Hungry For Home

 

Food has always been an integral part of the Asian American experience for me. Food is not just sustenance, it is always an experience, tied to distinct memories. Boba has always been attached to my late night study sessions, sushi is part of my family’s complicated past with Taiwan, and roti canai reminds me of the loneliness of the immigrant experience. All together, they remind me of who I am, and where I come from.  

Part I. Boba and School

A lot of my social life revolves around boba. That’s just how it is when you call an Asian American suburb your home. There’s a boba shop adjacent to my school, a boba shop next to the Vons—heck, there’s a boba shop on the other side of my block. No matter where we go, my best friend and I always order the same thing—peach green tea with lychee jelly (half sweet) and milk tea with mini boba. If it’s a good day, we’ll get sweet potato fries to go. Going out for boba was a great way to start off the weekend on a Friday afternoon, but boba also reminded me of the crushing academic culture that many of my peers and I grew up in. Boba shops often stay open late, making it the ideal spot for a six hour AP Calculus study session, a place to cram for finals, and last minute college-essay writing. In an academic pressure cooker, boba tasted like three more hours until I can get to sleep, four more chapters to study, one more practice test, two more college essays…The hours filter by as study partners jostle each other awake, pulling up an extra chair next to the booth for the friend who shows up two hours late. Boba was both a relief from school and a reminder of it.

Part II. Sushi and Grandparents

My grandparents speak Japanese, a remnant of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the 1900s. So my grandmother brings sushi to Christmas every single year, along with a gigantic pot of miso soup. She embraced Japanese values and education as a means to rise in a tumultuous time, and each sip of soup and bite of sushi is a reminder that home is complicated, and sometimes painful. In my grandparents’ lifetime, Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese, then the Kuomintang, and is still currently claimed by China and not officially recognized as a country. On February 28th of every year, my grandfather invites me to the adult table and tries to remind me of his generation’s pain, and the university professors he lost in the White Terror. Certain words and opinions, whispered to the wrong person, or said at the wrong time, cost them their lives. His table, with his friends, has slowly shrunk over the year. He fills the seats with his children and grandchildren, and whispers his stories to us. In his broken English, he tries to say that home is hard, and he misses his home—what it was, and what it could have been.

Part III. Roti Canai and Chinese New Year

I forget that America is not my mother’s home, and it’s never more obvious than during Chinese New Year. Hours are spent on the phone, calling her mom and sister, apologizing about how she can’t go back this year. The pain in her eyes when she knows that there won’t be a seat saved for her at the family table. She grew up in Malaysia, and still ends some of her English words with la. When we go back, I always gorge myself on roti canai, a traditionally Indian food that fills the streets year round. Roti canai isn’t as good in the States, and I miss it—but I know my mom misses it more. It’s not true roti if it doesn’t come off a stand, still flaking and steaming in the cool of the morning, a relief from the impending humidity of the afternoon. Roti is a reminder of her home, and how she is always an “other” in America, an “other” in my Taiwanese church. When I hear her on the phone missing her family, I remind myself that no matter my relationship with my family—I’m going to call home every Chinese New Year.

Home is complicated, home is painful, home is stressful. But, I remember that wherever I call home, wherever I am—there’ll always be a seat for me at the table.


Created by: Yumei Lin

About the Author: Yumei is a student at Tufts University, passionate about social justice, movies, and finding the best boba shops.

 

from-to & everything in between

In three days, I will board a plane back to my passport land, a place I’m supposed to call home. It’s not. It’s my birthplace, my upbringing, my privilege. This poem is my attempt to my 20 months serving with migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, finding community among them, and leaving my newfound home for an uncertain one.

From MNL

From JFK

to HKG
I leave
Husband, children, parents behind
For better work abroad
Hopes of a better income, so
Shacks can become houses,
Food can fill stomachs,
Education can bring opportunity.

I leave
Friends, family behind
For the mission field
Hopes for justice and peace, so
Night becomes the day,
Ashes turns to beauty,
Love can bring change.

I arrive
Suitcases full of pictures, cards, letters –
Memoirs of where I came from.

