What to Tell the Children tell them that this is the great awakening tell them that we humans have made some huge mistakes and that's how we now find ourselves in this tenuous place teach them that hate is the poison teach them that love is the remedy that is it better to be readied for what comes next even if the revelation is painful tell them that this is the paradigm shift, that the old is collapsing in on itself that this death rattle is simply a temper tantrum, the last gasp of a dying Goliath remind them of how they get wild when they are most tired and then pass out that this is what it's about that this is what is happening to a decrepit and ineffective empire tell them that everything is not OK and knowing that, is OK tell them that pretending that what is unacceptable is fine is what got us to this sick and dysfunctional spot on the time line apologize for any prior attempts to teach them denial tell them you were blinded by desire for comfortable numbness express that you had the best of intentions that you were working within a broken system where few benefited at the expense of many that you laid low, kept to the status quo, obediently played your role but those days are over because now you know better tell them that they have no responsibility to follow someone blindly based solely on a title teach them to practice discernment tell them authority and respect must be earned, and are not inherently deserved teach them that there are good people and bad people from every background, ethnicity and belief system that they must align themselves with kindness that there is no more room for divisiveness you tell them that just because something is legal that doesn't mean it's right you tell them to stand up, and fight remind them of all the lawful atrocities committed in the sick and twisted history of this violent country that Rosa Parks righteously broke a law, and the world took notice that Harriet Tubman is our modern day Moses that women would not be allowed to vote, and no one would have proposed another notion, if the blessed rebels hadn't taken a stand tell them love will win this war but only if we remember that love is not just one unending cuddle puddle but fierce, as a mother bear protecting her cubs tell them that although this existence is damaged beyond repair, they must not despair. there is possibility. and we will willingly and willfully open ourselves to new ways of being because the old way is not working, has never worked and the world deserves better, and we're worth it tell them they are not free while another suffers under enslavement teach them that we are all limbs on one body and we cannot chop off our own arm without deep suffering teach them humility, but also to relearn to trust their intuition and beg their forgiveness for unintentionally misleading them previously tell them their gifts are useful tell them they are beautiful tell them THEY ARE THE TRUTH
Poetry for reflecting today. I’m traveling to Taiwan tonight, my motherland, to see family and friends. I am fortunate for now for relatively unencumbered freedom of movement, something my Brown friends don’t have the privilege of doing. Something to ponder on and think of how you can weaponize your privilege in the struggle.
Autopsy Last night, I dreamed that my passport bled. I dreamed that my passport was a tombstone For our United States, recently dead. I dreamed that my passport was made of bone— That it was a canoe carved out of stone. “But I can’t swim,” I said. “I will drown If I can’t make the shore. I’ll die alone In the salt. No, my body will be found With millions of bodies, all of them brown.” I dreamed that my passport was a book of prayers, Unanswered by the gods, but written down By fact checkers in suits. “There are some errors In your papers,” they said. Then took me downstairs To a room with fingernails on the floor. I dreamed that my passport was my keyware, But soldiers had set fire to the doors, To all doors—a conflagration of doors. I dreamed that my passport was my priest: “Sherman, will you battle the carnivores Or will you turn and abandon the weak? Will you be shelter? Or will you concede?” Last night, I dreamed that my passport was alive When it entered the ICU. It breathed, it breathed, Then it sighed and closed its eyes. It did not survive. ©2017, Sherman Alexie
There are moments where some people begin to have where their politics and beliefs diverge vastly from those given to them from the environment they grew up in, the institutions around them, what have you.
People are rarely convinced by facts and figures, but rather by the expressions of stories, art, and culture.
A lot of where my consciousness and moral clarity came from when I was a undergrad at UC Davis during the pessimism of the post-9/11 Bush years (remember when we thought that was the worst?), and it was through a lot of music scene there are the time.
Blue Scholars, a hip hop duo out of Seattle whose music explores immigration, racism, challenging authority, socioeconomic displacement, and global conflict helped develop my consciousness. It feels timely again given MC Sabzi’s Iranian and MC Geologic’s Filipino ancestries.
I’ve never stopped loving this hook:
Because I, got your back even if you don't got mine Grind in the dark when the clock strikes hard times We ain't nothing if this bond ain't solidified
I’m posting 100 Days of “Resistance Art” – music, poems, etc. that I’m finding to be inspirational to switch up the news feed.
