Posts in: EN380
“Hope that you won’t forget that boldly giving up is courage as well.” – Min Yoongi
As my time as a blogger comes to a close, I want to reflect what it was like to have to be a student during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before I deleted social media, I saw a lot of posts about how people were trying to “hold themselves accountable”. At first, I ate that shit up. I followed workout pages, tried new diets, and even tried to force myself to write at least four things everyday. Although keeping busy did keep me entertained for a couple weeks (maybe even month, who knows at this point—time is a social construct at this point), I grew tired and eventually even more depressed than I already was. I stopped doing all those new things and I even stopped doing the old things I used to do in my free time. I just laid in bed for a while and felt terrible.
Being at CC (or I guess anywhere to be perfectly honest), you kind of develop this heightened capitalist complex where you feel the need to constantly do something, producing something that has to have some sort of worth. As a result, I think many of us have lost sight of what is sometimes necessary: healing.
Of course, I want to acknowledge that having time and the means to take a break is a privilege. I’m lucky to be in the situation I am in during the pandemic, but many can’t afford to take a break.
Though, I do want to emphasize that doing nothing, giving up on endeavors your heart is not completely invested in, and NOT being productive should not be something that is shamed. There is nothing wrong with admitting that we need breaks or cannot continue. There is courage in acknowledging our weaknesses.
Writing these blogs has given me an outlet for my rants about things I was passionate about in class and my frustrations in the real world. Saying goodbye to this blog and to my wonderful class is sad, but like I said, there is power in admitting weakness and right now, I feel weak.
When the Emperpor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka
Follows a Japanese American family who were incarcerated in the Utah desert during World War 2
Fox Girl, Nora Okja Keller
Three teenagers’ in America Town, the US military camp in South Korea in the 1960s, struggle to survive the impact of militarized intimacies, such as betrayal, violence, and prostitution
Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai
Childhood experience of a Vietnamese refugee in the US.
Internment, Samira Ahmed
Muslim Americans resisting in the internment camp they were forced to go to.
These descriptions are nothing but blurbs because there is so much to unpack. I hope you’ll approach these books with an open-mind – especially if Asian literature is a new genre for you.
We live in a very visual world today. As I glance at the numerous books on an aisle, a book cover makes or breaks whether I pick up the story and flip over to read the description. When I got this list of books, they all seemed so unfamiliar – until I saw the book cover of Inside Out & Back Again. Whether it was at the library or in one of the scholastic catalogs, I was sure I saw it somewhere in the past and it just never piqued my interest. It gave me a similar vibe as Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen; both had a tree, at least one person, and a dreamy background. I enjoyed Flipped, but looking at the cover of Inside Out & Back Again, I probably thought it was a coming-of-age book about a white protagonist. Maybe if I had noticed how the author’s name is oddly “foreign,” I would’ve considered the possibility of a “foreign” protagonist. So I guess…don’t judge a book by its covers and a picture is worth a thousand words, right? If these books make you feel uncomfortable, then good. We can’t always live within the comfort of our bubble, and this discomfort has definitely been an enriching learning journey for me.
Some questions to think about:
What do you know about war? How are these stories challenging your perceptions of war and of people? What are some of the messages the stories are saying? How are your experiences and knowledge influencing your interpretation? What is made visible and what is then rendered invisible? What are the dominant narratives that these stories challenge? Who is represented and who isn’t? Why? How? Is there an intended audience? Who? Why?
If you have the chance, read these and have conversations with someone else 🙂
Excerpt from Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai:
More is Not Better
I now understand
when they make fun of my name,
yelling ha-ha-ha down the hall
when they ask if I eat dog meat,
barking and chewing and falling down laughing
when they wonder if I lived in the jungle with tigers,
growling and stalking on all fours.
Because Brother Khoi
nodded into my head
on the bike ride home
when I asked if kids
said the same things
at his school.
I could go back
to not understanding.
This year, I felt a different kind of sadness – a type of fleeting emotion sprinkled with a touch of hopelessness…and perhaps helplessness too. I’m not quite certain which one, so let’s say both. Why? Because I don’t know what to do with what I’ve learned about American imperialism.
The America I once knew was bright, especially to people who had left their motherland. For us, she was a new beginning. She meant opportunities, a better life, and success. But who is this America that represents life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for?
