoining cities dim faintly on these shared grounds where memories fade into darkness. The green grass covers the living soil with unconvincing happiness. Whenever we drive by, we are reminded by the large grey gates of our affliction, our denial of the other side. The gates are always closed to us. We fear the reversal beyond the gates, the paradox of the living among the dead. Things are not the same on that side. As we approach the burial grounds on the Boulevard, our peripheral vision narrows and we focus on the road ahead. We pretend the grey gates, their enclosed statues, and the tombstones do not exist, and we drive on. No one likes to be reminded of the past.  On the first day I met you, I had already lost my front tooth, leaving behind a flimsy smile. My mother had woken me that day with a wet bath towel on my face. It was her way of warming me up in the morning. The rays of the sun glistened against the beads of water dripping down my forehead and cheeks. My mother was still in her pajamas, a Thai nightgown of maroon and indigo teardrops, circling halves of yin and yang with black pupils that watched the world fly by as she walked through the hallways of the house. I had my own pajamas on, but they were just red fire trucks and rusty fire hydrants, like the one outside my house near the oak tree. It branched into the street, an ancient among children. Little did we know, we played under the shade of a giant. My sisters were already dressed, as usual. They ate breakfast and chatted of their newest clothes from the back-to-school sales, a custom I was not familiar with yet. Mitchia, the youngest of the three, was starting first grade. Her front teeth had already grown

16

back, straight and narrow. That’s the way they should grow back if you break them right, or so my mother says. I think I broke mine wrong because I tied it to a string and yanked on it while my sisters pulled the door shut. My mother had to say a prayer for my tooth. I felt better then. But you did not have sisters. Adopted, you were the only child in your family. Your breakfast was spent with your mother soothing your frights and fears. I was not as afraid as you were. I had my sisters to protect and teach me. They showed me courage and audacity, fearlessness. Fear had no place in our Hmong home; we had no room for it. But you grew up in an American home. I wondered what you feared so much when we, the only Asian home in our neighborhood, feared nothing. I was dressed in khaki shorts that day, with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirt and white tennis shoes to match. I was a mean, green fighting machine, a reptilian samurai on the first day of battle. I know because I have a picture of it in my mother’s photo album. Pajjar, my oldest sibling, led our way to school. The rest of us followed in our birth order: Gao-jai, Mitchia, me. We had traveled this way many times before. My younger brother, Ho-Seng, was not yet old enough to know what walking was. My mother pushed him in a stroller behind us. When I first saw you, your bangs were cut just like mine. It was as if your mom had put a bowl on your head and cut around it, just like my father had done to me. I was glad to have someone just like me in the class, but I still envied you and hated you. You stood behind me, behind my mother and our stroller while we waited for the school bell to ring and signal our first day of school. None of the kids talked to each other, but we all laughed and chatted with our parents. Your mom was American. I did not understand how a blackhaired boy, who had skin like mine and eyes like mine, could be born to a white woman with straw-yellow hair. It was short like a man’s and reminded me of the boy I once saw in my sister’s coloring book. Only, she colored it black to match our hair because we were all the same, and you stood out with a mother whose hair looked like straw. I was not the only one staring as you hid behind your mother’s hands, peeking out at the world with only one of your brown eyes. Our classmates did not understand you either. Your yellow-haired mom


But then I saw you at a grocery store one weekend. You were with your mom and I was with my family. My sister Mitchia and I were walking down the cereal aisle when I heard someone laughing at the other end, a child’s laughter, vociferous yet playful. When I looked over, I saw you riding the end of the food cart with a Mickey Mouse hat on, and I hung onto your voice as it travelled far into my head. You were a kid, just like me. When you looked over, I was already heading back with a box of Cheerios under my arm. I stole a glance around the corner. We made eye contact and, for the first time, I saw you and you saw me.

This happened again at school the next Monday. You said, “Hi.” Your voice was raspy, as if a frog was stuck in your throat. I thought you were sick, and then reasoned that your illness made you happy which made you say “Hi” to me. At this point, I had figured out that we were not going to be friends like Bert and Ernie. I was Elmo and you were Grouch. I said “Hi” back, but you must not have heard because you burrowed away into your hole. Then again, the following Wednesday, you said, “Your name is Howsha!” as though it were a statement, not a question. “No,” I responded, “My name is Ho-Shia. Your name is Matthew.” You nodded in agreement, and I saw that your broken tooth was just like my broken tooth. It made me laugh and I pointed to the closing gap making room for a new tooth in my mouth. Ms. Savage, our teacher, must not have thought it was nice because she told us to stop talking after that. That school day, it was snowing. The fall leaves had vanished into plastic bags humped over on a curb and the light disappeared behind mounds of grey matter. We waited for naptime when everyone slept to whisper details of our small lives. You had a train that could squirt water, you said. It was blue and yellow and it made noises like the real thing. You knew because you had been on one before. I had an airplane. It was white and red and I flew it in the air and it lived in the clouds. You said you had been on one of those, but you did not remember because you were only a baby. I was confused, but thought you were so cool. Like the ramen noodles your mom used to put in the microwave for us, we became instant best friends. Over the following weeks, we shared our crayons and drawings, the comic book stills of our favorite super heroes. We had play dates and sleepovers. I avoided all my other friends. When spring came, our mothers walked us over to the park to play in the thawing grass. The coldness of the earth paralyzed our toes but our soles were warm from running. You became one of those boys I knew, screaming, “You’re it!” before dashing behind the merrygo-round, sand flying under your bare feet. My mother said she had never seen me happier. My tooth grew back whole. For the Kindergarten Teddy Bear Fair, we invited all our families to see our awesomely decorated teddy bears. Yours had a hockey stick, a helmet, a black eye, a missing tooth, and a Minnesota North Star jersey on it. His eyes were small and made out of raisins glued to the hard cardboard where you drew out his life. You said you wanted to be a hockey player when you grew up. Mine had a bowl haircut made

voice(s)

smiled and coaxed you on, wiping away your tears. You were a baby and we were kids. We were all scared, but only you cried. I wanted to push you like my sisters pushed me, and put you back in your place. I thumped my backpack against the blue side railing where we stood so that my zipper clanked in response to the flag against the flagpole. Our moms said hello, mine with an accent—but it was something you had expected. I waved to you and showed you kindness, my finger feeling the gap where my front tooth should have been. I was curious. Your mom made you say hello, but your whisper fell deaf to my ears. I grew tired of trying to befriend you so I said goodbye to my mother and followed our other classmates into the doors of Garden City Elementary. I did not think you liked me then. You always shied away into your crayon box when the teacher had us work in pairs. When the teacher made a joke and everyone laughed, you did not. We rehearsed the alphabet in class, tested our knowledge of colors and shapes with a chorus of our voices, but every time we breathed a word you would inhale instead of exhale. One time, I asked to borrow your scissors. You reached into your desk and drew them out without a word. I picked them up with malice, but in my mind I think my heart was broken. My hand trembled when I stuck them through the handle because I thought you were watching me, but when I glanced over quickly, I saw that you had kept to yourself, staring into nothingness. Even then, I had hoped you had seen me. The edges of my cuts were ragged and crooked, my coloring not contained within the lines. I gave the scissors back with just as much anger when I saw that you were perfectly skilled in all the talents of Kindergarten. You reached into the darkness of your desk when I had reached out to you. I stopped wondering what I had done wrong and made new friends in the void you never filled.

