Filipino American Literature is Amazing. Here's Where to Start.

Monday, January 14, 2019

“You already know that the first thing that makes you foreign to a place is to be born poor in it; you don't need to emigrate to America to feel what you already felt when you were ten, looking up at the rickety concrete roof above your head and knowing that one more bad typhoon would bring it down to crush your bones and the bones of all your siblings sleeping next to you; or selling fruit by the side of the road to people who made sure to never really look at you, made sure not to touch your hands when they put the money in it. You've been foreign all your life. When you finally leave, all you're hoping for is a more bearable kind of foreignness.”

It's my fault. It's on me that for all my glee about the "Asian American Book Club," I've under-sourced and horribly neglected outliers of the East Asian American canon. But I'm here now, and I'm shell-shocked by all I've missed.

Filipino American literature is astoundingly complex. I know all cultures contain multitudes, but these narratives span migrant labor, American military occupation, martial law, Spanish colonization, immigration, Catholicism, nursing, etc.
Below, my personal selection of Fil-Am literature in all its painful, triumphant glory (if you only have time for one, my favorite was America Is Not the Heart):

Big Little Man | Alex Tizon
Alex Tizon landed in an America that saw Asian women as sexy and Asian men as sexless. Immigrating from the Philippines as a young boy, everything he saw and heard taught him to be ashamed of his face, his skin color, his height. His fierce and funny observations of sex and the Asian American male include his own quest for love during college in the 1980s, a tortured tutorial on stereotypes that still make it hard for Asian men to get the girl. Tizon writes: "I had to educate myself on my own worth. It was a sloppy, piecemeal education, but I had to do it because no one else was going to do it for me."
And then, a transformation. First, Tizon’s growing understanding that shame is universal: that his own just happened to be about race. Next, seismic cultural changes – from Jerry Yang’s phenomenal success with Yahoo! Inc., to actor Ken Watanabe’s emergence in Hollywood blockbusters, to Jeremy Lin’s meteoric NBA rise.
Finally, Tizon’s deeply original, taboo-bending investigation turns outward, tracking the unheard stories of young Asian men today, in a landscape still complex but much changed for the Asian American man.

The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race | Anthony Christian Ocampo
Is race only about the color of your skin? In The Latinos of Asia, Anthony Christian Ocampo shows that what "color" you are depends largely on your social context. Filipino Americans, for example, helped establish the Asian American movement and are classified by the U.S. Census as Asian. But the legacy of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines means that they share many cultural characteristics with Latinos, such as last names, religion, and language. Thus, Filipinos' "color"—their sense of connection with other racial groups—changes depending on their social context.
The Filipino story demonstrates how immigration is changing the way people negotiate race, particularly in cities like Los Angeles where Latinos and Asians now constitute a collective majority. Amplifying their voices, Ocampo illustrates how second-generation Filipino Americans' racial identities change depending on the communities they grow up in, the schools they attend, and the people they befriend. Ultimately, The Latinos of Asia offers a window into both the racial consciousness of everyday people and the changing racial landscape of American society.

America Is Not the Heart | Elaine Castillo
Three generations of women from one immigrant family trying to reconcile the home they left behind with the life they're building in America.
lluminating the violent political history of the Philippines in the 1980s and 1990s and the insular immigrant communities that spring up in the suburban United States with an uncanny ear for the unspoken intimacies and pain that get buried by the duties of everyday life and family ritual, Castillo delivers a powerful, increasingly relevant novel about the promise of the American dream and the unshakable power of the past. In a voice as immediate and startling as those of Junot Diaz and NoViolet Bulawayo, America Is Not the Heart is a sprawling, soulful telenovela of a debut novel. With exuberance, muscularity, and tenderness, here is a family saga; an origin story; a romance; a narrative of two nations and the people who leave home to grasp at another, sometimes turning back.

Gun Dealers' Daughter | Gina Apostol
Soon after she leaves home for university in Manila, Soledad Soliman (Sol) transforms herself from bookish rich girl to communist rebel. But is her allegiance to the principles of Mao or to Jed, the comrade she’s in love with? Can she really be a part of the movement or is she just a “useful fool,” a spoiled brat playing at revolution?
Far from the Philippines, in a mansion overlooking the Hudson River, Sol confesses her youthful indiscretions, unable to get past the fatal act of communist fervor that locked her memory in an endless loop. Rich with wordplay and unforgettable imagery, Gun Dealers’ Daughter combines the momentum of an amnesiac thriller with the intellectual delights of a Borgesian puzzle. In her American debut, award-winning author Gina Apostol delivers a riveting novel that illuminates the conflicted and little-known history of the Philippines, a country deeply entwined with our own.