She waves to me,
Recognizing me from our video chat.
“Welcome to Hong Kong!”

“You’re so dirty.”
“Stop being so lazy.”
She yells at me,
Hits me, starves me.
Nothing I do is right.

“You’re so American.”
“I didn’t realize you’re so Asian.”
They assume my Western upbringing,
Surprised by my Eastern values.
Nothing I do fits.

Presidential election:
Promise of a better future –
Job creation, poverty alleviation.

Presidential selection:
Reality of a worse present –
Violence, deaths, a divided country.

Useless abroad –
What can I do?

“When can I get my pay, ma’am?”
She doesn’t give a clear answer.
I hope next month.

“Who do I ask?”
She doesn’t give a clear answer.
Indirect communication confuses me.

I miss my
Food, friends, family,
Speaking my native tongue.
I am sick of Chinese food.

My nose bleeds from speaking English,
But Cantonese isn’t any easier.
I want pansit and adobo.
I miss my husband, children, parents.
But here, I am.
A slave.

My mother language no longer familiar,
Tongue unable to pronounce correct tones.
I want tacos and pizza.
I don’t even like pizza.
But here, I am.
Homesick.

“We are workers, we are not slaves!”
Our chants heard
From Causeway Bay
To Central
For better pay
For better working conditions
“Domestic work is work!”

Unwelcome looks
Of disdain
Wherever I go
The pain of always knowing
I am a foreigner.

Mistaken for a migrant worker
In the summer
Ambiguous Asian features
In the “winter”
I am a foreigner.

We fight, we advocate, we unite
Despite our differences,
Because of our similarities,
For ourselves, for our countries, for others.

If not us, who?
If not now, when?

I find a new employer
Because filing a case means
No work, no money.
I hope she treats me better –
Feeds me,
Pays me.

I find my place in the space between
Asian American –
The awkward tension of being
Neither,
Both,
Betwixt and between.

Hong Kong is not home.
I don’t belong here.

Gusto ko uwi.
I want to go home.

下一步呢?
What’s next?


Created by: Jennifer Sushi Au

About the Author: Sushi is a missioner/social justice advocate/adventurer. She dedicates her life to serve with those in the margins of society and doesn’t mind the nomad life. She dreams big and lives Ordinary Adventures full of Amazing Days. She is finishing her term in Hong Kong as a Young Adult missionary with the United Methodist Church and returns back to her passport land. She has no idea what comes next but is excited!

Dear America

TW: emotional and physical abuse, trauma, violence

***

Dear America,

It’s been awhile, I know. I’ve been away from home for a long time.  Fifteen years, to be exact.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I’m not so sure. Living abroad has given me some distance. Some perspective.

I spent my childhood in your embrace, suckling on the milky white supremacy flowing from your bosom. You may have sustained me, but you also kept me dependent. You kept me strong enough to tell yourself you were doing a good job raising me. You kept me weak enough to keep me in my place.

As I grew older, I hated the way you held me up as a model child during family gatherings, bragging about my accomplishments and comparing me to my black and brown cousins.

            You used me to feel good about yourself.

Even now, I hate the way you put on a face of respectability when we are out in public together, pretending to be a happy family. In reality, you pat me on my back when I submit to your wishes but rage when I don’t comply. You don’t want a grown child with her own thoughts and feelings.

            You want a puppet.

You think I should be grateful. You think I’m being unfair. You feel like I’m attacking you.

Most narcissistic parents feel the same way.

You expect me to be invulnerable to pain, yet you yourself are so fragile.

I know I’m being raw, but I’m trying to tell you something here.

I want to have a relationship with you, America. I really do.

But I don’t know how to do that when I feel so unsafe and insecure in your presence. I don’t how to bring all of myself to you when you’ve rejected me time and time again.

What I want is to be fully loved and accepted as I am—all the contradictory and complex pieces of me—not just the parts that make you comfortable.

But it doesn’t seem like you’re ready to do that.

I don’t know if I can come home.

Yours?