17


visions   Spring 2009

Golden Bag Hyun Jin Yoo ’10 oil painting

18


You missed class one day. It was the only day that you ever missed class. We walked in from outside to a somber room. It was cold and damp. As Ms. Savage directed us to take our spring jackets off, I noticed all your things missing from the closet. Her usually tight face wrinkled as she spoke. She sat us down and told us you were no longer with us. I figured you transferred classes to Ms. Hein’s room because Jesse, the chubby bully in our class, kept making fun of you: the day before he had called you and me gooks. That was not the case. I thought maybe you had moved. Your mom was always talking about how she did not like your backyard. But that was not the case either. Perhaps, I thought, you took a vacation for the rest of the year. You were going to school someplace cool where only airplanes and trains could take you. You said your dad loved to travel. Maybe you would come back with new stories and toys that I could play with on your hardwood floor. You always liked to share. Maybe you would send me a postcard like the one Barney got on television from his friends in faraway places. You would tell me if you lost any more teeth and we would laugh at how you could not eat apples anymore. You could only eat applesauce and drink our cafeteria’s sour apple juice and make that funny face where you closed your eyes and scrunched your nose. Ms. Savage told us your parents had sent someone in that morning to collect all your things from our classroom. She said we would all be OK. Angela cried then, but I think only she understood.

departure. And so it was as quick as you came that you left me, and it was all the same, without a word.  I am standing against the grey gates to your newest home, looking at your tombstone from far away. I cannot go in, but I was right. You did move to a new home with a bigger backyard, after all. Your room is small—nothing compared to your old room with Spiderman and Batman posters, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy I gave you for your birthday—but it takes up so much space. I did not come to your funeral, but forgive my fears. My mother said it would be too traumatic for me. I imagine life on the other side to be greener, but I know that under all these false pretenses, the grass is neither warm nor cold because you do not feel anything. Yet again, I am envious of you because, unlike you, I can still feel the pain of your departure even after all these years when I drive by this place. I can still remember the denial of your death long after you have passed away.  But I am here to say that I am sorry, and I hope you can hear me from these gates. Sixteen years later, and I am still sorry for my loss, and I am sorry for losing you. See, my voice is your voice, and yours is mine. Here at these gates, I am the one with the frog in the throat, with the unconvincing smile. I am the one with the fear of talking, the one with the fear of proceeding ahead. See, you were the one that pushed me forward; you had the boldness in your voice that I could not find in mine. You were the first one that said “Hi” while I hid behind my mother’s hands, peeking at the world with my small, brown eyes. You were the one that borrowed my scissors while I colored diligently on the corner of my desk. I was the quiet boy with fears, but I cannot admit to them because then I cannot be brave. I was you, and you were me. But things are different here at your new home. They are not the same. While I am here, there is a breath of serenity. I want so much for things to be the other way—that I had come into your life and left whole. I want so much for you to remember me the way that I remember you. But we both know that your friendship branched into my life like our neighborhood oak tree, now truncated and missing from view.

voice(s)

of black yarn, licorice for a queasy looking smile, and a velvet button for his nose. He was dressed as an astronaut with his body wrapped in aluminum foil and saran wrap covering his head. If you looked up at the teddy bears hanging on the walls, you saw that yours and mine stood side-by-side and held hands. Thinking back, it must have been an accident but I would have liked to think Ms. Savage did it on purpose. Another classmate won first prize for decorating her cutout as a mermaid, but we both knew teddy bears could not have fish tails.  

When you left me, you left everything behind. Your desk stood empty, without a paper or pencil in sight. Ms. Savage erased your name from its heading and she no longer said your name during roll call. I came in to check the next morning, but your coat rack hung nothing but the empty remains of a life no longer with us. You had gone in your sleep, they said, without a whisper to my ear of your ho-shia thao

’09 refuses to put away all childish things.

19


visions   Spring 2009

Exposure Kristie Huey ’12 35 mm film

20


voice(s)

Ancient Roots  by Melanie Chow On the island of Oahu, there was once a time in Mānoa Valley when the rain did not shower daily and the air remained parched. Mānoa Falls and the springs around the valley quickly dried up. An old couple, Mukaka and Kealoha, lived at the base of Mānoa and were forced to walk far into the inner depths of the valley to get water. Kealoha, unable to bear the daily walks to gather water, met a man in her dream who saw her tears and heard her ragged breath. He told her that the hala tree near her home, a twenty-foot high tree with splayed, thick, crooked roots above the ground, bore a hidden spring in its womb. The roots of this tree converged to a point and then exploded outward again into the masses of lauhala leaves. Hoping to find a secret spring underneath the roots like the man in Kealoha’s dream promised, Mukaka and his friend grasped the coarse, knobby branches until they felt the land give way to a swollen gush of water. “Ka puna hou!” Mukaka screamed in delight, meaning “the new spring.” * In 1829, Queen Ka’ahumanu (the wife of King Kamehameha I) ordered that the land at the base of Mānoa Valley, where Kealoha and Mukaka lived before time was measured and days were recorded, be handed over to Christian missionaries. By 1841, the land, with the spring still running steadily through it and converging into a lily pond at the center, was converted into Oahu College, a private educational institution for the missionaries’ children. In 1934, Oahu College was renamed “Punahou” in honor of its mythological and legendary history, and is now the largest K-12 private school in America and the alma mater of Barack Obama. When I attended Punahou in seventh grade, the first thing we learned about was the lily pond centered in the middle of the 68-acre campus that encircles Thurston Memorial Chapel. True to its religious founders, we attended chapel every Wednesday morning. Lily pads and flowers floated amongst the dark water surrounding the

low, white and brown building. A tall hala tree cast its shadow over the small island in the middle of the pond. * One day, after morning chapel and classes and free periods and physical education and cross-country practice, my friends and I walked to the elementary school at the far end of Punahou’s campus. Three large banyan trees presided over the faded playground. We stood under the cavernous umbrellas of the trees, their aerial roots towering over us in height and girth, bleached by years in the sun and softened by years swaying in the breeze. As old and as timeless as Mukaka and Kealoha, the exposed roots reached down from ten feet above the ground, spreading their limbs along the shadowed floor. I grasped onto a weathered root, my fingers carefully fitting themselves into the many crevices as my feet swung upward and landed firmly along the thick trunk. With my legs spread out in the hollow of the tree, I slowly pushed myself upward against the ancient wood. The smoothed, vertebrate surface tickled the soles of my feet, gently scratching the calluses. Finally reaching a horizontal branch, I sat down amongst the leaves. My slippers lay abandoned haphazardly on the ground amidst the cross-stitched sunlight. From my perch, I gestured frantically to my friends. “Come up da tree!” “No can sistah. You crazy!” But the seduction of the dark, willowy branches and the cool shade it offered soon pushed away all doubts as the other girls climbed up and up, into the dark abyss hidden under the swaying leaves.

melanie chow

’11 misses malasadas, saimin, and kaki mochi. A hui hou.