The Body Papers | Grace Talusan 
Born in the Philippines, young Grace Talusan moves with her family to a New England suburb in the 1970s. At school, she confronts racism as one of the few kids with a brown face. At home, the confusion is worse: her grandfather’s nightly visits to her room leave her hurt and terrified, and she learns to build a protective wall of silence that maps onto the larger silence practiced by her Catholic Filipino family. Talusan learns as a teenager that her family’s legal status in the country has always hung by a thread—for a time, they were “illegal.” Family, she’s told, must be put first.
The abuse and trauma Talusan suffers as a child affects all her relationships, her mental health, and her relationship with her own body. Later, she learns that her family history is threaded with violence and abuse. And she discovers another devastating family thread: cancer. In her thirties, Talusan must decide whether to undergo preventive surgeries to remove her breasts and ovaries. Despite all this, she finds love, and success as a teacher. On a fellowship, Talusan and her husband return to the Philippines, where she revisits her family’s ancestral home and tries to reclaim a lost piece of herself.
Not every family legacy is destructive. From her parents, Talusan has learned to tell stories in order to continue. The generosity of spirit and literary acuity of this debut memoir are a testament to her determination and resilience. In excavating and documenting such abuse and trauma, Talusan gives voice to unspeakable experience, and shines a light of hope into the darkness.

Dogeaters | Jessica Hagedorn
In Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn has transformed her best-selling novel about the Philippines during the Marcos reign into an equally powerful theatrical piece that is a multilayered, operatic tour de force. As Harold Bloom writes "Hagedorn expresses the conflicts experienced by Asian immigrants caught between cultures...she takes aim at racism in the U.S. and develops in her dramas the themes of displacement and the search for belonging."
"As sharp and fast as a street boy's razor" (The New York Times Book Review), Dogeaters is an intense fictional portrayal of Manila in the heyday of Marcos, the Philippines' late dictator. In the center of this maelstrom is Rio, a feisty schoolgirl who will grow up to live in America and look back with longing on the land of her youth.

In the Country: Stories | Mia Alvar
These nine globe-trotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again.
A pharmacist living in New York smuggles drugs to his ailing father in Manila, only to discover alarming truths about his family and his past. In Bahrain, a Filipina teacher drawn to a special pupil finds, to her surprise, that she is questioning her own marriage. A college student leans on her brother, a laborer in Saudi Arabia, to support her writing ambitions, without realizing that his is the life truly made for fiction. And in the title story, a journalist and a nurse face an unspeakable trauma amidst the political turmoil of the Philippines in the 1970s and ’80s.
In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s powerful debut collection explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. Deeply compassionate and richly felt, In the Country marks the emergence of a formidable new writer.

America Is in the Heart: A Personal History | Carlos Bulosan
First published in 1946, this autobiography of the well known Filipino poet describes his boyhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America, and his years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West. Bulosan does not spare the reader any of the horrors tha accompanied the migrant's life; but his quiet, stoic voice is the most convincing witness to the terrible events he witnessed.

Brooklyn Antediluvian: Poems | Patrick Rosal
Rosal finds trouble he isn’t asking for in his unforgettable new poems, whether in New York City, Austin, Texas, or the colonized Philippines of his ancestors. But trouble is everywhere, and Rosal, acclaimed author of My American Kundiman, responds in kind, pulling no punches in his most visceral, physical collection to date. “My hand’s quick trip from my hip to your chin, across / your face, is not the first free lesson I’ve given,” Rosal writes, and it’s true—this new book is full of lessons, hard-earned, from a poet who nonetheless finds beauty in the face of violence.

Delivered: Poems | Sarah Gambito
Electric new verse from the winner of the 2005 Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry.
Both surrealistic and urgently on-point, these boisterous poems comprise an identity crisis in the age of New Media. Sarah Gambito writes with verve on the complicated collision of ethnicity, sex, immigration, and nationality, her playfulness and pop-culture savvy offering cover for her surprise attacks of direct, even confrontational engagement: "Am I frightening you?" she asks. "I'm frightening you. // Good and good and good and good.

Insurrecto | Gina Apostol
Two women, a Filipino translator and an American filmmaker, go on a road trip in Duterte’s Philippines, collaborating and clashing in the writing of a film script about a massacre during the Philippine-American War. Chiara is working on a film about an incident in Balangiga, Samar, in 1901, when Filipino revolutionaries attacked an American garrison, and in retaliation American soldiers created “a howling wilderness” of the surrounding countryside. Magsalin reads Chiara’s film script and writes her own version. Insurrecto contains within its dramatic action two rival scripts from the filmmaker and the translator—one about a white photographer, the other about a Filipino schoolteacher.
Within the spiraling voices and narrative layers of Insurrecto are stories of women—artists, lovers, revolutionaries, daughters—finding their way to their own truths and histories. Using interlocking voices and a kaleidoscopic structure, the novel is startlingly innovative, meditative, and playful. Insurrecto masterfully questions and twists narrative in the manner of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, and Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Apostol pushes up against the limits of fiction in order to recover the atrocity in Balangiga, and in so doing, she shows us the dark heart of an untold and forgotten war that would shape the next century of Philippine and American history.

