Author Archives: apialoveletterproject

Mr. Hyphen: Reflections on Love, Community, and Embracing the Forgotten

As I’m sitting in my one-bedroom apartment in Honolulu; listening to my old 90s Kai & Pinay (yeah, you’re welcome Theresa, Rhommel, Anthony, and Kimmie) albums; and at the verge of gouging my eyes out to strategically not read any more critical theory on early American Studies, I am delightfully reminded that the Mr. Hyphen competition is slowly approaching us.

For Thai/America: I remember when I first applied to compete for the Mr. Hyphen competition back in 2009. Initially, I rode the organizational wave trying to engender and propagate a voice for the marginalized Thai/American community—a voice that was and is generally under rug swept under the shadow of more visible Asian/American groups. We, as a collective group, are one percent of Asian/America—which is a mere three percent of the communal census count for the United States. Basically, Thais in America are invisible; except for the exotified imagery we see daily—Thai restaurants, sporadically placed Theravada Buddhist temples, and the occasional references to sex trafficking, tourism, and Ong Bak.

And so here I was, just coming off of the grassroots struggle, Save the Thai Temple, and on the verge of finishing my Masters degree in Asian/American Studies at San Francisco State University. I was a somewhat cocky little S.O.B. who wanted to conquer the community, nonprofit, and corporate world, bringing some semblance of social acceptance and inclusion to the community that raised me to the man I became. Doing so, I reached out to the Thai American Scholarship Fund—a small project which helps subsidize academic and housing expenses for college-bound Thai/American youth—as a base for why I ran for Mr. Hyphen. However, days before the actual pageant I was awoken by a voice that urgently needed someone to listen as well as allow her story told.

For Janet: At the time, Janet was approaching 23. She was an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) studying International Development, and dreamt big of becoming a fulltime teacher. Although I actually never met her, I felt an instant rapport to her image and words through her website—as if she was my Diana to my Anne. We exchange e-mails and phone calls, and through our pen pal dynamic, I found myself drawn to her compassion, integrity, awkward humor, and self-determining spirit. During her last year at UCLA, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (bi-phenotypic)—a blood cancer which affects all of the bone marrow in the body and, in many cases, may quickly spread to other organs.

Every day, thousands of people are diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma. Of those numbers, 6,000 patients will be searching daily for a match on the national registry. For Asian/Americans searching for a perfect match or a possibility, the success rate is quite trivial since we make up 7% (about 530,000) of the entire donor pool; making it that much harder for numerous individuals to search for a match. In addition to this heart-wrenching number, all minorities and people of color have a combined chance of 20-30% to find a donor, whereas a Caucasian patient has a vastly huge chance, 80%. These statistics are overwhelmingly daunting as well as almost disgusting to a degree. Changing these drastic numbers and bridging the gap to a comparable space is about education, re-education, and application with the information given and held.

And so, humbly, I reached out to take on Janet’s name and her mission as a part of my organizational campaign for Mr. Hyphen. I still kept the Scholarship Fund close to my heart and the main reason why I ran for the competition, but I made a small space for this girl I came to have an affinity towards.

For Southeast Asian/Americans: The year I competed for Mr. Hyphen, I was indulged by some of the most generous, attractive, talented, and out-spoken community leaders I have ever known in my short life. In addition to this and oddly enough, it was the year for the South and Southeast Asian/American sweep. In the running, there was Amit Singh for Sikhcess; Danny Le for The APIA Spoken Word & Poetry Summit; Leng Phe for Tiny Toones Cambodia; RJ Lozada for the Center for Asian American Media; Tony Dizel for Serve the People; and finally myself, representing the Thai/American Scholarship Fund and Helping Janet through the Asian American Donor Program (AADP). Beyond my organizations, these were and are truly some of the most amazing, beautiful, and genuine men in our community. Amongst the downtime in between guys’ performances, the changing of gears and ware, as well as just sitting down to catch a breath, these men would talk about their groups, their people, their backgrounds, and their experiences with such vigor, love, and enthusiasm that it was striking and almost embarrassing to discuss my own aspirations in lieu of these extraordinary towers of lived lives. Larger-than-life they were, and beautiful they are.

