an open letter to the api/a community still trying to figure itself out
(originally written) Monday, May 17, 2010 at 10:58pm
amidst champagne and courvoisier at poolside in downtown austin, pahee suggested that we write love letters to our communities (thanks, p!). taking his suggestion, i included the letter below as part of the brief talk i gave a few weeks ago at the “state of asia/america” panel at the cross (where i shared the floor with my brilliant friends – anth, manda, and ang). the “community” i address is still fraught: undefined and unstable. and offering this to you makes me feel anxious and vulnerable. still, i want to share this with you in the hopes that you might share with me, too.
i see you. in the most unlikely of places. three-thousand miles away from the place you think of when nat king cole croons through the speakers at dinnertime. the one that makes you stop – in your tracks – when he tells you to go back to where you came from. the one you long for when it rains. and the same one you want to remember but can no longer imagine.
i notice you. in between comings and goings. at line in the grocery store and at the bank, at the dry cleaners and picking up takeout on your way home, with bags under your eyes, on your back, and at your sides. never here and always there at the same time. i see you at mass every morning when you think no one else is looking, hoping that morningtime is when your prayers are the loudest. i see you in traffic, always on the way to somewhere but lost and searching. at the doctor’s office waiting for a diagnosis that never matches and paying $15 for peace of mind that never comes. i see you at hospital beds during the graveyard shift. i watch you carry home on your back, always leaving only to return again.
i notice you there: loving between sighs, fighting in the open and behind closed doors – where you live – and i see you, tiptoeing/walking/running on the margins of your dreams.
i hear you at the intersection of misunderstood and invisible, this language so misshapen on your tongue – afraid, embarrassed, and furious at the demands that they’re always making of you and that you’re always making of yourself. i hear the words you say that mask the words you mean. resilient and purposeful. but careful, conservative, calculated. i get that. sometimes, the only protection you have isn’t what you choose to give but what you choose to leave out. as if choice has anything to do with it.
when i am silent and staring, i am trying to burn into my memory the way your lips move, the shine of the wet rings that your cocktail makes on my table, the heavy beating of my pulse, because these might be the only remnants of the one night you let yourself be vulnerable – a fleeting moment, a flash of light, buried deep beneath your steel. i see you work hard, play hard, grind hard, live hard only to break into a million pieces at the end of the day. and only to put yourself back together again at the start of the next.
walter benjamin asks us to seize the moment of danger. michel foucault reminds us that knowledge is made for cutting. raymond williams teaches us to excavate the remnants and allow for the emergences. but i want to know: what’s the point of epistemological and discursive rupture if can’t write a love letter? i want to know what the point is of tracing the geneaology of historiography if i can’t explain the ways you move me – everyday – and mostly silently, in the dark? when time and space is imbued with monotonous isolation and empty theoretical gestures, when we become surrounded by these social catastrophes and political uncertainties, i realize that it’s the things that you don’t say that i need to listen for. these are the things that scream and thrash the loudest right before sunrise.
and it’s the questions that you ask that always seem to find their way to the top. in austin, theresa asked: is there a way to imagine ourselves beyond fighting and fucking? last quarter, jay asked: what do theories of privilege do to alleviate the pain? at home, my dad asks: what’s the point?
and this is what i mean to say: the history that i seek is in your memory and in mine. 1945 is built upon your shoulders, and laban is etched onto your skin. your steps are imbricated in theories of globalization and labor, and your wounds are intertwined in the realities of treaties and militarization. i know of war – on those streets and right here – through you. you are my most cherished storyteller, and your words are haunted by forced passages and lined with possibilities that i repeat and write down in order to remember.
you are, at once, my spark and my specter, the reason i can’t sleep before 2am most nights and the reason i still want to get up so early in the morning. but i want to explain to you why i choose to live here, in the contradictions, at the interstices, always between night and later in the night, where there are no guarantees and when the only things i create are as fragile as the time i spend to make them. forever uncertain and yearning. i’ve learned that either side of the spectrum is too baggy or small or awkward and can only fit some of me and some of you some of the time. and i’ve come to understand that wholeness and cohesiveness are dangerous because they pretend that we were meant to fit. this is less about finding place but more about carving space. i do this to tear and to cut but always with the intention to thread and suture. and i do this to create something to give to you maybe once (or twice) in a series of uncertain promises.
we are always at the edge of something more. i’m listening and waiting. my work starts and ends with you.