Lolas' House: Filipino Women Living with War | M. Evelina Galang
During World War II more than one thousand Filipinas were kidnapped by the Imperial Japanese Army. Lolas’ House tells the stories of sixteen surviving Filipino “comfort women.”
M. Evelina Galang enters into the lives of the women at Lolas’ House, a community center in metro Manila. She accompanies them to the sites of their abduction and protests with them at the gates of the Japanese embassy. Each woman gives her testimony, and even though the women relive their horror at each telling, they offer their stories so that no woman anywhere should suffer wartime rape and torture.
Lolas’ House is a book of testimony, but it is also a book of witness, of survival, and of the female body. Intensely personal and globally political, it is the legacy of Lolas’ House to the world.

Balancing Filial Expectations and Personal Passions

Monday, January 7, 2019

Tl; dr - stop being a f*cking subtle asian traits cliche and have a real conversation with your parents.

My parents and I don't see eye-to-eye on my intended major in college. Now what? 

I am of the *personal* opinion that if your parents are paying for your college tuition (no small sum, as you know), it's deeply unfair to restrict them from any sort of decision-making. That being said, I realize there are some parents who have no boundaries, whose chief desire is to manufacture offspring from some blueprint of success (career prestige, stability, etc. I'm not saying that these are invalid or unimportant metrics of success, but they're not the only ones). I'm just so over this whole narrative -- both the parents' neuroses and that of their distressed kids. As a side note, I'm also *so over* having to repair traumatized sons of parents who didn't love their children in the ways they needed. Our entire culture reads like a bad love story. Just f*cking communicate better. (I know it's not that simple, but it also sort of is, and I don't believe the onus is entirely on our generation.)

Anyways, I wish our families were more mindful and open about the college process. I wish we actually talked about why we were making this investment because (1) You'll write more meaningful application essays. If y'all could see my/my peers' UPenn essays... what a shit show. You cannot mask wanting something for the prestige alone. You cannot write away the simple fact of your own disinterest. There is a lot at stake. Go in with a clear vision. (2) If you expect your parents to write the check or take out a loan, then I hope all parties involved want to be on the same page. I've heard a lot of people say that they let their parents fork over tens of thousands of dollars a year, thinking their kid's going to bring home a bachelor's in Biology, and they spend the entire semester stressing about hiding their actual work in Fashion/Literature/Philosophy/etc. Yeah, let's not do that. Defying your parents will not hurt them nearly as much as deceiving them will.

For me, it was always clear that there were four primary reasons to attend college, in this order of importance:
(1) Upwards socioeconomic mobility
My parents are working class, and I'm of the strange "child-of-immigrants" camp who will find themselves out-earning their parents within months/a few years of graduating. It's a surreal and troubling experience -- might write more on this later. But above everything else, I needed college to set me on a career path that would not only ensure personal economic stability, but safely provide for my parents as well -- both immediately and in retirement. Not every young person feels this way or has these responsibilities. Talk to your family about what they'll expect from you after graduation. If you have a real financial obligation to your family that you intend to honor, I'm sorry, but there are a lot of amazing careers that just aren't going to safely cut it. Think about the industries that, with few exceptions, require you to "pay your dues" via low-paying internships and entry-level jobs: politics, public relations, fashion, philanthropy, publishing. Can you afford those sacrifices? Your roommate with the trust fund can probably swing the first few postgraduate years in an amazing role on Capitol Hill for a next-to-nothing salary, but you might not. Is it fair? Absolutely not. Is it still your reality? Lol yeah.

On that note, stop shaming people for pursuing careers they aren't passionate about! Stop shaming people for doing what they love! We are all just trying to protect ourselves and our people! Some of us have choices! Some of us don't! We're all doing great!

(2) Social awareness & bias towards action
Going to copy below an excerpt of a speech I've given a few times on behalf of my university's fundraising efforts. I know it's a bit cheesy, but keep in mind its purpose. I've since renounced a few things I've said and done on behalf of scholarships (namely, throwing my parents under the bus to play the poor immigrant card), but this, I still stand by.
What if our time at WashU isn't just to bring out the good in us, but to enable us to act upon our goodness?
Take, for example, our university motto: strength through truth. What if it's not just about the linear pursuit of truth? What if it's also about the imbued imperative that we then defend each other's truths? Because what is the purpose of learning so much about this world's histories and legacies if we do not also develop the compassion and wisdom to be there for the people who suffer because of them?

Because of our education, my classmates and I have been able to channel visceral frustrations into genuine resolve. We take the anger and suffering of systemic injustices, and become lawyers. We see how poverty disproportionately affects healthcare, and become doctors where we are needed most. We watch the news, and we let our hearts break for a divided nation in pain, and then we walk into our classrooms asking, what can we learn today to reform a better state tomorrow? We see what matters, and then we do what makes a difference.  Because of our education, we no longer feel so helpless. Because of our education, we give each other hope.
As an aside, my first year of college was the year Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, just a few miles away from my fancy private school campus. I'm sorry to minimize or appropriate his death as a "teachable moment" and don't mean to do so, but to experience the community outrage and heightened discourse on race relations with that urgency and momentum-- it changed my life.

