Colored

Years ago someone asked me if I considered myself “colored” and I think about this from time to time.

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From the Dutch

The person asking was (and still is) herself black, and I wonder if she did not consider me to be colored because I’m not black. Not colored enough?  But all the nonwhites in South Africa’s apartheid era could have told her:  If you’re not white, you’re colored.

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It’s so fan

So, yes, I consider myself colored.  But more to the point I feel colored because America has not let me forget that I am not white for all of my life.   It also happens that being faced  with how the rest of the world sees you when you’re made up into merchandise is another clue that you’re colored.  Like a slit-eyed fan.  The manufacturers are Dutch.  You know, the Boer War and the slaughter of the Zulus.

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Et tu, Dr. Seuss?

Or how Dr. Seuss sees me: A slanty-eyed, conniving traitor.  Ouch, Theodor, what gives!  You know where you can shove your green eggs and ham.

Well Dr. Seuss was in his full adulthood (and race hatred) during the fifties when it was the thing to muck people up into carciatures without breaking a sweat.  He did so with blacks and Arabs as well.  I could go on, but read this good article on Dr. Seuss and his outdated books instead: Horn Book.

 

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What’s her excuse? San Juan, PR

And don’t forget about the people who coopt your identity for their own selfish commerical purposes, like this girl trying to get customers into her (or her boss’s) “sushi” resturant.  I’ll just have a hot dog, thanks.

 

However it is important to understand that Seuss Geisel, helped fuel that racism and war hysteria with many racist cartoons that he published during that time. His cartoons targeting Japanese Americans directly contributed to the public support of Executive Order 9066 (the executive order that incarcerated Japanese Americans). This is not an opinion, much like Hitler’s anti-Semitism is not an opinion, for Geisel’s hatred of Japanese is well documented, and is chronicled in American history books. Unfortunately our family has had a direct impact and has suffered directly from Geisel’s cartoons.

––Steve Wong, Curator, Chinese American Museum, Los Angeles

Read his full letter here

 

 

Dinner Is Normal

My mother spent many nights making dinner for me and my dad.  Dinner was one of the few aspects of my confounding childhood that made sense:  a small proof of normalcy.  By 2011, my mother had mostly stopped cooking.  I took this as a sign that she’d given up trying.

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Making dinner 2013

But dementia takes away your life.  My mother had been so vigilant about buying fresh ingredients so she could feed us real food, so when I see her not being able to feed herself, I find it devastating.

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Making dinner 2007

I find the act of cooking and sharing food a great joy.  When I make food for you, it means that I care about you.  What I may not be able to express with words, I can say with dumplings.

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Chez Anna & Paul, 2007

Just like I learned from my mother.

Children who grow up without having a warm rapport with their parents will most probably turn into parents no better than theirs.  I am sure the short cut to a warm, close family is having meals together.  The joy of working in the kitchen and setting the table for their family is a lesson children can learn only from their parents.

––Chang Sun-Young, from A Mother’s Cooking Notes

Family Policy

I had a family in Korea.  I had roots.

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December 1973

I wasn’t always alone as I am now.

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I had a family

My parents left Korea in the early seventies and I am sorry for that.  I wish I could have grown up with my big extended family and lived an uncomplicated life as a regular Korean person.

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And then there was two

As a displaced person, I worked to extend my dysfunctional nuclear family to include the friends I managed to keep. And it was a smart thing to do because life is a better time when you are connected to good people.

But I’ll always have my Old Ladies.

However far

I’d gone,

it was still

where it had all begun.

––excerpted from “A Feeling” by Robert Creeley

Holy Mystery

My parents were seriously ill-matched.

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Is this all there is?

Neither ready to live grown up lives, but rushing to marry because that’s what was expected.

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Til death do us part

In their wedding pic, I swear my mom is bending a bit so she won’t tower over my father.  I wonder how much she cared about.  I was reading in Louise Bogan’s bio about how her mother shot up four inches past her father after they got married, and how her mother never forgave him for that.

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They try to tell us we’re too young

In elementary school, a friend’s family invited me to be in her first communion ceremony and it looks like my mom thought it was a good idea.  Crazy though because I don’t think my friend was old enough to marry God.  Is anyone, really?

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It’s a holy mystery

But look at my super-cute dress.

Sorrow is my own yard

where the new grass

flames as it has flamed

often before but not

with the cold fire

that closes round me this year.

Thirtyfive years

I lived with my husband.

The plumtree is white today

with masses of flowers.

–– excerpted from “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” by William  Carlos Williams

 

 

 

Tradition

Find order in the universe.

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What to order?

I was an expat in Korea for some three years.  I was there to visit my parents who’d gone back in 1997.  When I got back to New York in 2005, one of my first stops was the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal.

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My Own Private Idaho

I realized right quick that I needed to establish some traditons for myself: Oyster Bar & Noodletown.

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The oyster of the world

The thing about being a displaced person is that you are caught up in a lot of other people’s stories with yours being put on the back burner.  Living in Korea for the years that I lived there was both a challenge and a gift, but I knew I couldn’t stay forever.

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Tradition: Singapore Mai Fun

I am sad about that.  I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed, married a Korean guy, and set up house.

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Duck 2013

I’d probably be up in my ass with babies and laundry.

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Bon appetit

But then I wouldn’t have met this guy.

I never told the buried gold

Upon the hill – that lies –

I saw the sun – his plunder done

Crouch low to guard his prize.

––Emily Dickinson, “11”

Possibility of Existence

I went to a small liberal arts college.  It was really expensive and a lot of rich kids went there.

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As Fanon Said

For a kid like me who grew up in a deeply immigrant section of upper Manhattan, I didn’t understand this dynamic.   These college years were a challenge to my Korean identity as much as growing up in my densely Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhood.  No surprise how naive and impressionable I was.

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The Mask

The work to create a healthy self-image in these caustic environments is neverending.  As Fanon explains in his brilliant Black Skin, White Masks, the black man, in white society, is placed in a situation where he must work to “overcome his feeling of insignificance, to rid his life of the compulsive quality that makes it so like the behavior of the phobic.”   Furthermore, as society sets up obstacles and barriers he may express an “unconscious desire to change color” but the focus must be on addressing the source of the conflict: the social structures.

…the black man should no longer be confronted by the dilemma, turn white or disappear; but he should be able to take cognizance of a possibility of existence.

––Frantz Fanon

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Face Your Identity

 

He knows what I would like to know:

How a white man came to paint beauty

Into a black man’s face,

& why he left sharks slashing the water below his feet?

–– excerpted from “The Gulf Stream/Four Studies

IV. Self Portrait/Vision” by Terrance Hayes

The Dragonfly

I was in college when I first read Louise Bogan.

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Of enough

I still remember the feeling of being lifted up and bathed in a pure light.   An awakening.

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Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay, NY

I bet that’s what flowers feel when they are about to burst open to the world after being asleep for all that time.

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Camellia on the verge

I identified with Bogan as a poet who struggled to keep the demons of her childhood in check.  Actually it was just one demon:  her unstable mother who fought with her father, disappeared for regular stretches, and placed her in unsavory situations.  You can read about these Mother-horror tales in Elizabeth Frank’s Bogan bio, but what it comes down to is the most harrowing feeling of being abandoned as a young child that probably scarred her the most.  That scars all of us the most.

Twice-born predator,

You split into the heat,

Swift beyond calculation or capture

You dart into the shadow

Which consumes you.

–– excerpted from “The Dragonfly” by Louise Bogan,