Diana Tsuchida.

“Grave of the Fireflies”

 

Some days ago I was able to experience a revelation that was an incredible privilege.  Sitting on an Oahu beach on my day off from school, I was already conscious of the privilege I had to just being able to sit, relax and think in the intoxicating warmth of the sun.  But little did I know that in trying to draw inspiration for this love letter entry, I would be overcome with a powerful wave of emotional understanding, begging to be processed.  It was at this moment I came to terms with a family past marked with the memory of internment.  I enabled myself to embrace and explore the pain of generational trauma in a way that exposed me to the deep sadness I have always carried for the subject.

            In the Asian/American community, we talk about how to not victimize the victims, how we need representations that, while acknowledging the pain, also show the uplifting, exciting of internment. They played baseball, they had dances, they laughed, the kids played together.  It wasn’t all tears and anguish, but sometimes fun and games behind that barbed wire.  And I agree.

            But at this moment of processing my pain, that very idea of acknowledging the fun was never so foreign and wrong to me, as I thought about how horrible of an injustice had been committed against my father, my grandfather, my grandmother, their neighbors, friends, extended family and the people today still fighting for the right to be recognized as victims deserving reparations.  I thought about my grandfather, who in his rage and heated anger, dealt with his situation in the best way he could—he lashed out, he resisted; he was imprisoned within a prison that his mind could not handle.  I thought about every story my dad has told me and I know them by heart, understanding the gravity of sleeping in rancid horse stables but never feeling it.  My mind began to grapple with the bigger picture, the messy, dreadfully bloody portrait of World War II.  My thoughts connected to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the trivializing of such horror through theoretical texts that try to “define” the Peace Park in Hiroshima and call upon survivor stories.  I thought about the wrench that gets thrown into these conversations: Why doesn’t anyone remember what Japan did?  I thought about the murderous projects of Nanjing, the Philippines, and Korean comfort women.  I visualized images from a film called Grave of the Fireflies that told the story of a brother and sister orphaned in Japan trying to survive the firebombings from which the sister later died of starvation.  I thought about the contention over Pearl Harbor and the rhetoric of innocence it tries to encapsulate.  I mourned for the destruction of that peaceful morning that spurred a war that unleashed atomic fury and a day that marked “infamy” for some and the criminalization of American citizens for others.  The connections were too overwhelming.  One war, several agendas, and massive egos that only knew how to play with violence.  Did my father receive justice? Was a letter in a frame, along with some cash, enough to alleviate the memory that originated in exaggerated fear? How will it ever end? 

            I thought about my own mental alienation within my family, where everyone supports me with all their hearts, but many still lie on one side of a spectrum to which I cannot cross over.  I could never glorify the military, embrace a history of fighting for “the good guys” or be awed by a war story that when dissolved, perpetuates the simplest idea of all—chasing down a fear.  Often I’m not sure what they think of my mind or what they say after I hand over books, papers, and small landmarks of personal theoretical accomplishments but I can only hope for validation and understanding.

            The most dangerous confine is the prison of our minds.  We imprison each other because of fears that manifest themselves in racism, sexism, militarization, prisons, poverty and homophobia.  We categorize and separate ourselves from “them” because we believe our fears are valid, they keep us safe, they keep providing the stability we need to live in a nuclear world where militaries try to outweigh each other.  Until we begin to actively take apart the deep-seated ignorance of our psyches that allows us to physically imprison each other, when can we hope for generational healing?  When will we loosen the grips on our fears? Inspired by API/A’s subtitle, I acknowledge, I imagine, I believe that another world is possible.

            At last, here’s my short love letter.  Dad, I want you to know that during this moment on the beach I had never cried so hard for your experience, been so in touch with the injustice of what was so wrong about throwing a little boy and his parents into a confined deserted space.  As a child who should have been allowed to live out those years in relative innocence, they were stolen from you.  You will never know how much you mean to me, how you’ve moved my heart and soul in ways you can never imagine, that even trying to write it in words right now trivializes what I feel.  It’s simply a feeling of love. 

            I love you, Dad.