I’m inspired by 100 Days Action of Creative Resistance to create counternarratives to the Trump administration, this piece by Marc Bamuthi Joseph: My Art Is Not A Bridge—It’s a Battery, and the “Disdain for Intellectuals & the Arts” line in the Fascism Warning Signs poster from the Holocaust Museum that’s gone viral.
Day One is remake of This Land is Your Land by the group Chicano Batman. Johnny Walker, to their enterprising credit on sentiment, sponsored a video shoot for the song in East LA. I love the Spanish-language verse incorporated:
“No existe nadie Que pueda pararme Por el camino Del libertad No existe nadie Que pueda hacerme volver Esta tierra es para ti y para mi”
As a native Angeleno, I feel homesick for that sundrenched landscape on a snowy NYC day, and I loved that so many people have been singing this song at marches.
Full version below and also available on Spotify:
Image from AngryAsianMan
Ending the day on a negative ranty note inspired by Uber’s CTO Thuan Pham, a refugee.
Among the most bleak conversations I’ve had are with Asian Americans, because FUN FACT: a huge portion if not the outright majority of Asians in America of my generation are here because people directly or indirectly were fleeing authoritarian consequences, not because of some “hoo rah we’re gonna have freedom! MURICA” but no like literally not sure if they could feed their families, could get killed, or if there was a future at the end of the road in varying degrees of hopelessness and horror.
This is a story we know: Mao Zedong and his revolutions, Pol Pot the Khmer Rouge, Ferdinand Marcos and his kleptocracy, Chiang Kai-Shek and his thugs (of which I’m descended from and take open ownership of that), Le Duan after the Fall of South Vietnam, Kaysone Phomvihane and the Pathet Lao, Suharto’s Corrupt Fist in Indonesia, Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship, and I’m probably missing a whole lot more.
America had immigration policies that favored our labor. So people came as the dishwasher, the laundryman, the bodega owner, the seamstress, the cooks, the scientists, the doctors, and generally the hustlers who ventured into the great unknown with promises of security and prosperity. And some came unwilling as refugees because of the American wars in Southeast Asia.
I know we might be all seem to same to you, but someone in my age bracket who was born here or came here as a young child came from a very different Asias than the current denizens of the Asia Modern – one whose fever dreams now elude us.
We continue to inhabit very different Asian Americas in terms of ethnicities, stories, and socio-economic conditions.
Before the Syrian refugee crisis, Asians were the people on the boats people were pushing away, and a generation before, fleeing Jews were rejected from safe harbor, lest we forget.
The joke is now “whoops buyers remorse, we came here precisely not for this shit. And these spoiled ‘Americans’ (we’re spoiled Americans now too, but we remember a time we weren’t) have no idea what they’re facing. Now might we might have to try to horde gold and live like peasants, again, hahaha so funny joke’s on us!” Dude, literally here not to be about that life, but you know what, we have learned how to survive and thrive and make very little into something.
There’s a lot of talk in leftist circles in America about “the revolution,” and there’s always been this uncomfortable moment because a lot of Asians tend to be like “Nah tho, I don’t know about that tho because we almost all died before. I’ll take those sensible trade policies, thanks.”
It’s a primal thing, our collective past saw what real revolutions were like and it didn’t end up well for most regular people. Now all over the West, we’re the living undead, reanimated bits of imagined communities combined with the aspirational hopes of Barack Obama’s America, doomed to wander in distant lands we now call home speaking in strange tongues devoted to making a buck.
This is a cynicism that will probably be imprinted on us for generations to come, though I hope our grandchildren will never know our strife. This is why I think I grew up around a community focused so long on just making money, freeing our minds with education, and basking in the comforts of family, food, tradition, and safety.
People didn’t have much else till recently, which is why you see all these mass movements places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea now, because this new world of justice, rule of law, and universal rights, is well, is still new, still precious, and still not taken for granted with not one generation removed from darkness of poverty and autocracy. And aren’t we always only one generation from that?
It’s unpleasant for us to watch this begin to repeat itself in our new home and also know we’re probably easy scapegoats for something or another, the uncomfortable wedge group, the “model minority” despised both by Whites and other minorities. This shit could blow up in our face because it has before. Refuge fail. (I’m bullish on California tho.)
Tho gotta say for the record, we tried to warn you with the wisdom and paranoia bequeathed to us from our collective history and outsider status. And most People of Color tried to save yo trifling asses in the election. With depleted voting rights coming our way, I wouldn’t put all my hopes on another election by the way.
I don’t have an original line to close, so may the odds be ever in your favor.
*If any references may have confused you- please see NPR CodeSwitch’s episode on the Explanatory Comma.
