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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


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.

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


With Love from Mr. Hyphen: API/A Love Letter Project.

I was recently asked to write-up a blog post on Hyphen Magazine’s blog site. I hope I do the Project and the individuals I mentioned justice: http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2010/10/love-mr-hyphen-apia-love-letter-project

Thank you for continuing to support this small endeavor and spreading it far and wide. As always, be strong and be brilliant: dream big, and dream forever.

Bless, P


API/A Love Letter Project

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On a basic level, the premise behind the API/A Love Letter Project is reclaiming a sense of optimism and self/communal progression for the Asian/American community. What the API/A Love Letter Project is is a collection of essays and letters written by members of the community—whether academic or not—poeticizing their hopes and dreams for the future of the social circles they come from.

I think what started this whole idea of “the love letter” was seeing my first-generation Thai immigrant parents give up their initial aspirations and dreams to only to struggle daily in a self-run Thai restaurant in the United States. For decades they both worked from dawn to dusk in a family business which helps support the academic and personal ambitions of their children while simultaneously putting theirs on hold. However, this project is not solely for my parents, but for parents of other API/A children; for those same children who reach out for more; for refugees and immigrants; for people who believe they are forgotten while trapped within human trafficking; for nail shop owners/workers; the military wives; the Bay Area Filipino pop bands; postal workers; politicians; teachers; activists; and for you and for me.

Along with understanding my parents’ struggle, the notions of love letter writing came to fruition when I entered Asian/American Studies at San Francisco State University. Being in AAS, I have seen my fair share of displaced anger and resentment. I saw how destructive as well as cyclical anger has become for the API/A community as well as other communities of color. However, the point behind the API/A Love Letter Project is to visualize that we do not always have to be lost our anger and/or disillusionment—noting that we don’t have to lose. In lieu of this, I would hope that the API/A Love Letter Project helps to trace the forgotten memory and the discarded dreams individuals and groups left behind while fighting for “something” more.

And so I reach out to you. Whether API/A or not, I reach out to you to hear your words and share your dreams and hopes for your community. Although it is still in its infant stages and under construction, I hope that maybe all of you will consider writing as well as donating something in the near future which illustrates your hunger, love, passion, optimism, and hopes for your community’s future and development. The point would be to evoke camaraderie amongst ourselves and our contemporaries; bridging the gaps and stories which lie in-between us.

Feel free to email me with your story, questions, or comments: 4APIALove@gmail.com

Your posts/love letters can be anonymous or can have your name imprinted – it’s up to you.

Bless, P