21


visions   Spring 2009

Living Stories  by Diana Huang When summer ends, she starts school again and the mornings smell like cool rain instead of thick heat. At school, she studies her multiplication tables (seven times five is thirty-five; three times eight is twenty-four) and learns the phases of the moon (waxing crescent; third quarter). She reads books where all the funny little squiggles make sense. She likes the ones about stories the best. Stories about the great king of England who pulled a sword from the stone, who had come once and would come again; stories about the Greek pantheon, their petty spats and squabbles; stories of Odin the one-eyed, and Thor with his hammer. At her other school (the one that only meets on Sundays and where all the other kids look like her), they try to teach her to read other funny squiggles, and they make her sound them out with her mouth—bo, po, mo, fo—until they sound like words that are different from the other words she knows. One special Sunday, though, class ends early. The adults say that they’re celebrating zhongqiu jie, and they tell stories about the yuebing they eat, about the yellow full moon they celebrate. She listens to them because she likes stories. She sits on the floor and folds her legs up against her chest, wrapping her arms around them. They tell her stories she has never read before in any of the books at the school where all the funny little squiggles make sense. Stories about the great archer who shot down nine suns from the sky and

left the tenth up to warm the Earth, and about the woman who stole the gift the gods had given him. When the woman ate that gift, they tell her, she floated up to the moon, and she still lives there today because the gift was an elixir of immortality. They tell her about the rabbit on the moon as well, who makes medicine and keeps the woman company, because living forever on the moon sounds very lonely. They tell her about the man who lives there too, doomed to chop a tree that will never fall. She rests her arms on her knees and her chin on her arms, and she listens and listens and listens. Stories live. As long as there is someone who can tell them, they live. At school, she never reads books about the woman, the rabbit, the man, even though she does read books about Arthur, Zeus, Thor. But she doesn’t forget. When school starts and the mornings begin to smell of cool rain, she will look up at night to see the yellow moon overhead and think of the woman who must still live there, of the rabbit mixing its medicine, of the man chopping his tree. (Because the stories don’t live in books, in funny little squiggles. They live inside her).

diana huang

22

’09 still watches the moon from the roof of Barus and Holley.


voice(s)

Entrance of a Home in Fenghuang, Hunan Province, China Brian Chang ’09 digital photography

23


visions   Spring 2009

Transparencies  by Yue Pang It is not until seventy years have passed that Thomas begins to suspect he may feel more intensely than most others he has encountered. On his sixth birthday, his world had shattered with the glass he dropped onto the hardwood floor, while his mother only used her arms to pick him up and drag him away from the scene. The sound of each shard being swept across the ground tore the inside of Thomas’s ears until he could, for the first time, feel in his hands the undetectable products of emotions he could never describe. Blood ran down his neck, staining his bright yellow shirt with invisible potency. Was he crazy? He didn’t even know the meaning of the word. In school, Thomas learned that feelings were products of biological reactions, which was the first fact that had ever made sense to him. Overwhelming anxiety mixed with fear, happiness, and fragility all descended from the same silent signals. By the time half of his life had accumulated in a pile of fleeting moments, Thomas had become a barometer for the most miniscule changes in emotion. A single look from the one to whom he devoted his attention threw him against the wall until his skull splintered from the impossibility of his bundled expectations. These feelings, he came to realize, were the exact same as when she confirmed his worst fears: No, I do not love you anymore. Or even: No, I never did. Thomas could not go on. The corners of his vision were constricted and nauseating. He had become overwhelmed by his own selfishness. It was then that everyone began to empathize. Although they were not as moved as he was by the passing of the day or a glance ignored, they could not deny the pain of rejection—the universal depletion of free will. They all try to overcome it, to crawl up, lick the fresh air,

and dive back into empty spaces. The trick, Thomas has been told, is to divert his attention to other matters less susceptible to disappointment, but he has become too used to every action catapulting him five hundred miles across the plains of his own vulnerability. He carved out a space for himself, beginning at the edge of every wounded orifice. When he stands in front of his bureau, aged seventy years and twenty-five days, Thomas’s wrinkles deepen under the sallow glow of his lights. No one has touched him in three decades. He feels that if he were to press even his own fingers against his jaw, it would crumble in conjunction with every breakable object he has dropped since the day he discovered what it meant to feel regret. He has tried so earnestly to be the opposite of the pitiless, unwanted caricature that guaranteed a stronger natural immunity to expression. But in the end, Thomas is just the same. The only thing he has left is his capacity to feel, and he does not even know how to do that anymore without the risk of breaking the remains of himself. All his organs have been sucked out, one tiny mass at a time, by the undeniable pressure of loneliness. Now, Thomas knows there are two ways to be empty. The only thing he wishes for is to be crushed, crumbled by one final embrace, a pair of arms, a string of words, a faceless exterior. He will never know the difference.

yue pang

24

’11 speaks fluent Simlish.


voice(s)

Tita  by Tim Natividad When I was a kid, I used to hold my breath whenever I passed by a cemetery. “You don’t want the dead spirits to get inside you.” Everyone would say. My cheeks would puff out and inflate while my eyelids would peel back, revealing more iris. Sometimes I covered my ears with my hands just in case. Now whenever I pass fields of tombstones, arranged like dots in an array, it reminds me of Mancala. You used to teach me. One bead here. One bead there. I pull my eyelids over. Sometimes I wonder how long it takes to forget a face. I’m still holding my breath.

tim natividad

’12 is the space between a boot and a land mine.

Grandmother  by Vivian Truong I want to know if my fingers can fit into the grooves of your wrinkled face, if you can pull muscle fiber—braid it into beautiful. A granddaughter. Grace. Tell me of your waking from the spinning threads of your dreams—how they were cut to bind your feet. And the triumph of your winning: a daughter. Unladylike. Unconfined. I need to know about every shadow that sits in the folds of your eyelids. I need to speak the language that I barely know, not write in a foreign you cannot read. You sit beside me now: One woman, one girl. One silent, one aching. One blood. Two worlds.

vivian truong

’12 loves the smell of cement and morning rain.