For Michelle: At the end of the day and the competition, I walked away with the title and the prize money for my community groups: half for the Scholarship Fund, and half for Janet—who donated the winnings to AADP to help their organizing efforts. Although I represented these two wondrous and fabulous instituitions, on a basic and innate level, this whole experience was and is a love letter to my parents and their struggles to emerge as Thai-immigrants in the United States as well as the life and eventual loss of Michelle Maykin who started Project Michelle.

Mentioning this is not to take away from the people and groups I represented, hardly. But the reason I bring up and have brought up Michelle and my parents while talking about those I represented is because, in our community—in our body politic with intertwined histories of exclusion, racial politics, sexism, classism, and discrimination on and of health, as well as many more—everything is interwoven to one another. Everything is connected by a strand that comes from the same well and curtain of movement and diaspora; the maintenance and simplicity of talk story from various countries of origin; the death of loved ones, but also the birth of kindred spirits and soul mates; as well as the amazing beauty of undertaking the power and knowledge of shared history in addition to understanding the shared lives of various people of color.

As Mr. Hyphen: For me, this is about displacing the dominant discourse and re-emerging—hands held—with what our community is becoming and could look like with the inclusive voice of the marginalized. Stating this, I think what Mr. Hyphen—in addition to all of our nonprofit, academic, and corporate work—embodies is what one of my literary heroes, Professor Lisa Lowe, says about retrieving and exploring spatial history: “[That] They offer other modes for imagining an narrating immigrant subjectivity and community—emerging out of conditions of decolonization, displacement, and disidentification—and refuse assimilation to the dominant narratives of integration, development, and identification.”

At the end of the day, it is about uncovering what is discarded as well as tending to the emerging voices which are birthed from our very hands. It is about acknowledging and answering an unasked question that W.E.B. DuBois says lies between our bodies, our memories, and our experiences, in accordance to this and another world. Furthermore, at the end of the day and drawn through the black of the night, it is about asking ourselves if another world is very much possible and, if so, what is beyond the veil of darkness?

For me and in regards to this reflection, the reality in contrast to the ambiguity about understanding the things we do and the people we were. In addition to this, it is about appreciating who we were, who are, and who we are meant to become. Through this path of discovery, it is furthermore about love—for ourselves, for others, and for our communities. Through the pain of remembering and the resurrection of worn out aspirations, it is about being brilliant and being strong. It is, as people of any color or defining characteristic, about reminding ourselves to dream big, and dream forever.

Stay loved and stay blessed, P.

*****
Mr. Hyphen 2011 is on November 5 and is once again hosted by D’Lo. Celebrating the work of 5 API/A men from the community, they’ll showcase their talents for a chance to win $1000 for their causes. Click (http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/mrhyphen) for tickets and additional information.


Zoe Means Life.

I do not know Zoe personally, but she is my love’s (Theresa Christine) baby cousin. She suffers from a rare form of bone cancer. An account has been opened especially for my Lu called, “So Things Don’t Suck,” which refers to the scale that determines if that day hella sucked or not. Zoe will get to use this account to her discretion on things that will make her day suck free. Love, prayers, advice, and support greatly appreciated. Please read the following excerpt from her Facebook page:
 
 
“This evening I had the pleasure of meeting 15-year-old Zoe Inciong, whose sweetness and innocence are tempered by her courage and will. I was asked to photograph her before she faced her second round of chemotherapy to battle fourth stage bone cancer, which has touched every vertebrae in her spine and has left a tumor that will prevent her from moving around without crutches or a wheelchair.Through the lens I got a glimpse of the tenderness displayed in the affection Zoe shares with her family. Yet this 4.5 GPA student also appears to tackle life in much the same way that she played water polo and basketball before her cancer, forward-looking and with passion and fervor. It is easy to see that to know Zoe is to love her. Her spirit shines.During the shoot, Zoe asked me if there was a way to take pictures of the mirrored closet doors that had scribblings of love and well wishes from friends and family. This simple question led to a departure from the norm in a photo shoot- I handed her my camera and had her take the picture. She said she was reflected in the mirror, and I told her that was the point.

My camera found its way back in her hands later in the photo shoot so she could take pictures of her parents and brother. Her family will see these pictures and know that Zoe was behind the camera, orchestrating the memories captured on film.