As an immigrant who has settled on the territory of the Tongva peoples, I am thankful to call this place my home. As a student at Colorado College, I want to acknowledge that this is the land of the Jicarilla Apache, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples on which I am living, breathing, and learning about settler colonialism and its legacies on the indigenous and Asian communities. I am very grateful for these opportunities and spaces to unlearn, question, and share with my fellow peers and professors, especially since the privilege I have to sit and consume information comes with a cost that people before me had shed blood for.
Throughout these blocks, I quickly realized that I am still living in an America that doesn’t belong to everyone. As I come to understand that violent histories just repeat themselves, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to flicker and fade as the image of America as a safe space for dreamers shatter. But so what? What am I going to do after learning that America has dispossessed Indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, incarcerated Japanese Americans, criminalized Muslim Americans, refused refugees, hated Chinese Americans, and more?
At this moment, ignorance seems so blissful. Similar to how Ha, the main character from Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, wished she could go back to not understanding the racist comments her classmates made, I sometimes wonder if it would be better for me to not know. All too often, I wish I could hide under my blanket and fall head over heels for fictional rom-com protagonists. Out of sight, out of mind – right? Not really. No matter how much I want to escape thinking about “so, what now?”, it’s constantly in the back of my mind. While understanding English made Ha angry, it also empowered her. I loved how she later used English to stand up for and protect herself. Certainly, I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the pain that nameless generations of marginalized communities have faced and are facing. I have no idea what I am exactly searching or aiming for, but I know that even if learning makes me feel sad, angry, and hopeless, it’s a much needed foundation. I also need to know what I am fighting for – whatever that may be – right?
Side note: Originally, I wanted to write a post on cliches/old sayings/ idioms that I would use to describe the literature we read. However, I decided that it just makes more sense to include it in this post, so if you noticed, there are several cliches/old sayings/ idioms here…
It took me a while to build up the courage to reflect on this book. Fox Girl by Nora Okja was so beautifully written, but so incredibly heart-breaking.
When I imagine Korea, I think of vast oceans, development, music, idols, and industry. I don’t imagine a country that has been forever altered by a war, I don’t imagine the American military. I’m glad I remember Korea for those things instead of the latter, but why do we only imagine certain countries like Vietnam as “war torn”.
In class we discussed the act of choosing what to remember rather than “forgetting”. Forgetting implies accident and no intentions to do something. Can we really say that America has forgotten certain things? I think of the Japanese Internment and how America has specifically chosen to leave that out of so many history books. I think of how Hawai’i was forcibly taken from the Natives but has been written off as “ceded”. People have not forgotten these things, but knowingly chosen not to remember them.
Fox Girl, reminds us of the things that have been chosen not to remember about America’s military presence in Korea. Many Asian countries have been criticized for their sex-industries, but to criticize the countries requires one to acknowledge America’s part into creating those industries. Fox Girl allows us to see why prostitution and sex-trafficking was and continues to be so prevalent in South Korea. The country was suffering because of the war and with the military presence, the sex industry began to take roots. In a sick and twisted way, the system has been cited as the savior of the economy in South Korea, now with 94 million cases of prostitution occur every year, bringing in more than a $13 billion a year (Eddie Byun). Fox Girl was hard to read, not just because of the sexual violence, but because the story showed how the US military began to create a condition where the country could not survive without it. When Hyun Jin was disowned and Sookie left for the Monkey House, she had no where to go but to the Lobetto and the brothels. And even though, Hyun Jin did eventually escape the industry, it was clear that not everyone was so lucky. Sookie, stuck in the industry since the young age of eight, was stuck and knew she could not escape. Ultimately, deciding to never leave. A never-ending cycle of trauma.
Korea isn’t remembered as a “war zone”, but Fox Girl depicts a time when the country was one. It may not currently be the same “war zone” it was during Fox Girl, however, the residual effects of the war are still very much present.
By Ali Amin
Speak to me with your tongue while it is still free,
while your body is still yours.
Let your words travel through the air,
tumbling through clouds of dust that dim the sun.
Until they reach my ear
and so many ears, spilled onto the table,
Speak the truth while it is still alive, while lips, cracked and bleeding, can still move.
Time is beholden to neither lover nor tyrant.
Say what you must.
I will listen.”
Excerpt From: Samira Ahmed. “Internment.” Apple Books.
Although, I have conflicting feelings about Samira Ahmed’s book, Internment, I believe in its message that the wrongful imprisonment of marginalized communities is always possible.
