I met Tab in the fourth grade.
Tab and Jiwon
Our birthdays are three days apart and we grew up three blocks from each other in the part of Manhattan set aside for poor and colored people. But one fun fact: Our stretch of blocks was rated one of the top ten worst neighborhoods by our precinct cops, on the scale of drive-bys and drugs we got a big “A”!
I baked these cupcakes
We were a combo Judy Blume and Walter Dean Myers novel: Increasing our busts in the ghetto. I even wrote a children’s book about me and Tab for one of my graduate classes, inspired by one of the few children’s books that features a friendship between a black and asian child: Bebop-a-Do Walk by Sheila Hamanaka.
As an only child with parents who were struggling in deep water, my friendship with Tab was an act of grace. Our friendship didn’t stop me from being a spaz in social settings and super awkward about most things, but in a lasting way it helped me become better suited for the world ahead.
It’s who we breathe, in, out, in the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled––but only the saints
––excerpted from ‘In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being’
by Denise Levertov
It is so pleasureable to write about food.
I started a food blog in 2012, writing mostly about Korean food. I will tell you that the best Korean food you’ll eat is the food you make at home. I learned how to make it from my mom and aunt. Before being admitted into a nursing home, they used to live on their own in the Bronx where they were sometimes cooking the basics: noodles and soups. But when they both came down with dementia, they just kept burning their pots and pans, and once my mom set an electric kettle on the stove and nearly burnt their building down.
Toss your noodle
I like my food blog and can’t bring myself to dismantle it, but over these months I have noticed my posting has slowed down (but certainly not my eating!) It feels like the beginning of the end…but I want to remember everything.
We’ve been cooking
cassava for hours
while the men drink beer
and skin all they can grab
tonight it’s rat
turning over an agitated fire
spitting out sparks
good eating for the emperors
––Jiwon Choi, “To Eat.” Rigorous. 2017
I’m not Chinese, but what the fuck James Beard?
Which one is more fucked up than the others?
Why did James Beard and Alice and Martin Provensen think it was okay to fall into the lazy foot steps of stereotyping and demonizing a whole demographic into Fu Manchu? Oh, with a foreward by Mark Bittman no less.
What the fuck, James Beard?
Hey, I like fancy food just as much as the next person–who doesn’t want to eat raspberry and rhubarb together? But why is his estate allowing these outdated racist images to remain in his book? Like, doink, this is not the 1950’s.
Though? I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s most likely due to our narrow-minded and ignorant Orange-American president that it feels like we’ve been set back 60 years so we might as well be in the fifties with all of its backward notions and nostalgia about things that ‘never was’ the way you thought it was.
Don’t call me “man”!
I am worse than a slave.
Why can I wash away
The dirt of others’ clothes
But not the hatred of my heart?
My skin is yellow,
Does my yellow skin color the clothes?
Why do you pay me less
For the same work?
––excerpted from “Chinaman, Laundryman” by Hsi-tseng Tsiang
Old poems are where new poems come from.
While rummaging through folders of old poems, I found the genesis of a current poem I wrote about my mother, and her diagnosed dementia. Most of the work that I generate about my mother is not for public consumption, with the exception of the published pieces that hopefully provide a little insight.
This ‘mother’ poem was the spawn of two poems I’d written back when it became clear that there was something wrong with her mental capacity. Both poems work to piece together bits of what I know and imagine of my mother’s childhood.
Parent One: The Law of Gravity
She was diagnosed with this affliction back in 2011. But I suspect that there was something wrong with her way before. I am certain she had a strain of PTSD that was neither diagnosed nor addressed while I was growing up with her.
Both of my parents had it. How could they not? They’d lived through a war, had their family members sent to work camps, killed or drop dead from disease.
Parent Two: Knowing This is the End
I probably have it too. Though I don’t dwell on it too often, it’s good to be aware of one’s fault lines and where they be. I am not immune.
The poem these two old ones birthed has been published in the current issue, #109, of Hanging Loose Magazine:
…so what I have always known is true––you were a mother made up entirely of memories…
–from You Live in the Space Behind Your Eyes
Incidentally, this issue also features two remarkable poets who I just found out about: Jose Angel Araguz and Carole Bernstein. They are worth a read.
Coming and going.
Last Day, September 1974
Here I am on the last day of living with my aunt and uncle and cousins in Seoul. I had been living with them after my parents emigrated to the US and decided to send me back when they realized they couldn’t take care of me and themselves at the same time.
This was the day I was leaving my favorite cousins and a life of being connected to my Korean skin.
How many times do I have to say “goodbye?”
Skin remembers how long the years grow
when the skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird…
––excerpted from “Two Countries” by Naomi Shihab Nye
I ain’t your f**king model minority.
Most generalizations about the Asian immigrants are flawed. New stereotypes, like ”hard-working” and ”obsessed with education,” fail just as badly as old ones, like ”inscrutable” and ”clannish.” Still, as you travel around the country meeting the new immigrants in their homes and on the job, a sense quickly emerges that, despite the problems that bedevil them, they comprise a powerhouse of drive and ambition that is likely to have a broad impact on the life of the country.
–NY Times Archive, (5/9/82). “The New Asian Immigrants.”
The plight of the immigrant in America is centuries old. Remember the Middle Passage with its forced and brutal migration of black people into the Americas where they would become chattel and spill their blood for generations of seemingly lazy and entitlement-obsessed white people? There are some people who want to forget the four hundred years of slavery and violence against black people, the genocide of Native Americans, and the ongoing war against poor and colored people, but that trick is getting old. Just because you don’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean these issues go away. Things will get worse.
I know Society is super eager and excited to put the burden of “model minority” on my shoulders, but Society must shove it. I am not going to play the “other” for Society’s sake. I don’t care that Society cannot find its place in time unless it subjugates and co-opts my identity. I claim the right to be an asshole as much as any colonizer (without the plantation and slaves of course).
Oh to be an asshole, let me count the ways:
- don’t hold the door for the old person behind you
- fuck saving a seat for your lame-ass friend at the bar
- eat the last hammantaschen
- don’t compliment anyone on their hair
- don’t move to the middle on the subway
- don’t give up your seat for the old or pregnant on the bus
- tell your friend he’s fat
- lock your sister in the bathroom
My list could go on. But really, isn’t this just the normal stuff we do to each other?
I don’t know why I’m wearing gauchos with a blazer. This seems wrong.
Best dressed in Central Park
But no big surprise because the Seventies strikes me as being about misguided choices, especially the decision to emigrate to the US from my first home, Korea.
There are a bunch of old photos of me in a crowd of somber looking grown-ups at the airport. I am with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and there’s my grandmother who had already said so many goodbyes looking tired and dazed. She knew what was coming.
The Seventies were a hardship for my parents and they sent me back to live with one of my father’s older brothers who had three children. Maybe I could have just stayed on as his fourth. It seems a betrayal of sorts to say so, but my parents could not handle the burden of a child while trying to turn their Korean life into an American one.
You’d think I’d have written more poems about this time in my life by now, but I haven’t. It’s a dilemma for sure.
When you became American you watched that movie thinking you were Dorothy but no, you were the house torn from its foundation and the years you spent trying to fit in were the flying monkeys.
–– excerpted from “In Korean Years” by Jiwon Choi