This is a piece I’ll be submitting for the Mini-Anthology on Experiences of the Taiwanese Diaspora. Doing some thinking on it here:
ashes to ashes dust to dust
From the moment I hit the shore at Taoyuan Airport, every interaction becomes a delicate dance of code switching fraught with identification, alienation, and intimacy.
I’m a fat American, but when I speak Mandarin it sounds I came from here. Even with the American accent creeping in, it’s not enough for people to try to speak English to me. There’s recognition. She belongs to us. Like misplaced property.
Even without the accent, there’s an inflection. One of unbridled confidence, even arrogance, of someone who was raised to believe she would inherit the world. The Ugly American inside of me.
There’s also another rhythm to my voice that’s defiance. It creeps in when I’m with people from San Gabriel Valley or places like the Sunset District in San Francisco or Elmhurst, Queens. The voice I speak with when I’m not with White folk, a voice dripping with a hip hop swagger, a SoCal drawl, and a Chicano melody.
Rapper Bohan Phoenix calls himself, “Too foreign for here. Too foreign for home.” In America, some part of me never feels right. Sometimes I feel like an alien, even among other Asians. I don’t feel their need to fit into Whiteness. I already know I’m American, but as Pharrell declares, “i am OTHER.”
The customs officer sizes me up and sees the dozens of “Republic of China” stamps. Unlike for some others like me, she speaks to me in Chinese as she waves me through.
I get into a taxi and head to the Daan District. My relatives all live in New Taipei City, but I like my privacy and freedom to wander in my yearly escape back into another reality. An alternative destiny that never came to be.
I shift in the seat. I steady my speech for the inevitable political conversation with the cab driver. To not sound like a disconnected arrogant snob ABC because that’s not who I want to be.
I’m always shifting the way I speak. Sometimes I try to downshift the more 標準 Mandarin, peppering the pathetic amount of Taiwanese phrases I know when appropriate, whatever I learned when I lived in Taipei and from my Taiwanese friends growing up in LA (born and raised) because my 外省人 family don’t speak it. I think I want to affirm I’m related. This island, this country, is where I started from.
I remember arriving back in New York once after a trip to Los Angeles, on a visit back to my part of it, of what was called Little Taipei growing up. I opened my phone to figure out the best way to get home and instinctively opened Waze and chuckled. I had spent last weeks in LA on freeways, but I was back in the land of subways.
I switched to Google maps to check train times while walking through the cacophonous internationalism and diversity that is NYC on an extraordinarily beautiful night. I thought to myself how I always wanted to be a global citizen despite inclinations for tribalism. I rep LA I say. 626 I say. But a part of my heart always craves for Taiwan though. Irrationally, insatiably, like pining for a secret lover.
To be Taiwanese American is to be a lot of things at once. I constantly travel and move in different circles. Jumping place to place space to space. I wake up to Monocle24 radio, stream Power106 during the day, and listen to 臺北之音 Hitoradio at night.
Even though I can read Chinese fluently, all I’ve really do with it is order a lot of food and read Taiwanese design blogs. Occasionally, when I feel like re-visiting teenage angst, I’ll look up old videos of rapper 宋岳庭, a man who grew up so much like me. In a long ago AzN scene full of parachute kids in pool halls, long before I could imagine a life as a global citizen living as a yuppy in New York City as a wannabe ad executive. I put on different clothes, talk with a different accent, speak in a different language, change different IDs and transit cards out of my wallet all without thinking. Feeling like an emotional immigrant, not quite real and definitely not down.
But in a way, isn’t it a fitting if not poetic part of being a daughter of the Orphan of Asia?
British Indian writer Nikesh Shukla describes himself of having three voices. A White People Phone Voice. The one I speak at work. One of a native tongue, for me, a now Taiwanese version of Mandarin my family brought to Taiwan with the KMT with my unwilling American intonations. One of your normal voice. For People of Color, this is how talk to each other. It is our true voice. My true voice. One I fight to keep.
On one side of my office sits young agency staffers from Asia, mostly China and India, on the other side a bunch of White Americans who are up the payscale. I don’t quite fall in the Asian or White category in the office hierarchy, nor do I try to play that game. I speak loudly in my clipped Taiwanese Chinese with the American accent but also talk about how race in a way that can make White people feel so damn uncomfortable.
I grew up in a Taiwanese-American neighborhood, but these days my friends are mostly People of Color that run the gamut. When I lived in LA I’d go hang out with my Black friends in one area, go to house parties with White people in another, but mostly stayed in my Asian and Latino neighborhood. Some might call me a cultural chameleon, but it’s weird, but I think that’s the Taiwanese experience to some extent.