25


visions   Spring 2009

Two Windows, Inle Lake, Myanmar Matthew Reichel ’09 digital photography

26


voice(s)

Love is Like Oxygen Xin Xin ’12 acrylic 27


visions   Spring 2009

Strands  by Susan Yue I remember the first time I stayed home from school. I was seven years old and I had gotten the stomach flu, and Mom stayed home with me, holding up my hair as I threw up in the sink. She hummed as she rubbed my back, trying to alleviate the pain as my stomach churned in different octaves. “You should go to work, Mommy,” I told her. She had a big presentation that day for her department and I was afraid of making her lose her job. “You’re more important to me than my job,” she said, humming to me so I could fall asleep. I remember that feverish happiness I felt, lying in bed with Mom and feeling some semblance of love even though we never said the word to each other. I treasured that feeling, hoping in my deliriously feverish state that I could be sick and stay home from school forever. I lay there in bed trying to figure out a way to verbalize what I felt, but those words, those three words would not come out. And that was what made me sadder than anything else, trying so hard to say “I love you” but not knowing how. I lay there and sobbed and sobbed until I fell asleep. * Grandma opened the door and looked at the ground. “Your mom is getting ready to go soon. Her plane leaves tomorrow morning. Please say goodbye.” Tears flooded my eyes, gluing my eyelashes together. “Stop saying that. I’m scared, Grandma. I’m so scared.” I wrapped my arms around my head and curled up in the corner of the bedroom on the floor. My eyes burned as the tears started spilling out, but I squeezed them back in. I wasn’t going to cry, I told myself. Grandma touched the top of my head and left the room, shutting the door behind her. I got up and peered out the door, watching as all the adults assembled in the cement kitchen, taking picture after picture. Combinations of aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, great-aunts and second cousins took turns posing with Mom. I shrunk back into the bedroom, watching the second hand on the clock move as noises from the kitchen escaladed. My favorite show was coming on in seven minutes, the one about the woman and her family of citrus fruits. Laughter crept into the room through the door crack. “One more picture, one more picture!”

28

No, no more pictures, I wanted to scream at them. The TV was on at full volume but I could barely hear the lady in the pineapple dress. “Susan?” There was a soft knock, and something registered in my head that it was Mom’s voice and I would regret this in the morning, but I didn’t budge. “Will you come out for a minute?” “Please stop watching TV and say goodbye to your mother.” Grandpa’s voice on the other side of the door was steady and insistent, and it demanded a response. “She wants to see you.” My tears were getting harder to fight back. I’m a big girl, I whispered to myself. I was almost five years old and I could already bike on the streets of Tianjin with my cousin and buy breakfast for Grandma in the morning. I could certainly deal with my mother leaving. “I’m not coming out.” My voice sounded unrecognizable as it left my mouth. “You are being very uncooperative. Your mother is leaving tomorrow morning at five and you’re watching TV. She’s very hurt. What happened to the dong shi girl I know?” Dong shi. Mature and understanding. But I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why Mom was going to Europe when Dad was just coming back. I didn’t understand why I could not go with her. I leaned my back against the door. Dad always told me that Mom had to go in order to make our lives better. But what’s wrong with our lives here, I wanted to shout at her through the door. “This is your last chance to say goodbye to her. Do you understand?” I understood. I understood that I wanted all of them to leave me alone. I woke up the next morning to the noises stirring in the living room. The sky was still a charred black, but I could already hear the breakfast vendors setting up their carts and blankets. Disoriented, I kicked off the covers and looked around for Mom. She wasn’t in the bed. Did Mom leave for the airport already without saying goodbye? I leapt off the bed and ran into the kitchen without my slippers. Only the dim reading lamp in the living room was turned on. Mom had three suitcases by her feet and was handing something to Grandpa. They talked in their adult hushed voices, which usually meant I wasn’t allowed to hear.


* My relationship with my mother had always been one of expectations. She expected certain things from me, and in turn, I developed a sense of behavior based on what I internalized. Ever since my dad left to study in Europe when I was two, I was told to be brave, independent. Certain things that most kids learned to do over time, I did so without questioning. That was the context in which I was raised. I washed up before going to bed without being told, made sure to tie double knots in my shoes, and knew to keep mittens in my pockets whenever the weather got cold. From the set of actions I accrued from paying attention to my

mother’s expectations, I developed a sense of self-sufficiency that extended to how I communicated love with her. In situations where the parent’s presence is uncertain, there isn’t any room in a child’s life for words like “I love you.” It directly contradicted what I had been taught. It was after I came to America that I started thinking the concept of parents telling their children they loved them was a cultural thing. I was completely baffled in third grade when I became friends with another Asian girl named Christine, and after spending time at her house I heard the phrase loosely thrown around in daily conversations, as if it were a substitute for “bye” or “thanks, sweetheart.” Once, we had an assignment for school and Christine needed her mom to map out their family tree. She chased her mom around the house with a poster-sized sheet of paper and a pencil. “Mom, it’s due tomorrow! Can you please help?” “Honey, I really can’t right now. I’m late for a meeting and I need to get lunch on the table.” “Mooommmm.” Her features distorted themselves on her face. “You’re always busy.” “Have a good time with Susan, dear,” her mom said as she pushed Christine out the door. “I love you!” she added, balancing a colander and laptop in one hand and the phone in the other. Christine rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Love you, too.” She turned to me. “Parents say that all the time and it makes them feel so good. It’s so easy, you know? And they think it automatically makes up for all the times they yell at you and ground you and make you cry.” I looked at her, surprised. “My parents never say that to me.” She frowned. “They don’t? Why not?” I shrugged, trying to hide my uneasiness with the conversation I had initiated. “Um, I don’t know. I guess we just don’t say it.” From then on I could no longer entertain the idea that “I love you” was an American thing that wasn’t spoken in other Asian households, either. Christine said that parents say those words as a means to “make up” for all the bad things they do to you, a way for them to remind you that they care. But maybe they love you, and that’s why they yell at you and punish you and make you cry. Maybe those words do not actually need to “make up” for anything, because love is communicated through other ways. I grew up never hearing those words, which was not conducive to suddenly saying them later on when the culture fostered, even demanded, it.

voice(s)

“Mommy?” I rubbed my eyes. Mom turned around. She looked different than last night, like she had aged five years or so in a matter of hours. “You’re awake.” I stared at her, searching her face for something I could understand. “Mom, were you really going to go without saying goodbye?” “I was trying to. I didn’t want to wake you up.” I looked at her face, and it was falling apart in spite of her best efforts. Even though I hurt her by not coming out of the room the night before, I was beginning to realize she understood why. My mother wanted to avoid saying goodbye to me as much as I wanted to avoid saying goodbye to her. “But when am I going to see you again, Mommy?” My voice croaked against my own will. “In less than two years. You know that.” She picked up the calendar that was lying on the kitchen table and bent down to brush the bangs out of my eyes. “You see this? There are twelve sheets. You can rip out one page after every month, and when two of these calendars are gone, we’ll be able to see each other again.” I felt that knot again, that familiar knot in my throat that always seemed to come at the worst times. “But one of those sheets is a really long time,” I cried, unable to hold the tears in any longer. Mom grabbed my shoulders. Her eyes were wet, but no tears came out. Passively, I wondered if I could one day learn to do that too. “Susan,” she said, but her voice sounded different, “You are going to be very brave. Be brave for Mommy, okay? Be good to Grandma and Grandpa and listen to what they say. We’ll see each other soon.” Before I got a chance to respond, she picked up her three suitcases and went out the door. I ran to the balcony and pressed my face against the windowpane, watching her small figure go into the cab that was parked on the next street over until it disappeared around the corner.