(3) Personal growth
People who aren't interested in becoming well-rounded, well-read, compassionate, thoughtful people need to make room for the ones who are. thank u, next. 

(4) Meaningful social networks and experiences
Obligatory because this is probably the biggest differentiator between a prestigious, well-regarded university and a lesser-known one. Alumni networks are helpful in a world that is not particularly meritocratic. That is all.

So here's a fun Jimmy Kimmel-type experiment: ask your parents, why do you want me to go to college? What do you want me to get out of it? And then answer these questions for yourself. If you seem to disagree fundamentally, have a reasonable conversation about it. (Short piece on navigating cultural/generational differences within Asian American families forthcoming, hopefully. Here's a related one.)

For now, assume that everything -- no matter how badly phrased, no matter how accidentally cruel - must come from a place of fierce love and concern. What are their fears? How do these affect their hopes and limitations for you? What are your dreams? What do you believe will help you achieve them? Is there a compromise? Are there any north stars you can agree on?

Some cute little phrases to try that sound extremely tacky, but only because we're so used to suffering in silence:
  • "I want you to understand why I am passionate about..." 
  • "I understand that you are concerned about x. Here's my proposed solution..." 
  • "I researched this program, and though I know our aunties in Taiwan will not have heard of it, here's why I think it's a good fit for me..."
  • "Thank you for wanting the best for me. Would you consider..." 
Remember that the goal is not a perfect understanding of each other's viewpoints, because you have opportunities they don't, and they have traumas you were spared. For many of us, our parents were ruled by the laws of sacrifice and survival; that we may pursue self-actualization is uncharted territory. Make the decision: if they will not meet you there, are you willing to go alone?

Take care of yourself.

With love,

CL's New Year's Resolutions

Saturday, January 5, 2019

I've been generally making the same New Year's resolutions for the past 4 years and only ever so slightly trying to actually meet them, but I still think setting goals for myself is important. I want to do better this year, so I'm publishing my goals on the blog for the world (or just whoever reads this aka my mom? my friends?) In addition, in the past couple months I've been trying harder to set up more routine in my life so I can be a ~proper adult~ (e.g., buying groceries weekly/bi-weekly, cooking for myself, laundry days, going to the gym at least 3 times a week, etc.),

Anyways, here are my New Year's resolutions:

1. Write and read more frequently
If you read our blog religiously, you'll notice that for every 1 post I write, LC writes like 5+ posts. I'm not great at writing, but this year I'd like to be better. I want to write at least 1 post a week and read at least 1 book every 3 weeks (or 20 books in the year). Hopefully I can do more, but I don't want to be overly ambitious for I always sabotage myself whenever I miss a goal by giving up afterwards.

2. Be healthier (mainly eating healthier and exercising more)
I'm currently pretty much addicted to sugar. I need to have dessert every day especially after dinner and it's getting to a point where I actually feel intense cravings if I don't have sugar/dessert after meals. This year, I'm going to try and eat more "real" foods and just generally be healthier. I have low self control, but am going to try to snack less and not eat all the free food in my sight. Hopefully my new Instant Pot will help me make healthier recipes and help me cook more. I've also gotten back into fitness and want to be able to maintain going to the gym at least 3-4x a week preferably 5x though. I'm going to try and start a "Fitness Friday" and write about my fitness journey, so expect those posts soon.

3. Be a better responder!
I will be the first to admit that I am horrible at responding to people. Unless we're seeing each other soon, you're telling me something juicy, or I love you a ton, you probably will frequently get left on "unread" by me. I am only good at replying to people on Snapchat and I know it's a fault of mine that I've harbored for years now. This year, please hold me accountable for responding. A recent friend I made told me he'd "remind" me to reply every time I don't by copying & pasting the exact same message if I haven't replied within 24 hours and that's honestly not a bad idea... Call me out if I don't reply. Double message me. Make me feel bad about this so I can improve!!

4. Learn one new 'substantial' thing this year
By 'substantial' I basically mean reading one fact about jellyfish is not considered learning. I'm hoping to learn something that will help me professionally/in my career, but I'd also love to learn something 'substantial' that is non-career related like embroidery or sewing or photography (again). 

5. Learn to do my makeup
HAHA, this one is super personal but I truly don't know how to do anything other than fill in my eyebrows and even then it's nowhere near perfect. I've wanted to get better at makeup for as long as I can remember, and this will be my year to do so. I'm going to try and wear makeup at least once or twice a week (aka more than just doing eyebrows and eyeliner) and go all out of my face at least once a month.

6. Be a more sustainable person
I love sales and deals, so I frequently find myself falling into the trap of fast fashion. As any of my roommates or anyone who has ever seen my room knows, I am an A+ hoarder. I'd prefer to be a C- hoarder so that I can be a more sustainable person. There are some things I can't give up yet (e.g. I really like drinking bottled water...) but I have started switching over to re-usable tupperware! I also bought re-usable sandwich baggies from a brand called Stasher, but I have yet to stop using Ziploc bags. Just trying to implement small changes into my life so I can be a more sustainable person for our world!