Of living always as an outsider, but someone who moves past borders, real and invisible. My adaptability has sometimes made me wonder if I’m a plastic person. Sometimes I feel like I’m selling out or that I’m being a faker. When I have these thoughts I often pine for a lost paradise in the form of Formosa where I don’t really fit in either. After the Brexit, I wondered if it’s a way I deal with the fact that we will never really be home or belong in the West. Craving it like first love that got away that’s easy to idealize later on, asking myself where do I really stand in my relationship with this land.
Every year I make this trip, these thoughts repeating like scratches on a turntable. I move to the beat. But then when the plane lands and I walk on the jet bridge with the humidity hitting me, something primal stirs with me and stays with me. The flesh and blood my people in the air.
One distinctive memory of when I lived in Taipei as an adult was putting my grandfather to rest. I have no clear memories of him to speak of since I grew up in America. I knew he carried my family across the strait. He would end up with Taiwanese-speaking grandchildren, not that I’m entirely sure he liked that. Our dark blue blood has teetered into a shade of aquamarine. Of being a part of a Taiwanese generation that defines our identity with our values and recent shared history, rather than the official mythology of any party.
I remember seeing all the different people in different garbs of mourning, the white sack clothes of others and the black robes my family wore, of the respect and solemnity of sending our ancestors to their final resting places. I remember the endless smoke bellowing out of the dead of my people at the crematorium, as if 媽祖 were beckoning us to return to the land and sea. I remember scooping the bones and the ashes into the urn.
I’ve morbidly thought to myself that when I depart from this earth I didn’t necessarily want a 靈骨塔, for my ashes to sit in a cupboard or to be the ground. I want to be scattered into the Pacific, so I’ll drift in the sea between California and Taiwan.
ashes to ashes dust to dust
On that day, I felt such a profound connection and loyalty to the land, even though it’s likely I’ll spend out the rest my days living in the West.
That profound connection and loyalty has felt more urgent in the last few weeks.
The irony is not lost upon me that my family left Taiwan partially for the promises of freedom after a life of autocracy, but the bonds of affection would never break.
Who knew two short decades later Taiwan would destroy the notion that democracy, free thought, and Chinese culture are incompatible, despite the incessant claims from the PRC, and transform into a prosperous liberal democracy.
Who knew three decades later the United States would lean into fascism and authoritarianism while simultaneously putting Taiwan’s fragile peace at risk? I want to destroy the One China Policy, but we’re nothing more than an asterisk to the world, a nuisance to be dealt with.
A place used as a bargaining chip, a nation refused recognition, and a people defiant against erasure. There’s a certain humiliation and anger a lot of us Taiwanese carry, even those of us “lucky ones” who ended up in America.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s part of why I end up seeing Taiwanese Americans involved in social movements in unexpected places even though we have incentives to keep our heads down and align with those in power, even butting heads with other Asian Americans who believe we should.
We’re one of the wealthiest and most educated groups in the country. While some do chose to forget the past and assimilate into second-class Whiteness, there are so many of us who decide not only to honor what we come from, but also to align with Black Lives Matter, against DAPL, for the DREAMERs, for the refugees, for LGBT rights, for environmental justice, and other causes rather than saying, “That’s not our problem. We should let just make money, enjoy a simple life, and not think too much.” Nothing more Taiwanese love to say than 不要想太多. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism after all we’ve collectively been through.
For some of us though, I think that constant inner tremor of anger and humiliation sparked a clarion call for justice rather than a capitulation to fear and amnesia.
Shawna Ryan Yang said she wrote the book Green Island because she wanted to dispel the myth that Taiwan’s transition to democracy was bloodless. It took decades of will, suffering, and work. It will continue to. Now I wonder if it’s our turn to fight. Given what has happened to the United States and its implications for Taiwan as well, I suddenly feel what I imagine must been a tip of that incredible burden of what people before me must have felt. To realize what they might have to sacrifice to save their country, the very being of who they are. To speak in all the voices than can be spoken to be free. For me, it’s for Taiwan and for America.
When I exit the cab in Taipei I say 多謝. I stop to breath in the thick humid air again. I relish in hearing the voices and accents of the people around me. I feel the ground of home beneath my feet, and even though where I am may shift, the earth and air of this place is always with me. Its history and values forever bound to me: the blood, ashes, and the sacrifices for now and for the future.
ashes to ashes dust to dust