* After being in the U.S. for two years, I had swallowed the culture

29


visions   Spring 2009

Korea within Korea Janice Kim ’09 digital photography

30


* More than just a sense of self-reliance, what my mother wanted to teach me was to hold a deep respect and devotion for the family of people who brought me up when self-reliance wasn’t enough. She

would not allow me to slip away from my obligations to be a good granddaughter and person, as much as I wanted to at times, even if that meant hurting me to make her point. As much as she had yelled at me in the past, my mother had never spoken to me with so much intensity before. She had said them simply, but she knew that her words would cut deeply. I strived for insularity, the comfort of a world where dolls and Legos were the only things that mattered. But my mother was trying to teach me how to do things, even when they were difficult, even when my Chinese was deteriorating and it was uncomfortable and upsetting to talk to my grandparents, because it was important to let people know that I care about them. I saw that it hurt her to say those words, the ones that meant I was being selfish and scared and small, but I knew she had only said them because she cared. She cared in the way that she wanted me to care for my grandparents, to push past the initial difficulty of doing something in order to communicate love.

voice(s)

in mouthfuls. I quietly forgot about my grandparents, the people who raised me when my parents were in another country across a span of oceans. When I had first arrived in the States, I would call Grandma and Grandpa every week, writing them letters in near-perfect Mandarin characters. But over the years I grew impatient with them. I could not find the words in my mind to piece together phrases that once rolled off of my tongue with ease. Phone conversations with my grandparents made me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, as I was unable to understand the nuances and dialects of a language I was born into. “Come talk to Grandma.” Mom held the phone in her hand as she peeked through the door. “I’m busy right now,” I called from the other side of the room. “You’re playing with your Legos. Come here and talk to your laolao.” “I’m busy!” My face burned, in anger and in shame. I refused to look at Mom, focusing all my energy on piecing together a Lego couch for my Barbie. Mom turned her back to me and walked into her bedroom with the phone. She talked fluidly in Mandarin for a couple of minutes before hanging up, but I could not make out the words. Finally, she pushed open the door, her eyes zoning in on me with disappointment and resentment. “You forget how much they love you, Susan. Grandma misses you so much and you’re in here playing with your Legos.” I avoided her eye contact, remembering the loose buttons I used to save for Grandma because she liked to make clothes. I would cut the labels off of shirts I had outgrown, giving them to Grandma so she could sew them onto more shirts. “Laolao thinks you’re so dong shi, and I tell her, of course Susan’s doing well here. She’s well-adjusted, and she misses you. But you don’t miss them. You absorb yourself in your own little world that leaves no room for them or the rest of the people who brought you up.” I stared at Mom in shock. I could not articulate how much of a verbal slap in the face I felt, but I could feel my face getting hotter. “You were the one who brought me here,” I said to her, my voice picking up. “You were the one who wanted to make our lives better, remember?” Mom looked at me, and left the room in silence.

* When I was eight years old, one of the most important things about school was lunchtime. Lunchtime was when we assembled in the school’s theater-turned-cafeteria and sat on cold metal benches, revealing the contents of our plastic lunchboxes in unison. Our lunches branded us in the eyes of our classmates, and I would sit there secretly hoping nobody would notice mine. I never understood why Mom couldn’t pack me something more normal. All I wanted was a happy turkey-and-cheese sandwich like everyone else, but instead I got reusable tupperware containers filled with seaweed crackers and leftover noodles from dinner. Wandering down the fruit snacks section during a grocery trip one weekend, my eyes quickly scanned the shelves of Gushers and Pop Tarts and landed on what seemed to be the end to all my lunch problems. “Mom, look! ‘A Bug’s Life’ chocolate bug bars!” Mom made a face. “Bug bars?” “Yes, I saw this on a commercial!” I cradled the box in my arms. “There are gummy worms in the chocolate. See?” I held the box up to her face, bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet. “Can we get this? Please? Please, Mommy?” Mom picked up the box. “We already bought you snacks this week. Remember? I got you those crackers. This is too expensive. I’m sorry, honey.”

31


visions   Spring 2009

I opened my mouth to protest but Mom was already one step ahead of me. “No, I’m not going to change my mind,” she said as she put the box back on the shelf. “Maybe next week. Finish your crackers first.” “But I don’t even want the crackers! I never wanted the crackers.” I stood in the middle of the aisle refusing to move, watching as she pushed the shopping cart away without looking back. I refused to speak to her that night when we got home, but she barely noticed, even after a near silent car ride of me staring out the window. Mom was packing my lunch for me in my purple Barbie lunchbox when I came into the kitchen. “I think you’ll like what I packed for you,” she said, snapping the buckles of the lunchbox. “No, I won’t.” Mom frowned at me. “Why are you talking like that?” “Because you never even ask what I want, you just think that you can pack me leftover food from dinner and everything will be all okay.” Tears streamed down my face but I didn’t care. My voice got louder, stronger. “You tell me that it’s all okay and it’s all okay for you, but then I’m the one who has to deal with it at school.” Mom looked at me, her eyes an open wound I was undoubtedly pouring salt on. Then, without a word, she dropped the knife on the counter and walked past me up the stairs, closing the door behind her. The next day during lunchtime we congregated in the theaterturned-cafeteria again, and I bypassed my usual spot on the bench to sit at the end by myself. “Hey, Susan, get over here!” I shook my head no and put my lunchbox on my lap. Part of me was ashamed, but I knew it had less to do with the lunch Mom packed and more so with myself. I opened the lunchbox hesitantly and pulled out something wrapped in tinfoil that appeared to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, along with an A Bug’s Life chocolate bar, wrapped in a post-it note that said, “Love, Mom.” I sat there alone, feeling like the biggest asshole an eight-year-old could feel at that particular moment. * Kids aren’t born understanding that their mothers had separate lives before them. Instead, they think of themselves as the center of their own universes, with their parents and siblings and teachers and

32

even the grocery store clerks orbiting around their central axis, as if the existence of these adults is dependent on them. I remember asking my mom where teachers slept after we left school every day. “Their homes,” Mom answered, surprised. “Teachers have houses?” I asked, in shock. I assumed the role of my teacher was to teach me, and after eight hours of contact every weekday, they would somehow live at the school and sleep on the tables, waiting for all of us to return. It never occurred to me that teachers had lives of their own that did not involve me at all. With my mother, I thought that her role was to be my mom. Gaining consciousness that she had her own set of feelings and wants and needs, just like everyone else, made me view her as a separate person independent of myself. She was a human being, fully capable of absorbing the heaps of calloused impair I threw on her over the years. My words, my actions, my anger, frustration, and sadness all affected her in ways I could only see in retrospect. Seeing how much power I had to hurt her gave me a deep understanding of how much she loved me, much more than her telling me ever would. I love my mother. I didn’t always know how to say it, or show it, but it was in moments of painful confrontation that I felt it truly and completely.

susan yue

’12 misses the days when being sick was a happy thing.


voice(s)

Mindblowing music Han Yang Lee ’12 pencil, pastel & pen on paper

33


visions   Spring 2009

Pop  by Corrie Tan Penelope is gaining weight, and she knows it. Not the subtle shift into fleshier curves but a steady sort of stacking, the hems on her clothes throb a little more each day, and with each hour there is a smudged snap, a thread halving itself, quartering itself in a fit of anxiety. Penelope lumbers down the stairs at night, the planks sagging and sighing a little more under her weight. It is quiet in the kitchen. Her feet slap against the floorboards. There is hardly anything in the refrigerator. She pours herself a glass of milk. All her life she has wanted to be thin. Maybe even papery. There is something invariably delicate about being papery, like dragonflies. That flash of transparency, almost as if you could break at any moment. You ought to be protected, loved a little more in that cusp of fragility.