Oftentimes, we look back on historical injustices like the incarceration of Japanese people and see them only as “things of the past”. Our neglect, indifference, and ignorance has caused these events to happen over and over again–though I do want to say “history is NOT repeating itself,” no, our lives are functioning within a predetermined spiral.
I have always hated the phrase, “history is repeating itself.” It’s overused, cliché, and implies that to a certain extent–that this “repeat” of history was escapable. However, if all these things were escapable, why does the oppression of people of color continue to prevail? Why do we have detention camps for undocumented children? Why are there re-education camps for Uighurs?
As long as we continue to reject that these events are happening because of the way we let society function and oppression thrive, these events will continue to happen. It is not something as simple as a “repeat.” These things are happening, over and over again, regardless of how hard we try to stop it because we are still trying to function within the same “spiral”. Until we break free of these predetermined futures and the spiral we are trapped in, we will remain stuck within the same cycle of oppression.
“Her watch had said six o’clock for weeks. She had stopped winding it the day they had stepped off the train” – When the Emperor was Divine, Julie Otsuka
We have all heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but what do we know other than the Japanese had attacked America? In my K-12 education, I sure don’t remember learning that there is a disproportionate number of US military bases in Hawai’i. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1945, which ordered the “relocation” of all persons of Japanese descent to incarceration camps. Why? Because they were Japanese and, thus automatically, a threat to national security. More than 120,000 first generation Issei and their Nisei children were affected – even to this day.
For the Japanese American girl in “When the Emperor was Divine” by Julie Otsuka, time had long stopped since she and her family were incarcerated. At the camps, there was literally no sense of time as they spent every single day waiting. Waiting for their father. Waiting to go home. Waiting for normal to return. But life can’t return to normal. In the three and a half years the family was imprisoned, many things had changed already – including themselves. From unconsciously sleeping together in the same room to quickly finishing their meals after their release, these habits were a testament of their legacy as criminalized “enemies.” Returning home wasn’t as simple as pressing an “unpause” button. They had to make sure not to trouble or offend anyone; they made sure to be the first to apologize even if they didn’t do anything wrong. They had to rebuild their trust with their peers and their neighbors and vice versa. In this America I know of, healing is so hard when her apologies often manifest in a monetary reparation and/or in a document that “acknowledges” the violence and trauma she inflicts on communities of color.
When life drastically changes, we can’t pause time and expect to return to “normal.” As we are ordered to stay at home and practice social distancing, this time of uncertainty is daunting and can be emotionally exhausting as we wait and wait and wait to go back to school, work, and hang out with friends. Of course, I don’t think it is fair to compare our experience during this pandemic to Japanese American incarceration, but I do hope we can learn to understand and accept that things will change – whether that is our attitude, our habits and routines, and more. Maybe this is too optimistic of me, but rather than being consumed with hate, frustration, and stress, how can we be present for each other and for ourselves?
It has already been two months since we first received the move-out notice in March. In the beginning of this semester, we hardly thought about the coronavirus having such a huge impact on us because of its “distance.” I still remember how I was worried about missing my friends when I go study abroad blocks 7 and 8, conflicted between which summer block abroad I wanted to take, and excited about my Venture Grant. While my plans soon became “unplanned,” it’s funny how things also worked out as I switched into classes by two amazing professors.
For many of us, this has been a bittersweet time as goodbyes were hurriedly said – or not said. For the seniors, they’ve also worked so hard and they won’t have a ceremony that solely belongs to them. I believe that many of us aren’t just aiming for this piece of paper to recognize the efforts, the stress, and the tears of these years. Rather, there is a sense of nostalgia for the memories and friendships formed at CC. And, I guess there is also a moment of finality and accomplishment to be able to walk up the stage to receive their diploma.
To all the people I know who are leaving – college isn’t easy and you guys did it. We don’t know what is going to happen during this time, but what I do know is how funny, insightful, and beautiful you are. Thank you for being such patient mentors who constantly inspire me to be more kind, passionate, and also skeptical. That’s right. “Skepticism” may sound cynical, but I believe it’s a spark of curiosity to question and have conversations. Although our time together was short, I am very glad to have met you and I hope we can continue to be in good health and may we stay in touch 🙂
Today, I will be reflecting on my our discussion about “true war stories”.
