In-Betweens

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my hands are shaky, tinged with a dash

of melanin, enough to proclaim my title
as a child of the sun

i am rooted in purple orchids
that have been grounded in the west
aching towards the east, my spine
contorted between two different sets of stars

my skin longs for better days, clearer skies
and my ancestors, they don’t recognize me anymore they
see me as a ghost, with my tongue burnt out of my mouth
all i can do is spit out ash and decay, and figure out what to do
with this grey matter that accentuates my scattered blue veins

—in-betweens (s.don)

I have always found comfort in the meaning behind words, in the form of books, poetry, or advice from my mother. The potential for one word to mean so many different things, fascinates me. I find myself up late at night, spellbound over the way a comma in a poem can mean three different things because of its placement, and two others if it wasn’t there. But sometimes, I get caught in the in-betweens. I stumble over binary arguments, whether something is this or that, and half way through my essay, I have disproved my thesis statement and I have contradicted myself. The place I find myself stuck at the most is in between Asian and American.

My name is Shirley Don and I’m a senior at SU, majoring in English Textual Studies with a track in creative writing, and I identify as Asian American. I am still trying to figure out what that all means. What does my name mean, what do the four years I’ve spent here mean, and what does it mean to be an Asian American studying English texts? I am attempting to sift through my own identity, who I am and how does everything that has affected me, from the books I used to read in the dark as a kid to the micro aggressions I get when I’m the only Asian kid in a class full of white kids, make me the kind of person I am today?

To be honest I don’t get the typical “Where are you from?” or “Your English is so good!” as often, but I still feel the discomfort of being one of the few Asian American ETS majors. I feel obligated to try harder than everyone else just to prove that I belong there, that I have a voice. I recall one instance in class when I made a comment and it went unheard, and the girl sitting next to me told me not to worry, I’m just “quiet”. Somehow, I felt offended, and I could feel my eyebrows knitting together under my skin, drawing blood to my face. Part of me scoffed at her assumption, but another part of me was angry at myself for not being loud enough and succumbing to being that docile Asian girl. Every day, I subconsciously try to disprove stereotypes and that has strengthened and weakened me in countless ways that make my head spin.

The problems I face as an Asian American woman don’t just come from non-Asians. A lot of tension exists in our community among ourselves that make my bones ache and lungs burn. For example, there is still this passive aggressive warfare between Asians and Americans, F.O.B.’s (Fresh off the Boat) and (in Chinese culture) A.B.C.’s (American Born Chinese). Entitlement is assigned to where you were born and it is a wicked thing that changes to whoever holds it, and has stolen my mother tongue away from me. I used to be ashamed of my heritage and refused to learn how to read and write Chinese because I thought it would make me more “fobby”, uncool according to Asian Americans. With more hindsight and maturity, I now feel the sting at my fingertips, ashamed and disappointed in myself that I can’t write poetry in Chinese. I can’t share my craft with my mother and I can’t fully comprehend how intelligent she is. I can barely write my own name.

I battle with myself a lot more than others do with each other and I have internalized my identity in a way that has altered my bone structure, the shape of my hips and the way I hold my pen. I used to be the quiet, bookish little Asian girl who never participated in classes but now, I am a woman who is desperately apologetic to the little girl I once was, convinced by the world that she could not have a voice, that she was not allowed to take up any type of space. Today, I am the woman who juggles metaphors with shaky hands, an ocean churning in her chest, trying to bring her mother back to the motherland, and earn back the right to call it home. I am trying to make ends meet, to untangle these in-betweens and to chase after sunrises. To have a voice and take up space that provides more for those who cannot.


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Shirley Don
English and Textual Studies

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