She will never be thin. She runs her fingers through her hair before inspecting them. You can hardly see the joints now, the framework that holds everything together. Her hands look like limp starfish, satiated with water. Nothing fragile about them; she might smack them, hard, against the tabletop and no bones would collapse on themselves. Deep in the folds of Penelope’s chest, her heart edges out a still-steady rhythm, separated from the arch of her ribcage by a soft cushion of fat, her arteries sluggish and ballooning—just like she is. There is a very loud pop in the kitchen. And now, Penelope is a very curious sort of jigsaw puzzle that no one will ever quite figure out.

corrie tan

34

’10 is a traveling circus.


voice(s)

A Moment of Zen Winifred Hwang ’12 digital illustration

35


visions   Spring 2009 36

The Future Voice(s) of Asian America  by Soyoung Park On Tuesday, February 24, 2009, President Barack Obama gave an address to Congress, and hence to the American people, regarding the state of the nation and his aspirations for our future. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the first Indian governor in the United States, issued the Republican response to President Obama’s speech. Media coverage of Governor Jindal’s response was massive. News commentators predicted that Bobby Jindal giving the Republican response anticipated a potential run for the Presidency in 2012. Many citizens, however, regarded this selection by the Republican Party as patronizing to the American people. Recently, every popular, historic face of the Democratic Party has been met with a Republican counterpart: Hillary Clinton with Sarah Palin, Barack Obama with Bobby Jindal. As I watched Governor Jindal’s rather cheeky and excessively other-oriented speech with regards to his heritage, I wondered to myself: is this the future of the Asian voice in America? Although we may try to avoid it, in America, famous people of color become representatives of their entire ethnic or racial group, which explains the persistence of detrimental stereotypes. Just as President Barack Obama has become, in large part, representative of blacks and black “progress” in the United States, so, too, would Bobby Jindal become the face of the Asian/Asian American community if nominated for President. This signifies to me that the Asian voice will not be one of liberalism and openness. Instead, we will be pigeonholed into a voice that has historically silenced Asian Americans’ unique diversity. Many of us, as children of immigrants, grew up with fairly conservative parents. As a result, those of us with more liberal ideals and lifestyles have frequently felt silenced by the obligations we feel to our more conservative parents who made sacrifices for our welfare. Queer pan-Asian individuals feel closeted and silenced; artists feel afraid to admit their passion; sexually active individuals fear the burning glare of God through their parents’ suspicious eyes; and budding socialists betray their passions to pursue corporate definitions of success. If a conservative voice like Bobby Jindal’s becomes the prominent face of our community, not only will it fuel the presence of our parents’ right-wing authority, it will silence those liberal Asians who fight daily for the rights of the hidden Asian underclass in the United States.

It may be unfair to presume that Bobby Jindal and the Republican Party do not hold the interests of poor Asian immigrant workers or Asian women continually trafficked into the United States high on their list of priorities. However, the party’s primary platform and attitudes toward foreign immigrants, bilingualism, and workers’ rights would suggest just that. If the American people continually associate the Asian presence with conservatism and corporate development, they will be all the more ignorant of the pertinent issues affecting those of Asian descent in this country. Instead, the myth of the “model minority” will prevail in modern discourse surrounding Asian “progress,” as the dominant voice of Asians will be one advocating for the top five percent in our country and ignoring the lower classes to which most Asian Americans belong. This is not to say that, instead of having an Asian representative like Jindal vying for the Presidential seat, we should look for a Democrat who reminds us of an Asian Barack Obama. I would hardly suggest that the Democratic Party takes Asian needs into account any more than does the Republican Party. I do think, however, we should be concerned that Bobby Jindal, with his Reading Rainbow-like stories of his parents’ trajectories in this country, may be the one individual who, over the next several years, will “speak for our group”. We need to be more vocal about the fact that many of us do not, by any means, agree with most of Jindal’s policies. We should assert our liberal voices and make it known that Asians cannot be lumped into one conservative class. This process of exposing our liberalism—the leftist Asian’s “coming out,” if you will—needs to begin with our own families. Our parents need to know that we do not always adopt the same mentalities and lifestyles they value. This does not mean that we disrespect their opinions in any way, only that we are not their clones generating the same ideologies. How can the world know that there are queer Asians in our community if we cannot even tell our families? How will anyone ever know that, yes, we Asians also have sex—a lot of it—if we cannot sexually liberate ourselves in the eyes of those to whom we feel closest? When will our families realize that many of us hate corporate life and do not want to be filthy rich, perpetuating the global class inequities that forced our parents to leave their homes


voice(s)

Pot au Feu Karen Wang ’10 35 mm film and come here in the first place, if we continue to fulfill the career paths they have paved for us? As I leave Brown University, I find that the same issues and struggles that I faced as a first-year still plague incoming Asian American students today. For most of us, the majority of our stress still comes from our parents, despite how progressive they may seem. We need to stop closeting ourselves from our families and show our true identities without shame, trusting that our parents will love us regardless of the decisions we make. It is important for our parents to understand our diversity before we can go about spreading such awareness elsewhere. Only then will we be able to wholeheartedly tackle the hidden issues that face so many Asians and Asian Americans in this country. We are not homogenous, and we should not strive to be so. While conservative mentalities may try to stifle our openness to change and to combating social injustice, we must assert the leftist within and let others know that we will not remain silent in the face of institutionalized hatred. Bobby Jindal is not and should never be the voice of the Asian/Asian American community in the United States. That voice

comprises all of us, including us secret socialists, queers, sexual beings, artists, and so on. When I graduate in May, I hope that I do all I can to make my voice heard amidst the oh-so-popular conservative Asian tone that subjects us to the “forever foreigner” label, tied to characterizations of being “so traditional.” I hope that I will not be afraid to scream at the top of my lungs that the interests of corporate, traditional, homophobic, rightist Asian America are not my interests. Most of all, I hope that my parents will listen to my words and will regard my needs, my concerns, and my identity as valid. I pray that you and your families will all do the same, so that we can slowly piece together a new kind of Asian voice(s) in America.

soyoung park ’09 wants to thank Dean Kisa ’88 and Brian Lee ’06 for making visions what it is today: an expression of past, present, and future Asian/Asian American voice(s).