7. Sleep early on workdays
I don't really need to explain this resolution, but I will. I basically would like to sleep at least 7 hours on days I have work. It'll help me be a better worker bee and help me stop spending so much money at Starbucks.

Hope you all enjoyed reading about my goals/resolutions for this year. I'll try and do a bi-monthly or quarterly check-in on these. Hold me accountable to my goals if you notice me slacking!


The Catalogue: No. 23

Friday, January 4, 2019

As usual, LC's weekly roundup of interesting reads:

Suddenly, Poets Are More Willing to Address Public Concerns. The Poet Laureate Explores Why, and How | Tracy K. Smith for The New York Times
In the intervening years, political poetry, even here in America, has done much more than vent. It has become a means of owning up to the complexity of our problems, of accepting the likelihood that even we the righteous might be implicated by or complicit in some facet of the very wrongs we decry. Poems willing to enter into this fraught space don’t merely stand on the bank calling out instructions on how or what to believe; they take us by the arm and walk us into the lake, wetting us with the muddied and the muddled, and sometimes even the holy.
Tasting Home | Nitish Pahwa for Slate
While this iconic company paved the way, the true tribute to the resilience and popularity of the Indian grocery store is the local triumphs that came after. Smaller stores looked at the Patel example and sought to serve their own towns in creative ways, whether by trying to improve gas station fare or by focusing on the cuisine variations of specific states and regions within India. This, in turn, has established a cycle of little homes-away-from-home for Indians all over the country—stores, restaurants, and temples forming the basis for Little Indias, all “mainly held together by consumption and commerce,” as a study of the Indian community in Jackson Heights, New York, put it. Surrounding these stores, enclaves have been established where both immigrant and American-born Indian communities can find a common heritage, a communal peace, a togetherness that holds in the face of predominantly white communities, a formidable defense even in the face of attacks. In places so far from their own, having people like you and having a source of recognizable food can mean everything and give you the strength to brave a new home. 
Facebook and the New Colonialism | Adrienne LaFrance for The Atlantic
Oldie, but a goodie. Perhaps more eerily relevant. If you're interested in this, there's a related book on my radar: New Dark Age by James Bridle
“I’m loath to toss around words like colonialism but it’s hard to ignore the family resemblances and recognizable DNA, to wit,” said Deepika Bahri, an English professor at Emory University who focuses on postcolonial studies. In an email, Bahri summed up those similarities in list form:
1. ride in like the savior
2. bandy about words like equality, democracy, basic rights3. mask the long-term profit motive (see 2 above)
4. justify the logic of partial dissemination as better than nothing
5. partner with local elites and vested interests
 6. accuse the critics of ingratitude
“In the end,” she told me, “if it isn’t a duck, it shouldn’t quack like a duck.”
“This uneven distribution of knowledge carries with it the danger of spatial solipsism for the people who live inside one of Wikipedia’s focal regions,” the researchers of that report wrote. “It also strongly underrepresents regions such as the Middle East and North Africa as well as Sub-Saharan Africa. In the global context of today’s digital knowledge economies, these digital absences are likely to have very material effects and consequences.”
How Do You Know if A Poem Is Good? | NPR 1A
An excellent podcast segment (episode?) featuring Kevin Young, Tracy K. Smith, Matthew Zapruder, and Danez Smith.