Estranged

***

Dear America

You say you’re sorry. You say you didn’t mean it, that you’ll try harder next time.

I don’t know whether to believe you.

When it was good, it was really good. The exhilarating high of infatuation and intimacy.

I remember being so proud to belong to you. All those times we walked down the street together, with your arm possessively slung over my shoulder. You showered me with opportunity and expensive gifts. You opened doors for me. You intoxicated me with your compliments and attention. I thought you loved me.

Was it all a lie?

When it was bad, it was ugly. Violent. Deadly. The shaming of my body that you both eroticized and emasculated. The unexpected punches while walking down the street. The cruel beatings for looking at you the wrong way.

I have the scars to show for it.

I found the videos too. The ones where you’re acting out your sick fantasies and fears on others. Horrific images of handcuffed victims whom you violated and brutalized.

I’m shaking right now—from fury and from fear. You disgust me. You’ve broken my trust and you’ve broken my heart.

I’m scared to be in my own home.

Stop trying to appease me with your empty words, America. I don’t want anything from you right now.

        I just want you to take a good look at yourself.

Own your own shit. Open your eyes to the trauma of your birth—the abuse, the rape, the hate, and the violence that are part of your story. Stop running from the pain.

        Get help.

I’ve already packed my bags. 

Love/Hate,

Abused

***

Dear America,

You’re lashing out. You’re distressed.

“I hate you!” you say.

“Get out of my life!”  

“It’s his fault!”

I can see you’re having some big feelings.

Your brother asked you to stop hitting him, but you didn’t. He asked you not to take his Lambikin, but you took it anyway.

Now you’re upset because he won’t play with you. You’re mad because he wants his favorite toy back.

It’s tough to hear no, isn’t it? It’s hard when you don’t get your way, I know.

Come, let me hold you. Shh, it’s okay to feel frustrated.

You’re not ready for a hug, I see. You don’t want to be comforted right now.

I’m going to have to hold onto your arms. You don’t seem to be in control of them right now.  You’re hurting people and I can’t let you do that. We don’t do that in our home.

Oh America, America! How I want to gather you in my arms as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you won’t let me.

You push me away. You run off. You slam the door.

But I won’t give up on you.

I’m here. Arms open.

Come home…

Waiting,

Love


Created by: Iris Chen

About the Author: Iris Chen is a Chinese American blogger who writes about her adventures as a deconstructing tiger mother. An advocate for gentle parenting and unschooling, she currently lives with her husband and sons in China.

Photo Credit: Dương Trần Quốc on Unsplash

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Things You Should Know about Me

[an exercise in spoken word]

There are some things you should know about me.

I am going to tell you those things because if I don’t, no one else will.

My father will not.

My mother will not.

My brother might, but he’s not to be trusted.

Brothers are after all, the shadows of our most devious selves.

I am the one that knows my story best.

So I will tell you some of these things.