37


visions   Spring 2009

Handprints on a temporary wall Devon Cupery ’11 digital photography

38


voice(s)

Late winter; early spring  by Indrayudh Shome Late winter; early spring. I overturned my hand and childlike (dancing, playful) snowflakes gathered in the cradle of my dry and whitish palm. I wasn’t wearing a coat but was warmed by the rich, golden sun that dripped like honey through the stern branches of naked sakura. The hiss of the wind came into a whispered melody, singing tribute to the copulation of stillness and change. Change is what comes whether I want it to or not. Stillness is me, quarrelling, resisting. Change is: a flock of ecstatic snowflakes, flaunting freedom, dancing and playing with one another; melancholic scattered snowflakes drifting, separated from their loves, commonly seduced then abandoned by hope; falling to mother earth, who in her lap absorbs without prejudice both the grief and gaiety of snowflakes that melt away into streams. A bare tree stood mournfully rooted, forever separated from neighbour and kin, cynical but envious of the snowflakes’ joviality…envious of brevity. How many snowflakes had danced around him over the years, mingling despite their decline, while the tree witnessed life as it really was: passing. Soon would come the cherry blossom, and soon after, the withering. How many flowers had been born on his fingers and how many had died, but still the tree stood, his bark hardened, his branches stern. Looking to the skin of my own arm I wondered what it would be like to live that long—to endure the death of your own child, of your every friend, and then of your friends’ children. Will my young skin, tender, become tough when I know bereavement? The snowflakes also Fell from heaven to death. I resented them for reminding me of what I am: A passing speck of nothingness, acolyte to the laws of change, but my frail and gullible skin longs for ‘forever’—I want to peel it off and find acceptance underneath. But for human I am, war am I. There can be no acceptance, only the oblivion of the snowflakes or the melancholia of the sakura. Death began at birth, and still I am quarrelling and resisting. A cloud obscured the afternoon sun and shade spread across us, the cold descending forcefully on our fragile confidence. I closed my fist around the snowflakes in my palm, and they soon melted from the warm blood flowing under my skin.

indrayudh shome

’11 was born in Calcutta.

39


visions   Spring 2009

July Athena Lo ’12 cut construction paper

The space between our clasped hands infinite by Indrayudh Shome

You cover your face with both hands, Looking for comfort In the warmth of your breath. I peel your left palm, Damp with tears and moisture, And hold it firmly, hopefully. The air is humid and lonely. The space between our clasped hands is infinite. The perspiration in our bond is uncomfortable, So you withdraw your hand, And I am flooded with sadness.

indrayudh shome

40

’11 grew up in Hong Kong.


voice(s)

Vacationing  by Elaine Tamargo

Sometimes my mind fails to recall its treasured memories, memories passed long and short ago of a place ten thousand miles away yet still close to my heart. But then sounds fill my ears and bring me back like I was still there— tricycles honking out of sync, torrential rains pouring with no end in sight, salespeople calling “Yes Ma’am, yes Ma’am!” I hear words so often heard but never spoken until given the chance. Faces and images flood together— children and families, and the endless meet-and-greet line, throngs of people walking between their everyday lives, while I am in a car feeling so removed from my own. I see sights so often glanced over in pictures but never truly seen until I could for myself. On a retreat half a world away from another that kept me on a rigid path, in a place where fourteen-hour car rides seemed commonplace, much of our time was spent in transit. Glimpses of scenery passing my windows, and pictures taken to recall the moment, but the moments best ingrained were those not taken with a camera. And constant transit time couldn’t do justice to explore a place so often thought about but still not fully understood.

elaine tamargo

’11 will always be a clumsy ballerina.

41


visions   Spring 2009 Godavari Kam Sripada ’09 digital photography

42


voice(s)

blue Yukiko Kunitomo ’12 digital print

43


visions   Spring 2009

Aliens  by Tessa Zeng Don’t ask the reasons for loneliness the unburden of air, space wrapping around us like ancient infant swaddling. Fingerings of sun against hair, a peeled grape of silence. These are the prices we’ve haggled down to, in a little black market that swells and crescendos like the sea. We are peninsulas one side rooted to blood and concrete, the dark, sweating earth cushions the division of our bodies and on the other, an open coast.

Day, Dream Day breathe, can you feel the binding and pushing of midmorning against our hearts, which are sized conventionally and rarely encouraged to expand

Dream driving dark at night the car in front levitates red silk strips against my windshield

tessa zeng

44

’12 is opening the door to let the cat back in.


voice(s)

Kite Store Robyn Ng ’10 pencil

45


visions   Spring 2009

Sticky Situation Celia Chung ’12 acrylic

46


“Excuse me, but you’re in our seats,” I said in the most authentic Mandarin that I possibly could. The four Chinese men aboard the train stared back at me with a look of doubt. “Where are your tickets?” one of them asked me in a heavy Beijing accent. “They’re right here. Seats 116 to 120,” I replied with an accent that he surely would not recognize, holding up the tickets in my hand, but not handing them over. They stayed silent and looked us over for a moment, as if they were considering whether or not they really had to move. My friends and I all tried to look as authentically Chinese as possible. We hoped that our Banana Republic and Abercrombie clothing would not give us away as the Americans that we really were. After a brief moment, the men got up and left the car with a sigh. I felt a twinge of guilt for having kicked middle-aged working men out of their seats after a possibly tiring day, but my friends and I were not prepared to stand for nine hours on an overnight train from Beijing to Inner Mongolia. We sat down in our seats and put our bags securely beneath our legs as the train slowly began to pick up speed. We were on break from our Chinese language program for three days, so we decided to get away from Beijing and explore some of the less-trodden regions of China. We wanted to travel like the locals, so we opted for a cheap train ride across the Chinese countryside. I thought we had purchased the cheapest tickets on the train, but it seemed that I was wrong. We had purchased yingzuo seating, which were basically hard seats designed with the back and the seat at a perfect ninety-degree angle. After a few hours on the train, it became a test of endurance to simply sit in the seats. Yet there were also passengers on the train who had purchased standing-only tickets and were now standing in the aisles and any other space they could claim in the train car. I had no idea how they would endure the nine-hour trip. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I had taken the subway every day to and from school for years, but this trip was unlike any train ride I had ever been on. First, I had never been on a train for nine straight hours. Second, I had thought that a New York City subway car at rush hour was crowded, but this train ride forced

voice(s)