Love Is Not A Permanent State of Enthusiasm: An Interview with Esther Perel | Alexandria Schwartz for The New Yorker
Admission and apology are not the same. There are two justice systems, right? There’s the restitutive system and the retributive system. One is focussed on healing. One is focussed on punishment and vengeance.
The South Africans created a system for accountability: you don’t apologize; you stand accountable. You describe the facts and you leave the other person the freedom to decide what they want to do with it. If they want to forgive, because it’s in their interest to forgive—not to forgive as in saying it was O.K., but just not to live being eaten up with the hatred, with the hurt—that’s their freedom. You own your wrongdoing. That’s one piece of the apology.
In terms of healing, what we do know is that pain is universal, but the meaning that we give to our pain, and the way we narrate our pain, is highly cultural and contextual. And there is nothing that helps us deal better with those experiences than our connections with others. Social connection is the No. 1 salve for most of the pain, and the hurt, and the trauma that we will experience. And communities that come together naturally will provide that kind of buffer.
If We Called Ourselves Yellow | Kat Chow for NPR'S Code Switch
A tidy, articulate history of Yellowness and Asian American identity.
For as long as Asians have lived in the United States, white people have been trying to label us: who we are, what we look like and how we should be described. It was also white people who defined our terminology — for many decades, "Orientals" was the moniker of choice. (And when people hurled slurs at us, we've been called Chinamen, Japs, gooks, Asiatics, Mongols and Chinks.)
Why Grieve is the Word of the Year | Alexander Chee for Words That Matter
I live my life one Alexander Chee essay at a time.
I always knew those in power would rather kill the world than share power or give it up but it is still stark to recall the dead: those who died in Puerto Rico, their survivors still waiting for help; the migrant children separated at the border from their parents, made to travel in Halloween masks to disguise them, representing themselves in court as young as two years old, dying without medical care after sleeping in cages, and their families killed on their return by those they fled. They weren’t exaggerating about fleeing for their lives. The veterans who have taken their own lives, at home now, and outnumbering those fallen in a war that has lasted longer than some of their lives, and those they were sent to kill. There’s the research for an AIDS cure, entirely halted by the government last week because it uses fetal tissue. There’s the Yemeni genocide victims, the Myanmar genocide victims, and the Syrian ones. And there’s a horrific repetitiveness to it all, as if it all comes out of the same kit of evil, passed around between governments, and glimpsed at when I read about the authoritarians in other countries and sometimes, for a moment, think I’m reading the news about the ones here at home.
Swipe Right | Jennifer Chong Schneider for Long Reads
The Korean man has partnered with tall, white women with light colored hair and a lack of personal focus. He keeps mentioning how tall, white, thin, and big-titted they were. I don’t think it’s malicious, but I notice it’s kind of like a collector’s fetish. When I sleep with white men, a practice I rarely engage in anymore, they comment on my “perfect” body, intense face, full mouth — exoticizing my normal. I feel that the Korean man and I are approaching something like equals; as a result, I think he doesn’t find me physically attractive. Being a fetishized object is marginalizing, but it can feel good to be seen as an object, to hide your humanity away, to please someone with your ethnicity, something you have absolutely no control over. I imagine a lot of women have grown used to it as well. It’s rare to find a man who can find his equal attractive instead of diminishing.
Growing Up A Crazy Broke Asian | Klein Lieu
That rebelliousness crumbled though under the weight of my responsibilities. You might think going to college and being away from home might make accomplishing my passions easier, but the security of college only made my duty more apparent. For the first time in my life, I did not live in East Oakland. I lived in a dorm room with working windows, where the only gunshots were those from the football team’s cannon, and where cars did not get locked up with anti-steering locks. Being lifted out of poverty only made me more acutely aware of my family’s situation at home, and to my duty to do whatever I could to lift them with me. That meant finding a very practical career path, but that also meant giving up film.
Love always,

LC's New Year's Resolutions

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Tl;dr - More love, more life. 

1. Critique and engage from a place of radical empathy and compassion. 
If you know me, you probably know that I'm a pretty angry/passionate person, like, all the time. *Hopefully*, you also know that, whatever its final form, my anger usually stems from a deep sense of injustice or wounded empathy. For example, I have a lot to say about Asian Americans artists who perform their "otherness" for mass consumption, but it comes from feeling deeply protective of our parents' cultures. I have a lot of reservations about dating Asian American boys, but it has nothing to do with how I perceive their masculinity/sexuality and everything to do with how boys are raised in traditional Confucian families (and my complete refusal to nurture them in ways their parents didn't). That also comes from a place of understanding about the ways our communities hold onto our various toxins and griefs. Listen, I love my people. I am extremely defensive of my people. And that is why I want to open up dialogue about the ways we harm each other -- and other communities. It's 2019! Let's stop normalizing fear-based parenting! And colorism! Etc!

Okay, so with that being said, sometimes my "critique" also comes from basic envy/pettiness, so I'd like to do away with that in 2019. Put more eloquently by Alok Vaid-Menon, "stop using politics to legitimize my feelings." And so forth.

2. Contribute generosity, love, and light to the human experience.
Be a better friend and ally. Show up. I'm like the biggest introvert I know, so I very rarely *physically* show up and tend to be pretty shy about checking up on people I care about (though I am at excellent at sending snail mail love letters and will happily do so for anybody who expresses the slightest bit of interest.) I want to be compassionate when people are needy and vulnerable and imperfect. I want to recognize the cries for help, and never, ever accuse anyone of performing their pain without due reason. I want to protect them as much as I want them to learn. I also want to be more patient with familial relationships that are full of tension and frustrations but still worth protecting. I lose my temper pretty easily, and deeply regret every (not literal) house I've ever tried to burn down in a bit of rage. Life is horrible and precious and fragile, I want to be part of the good we'll need to survive it. MORE LOVE. MORE LIFE.

I've been thinking about AJV a lot lately, and how we were mostly dumb kids who didn't know how to treat each other better but loved each other silly anyways. I got to grow out of that teenage angst and grow up. He did not. I want to be the person he needed at his worst. (Not at all implying that a partner can "save" another. But I know I could've been better. It will haunt me forever.)

3. Write more about triumph, joy, and all that survives, somehow. 
We will always need to write about epigenetic, ancestral trauma. There will always be more hurt that needs reckoning with, generational griefs still unresolved. But there should be more to our narratives. More light. More love. More life, and more to life.
I guess I also want to feel less guilty about reading books that aren't so horribly sad and heavy. Like, I want to give myself permission to read The Nanny Diaries or something decadent and frothy in between diasporic poetry about Korean comfort women and a comprehensive history of the preschool-to-prison pipeline. We should contain multitudes! (And in that lineage, I want to recognize how others are as complex as I believe myself to be! No more dichotomies!)
Finally, I want to complete a second, more mature collection of poems, but that is my little secret and I still have a bit of growing up to do before that's ready.