Eliyahu Enriquez.

Dahil sa E”Z

A Tension:

Yu promised
A romance
Manual in Ladino
To highlight in
Black and blue hues
Liner notes to All
Bye myself
Don’t wanna be

A bout face
Your Frida hand grazing
His Rivera Gaultier
About diluted gin and tonics
Complimentary because I can’t
Forget that
I couldn’t
Flea devastation
In a bumper cara
Fury
Hit and ruin
Wildfire
Insteed

Three stoned tablets
Whiz straight at me
Like rubber bullets
Each with the swords
FEAR, REJECTION, e MEDIOCRITY
Chiseled into their foreheads
My daily dosage of abominable self-
Deprecation

Ur “Caballo”
Don’t Tango
He’d rather sit
At the feet of Rabbah
Uproot her tent pegs
Bury derailed affections
In my armoire of regret
Zapatista the unholy
Suckers into smithereens
And what!

I Fil like keeping mementos
Like pieces of the Berlin Mall
Stuffed Somewhere
In mai Multi-Kulti corner
Pockets with receipts of prophecy
Crumpled voraciously
Into a broken corazón
Throbbing for baller change
Like sloppy segundo
In a Cebuano shantytown
Dumped.
Dis stinks!

Like, Like, Like
That’s why
I didn’t say, Adió
Adió Queerida
Ba-Bi Bubbeleh
Muzzle
Tough!
Mingled with FOB
Sobs

I’m willing to Tarrytown
For You to choose
She’Chinatown
From an array of four
Species and Objects
A Sukat bouquet
On display
To greet tú
At our banquet stable
Come daybreak
Try mi on
A San Miguel Mantle
Rap around
Mahogany quillt
As I purposely part
The seas in seasons
For your hind’s feet to el Pas-
Over
Knot just nyet


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


Suny Um.

Family, I hope all is well. Sorry for the long delay of updating the API/A Love Letter Project. I have been extremely busy with my brother’s wedding, studying for the GREs, as well as over-working myself on school applications — but that’s all boring. I want to bring to your attention to the next “Love Letter” which is actually in the form of a video.

This is Suny Um. He’s a second-generation Khmer/American, a student at UC Berkeley, and a son of Cambodian refugees. Suny loves his family and it shows in his short film. Suny is also a queer-Asian/American man. Let his voice and words seep in as he shares his story which is both heart-breaking, but simultaneously filled with hope.

Be strong and be brilliant fam. Dream big, and dream forever.


Eric Ku.

Running Around in Circles

Dear Parents Who Will Probably Never Acquire Enough Proficiency in English to Understand This,

I am not sure which social circle I represent or speak for. I could never draw a decent circle without using an old Backstreet Boys CD to trace one. The circles I dare drew freehand came out lopsided – scared and nervous at the instability that came with walking a path without guidance.

You came to America without guidance. Yet, you also came with many other things: a house, decent amount of money, some friends, me and my sister – things that many immigrants were not fortunate enough to start off with in America. Sometimes, I feel a disconnect with the immigrant families that have had to struggle financially, many of which still do and never achieve the goals that have driven them here. You have struggled too, but the struggle I witness in you is different. It begs me to ask a common immigrant question of myself: Have you achieved what you wanted in coming to America?

In flying over to Southern California from Taipei, you (as do most immigrants) brought along a lot of baggage – suitcases full of expectations, hopes, and dreams never considered by the immigration officers at LAX. In hindsight, I can list out things that I wish you had brought, mostly things you would never thought of needing in America.

In bringing me here, did you realize that I’d be exposed to people of all backgrounds, that the person I come to love may not be of Taiwanese background, speak Mandarin, hold conservative values, or even be of opposite sex? Did you think about identity struggles, racial discrimination, the model minority myth, losing our ethnic language, and ultimately, assimilation to mainstream American culture? Though I do not expect you to have known such knowledge, (for it can only be gained by living in America, or essentially, being [ethnic] American), many times I wish you did.