Zoe is an amazing person. Thank you to the Inciong Family for allowing me to share her story in pictures.

An account has been opened especially for Zoe called, “So Things Don’t Suck,” which refers to the scale that determines if that day’s suck factor ranked high or low. Zoe Inciong will have full access to this account, which she can use to her discretion on things that will make her day “SUCK FREE.” Any personal donations and/or fundraising will be deposited to this special account (with Randy Inciong & Maria Rabuy Inciong as joint signers) for her.

Your generous contributions can be made payable to Zoe Inciong, and mailed to:

Zoe Inciong
“So Things Don’t Suck”
30530 Del Valle Place
Union City, CA 94587

 
I’ve been surrounded by cancer all my life. Some of the closest people I’ve known have lost battles to this horrible disease. However, I’ve known beautiful individuals who fought hard, persevered, and won their battle against this monster. This may not be the typical “love letter” that I’ve posted in the past, but these words are filled with an unconditional love and support.  Please, if you are reading this, please circulate this widely in your networks and listings. My love for you is eternal and endless.
 
Be brilliant and remember that you are loved family ♥ P
#aadp #projectmichelle #helpingjanet #hopeisalive

Adam Rabuy Crayne.

see i’ve written love letters before

filled pages with the deepest truths til my joints ached

no; they were more like epic poems

with reluctant heroes trying to find salvation

beneath inconsistent rhythms and deep imagery

no; they were like romance novels

with the happily ever afters torn out to make room

for assertions of independence

and the choice of my own adventure

 

but asian america

this is hella different.

this aint your ordinary love letter.

we’ve been together for 23 years

and all i know with utmost certainty

is our love aint so typical.

 

this aint like the love letters i wrote in ninth grade

to brigitte magat who had the deepest black eyes

while other girls stared daggers

her gaze was a giant sword cutting loose my tongue

so all i could do was scream when she told me

i didnt belong in fourth period asian american studies

 

this aint the love letter i wrote to nino razon

who set his foot down on date one and said

fuckin other filipinos was incest

his brown skin laced in ink to mask his shame

liberated through his pelvic thrusts only to be

trapped by the calls he wouldn’t pick up

and the doubts his absence sparked

 

nah this aint your ordinary love letter

 

whether or not you acknowledge it

asian america, you taught me that love

is a game of tug-o-war

where anonymous demons will claw at the ropes

in my attempts to reel you in and convince you

your struggles are my own

each time we come crashing into one another

i stop and wonder if it means

i’ve gotten any closer to emerging victorious

 

not that i’m trying to claim you or that i want you all to myself

but not gonna lie asian america sometimes

i feel like i have the right to be selfish

cuz growing up i never ever ever ever

felt like i had the right to admit i loved you

and even in early adulthood i dont know

if you’ll ever let me in completely.

 

i think

maybe

we need to communicate better

dad told me love was understanding

that they were synonymous

i been told i cant ever fully understand you

but i kinda like it that way

it humbles me

is that weird

i mean

you speak to me in verses i can understand

but can hardly replicate

i mean

you speak to me in verses i can understand

but your song gets lost in everyone’s noise

so dahil sa iyo nais kong mabuhay

becomes ang ganda ko, feel na feel na long hair ko

i mean

you speak to me in verses in can understand

but i’m too afraid to fuck it up and embarrass you

so when the aunties ask in perfect tagalog

may kasintahan ka pa ba

the struggle to define my manhood

beyond the sting of kabaklaan

reduces my heartbreaks to a mere wala pa

i mean

you speak to me in verses i can understand

but your lyrics convey the most painful stories

that send tremors through my stomach

up into my throat

so my replies are broken but honest

i mean

naiintindihan ang iyong nagsasalita

pero ewan ko kung anong dapat kong gawin

kapag kelangan kong sagutin

at wala akong boses, wala akong paroroonan

wala akong puso

shit i dont even know if that was right

 

what i do know is that tagalog has

six words for love (no seriously)

and they each make my heart beat a different pattern

and when i think of you the pounding

is so fucking incessant and wonderful

that i know it’s a crime to quit you

but goddammit asian america

you cause me so much pain.

