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.

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Unpacking Acceptability

RahimonNasaBy Rahima Nasa

It’s freshman year and I’m unpacking my belongings into 406 DellPlain, my new home. I brought too much stuff with me so I’m concerned about how I’m going to fit it in all my minuscule split-double. I guess it’s symbolic too since I want to be upfront with my roommate: I’m coming with a lot of baggage.

It’s the first time leaving New York City, where I was raised for most of my life. Although I was born in Bangladesh but my family moved to the U.S. when I was about four years old. I had always been jealous of my little sister for being born in America. I hated being considered an immigrant.

I resented being placed in ESL classes in elementary school solely because I wasn’t born here. This made me work a lot harder at making sure my English was perfect. I refused to speak Bengali, my mother tongue, when I could avoid it. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally stopped dreaming in Bengali.

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More Than Just a Pigment

SueLee

By Sue Lee | Asian Students in America

Throughout the course of my childhood I have always been subject to racism, I guess the term Asian American was foreign to Alaskans. During kindergarten, my teacher gave me detention every single day for petty reasons that all children would do. Every time I would draw myself, my peers would hand me yellow crayons and say, “you’re yellow, you need this crayon.” I would always brush it off, though. During that time I believed that I was just a bad child, but around Thanksgiving my class was prompted to draw ourselves next to a turkey. I used a beige crayon to color my skin as I have always had, and a peer, once again, gave me a yellow crayon “you’re yellow.” I was so frustrated that I went to the person who supposed to help me when I needed it: my teacher. “Mrs. OJ!” (My kindergarten teacher.) “They keep saying I’m yellow!” and the three words she would say next was supposed to change all the detentions, my self-perception that I was bad, and my peer’s opinions.

“You ARE yellow.”
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A Dry Cleaner’s Daughter

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By Jane Hong

My parents own a dry-cleaning business in the Bay Area, which usually comes as no surprise to the Korean American community. Far from their dream job, my parents settled for a job that could potentially lead to a steady income to support themselves in a foreign country. Once my mom gave birth to my sister and me, it became too late for them to explore other job options and dry-cleaning became more than just an occupation.

Six days a week, my dad wakes up at the crack of dawn to open the store as my mom prepares their lunch (or do-shee-rrak) for the day. Their business has become a fine-tuned operation, with my dad cleaning the clothes and a number of employees steaming, ironing, and pressing the hundreds of clothes that come through the shop. My mom is the seamstress and usually handles customers, acting as the face of the store.

With my parents working eleven hours a day, I had to spend a lot of days at their store while I was growing up. I dreaded every day that I had to spend there. The heat from the machines suffocated me and the lack of activity made my time there insanely boring. As I got older, I was expected to help out with certain tasks like tagging, bagging, or sorting the clothes. It’s tedious and tiring work that leaves my 20-year-old muscles sore and aching at the end of the work day. I think of my parents as superheroes for being able to handle a physically demanding job, come home, and take care of two kids all at the age of 60.

In high school though, I resented whenever my parents brought up their sacrifices and their tireless work. Whenever I fell beneath their expectations, I listened to them remind me of their journey to the United States and their struggle to manage a business so that I can pursue my education and career. I hated listening to what I didn’t want to hear in times of failure, mostly because it made me feel guiltier for disappointing them.

I wrongly accused them of holding their sacrifices over my head. It made me feel stifled and hopeless, knowing that nothing I do or achieve could possibly mean as much as everything they’ve done for my family.

What I failed to understand was that their pursuit of the American dream is all they know. They’re not fluent in English nor have they assimilated to American culture. All they know of the United States is the broken promise of liberty and opportunity as they head to another day working at the dry-cleaners. As an American born Korean (ABK doesn’t sound as good, does it?), I didn’t even attempt to appreciate the struggle of two Korean immigrants and how their definition of “American dream” was creating potential opportunity for me.

I see how my parents’ struggle to find the right English words pierces their tongues as they speak; the way they quizzically stare at signage and how it embarrasses them to ask me what something means; and how they clutch onto Korean culture in fear that this foreign land will steal it away from them. As my parents struggle with the 5,264 mile distance between South Korea and their unfamiliar home in the United States, I feel my desperation to make them feel as if each exhausting day spent at the dry-cleaners is actually worth it.

This is the cry of a first-generation college student: to become something great all because my parents allowed it for me.