Yet, here I am, writing my stories, aspiring to be a writer and publish someday, drawing my circles with straight angles and intersecting lines until you take a step back, after almost 20 years, and try to find the circle you thought you had traced but can no longer recognize. I often wonder whether  you stare at me as people do a piece of abstract museum art, wondering what my purpose is, what the meaning behind the curves and angles are, and why I turned out the way I did. Will you ever see me with pride, a circle that defied all forces of geometry and tried its best to assert that even though it didn’t look like the ones in math textbooks, that it was just as perfect and beautiful as any circle they’d ever seen?

I’m still trying to figure you out.  I only recently figured out that in order for me to expect you to understand me, that I must also understand you. I guess in the end the circle I represent can be those API/A (or any ethnic immigrants) who seek their own path, who choose to respond to SAT multiple choice questions by circling none of the above, writing in their own answers, and doodling on the side. We struggle internally for balance between two (or more) cultures, fight externally for tolerance and understanding, and in the end, if all goes according to plan (or maybe if it doesn’t), then we will have drawn the boundaries of our own social circles, continuous with no beginning or end, bound together by our commonalities, differences, and love.

Best.

Eric K. Ku


Virada Chatikul.

“We have to be Thai from our hearts – it’s not just you’re born and raised in Thailand and that’s it. You must love it with your heart. Take care of Thailand. Don’t treat it like its something you can sell.”

I was sitting in Bangkok traffic with Pa Plearn (Pa meaning ‘aunt’), director of the Thai Cultural Center. I told her I was collecting responses for a personal project of mine: “What does it mean to be Thai?” This was her immediate reply without needing time to think it over.

My co-instructors and I just finished up six weeks on the road leading a summer immersion course for American high school students: village homestays, rubber tapping, hilltribe hiking, Buddhist meditation, English camps, rice planting. Our last week, I took the students to visit the performing arts department at Ban Somdej Rajaphat University. As they observed a dance class, Pa said to me, “When you’re done with the students, you should come in to practice yourself.” In two months, the Thai Cultural Center back home in the Bay Area would hold its next dramatic production, and I had missed out on a summer’s worth of precious rehearsal time by taking the instructor job in Thailand.

So there I was, sitting in her vintage Benz on our way back from dance practice. What I found most amusing was that Pa rarely drives herself anywhere back home. Yet here she felt comfortable braving the wilds of Bangkok intersections. As I got into the car, I asked, “You’re driving?” To which she responded, “I can’t wait for anyone” – in Thailand at least, I thought to myself. That being said, she ran a red light that day, smiled at the other drivers and said (in English), “Oops. Sorry.”

Pa is in her 70’s. She makes an annual (sometimes semi-annual) trip to Thailand. She’ll fit whatever costumes she can into her luggage to bring back to the center and convinces anyone else flying back to the US to bring more with them too. And piece by piece, that’s how the cultural center – its orchestra and wardrobe – was built over 20 years.

This idolized memory of the center’s founder stands out only because her words came as a breath of fresh air. I’ve been an “off and on” student and dancer at the Thai Temple for over twenty years, yet my years there have done more to reveal human lapses in judgment than gems of wisdom. How rash decisions, mistrust and indirect communication have broken and mended relationships within our small, dysfunctional group for decades – students who can no longer perform with their friends, parents who then refuse to bring their kids to practice, forced apologies for the sake of a performance rather than its performers.

I often ask, “All this, for what?” It’s undeniable that my experiences at the Wat gave me the qualifications I would need to lead a trip in Thailand, especially considering I’ve never lived in the country. But I am certain that my parents never dreamed for their daughter to one day become a trip leader. In fact, my mother was thrilled that I’d start business school once I returned from Thailand. So again I ask, “Why?” Is it so important we learned to sing the Thai national anthem? Is it so necessary we know how to wai and say sawasdee? That we celebrate the King and Queen’s birthdays? I then discovered another painful truth: in a worst case scenario, the answer to these questions is ‘no.’ I know that if they had to choose, my parents would have chosen a winning SAT score over my knowing the Thai alphabet. I know that my parents’ circles, the first generation of Thai immigrants, already sacrificed their home to give their kids an American education, an American salary, an American life, the American dream. My mother once told me that when I was born, she knew she wouldn’t be returning to Thailand as she once planned.