 

third grade you stood in the corner laughing when the

blonde boy in the pool asked if i was from china

fourth grade you stood in the corner laughing when i

started crying cuz i wasnt allowed to check more than one box

and the school wanted to know what kinda person i am

eighth grade you stood in the corner laughing when

i told mama i wanted to enter an essay contest to glorify you

you and her laughed in unison

 

even now i wonder what it will take to win you over

ive read between your lines, danced to your music

shared you in cafes, paraded with you in the streets

made it a point to become you

yet

all it takes is the scorn of a stranger

to slam the doors of his narrow mind and allow you to escape me

and i’m back to where it all began

chasing after the next textbook the next lecture

the next performance the next focus group

the next boy with empty promises

to educate empower revive

slap smack and fuck asian america back into me

 

my girlfriends taught me love is pain

and i aint a stranger

to be born so unconventionally is a struggle

but mama loved dad way way too much

to care about the anger and frustration

which turned my fragile body sideways

and fostered doubts over my right to survive

from beneath her invincible womb

mama loved dad way way too much

to listen to those who tried to keep divided

the worlds she dared to converge

in the spirit of her divine motherhood

mama loved me way way too much

to care that my asian america might not be her asian america

and mama knew that the extra week it took

to bring a boy like me into an unforgiving world

would be worth it when the day arrived when he could show her

the asian america she knew was possible

when he could show her the best possible view

of everything.

 

my exboyfriends taught me love is healing

my best friends taught me healing starts with the self

i know itll take a lot of inner searching

but i know deep down asian america i can find you

and til that day comes i will gladly struggle

even if it keeps me up late at night asking

where our relationship is leading us me

i know i aint got all the answers but fuck it.

mama taught me love isn’t a question

said i’ll know i’m in love when

the tears don’t apologize, the words don’t stammer

the kisses sweet, the silence peaceful

said i’ll just know cuz i’ll feel so damn good

said i’ll just know


Lalitha Kristipati.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, I am shy.

I am shy and I am embarrassed.

Too timid and too contained for public professions of love.

And yet,

I hope this comes across to you as eloquently as it does in my mind, with all of the frill and excitement of all the greatest of movies, with all the beauty and containing every metaphor of the greatest of novels. You see, I need to explain myself to you.

And I need you to understand, above all else, and really, it’s important for you to know, above all else, that my original sentiments do not reflect the ones I feel now:

It was not always love. Or respect. Or even the childlike wonder I sometimes feel creeping back.

And yes, that hate and neglect was deliberate,

And I only have a few regrets.

I have my reasons. I wanted to be able to embrace you with the same fervor and passion as those around me. As my family had. As you were expecting. As I was expecting.

And yet,

You remained indifferent. Cold. I learned of love this way- an internal, agonizing wait.

And I am too shy.

And I am too contained.

And I did not know.

And I felt so discouraged and embarrassed of all of this- turning into the stereotype I so often spoke out against. The volatility characterized in every telling and retelling of us.

And so I buried all of that resentment down inside of me.

And I thought that if I let it ferment in the warmth deep in my soul, it would mature into something beyond my comprehension. That I would have no choice to embrace you. You, no choice to embrace me back. That as I aged and grew, you aged and grew within me all the same.

And yet,

It did not happen this way, as it usually does. As I expected it to. As I believed it to.

The non-traditional daughter of traditional parents, who, in their perfection, raised two darling sons previous. What happened?

And I was a disappointment to myself. To them, too sudden of a change. Which in turn, gave me a realization: I came to reject you entirely: a way of mimicking your indifference. My internal protest.

And yet,

I cannot say sorry enough,

And yet, 

I know that I do not have to.

Eventually, things changed.

And yet,

I cannot remember when it happened. Or how. The reasons as to which or the even the build up. I cannot place a blame or give a thanks. I just know that it took a considerable amount of time- that I lived a life of oblivious rejection for too long before it finally happened.

It may have been by force. It may have been desperation. It may have very well been the little things, built up over time. Fermenting inside of me.

Complete immersion into cultural arts. The origin of my name. The struggle of my father. Of my mother. Of my people. The beauty in tradition. The beauty in changes in tradition. The way learning more about you was like travelling to a new place. I could explore you freely, without fear, like a newborn seeing the world.