More love,

Also wanted to do a quick recap of my favorite pieces I've written for OCL in 2018. May there be many more in 2019!
Combating Jealousy in Friendships
Self-Care for Caregivers
What Pixar's 'Bao' and 'Crazy Rich Asians' Meant To Me
How My Friends Helped Me Grieve
Asian Americans & Mental Health: Part I
Getting Over A Breakup

The Catalogue: No. 22

Monday, December 31, 2018

I love free things and deals. Some of my friends know how crazy I am about referrals to get "free" money and my love for Groupon.

I just wanted to spend this week's catalogue sharing my favorite ways I save money.

1. Ebates.Com
I use Ebates as a Chrome add-on to get me extra cash back on basically all my online purchases ever. They also collect the discounts/promos codes that an online retailer has and automatically applies them when you click on their add-on when checking out. I love how easy it is to use Ebates; a pop-up will show up in the right hand corner whenever you enter a website where you could be getting cash back and all you have to do is click "Activate x% Cash Back". They can mail you a "Big Fat Check" or you can have the money directly deposit into your Paypal account. I shop a lot and have had Ebates for a while, but I've gotten over $100 back! Here's my referral link if you want to save some money on future purchases. ;)

2. Groupon
All my friends know I love Groupon. I'm constantly on the hunt for better deals for massages or restaurants or ice cream or other things I don't necessarily need, but can better justify to myself if it's on a discount. I love using Groupon for anything from getting cheaper food (e.g. Bareburger) or for my armpit waxes (sorry, is this TMI?). You can also use it for experiences like buses to an outlet or buses to apple picking, etc. I've also used it before to do Hot Yoga with LC though I don't think we made the complete use of our Groupon, haha.

3. Cash Back
Whether it's through Chase (or your credit card), Yelp, Groupon+, Uber, or whatever accounts you have, there are so many ways to get 5% or even 10% cash back from random purchases and restaurants. For example, did you know that "Chase Offers" provides you with 30% cash back right now on Panera orders or 10% cash back at Pret? There's also 10% cash back at Dunkin' right now and loads of other options. I love randomly getting Uber credit when I make a purchase somewhere (e.g. Pottery Barn).

Stay saving,

What LC Read: Vol.14

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

An Excess Male: A Novel | Maggie Shen King 
Note:  I think An Excess Male's greatest strength is fantastic character development. There is a really shitty kid in it, and I think reading this was more effective birth control than sex education ever was. I've been really into "dystopic" Chinese sci-fi lately because they never feel like exaggerations of future possibilities. 

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son. 
Now 40 million of them can't find wives. China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritatian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

The Three-Body Problem | Liu Cixin
Note: This was highly recommended by literally every Silicon Valley tech-bro I crossed paths with -- not to mention by Barack Obama himself --, and for good reason! It took me multiple tries to get properly into it because it's such an overwhelmingly vast novel, but if you stick with it, The Three-Body Problem is such a satisfying experience. 

The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.
"Fans of hard SF will revel in this intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death.
"Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.
"Liu impressively succeeds in integrating complex topics—such as the field of frontier science, which attempts to define the limits of science’s ability to know nature—without slowing down the action or sacrificing characterization. His smooth handling of the disparate plot elements cleverly sets up the second volume of the trilogy."

The Screwtape Letters | C.S. Lewis
A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, a senior tempter in the service of "Our Father Below." At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C. S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging and humorous account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.

The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates | Daniel Golden
In this explosive book, the Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Daniel Golden argues that America, the so-called land of opportunity, is rapidly becoming an aristocracy in which America’s richest families receive special access to elite higher education—enabling them to give their children even more of a head start. Based on two years of investigative reporting and hundreds of interviews with students, parents, school administrators, and admissions personnel—some of whom risked their jobs to speak to the author—The Price of Admission explodes the myth of an American meritocracy—the belief that no matter what your background, if you are smart and diligent enough, you will have access to the nation’s most elite universities. It is must reading not only for parents and students with a personal stake in college admissions, but also for those disturbed by the growing divide between ordinary and privileged Americans. 

The Expatriates | Janice Y.K. Lee
Note: If you've read or seen Big Little Lies, it has a similar vibe, except with Asian characters and set in Hong Kong. I feel pretty neutral about this one; I enjoyed reading The Expatriates, but don't feel particularly affected by it.

Mercy, a young Korean American and recent Columbia graduate, is adrift, undone by a terrible incident in her recent past. Hilary, a wealthy housewife, is haunted by her struggle to have a child, something she believes could save her foundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, once a happily married mother of three, questions her maternal identity in the wake of a shattering loss. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives collide in ways that have irreversible consequences for them all.