But when that so-called “American dream” was in reach, by some twist of fate, our parents did the unexpected. They built and supported the Thai Temple and cultural center because they refused to believe that sacrificing their culture was the only option and because the call of one’s heritage was too loud to ignore. Once, we had a khon performance (Thai masked theatre) during a funeral. As the music played, one of the uncles said, “I can’t listen to this. Makes me cry and miss home.” That wasn’t the only time. When we practice in the parking lot of the Temple after the Sunday crowds have gone and all that remains are parents, volunteers, community elders, a small audience will gather to watch and applaud the little pocket of “home” we’ve created. For those few minutes, they can forget the daily reminders of “this is not my country” or “this is not my language.” I realized that this is all they ask for – just brief moments that are theirs, when they can breathe a sigh of relief and stop pretending, when they can sing their royal anthems, when they can process around the Temple to the sound of long drums, when they can show their children with confidence and without shame, that this is how you walk around your elders; this is how you greet them, and this is how you thank them.

They held onto their customs because they love Thailand from their hearts. They created a place so that their children would not be lost to them. Last year, when I worked on the Save the Thai Temple campaign, I let myself imagine the possibility of the Temple closing. No more Sundays, no place to celebrate holidays, no place to gather with Thai people. The thought of it caused a pang of emptiness inside me. Our team of 2nd generation Thai-Americans advocated for our community as best we could, but at the same time, there was nothing more uncomfortable than putting our community in the spotlight – on the news, in the papers and in Berkeley City Hall. It was very un-Buddhist of us, but it was necessary, and we knew that if we didn’t do it ourselves, someone else would step in to defend or oppose a community that was not theirs.

I’m years beyond saying that I go to the Wat every week because my mom forces me or because I need an impressive activity for my college application. I guess I can no longer hide from it. I’m addicted to Thai people like they were a drug; I believe in Thai values like they were my religion, and most of all, I love my Thai community from my heart. Is it silly to say that I love it in the way characters fall in love in the movies? With the kind of blind love that defies logic? The logical choice would be to weigh the hours I’ve invested in the Thai Cultural Center against the potential paid jobs, academic performance and social life I might otherwise have. Even if that calculation fell short, I know I wouldn’t stop. This community gives me the confidence and patience to do what I would never do elsewhere – speak in front of a city council, dance in costumes that I know don’t look good on me and disregard my work and school responsibilities for community projects. I understand now this is what Pa meant when she said to be Thai from our hearts: to keep working when it is no longer necessary, when you aren’t even born and raised in Thailand, when you look back on all the time spent and realize you’ve accomplished more than you thought possible. I was a Thailand course instructor. I was a part of saving the Thai Temple. My relatives in Thailand tell me, “Thank goodness you speak Thai. If you didn’t, we’d just stare at each other when you visit.” I hear my mom tell me “I wish your grandfather were alive to see you perform khon.” Because of my community, I am able to see my parent’s homeland as more than a vacation and shopping mall. Because of my community, I have two ways of viewing the world – both of which I call mine, and neither I can let go. Because of my community, I am a better person. I have learned that a culture is only as strong as the people who love it – it is what we each choose to keep and what we choose to change. Yes, this is my unlikely love story – the kind that has triumphed the odds, just like in the movies.


Anthony Yooshin Kim.

notes in search of something else (june 2010)

in 72 hours, i drove from san diego to the city of angels, & from the city of angels to the bay area. & tomorrow, i‘ll be boarding UA 893 for a twelve hour flight back to the mothership on the other side of the pacific rim, my first return since my first visit two years ago. “you go wherever the wind takes you,” is how a friend of mine described my restlessness this weekend, my internal machinery that demands that i always be in motion, in a circuitous & cyclical search for a methodology for life. it reminds me of the story of the bird without feet in days of being wild, the one who never lands & sleeps on the breeze when it’s tired. that’s me. never one place or another, neither here nor there, on the break or making one. i was born to be elsewhere. but breathing. always, always breathing.

