how long will this go on
hold my taco
i have to call my mother
she was expecting me for dinner
but i got on this bus
and we're just lingering on this street
that is on fire
did we go to hell?
”People in L.A. are now very aware that there’s another part of town than the West Side or the Hollywood Hills, even if it’s a part they don’t understand or are afraid of,” said Joel Kotkin, a fellow at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy in Malibu. ”If there’s a positive to come out of the riots, it’s that we understand there’s a problem.”
”Now, it’s O.K.,” said Seung Choi, owner of the Korean Soup restaurant in the mall, who recalls the ”terrible, really scary” days of April 1992. ”But business never came back up.”
”When that day happened, it made it much worse for us,” said Pam Gray, who is now the first assistant manager of a new Parts USA auto parts store built by the Pep Boys chain at Florence and Normandie as part of the recovery effort; five years ago she was nursing a newborn baby. ”You had to drive a million miles to get to a grocery store.”
”On a collective basis, I’m not sure our city has heeded the lessons very well,” said John Mack, the head of the Los Angeles branch of the Urban League. ”There are some individual, spectacular examples of progress. But there’s been too much of a tendency to make it a spectator sport.
”L.A. can become America’s Bosnia, or it can become America’s example in democracy. We’ve all got to extend ourselves a little.”
–excerpted from the NY Times article, “Legacy of Los Angeles Riots: Divisions Amid the Renewal” by Todd S. Purdum, April 27, 1997.
The year we left Korea for America, my parents were counting on things being better in the West. Korea was twenty years out of war when we left, but the economic troubles flattened out a lot of families. I look at me at barely three here and know we were also one of those flattened families despite having taken a plane to the “promised land.”
I did not have the same urge for going that captivated my mother. I know she was doing her best for her family when she relocated us, but I wonder at all the things that were lost. I was listening to some guy on the radio bulldog-ishly say his father would tell people over thirty to stop opining their childhood. Of course, his father doesn’t know what he’s talking about while, at the same time, he probably does. But it’s not up to anyone to tell us when to get over our crap. Plus our crap is what fuels our creative energies. I know my muse is not some angel in gossamer, no offense to Clio, but my muse is a bloody, hairy stump under my bed.
Cocktail party (my dad is the dude second from right)
I remember my father telling me there was a conspiracy against him getting licensed to be a dentist in the U.S. and I thought he was crazy. But the more I understand of the seventies and immigrant discrimination, I don’t think he was crazy. Do I have proof that New York University conspired to keep my dad from passing his exams and getting his license to practice? Not exactly. But maybe the truth is somewhere in between conspiracy and institutional xenophobia.
We got to NYC when Nixon was still in office and the war in Vietnam was alive and well. Enter us Korean immigrants into this mix for one fucked up cocktail of Yellow Peril and xenophobia.
I wish my dad would have returned to Korea way sooner than he did. He could have just returned to his dentist life and my mom could have stayed in New York. What did she thnk she was going to find in America? I wonder if the allure of America is just a gimmick. A trick to bring in the gullible. Perhaps it’s not an equitable promise for all who heed her siren song?
Amidst the racist rants of “Go back to your country,” I sometimes wish we had.
we, the living
have this compulsion
to walk backwards into the past
as if the past has been waiting all this time
at the kitchen table
for our return
but the past has things to do
a forever schedule of sorting and erasing memories
One of the Korean things I learned was to ask my boyfriend if he’d eaten lunch.
Bon apetit ca 1972
When I lived in Seoul during the early 2000’s, I dated some and learned the endearing custom of asking your significant one if they’d eaten lunch. It’s a kissing cousin to the American “Did you eat yet?”
My boyfriend is good at making lunch so when I’m home I know I will eat lunch. At work? Not so much. It’s a comfort and joy to have someone concerned about your eating habits. There are so many people who aren’t as lucky.
Years ago someone asked me if I considered myself “colored” and I think about this from time to time.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
My Own Private Idaho
I realized right quick that I needed to establish some traditons for myself: Oyster Bar & Noodletown.
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.
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.
I’d probably be up in my ass with babies and laundry.
I went to a small liberal arts college. It was really expensive and a lot of rich kids went there.
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.
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.
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?
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
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?