Somewhere in Between  by Eric Lee me to reconsider what crowded really meant. Every single seat was occupied by at least one person—but sometimes more—and men and women of all ages crowded around the small standing space at the end of the car. Those lucky enough to claim wall space leaned up against it for support. Many squatted where they had been standing, holding on to someone else’s chair for support. Our seats were situated right next to the small bathroom in the car, so people continually passed by us, climbing over those squatting in the aisles and squeezing past those standing. Personal space was a luxury that no one on that train could afford, except perhaps us. We were the ones who purchased these seats instead of the more comfortable beds that were available in the other cars out of choice and not necessity. The difference was about 100 renminbi, only about 14 U.S. dollars, which may have been a lot to our fellow passengers on that train, but not so much for us. However, we were Chinese-Americans with something to prove. I had never been to my ancestral homeland before this trip, and I needed to prove, maybe mostly to myself, that I was Chinese just like everyone else on the train. I could live like an average Chinese person and ride the train like an average Chinese person. In an effort to be recognized and accepted, I adopted various different personas, most of them Chinese nationals with considerable experience abroad. The exact persona depended on the situation that I was in during the previous few weeks in Beijing. During the first week, I tried out various stories that worked with varying degrees of success. I could never pass for just a Beijing local or even a Northerner. I needed a background that could account for my imperfect Mandarin, my somewhat foreign-looking appearance, and sometimes my lack of knowledge about basic aspects of life in China. I soon developed several personas that accomplished different goals. When I was haggling over the price of a bag for my sister with an old lady in a dark and shady basement with hundreds of Coach and Louis Vuitton knock-offs laid out along the shelves in Xiushuijie, I was a Beijing University student who was originally from a small village in the Guangdong province in Southern China. My major was foreign languages, and I had not decided what I was going to do with that yet. I did not have tons of money like those foreigners who

47


visions   Spring 2009 48

shopped around there. That was why she should give me a decent price. After all, we were fellow countrymen. When I was talking to a pretty salesgirl in a large and modern shopping mall near Zhongguancun, I was the son of a very wealthy businessman in Shanghai who had sent me to boarding schools in London, Paris, and Seoul ever since I was a child. That was why I spoke English so well. Fortunately, she never checked my French and Korean. I was considering coming back to work in Beijing, but I was not sure yet because I had some nice offers in America as well. That was why she should come out with me to hit the clubs and bars in Houhai while I was still there in Beijing. That one was one of my favorites. Before getting on the train, my friends and I had discussed what would be the appropriate persona for the nine-hour train ride. Nine hours was a long time to be stuck with the same people. Trains in China were not exactly well known for their safety and good company. We did not want to call any unnecessary attention to the fact that we were Americans, possibly with American money. We also did not want to have to speak to each other in Mandarin for the whole nine hours because we knew that anyone who listened to us converse in Mandarin for nine straight hours would definitely be able to figure out that Mandarin was not our first language. Nonetheless, we decided to try. After all, we had already spent the past several weeks posing as Chinese nationals whenever possible, and there was no reason to stop then. It soon became too dark to see the Chinese landscape zooming by outside our window. The lights dimmed on the train, and only the steady hum of mechanical grinding and squeaking remained. As the passengers grew tired and sleepy, they quieted down, leaving only faint whispers and the occasional groaning and moaning. I tried to sleep, but it was impossible to find a comfortable position. A baby could sometimes be heard crying somewhere in the back of the train car, and I wondered how someone could bring a baby onboard this train. As the long and arduous train ride wore on, I betrayed my New York instincts and soon struck up a conversation with a stranger. Wearing thin-rimmed glasses and a wrinkly shirt, he was a tall and slender standing passenger who had squeezed his way through the standing crowd from the back of the car to the bathroom, but now did not want to maneuver his way back to his original position. The

young man now stood right next to us in the aisle. His only luggage appeared to be a small duffel bag that he nestled between his legs as he stood. Overhearing one of my friends talk to me in English, he seemed intrigued and asked where we were from. “Beijing,” I replied without hesitation. It was a story I had used many times before. “I go to school there.” “Which university?” he asked with a look of curiosity in his eyes. “Beijing University,” I said confidently. It was a top-notch university, and I was proud to pretend to go there. “Really? I am a student there as well! What do you study there?” he exclaimed with excitement. Damn. I did not see that one coming at all. As I sat there, wondering why I never considered how this scenario could possibly arise, I thought about what my next move should be. I could have easily continued to toss out more lies and muddle through the rest of that conversation. It certainly would not have been the first time. Yet I experienced a sudden moment of clarity, and I realized that I did not want to have to make up another story. I should not have to. So I told him the truth. For the first time since I had arrived in China, I revealed to a Chinese person my true identity. My name was Eric. My Chinese name, Li Yan Xiang, was given to me by my grandfather, but it was not written on my birth certificate, and was never used outside of Chinese class. I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I was 20 years old, and this was the first time I had ever been to China. In fact, this trip was only the second time in my life that I had ever been on a plane. The first was a trip to Disneyworld when I was ten, but I did not really remember it. My parents immigrated to America in the 1980s from a small village in Southern China because they believed in something that we would someday call the American Dream. We spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin, at home. In fact, this was the order in which I learned the languages that I know: Cantonese, English, bad Spanish, Mandarin, and finally, mediocre Spanish. I was a Chinese-American, whatever that meant. His name was Jin Cheng. He was 23, and he studied literature at Beijing University. He was from a small village several hours outside of Beijing. Mandarin was not his first language either; he also spoke the dialect of his village. He was on his way home to visit his parents and sister. He was very happy to go to school in Beijing, but he often


voice(s)

missed home. This actually was not the longest train ride he had ever experienced. He was once on a train for more than 36 hours, but he had a seat then. We chatted for another hour or so about our hometowns, places to check out in Beijing, and all sorts of tiny random details that we had in common—things that could only be discovered on a long and exhausting train ride across the Chinese countryside. (We both liked to watch Friends. He wanted to know if Joey was actually that dumb or if it was some kind of joke that he did not understand). Even if we had grown up in two completely different worlds, I hardly noticed it at all. Eventually, he got off the train before Inner Mongolia, and I wished him a safe trip home. Before he left, he gave me permission to keep using his story whenever I wanted, but I think I may actually stick to my own true story next time. On a train somewhere in the middle of the Chinese countryside between Beijing and Inner Mongolia, I met one of my supposedly fictional personas, and he was a great guy.

eric lee

’10 is traveling the world this semester. He misses you.

49


visions   Spring 2009

E-Board Bios jihan chao ’10 wants to know where you’re from originally. jilyn chao ’11 is in a cocoon. Soon she will emerge a beautiful moth. franny choi ’11 shakes the dust. melanie chow ’11 wants to live happily in a state of flux. Step 1: throw out the planner. Step 2: choose the right (left) chair. debbie lai ’12 enjoys drinking water. kenji morimoto ’11 loves the chandelier room in jwalt. yue pang ’11 shirks the profoundly limited. wendy sekimura ’11 is relishing the world and all its probabilities. alex toyoshima ’11 would like to thank his mama for bringing him up right. Thank you Mama. vivian truong ’12 looks upwards.

50


voice(s) Bánh Mì VyVy Trinh ’11 digital illustration

b 51


52

visions   Spring 2009

Visions Spring 2009  

The Spring 2009 issue of Visions, Brown & RISD's Asian/Asian-American Art and Literary Magazine

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you