& so i sit here in the kitchen of a house my omma & appa worked their entire lives to buy. a house that stands in its quiet pocket of suburbia & serves as testament to the illusive weight of their trans-pacific han for be/longing in america. & i think—they moved here after my freshman year of ucsd in 2002, & two years after that, my omma was twisted in the throes of a devastating illness that threw her sense of self asunder. “a sea bird on the freeway that stretches its neck for a water that may no longer exist,” is how i put it so many springs ago. this house is estrangement to me, newer than our old one in san leandro, its air always heavy, full of ashes & strain, like the red earthen clay of cesaria evora’s voice entreating me with “sodade, sodade…” & yet, it’s the house i find my way back to now—sober & drunk, in laughter & tears, with love & grief, from southern california, from korea, & from michigan. maybe what i’m experiencing now is a term that my brother, pahole, dropped on me a few weeks ago, an “emotional transnationalism,” a post+memory, a pained nostalgia, a mixtape that serenades me with its hopes, dreams, ghosts, & memories that i live with on a daily basis but can only acknowledge when i let myself slumber—and not just the seam between wakefulness & sleep, but rather, when i’m floating in the music that never ceases & finally listening to the cadences folded into the unwieldiness of my thoughts.

& so, inspired by pahole & josen, i’m finally writing my love letter, except it’s not a love letter in the traditional sense, more so a loosely held kite that dances away into the clouds with felicitous choreography. you see, when we were at AAAS, drinking courvoisier & cheap champagne poolside at our hotel in austin, pahole told us about how everything he writes is a love letter. to his mother & father. to his community. to his ancestors. & to thai/america. & as i sat there, uncomfortably pale from the silent traumas of winter & sheathed behind the ubiquity of my stunner shades, his words circled & criss-crossed like a vagabond into the han that lives in the heart i keep so guarded. my eyes started welling up with a water that comes so easily to me now, flowing from the subterrains of memory my halmoni entrusted into my uncertain hands, even as a small boy—a water like persephone’s faint memory of spring even in the cold, cruel hollow of hades. in-between this surge of oceanic pressure & paralleled dreams, i couldn’t help but think about how that morning, my omma, who had just learned how to text message, wrote “hi son, how are you? hope you are learning a lot in texas. mommy loves you.” how the souvenir ship on sixth street where we bought ourselves, & lisa lowe, a “don’t mess with texas” shirt, was owned by two women who spoke with the unmistakable lilt of kyungsang-do rolling off their tongues. how my appa, holding court on his corner of 98th and golf links, would always clip articles about “asian american studies” & slip them into overstuffed envelopes when i was in college. & of course, how my halmoni tended to me with the same strong, spotted hands that would drown in steel basins of pickled cabbage & whose passing i still mourn on a daily basis even two years after the fact.

although my return to san diego was bumpy, i have been surrounded by so many folks who remind me of what’s at stake. almost like free form poetry, the beauty & tension of the pause from one word to the next, a stream of revolutionary improvisations in the making. i can only think of what i have learned from everyone this year, those secret spills of other things heard, other things seen. here are some glimpses. from pahole: to be brilliant. heijin-noona: to be passionate. deepa: to be purposeful. judy: to trust the process. debbie: to be made. alice: to be free. jackie: to be silly. joje: to “suck it up & do it.” jimi: to nourish. josen: to re-member. amanda: to imagine (otherwise). theresa: to question. morelia: to be present. patty: to be rooted. ash: to have balance. thea: to cut knowledge. steph: to build bridges. sarah: to be fearless. sam: to be. teresa: to breathe. kyung hee: to listen & to sing. john: to confront & to dance. wayne: to risk & to love. you are my community. i am because of all of you. thanks be.

& so, in seoul, i begin another adventure, in search of fellow travelers, lovers, fighters, thinkers, drinkers, movers, shakers, old school souls, & other kindred spirits, in the wax & wane of freedom dreams & insurgencies still emergent. i’ll let all of you know how this goes. i promise you, i’ll be back. till then, peace out.