Notes on the Assemblage | Juan Felipe Herrera
Note: My favorites from this collection were "And if the man with the choke-hold" (why/ does it/ blossom torches), "Borderbus" (we are everything hermana / because we come from everything), and "We Are Remarkably Loud Not Masked" (Eric garner we scribble your name sip your breath now / our breath cannot be choked off our / skin cannot be flamed totality / cannot be cut off / each wrist / each bone / cannot be chained to the abyss).

Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latino Poet Laureate of the United States and son of Mexican immigrants, grew up in the migrant fields of California.
Exuberant and socially engaged, reflective and healing, this collection of new work from the nation's first Latino Poet Laureate is brimming with the wide-open vision and hard-won wisdom of a poet whose life and creative arc have spanned chasms of culture in an endless crossing, dreaming and back again.

Commons | Myung Mi Kim
Note: Okay, here's my ethical concern about the arts: that by abstracting awful things - like warfare, colonization, etc - in beautiful ways, we exploit their aesthetics. We poeticize trauma and oppression via empathy at best. Is it okay to write about rape via persona poetics if we are not rape victims. Are we insisting upon collective healing without personal hurt. I have a deep suspicion of third/fourth-generation Asian American poets from middle-class families who study at prestigious universities and have entire collections about ancestral trauma. MORE SOON. For now, this book is lovely.

Myung Mi Kim's Commons weighs on the most sensitive of scales the minute grains of daily life in both peace and war, registering as very few works of literature have done our common burden of being subject to history. Abstracting colonization, war, immigration, disease, and first-language loss until only sparse phrases remain, Kim takes on the anguish and displacement of those whose lives are embedded in history.

How To Be Drawn | Terrance Hayes
Note: Okay, so imagine a thunderstorm. That's Hayes' How To Be Drawn. My favorite pieces were "American Sonnet for Wanda C." (who I know knows why all those lush-boned worn-out girls are / whooping at where the moon should be) and "Elegy with Zombies for Life" (twenty years I would not have believed / my unborn child would still be here pushing a cry out of me).

In How to Be Drawn, his daring fifth collection, Terrance Hayes explores how we see and are seen. While many of these poems bear the clearest imprint yet of Hayes’s background as a visual artist, they do not strive to describe art so much as inhabit it. Thus, one poem contemplates the principle of blind contour drawing while others are inspired by maps, graphs, and assorted artists. The formal and emotional versatilities that distinguish Hayes’s award-winning poetry are unified by existential focus. Simultaneously complex and transparent, urgent and composed, How to Be Drawn is a mesmerizing achievement.

No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering | Thich Nhat Hanh
The secret to happiness is to acknowledge and transform suffering, not to run away from it. In No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh offers practices and inspiration for transforming suffering and finding true joy. Thich Nhat Hanh acknowledges that because suffering can feel so bad, we try to run away from it or cover it up by consuming. We find something to eat or turn on the television. But unless we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us. Nhat Hanh shares how the practices of stopping, mindful breathing, and deep concentration can generate the energy of mindfulness within our daily lives. With that energy, we can embrace pain and calm it down, instantly bringing a measure of freedom and a clearer mind. No Mud, No Lotus introduces ways to be in touch with suffering without being overwhelmed by it. With his signature clarity and sense of joy, Thich Nhat Hanh helps us recognize the wonders inside us and around us that we tend to take for granted and teaches us the art of happiness.

Lighthead | Terrance Hayes
In his fourth collection, Terrance Hayes investigates how we construct experience. With one foot firmly grounded in the everyday and the other hovering in the air, his poems braid dream and reality into a poetry that is both dark and buoyant. Cultural icons as diverse as Fela Kuti, Harriet Tubman, and Wallace Stevens appear with meditations on desire and history. We see Hayes testing the line between story and song in a series of stunning poems inspired by the Pecha Kucha, a Japanese presenta­tion format. This innovative collection presents the light- headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time. Fueled by an imagination that enlightens, delights, and ignites, Lighthead leaves us illuminated and scorched.

Afterland | Mai Der Vang
Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.

Sông I Sing | Bao Phi
Note: Holy motherfucking shit, this book was explosively good. Bao Phi is one of the most iconic Asian American slam poets, so I feel his work is a little more accessible than lyric poetry. If you aren't really the type to enjoy poetry but have a little bit of curiosity and fire growing inside of you, I think you'll really, really enjoy this one. FUCK, it's so good. My favorite pieces were "The Nguyen Twins Find Adoration in the Poetry World," "Reverse Racism," "Called (An Open Letter to Myself)", and "Everyday People." 

“In this strong and angry work of what he calls refugeography, Bao Phi, who has been a performance poet since 1991, wrestles with immigration, class and race in America at sidewalk level. To hip-hop beats and the squeal and shriek of souped-up Celicas stalking the city streets, [Phi] rants and scowls at a culture in which Asians are invisible, but also scolds his peers ‘Bleached by color-blind lies/Buying DKNY and Calvin Klein/So our own bodies are gentrified.’ . . . In this song of his very American self, every poem Mr. Phi writes rhymes with the truth.” —New York Times 

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