Oh and all that you taught me! Fasting is to be done periodically. Prayers are to be chanted when needed. Love is to be given out unconditionally, as difficult as that may be.

And while the flow of writing of both those previous and those to come runs neatly along professions of love, sung out loud so every ear across the world may ring from the hummmmmm of each word,

I,

Well, I am too shy and I am too embarrassed.

And so, this is my apology and this is my thank you, all at once. This is what I have grown into. This is what I am still learning to grow from. All of this, from you, to you.


I Was Born With Two Tongues – Mother.

Amid it all, two figures ever stand to typify that day to coming ages,—the one, a gray-haired gentleman […] and the other, a form hovering dark and mother-like, her awful face black with the mists of centuries, had aforetime quailed at that white master’s command, had bent in love over the cradles of his songs and daughters, and closed in death the sunken eyes of his wife,—aye, too, at his behest had laid herself low to his lust, and borne a tawny man-child to the world, only to see her dark boy’s limbs scattered to the winds by midnight marauders riding after “cursed Niggers.”

–          W.E.B. Du Bois; The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

I am always moved by this piece. I am moved because I am reminded of the history and trek which brought my mother and father here. I am reminded why my mother’s story is stitched into my head to never forget lost memory.
I first heard this piece when I was in highschool, when a teacher (Janet Stickmon) handed me my very own copy of I Was Born With 2 Tongues’ “Broken Speak.”  I never really understood this track’s context or its importance until I re-listened to it during my second year in graduate school. It’s actually funny how ambivalent and how incoherant I was to its significance and relatability to my mother’s own journey. However, on coming back to “Mother,” I rediscovered its beauty and vision, and would like nothing but to share it with you. This post and love letter is to every Asian and Asian/American mother who made the journey here. Additionally, this post is also for every Asian/American child who may have forgetten the journey and stumbles which brought them here. Cheers to the journey, and cheers to the path which carves out our future. Be brilliant.

Siwaraya Rochanahusdin.

This morning I was in conversation with a friend about the physical and mental aspects of life. I was telling him that I do what I do (even when stressed out and having lack-of sleep) because it’s not who we are now or today that define us, but what we do that helps shape the future. Very Shakespearean, no? Anyways, the post below was initially written for a Thai-Thai/American diplomacy trip my friend, Siwaraya, took a couple of months back. In her short but concise blog, she hints at the inconsistencies of physical attractiveness and cultural legitimacy within the community—as seen through the eyes of a Thai/American child, and now Thai/American woman. What I gathered from Siwaraya’s words is that what quintessentially defines our legitimacy and cultural belonging are not necessarily what our peers or elders tell us is correct nor is it the absence of cultural precision, but more so, how we map out and redefine the inclusive path our community can and will take in the future.

“You see that thing they’re serving on a platter? Now what are we going to have dessert or disaster?” – Keri Hilson
 
My clothes are strewn about the floor of my room and my mind is cramming all details down pat. It’s a week and some change to Thailand. Four of us were selected from applications to nationally represent our second generation brethren of Thai America on this leadership trip to Thailand. I want us to shine and make our cohorts proud. We’re the inaugural program. We’re culturally mixed with our ethnic Thai roots and growing up in America. Emotions and thoughts twirl in my mind and heave against my stomach.
 
Suddenly, I flash back. Classical Thai dance performance at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium – 3,700 seats.  I’m the darker skinned four-eyed gangly tomboy towering a head over my fair skinned genteel nimble peers. They’ve been dancing since age 5. I’ve had a solid 5 weeks of prep. I step onto the stage as one of the ‘aunties’ snatch my glasses off in an effort to have me blend in and be pretty. And, in seconds, I careen “beautifully” off stage.
 
Cut to present day. I’m trying to balance propriety of my outfits with practicality of the tropical humid heat. My Thai itinerary for the trip has scribbles of English translation with words such as “princess angel (princess sirindhorn)” “parliament” and “dine”. How hard and much should I hold to my progressive thoughts or push forward and up the traditional lessons passed down? We’ve been told a tv news crew may cover us ‘like reality tv.’ Will my presentation be professional yet personal enough (but not too personal) for the university students? I’m wondering if I’ll master the steps to this dance in time.
 