During the first week of class, one of the stories we were asked to read was, Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice by Nam Le. In the story, the narrator is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to “sell out” and write his father’s “ethnic story”. His ability to choose is ultimately taken away from him when his father burns the only copy of the story. While highlighting the dissonance between two different generations of Asians and Asian Americans, the story also touches upon the desire that many second generation Asian Americans have: to have a story.
Nam Le’s story made me reflect on my own desire to “have a story”. When I was growing up, my family made our country’s history very clear while simultaneously keeping their history silent. I used to make up different versions of how I thought my parents grew up and believe them to be true. “They crossed this river at this time,” etc., etc., just so I could build my own story from it.
Doing this was the only way I kept myself tied to my Tibetan identity growing up, but I have since learned that not every story has to be a devastating immigrant story to keep me tied to my identity. However, society places more values on those stories, which is why Le’s character so desperately wanted to tell his father’s story. He was not only hoping that it would make him money, but that the story would help him find himself as well.
Every child of war, displacement, and of genocide survivors have ties to trauma, that is inescapable. No matter what form our traumas take, they are all valid and they are worthy. Nam Le’s story reminded me that I don’t have to morph my or my parents’ experiences into something it is not. It also reminded me, that we don’t need to have “stories”, but we do need to validate each other without hidden agendas.
Last Friday, we read When the Emperor was Divine, a story about a family’s experience during and after the Incarceration of Japanese peoples in America. By reading the story, it became more understandable as why so many internees were quiet about what happened to them. It wasn’t so much the time they spent in the internment (though this definitely had seriously detrimental effects), but what came after. The family in the story were ostracized and ridiculed for something they can not change; their identity. It is possible to change your name, the color of your hair, but this family could not change the fact that they were Japanese. And what’s worse, they too hated themselves for being Japanese. The children would apologize for any slightly mistake, regardless off whether or not it was their fault, and what was possibly the most painful to read, was the mother’s fear of being alone as it might cause her identity as Japanese might become more transparent (196).
In Pilgrimage, the children of the internees are seen taking a stand and protesting the internment. They frustrated that they didn’t know such a big part of their families’ history and when I first saw this, I understood that anger. However, as time goes on, it feels difficult not to also understand their parents’ silence. How are you supposed to talk about a time where the entire country hated you to your children? Do you risk passing on trauma to them for the sake of honesty or stay silent? For the next generation, it was a time to figure out their history and ask for redress and although that may have been difficult, it would have been more difficult to protest if they were carrying memories from that time like their parents were.
Reading the story was hard because it made me confront my own anger towards my parents. I was so upset for so long because they had left me in the dark about their history, even now I don’t know the full story of their experiences. I blamed them for their silence, but I completely forgot to take their feelings into consideration.
I am still curious about their history, but I know now to have more patience.
For class today, we were asked to read Thannha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. I remember passing by the book in my school’s library when I was in elementary school, but I never really had the urge to read it. Poems were short and confusing, while books like Harry Potter were long and fantastical (meaning it didn’t really require me to think for too long). But reading Inside Out and Back Again now, even though it is a children’s story, was healing. Lai’s story was moving (to me) because of the childlike innocence the story has. I really felt like I was reading from the perspective of a child, especially when Ha talks about how, “no one knows,” that she buys less food so she can buy more treats, which makes her feel “smart” (31). When I was younger, I too thought I was smart and that I could get away with anything (i.e, playing my gameboy under my blanket when my mom said go to bed). However, part of growing up is learning that your parents knew what you were doing all along. Ha too learns that her mom knew all along that she was buying less pork to buy fried dough (231).
Ha’s confession signified growth and development in the way, she was growing older, admitting her secret wrongs. Unlike the other stories we have read, Inside Out and Back Again zones in on what a meant to to be a child during war. It showed what it felt like to not understand what was happening, the loss of something you never really had, and how it felt to see the things and people you love all from the perspective of a child. The story is so heartbreaking because we all understand what it was like to be at that age, ignorant, scared, (sometimes) selfish, and angry. It is so was easy to understand how Ha and her siblings felt, which made Lai’s story all the more accessible to both children, and adults.
The class is coming to an end this week and its a bit of a bittersweet moment for everyone. On the one hand, we will have more time for ourselves and relax. On the other hand, this class has been one of the most reflecting classes I have ever taken and… well not being in it anymore is going to be a little saddening. Asian American/Asian studies have been a way for me to explore my identity in a predominantly white space, for which I am always grateful.