  1. I hate the taste of papaya.  I only eat papaya in the Philippines.  I only eat papaya in the Philippines because those are the only ones that do not make me vomit.
  2. I find comfort in really good procedurals but am embarrassed by most sitcoms.
  3. Some days I am brown, most days I am a semi-distinct shade of olive.
  4. I was darker when I was a child and spent all of my summer mornings in a swimming pool.  I was very proud of the fact I had a pristine racer-back tan from approximately six different one-piece Speedos I owned in the same style.
  5. I hate direct address.
  6. My mother does not like to be addressed as “ma’am.”  She thinks it’s condescending.
  7. I am an Asian-American, Filipino-English, first-generation hapa.  I live my hyphens. I am constantly stuck living as a transmitter between two worlds that don’t understand each other.  
  8. If you’re wondering what that’s like, it’s like being forced to be a cultural translator when everyone knows you’re not fluent in either.
  9. Shakespeare is for lovers.
  10. I would like to take a pen name—Liz Lorenzana, after my grandmother—but I am afraid of being typed as a Latina artist.
  11. I am not Latina.  I do not speak Spanish—did you think I did because I am brown?  The answer is no.
  12. I have no intention of learning to speak Spanish unless it becomes incumbent upon me due to my job, my research, my love life, or my neighborhood.
  13. Some days I hate white men.
  14. Erasure is my inheritance.  If you cannot understand that—if you cannot at least hold the empty space that makes me sweat in agony—then we can no longer be friends.
  15. Touch is my first love language.
  16. I spend an inordinate amount of my money on handbags and hardly anything on groceries.
  17. I would rather sit through a bad play than a bad sermon because only after one of them is it acceptable to drink.
  18. I have spent my whole life using the same Hitatchi rice cooker that’s older than my parent’s marriage.
  19. I eat rice with my meals sometimes.  Sometimes I just eat bread.
  20. I do not speak Spanish.  No, I will not make you tamales.
  21. Kale belongs in peanut butter smoothies and nowhere else.
  22. Yes, I have eaten balut.
  23. Yes, I enjoyed it.
  24. I also enjoy solitude amongst many.  Locations include cafes, bars, cheese shops, and grocery stores.
  25. I firmly believe one should always be kind to service people.
  26. If I make you breakfast, it does not mean I want to marry you.
  27. Be not inhospitable to strangers.  Instead make them stay for dinner. There’s always more adobo in the refrigerator.
  28. I refuse to go to the gym.
  29. I will not recreate unless strictly housed in a studio class, but I am afraid that makes me a hypocrite for participating in the western industrial yoga complex.
  30. My father is a soft man.
  31. My tears are my most precious gift to self.  I think it is better to cry a little bit every day than to have your soul shrivel from dehydration.
  32. When I want to feel skinny, I sleep on my stomach, but I regret it in the morning.
  33. I spend most of my afternoons searching for the stranger that hides behind my whiteness.  If you ever find me in this state, eyes glazed over with fury and skin crawling with goosebumps, do not, I repeat, do not wrap your arms around me and whisper sweet platitudes.  My goosebumps are all I have, so please, just leave me be.
  34. I do not have a taste in music, though I love music dearly.  My “taste” is but a compilation of everyone else’s “taste,” haphazardly recommended to me on road trips and bad first dates.
  35. Some days I imagine God as a woman.  Some days I call her Venus.
  36. Touch is my first love language, but dance was my first liturgy.
  37. I will cook you adobo, but don’t expect me to pay 12$ for longanisa at that gentrified food stand in Grand Central Market when I can just as easily have it for 2$ when I go home to see my grandmother.

I am an Asian-American, Filipino-English, first-generation hapa.  

I live my hyphens. I am often stuck living as a transmitter between two worlds that don’t understand each other.  

If you’re wondering what that’s like, it’s like being forced to be a cultural translator when everyone knows you’re not fluent in either.

There are some things you should know about me.

I will tell you those things because no one else will.  

I am the one that knows my story best.

So I will tell you those things.

 

Created by: Lindsey Twigg

About the Author: Lindsey is a playwright, blogger, and lyrical poet based in Santa Barbara, CA.  A born and bred Southern Californian, she is currently living in Manila with extended family working on her first full-length play, Platinum Record.  She writes vigorously about hapa identity, the female body, and the importance of wearing pearls.  You can usually find her belting out showtunes in her car or arguing loudly about sexuality in third wave coffee shops.  She’s a friend of the pod, a hoarder of (coffee table) books, and a connoisseur of very large pants.

You can find her social commentary on Medium or her ramblings about fashion on her lifestyle blog, The Filipino Grigio.

Photo: courtesy of the author.  Her Auntie’s house in Manila.

The Process of Words and Three Generations

I have always loved the humanities. I love and appreciate my parents for supporting my interest in the humanities. I also notice that there are fewer Asian-American people in the humanities than say, math or science.

Sure, I got the occasional joke in my co-op groups as to why I wasn’t great at math. Sitting in Kumon sessions improving my math skills in preparation for the SAT made me painfully aware that I did not possess the stereotypical aptitude of every other kid there who looked like me: deep black or dark brown hair, glasses – head down in concentration.