And, I realize…. in dance, the most important thing I can do is lose myself in the moment. There’s no sense in fearing the little voices of what people may or may not say. My experience will never be Thai enough. My experience is not quintessentially American enough. I’m here as me with all my failures or successes. Let this tide of possibility overrun and overflow abounding with life.  Then, no matter what I do – it’ll be worth any fall.
 
Dedication: The Undeniables and Nong Snap


Ashvin Kini.

Dear You,

How do I begin this letter? Is it necessary to identify myself to you? To prove that I’m one of you? That I belong to you?

Must I forego some part of myself for you to see me?  Forget some memory that I cannot help but grasp onto, even as time and obligations make the details blurry?  What would it take for you to nod your head, beckoning me toward your outstretched arms?

And what of you? Must you forego some part of yourself? Must you forget in order to be a part of me?

A part, yet apart.

Forgive me if I sound naïve or ungrateful.  It’s difficult for me to address you directly. To reveal myself.  Make myself vulnerable.  So often, when I’m called upon to represent you, to speak for you, I have to fake strength and resilience.  I’m very self-conscious about it—the shift in my posture, the articulation of my words, the precision of my gestures.  In order to make clear that you/I belong here, that your/my presence is necessary and important. That you/I have something to say that needs to be heard.

Sometimes, I wish I didn’t have to speak.  I’d rather just lay next to you.  In a dark room, with the windows open.  I’d lay my hand on your chest, watching it rise up and down with each breath. I’d listen as you whisper to me the details of your day.  What you ate. And whom you saw. What you said. And how you said it. I want to feel the warmth of your body against mine, as we pull the covers up over us as protection from the cold. 

I want you to love me as much as I love you.  You don’t have to say it. I just need to feel it.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t already.  There are moments when all around me I feel your presence.  Moments of lightness, and brightness, when I think that nothing could ever separate us again.  But our separation is inevitable, and so is our reunion. 

As we’ve gotten older, wiser, more honest with each other, we’ve come realize that our love is not about undying devotion or lifelong monogamy. There will be times when you don’t listen, when I don’t hear. When our tired, angry, hungry, proud, joyful, beautiful bodies will be so very far apart. 

But even then, I will desire you. And you will desire me. I will seek you out, as you search for me. I will share my heartbreaks and happinesses, as will you. I will read to you from the books in my bag, sing the songs stuck in my head, ask the questions that only you can answer.

I will change you. And you will change me, as you have done so many times already.

There are voices and heads, mostly male, mostly white, on TV, on my computer, on the street, on my phone, telling me, but not necessarily you, over and over that it gets better.  I’m not sure what to make of their assurances.  I don’t know what “it” means.  Am I it? Are you?

Unlike those men—who insist on bombarding me with false narratives of inevitable progress, of celebrations of privileged mobility, and coded rejections of where you and I come from—unlike those men, you and I know that we are not living in a moment of new and unprecedented crisis.  This crisis has been and is ongoing—we see it every time a young person decides that death is their only option, every time black and brown men are gunned down by white cops, every time bombs fall on cities whose names we insist on mispronouncing, every time my mother recalls the violence of her colonial childhood, every time they limit your right to choose or ask for your papers or demand to know whether you’re a boy or a girl, every time I am randomly selected to open my bags at the airport.

No, this crisis is not new. It doesn’t, inevitably, get better.

But what you’ve taught me, through your example, your mistakes, your contradictions, is to fiercely imagine something else. Not in the abstract, but always grounded in the material, and the everyday. 

 This is why I am writing you this love letter.

 You have given me histories, personal and collective. Stories that pass over and through generations and peoples, violating the logics of biology and time. Stories of mothers and migrants, laborers and scholars. Of people coming together, through and across difference. Of separations and longings. Of utopias and otherwises, where hope and love replace profit and prisons. 

Those worlds may be foreign to me. I may never see them, never experience them fully for myself. But I know them because you show them to me.  Because we build them, together, with our hands and our minds, because we know we have no other option but to imagine them into existence.

With all my love. Till soon,

Ashvin