As a homeschooler, my love for writing, history, art, literature and logic only grew. My sport was forensics! This activity opened up a whole new realm where my interests collided together into something strong, loud and personal. I recall another Asian girl in a different club coming up to me at one tournament. She looked me in the eye and shyly asked  “How did you learn to speak? Asians, we, we are not loud people.” What do you mean? I thought. You’re here, I am here, at a speech and debate tournament! You’re wearing a suit and blouse just like every other student here: if I can speak.You can too! That’s what I thought. What I said instead was a true, but pat answer that my speaking ability was a gift from God which my parents always encouraged me to use. I wish now that I had chosen to respond to both questions: the one about my speaking ability and the other about how being Asian does not mean you have to be a “quiet person.”

Still, the girl’s hesitation echoes what much of society still thinks about us: the quiet Asian.

I look first to my parents to counter this idea. My parents: second generation, Christian Asian-Americans who dated long distance. They love food, fashion, the artsand are not afraid to speak up. When my mother dated my dad, who became a lawyer, and met his family of six: she thought she was having dinner with Italians. My mother worked for Levis after college. I have yet to see her lose in an exchange with a retail customer service associate over whether a sale still applies.

With their support behind me, I began my college journey in elementary education. While studying diversity in the classroom, it occurred to me that I could be a model for the Asian students in my class who are creative and loved to express their thoughts.  Despite their parent’s desire to steer them toward the stable careers afforded in math and science, I could encourage them to explore and express via the humanities and arts.

Yes world, I am a Chinese-American with an English degree! While I don’t aspire to be the next Amy Tan, I’ve started to realize there there is more beyond the primarily European lit canon I was taught.  All kinds of great written work is out there by Asian-Americans that are spreading awesome ideas. They are breaking ground in graphic novels and perhaps coolest of all: translating science fiction from China. You all should check out Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie and Invisible Planets as well as Kao Kalia Yang’s poetry. It’s gorgeous. We’re getting there, but there could be more of us.

When I first found PAAC (Progressive Asian American Christians) I was a little hesitant at first. Not having grown up around many Asian-Americans and having a third generation separation from my Asian identity, I wasn’t sure how I would fit in. But, then I started to enjoy what I was learning from the questions, conversations and occasional rants. Soon, I was invited to join the Write On, PAAC writing group. I was in wonder during the first writing workshop we had: there were free verse poems, myth adaptations, memoirs and social critique essays.

I had found Asians who loved the humanities. Asians who loved and pursued their love of writing.

In college, I never had that community. While I felt encouraged and supported in my own writing efforts, I didn’t know what I was missing until I found this community. It still feels uncertain. I worry I don’t have enough critical reflections on my own identity as third-generation Chinese-American Christian. It’s new, but percolating with possibility.

That possibility is what made me want to be a part of As I Am which grew out of the PAAC Writer’s Collaborative.  Here were wonderful people who want to adapt their cultural myths and legends into plays.  People who want to examine their faith graciously in its complexity. People who want to explore their questions and doubts with beauty and clarity through the written word. It is a space to not only examine what stories we have believed to be true about ourselves, but also a space for redemption.

Stories are powerful and the story we write together is equally important.

This feels like a new chapter for me as a writer. Finding PAACs who love humanity and the humanities is exciting, like learning something new for the first time. We started As I Am to give voice and platform for those who have witty words, searing satire and smart social think-pieces to hurl at the idea that we will ever only be scientists, doctors or people who work with numbers. We do those too (many of us do). We write to show how wondrous and multi-faceted the image of God is. We put our words on the page and say: here am I, as I am. See, read, know and be known.

 

Created by: Katherine Kwong

About the author: Born and raised in Southern California, Katherine is currently an intern with The Moth, an organization dedicated to the art and craft of live storytelling. There, she helps with numerous kinds of back-end work while trying her best to draft stories she thinks of quickly, but writes slowly. You can find her listening to podcasts while cooking, watercoloring or trying to make a little corner of Brooklyn feel like home.

Picture: Nam June Paik, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995, fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © Nam June Paik Estate, Gift of the artist, 2002.23