[ a r t i c l e s ]
In Praise of Brown
[ 92Y #wordswelivein | June 10, 2016 ]
Sometimes I explain my mediocre Mandarin to Taiwanese shopkeepers by apologizing for my American birth. My tongue can make the sounds of my mother language, but still I find the words often don’t come, trapped between my head and my throat.
How Quickly an Unfounded Fear Can Become Reasonable Caution
[ The Atlantic | April 30, 2020 ]
What I’ve learned from my grandfather’s story is that there are terrible, historical moments in which a single choice or act of chance can define an entire life. That knowledge is bound to my bones. Inherited traumas are bodily memories, warnings from our ancestors that the world can change rapidly, that everything we take for granted can be lost to us and we must be prepared for the moment it is. These communal memories are meant to protect us, and yet in “normal” times, dwelling on them can hinder us from moving forward. I constantly worry over the possibility of regret, and I’ve worked hard not to let this fear paralyze me. To suddenly be thrust into my own moment of reckoning, faced with a choice whose weight I might not know until it was too late—this was a special kind of hell.
They All Laughed at Edwidge Danticat
[ Electric Literature | December 6, 2017 ]
It was only several years later, when I was already out of graduate school and I began meeting other writers of color, that I discovered that not only did other writers know of Edwidge Danticat, but that she was beloved. I watched other people’s eyes light up the way mine did when they talked about her work, or become bashful and shy like I did when meeting her at a signing. I listened to these writers of color — many of them descended from immigrants like me; many of them women, like me — talk at length about how Danticat’s work served as a model and inspiration to them. The longing, the inherited pain, the oral storytelling quality, the poetry, the magic, the duende — all of the things about Danticat’s work that speak to me were qualities that also spoke to these people. For the first time, I began to realize that it wasn’t that I’d had bad taste — I’d simply been privy to the way a white audience reads something when it isn’t intended for them, when it isn’t rooted in the language and cues that they have valued as “good.”
What My Immigrant Family Taught Me About Money
[ The Cut | March 22, 2019 ]
Although I grew up firmly upper-middle class, my Asian-American family has always operated on level of frugality familiar to many immigrants. We use stacks of washed takeout containers as Tupperware. We eat at buffets and go for the crab legs instead of rice, noodles, or potatoes. We hold onto bags of all types — plastic, paper, gift — because they can be reused. We strategically time our household purchases around the Bed Bath and Beyond coupons that arrive in the mail every few weeks. And we don’t get rid of anything that might still be functional, from shoeboxes to chipped mugs to single-wrapped toothpicks cribbed from a Chinese restaurant.
How I (Finally) Decided to Freeze My Eggs
[ Catapult | April 18, 2019 ]
The doctor then explained the nitty-gritty of the biology to me—the things I had wanted to understand but couldn’t figure out through Googling alone. There was the quantity of eggs I had, and then there was the quality of those eggs. Some women just didn’t have many eggs left, in which case egg freezing was a bad option because they would spend thousands of dollars only to retrieve a small number of eggs. I was good on quantity, but that wasn’t enough for me to feel relieved. Even if I could get a dozen or more eggs, there was no guaranteeing those eggs were any good. It was a binary, the doctor explained—each individual egg was either good or it was bad, and there was no in-between, no “sort of good,” no gray area.
A Letter to My Younger Self As You Begin Your MFA
[ Epiphany | September 19, 2018 ]
So let me tell you something else: Eugenia will graduate two years ahead of you. The two of you will become best friends. You will read each other’s work, feel safe to ask each other questions, share successes and failures, drink, dance, karaoke. You will grow together, without even noticing, your ideas on identity becoming more nuanced. And one summer, she’ll go off to Kundiman, a poetry retreat for Asian Americans, and when she comes back, she’ll tell you, “I thought about you the whole time I was there.” With her introduction, you will start to meet writers from that community, including founders Sarah Gambito and Joseph Legaspi, and you will jokingly—but not really—beg them to start a retreat for fiction writers, your desperation for the space electric beneath your skin. When, a few years later, they finally do and you get to go, it almost won’t matter, because by then the Kundiman family will already have become your family. And it will be this family that allows you to see, for the first time, in the flesh, who your audience is. They have faces that look closer to yours and names that feel intimate to you. They have cultural touchstones that you understand, and they understand, too, why you asked yourself the questions you did for so many years. In their presence, you’ll finally understand that when you write, you are writing for them, and what that means—what it really means to write for them is that you are writing for yourself.
I am writing for you.
I Am Who I Think I Am: On Finding My Identity in Taiwan
[ Research and Reflections: Fulbright Taiwan | November 23, 2016 ]
One evening, I was in Taitung, drinking beers outside with a friend who is part of the Amis tribe. It was dusk, and mosquitoes were buzzing around, biting my ankles and thighs. I told him about my questions, my confusion. I might have sounded a tad desperate, thanks to the alcohol.
“You know,” he said, “when my grandfather was alive, he believed he was Japanese, because he grew up under Japanese rule. My father believed he was Chinese, because he grew up under KMT rule. Today, I believe I'm Taiwanese, but of course I'm also indigenous.” He paused then, sipping on his beer.
“I think you can be who you want to be. I think being Taiwanese today means nobody can tell you who you are except you. Being Taiwanese means whatever you want it to mean.”
Thinking About My Future and My Fertility at Thirty-Six (and Eight Months)
[ Catapult | February 19, 2019 ]
The desire to be a mother, which I’ve intellectually had since a child and emotionally felt since I was in my mid-twenties, is now something that lingers inside of me like an omnipresent hunger. I am not always aware of it, but when it hits me—because I’ve read an article about IVF treatments, or because I’m visiting a pregnant friend, or because I’ve smiled at a random person’s baby on the subway, or because an advertisement appears with a picture of a cooing child—it hits me as a deep ache, one to which I’ve grown accustomed.
The Audacity to Dream: On Asian Women, Feminism, and My Grandmother
[ VIDA | December 8, 2015 ]
When I find it difficult to write, when I worry about being an Asian American woman in a literary landscape of white men, when I fear I’ve erred in giving up a practical career path to follow an unrealistic ambition, I think back to my grandmother. About how extraordinary she was for her time. About how much courage it must have taken to insist on the weight of her dreams.
Of Grace and Gold (A Personal Retrospective of Michelle Kwan)
[ Some Call It Ballin' | Issue 1: Winter 2014 ]
At a tender age, when I was trying to form ideas of who I was, who I wanted to become, who I could become, there was Michelle Kwan, showing me grace was beauty. You could pursue a dream with passion, precision and gracefulness. You could accept loss and setback with graciousness. And you could extend grace to people’s humanity, their missteps, their flaws, particularly your own.
Family, Fate, and Fortune Tellers: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Just Want a Baby
[ Catapult | August 6, 2019 ]
I still wanted the unknowable reason, the inexplicable attraction, the feeling of being swept away. I still loved men who were funny and passionate and interested in the arts; I still couldn’t stand men who cared only about their financial ambitions and showing off their latest technological gadget. But it was no longer enough for me to have a feeling about someone. It wasn’t enough that they made me laugh and stimulated my intellect and brought me soup when I was sick and watched all my favorite cheesy rom-coms with me. Now that I was on the other side of thirty-five, I couldn’t help but scrutinize any man I was considering for the answers to the questions that felt most pressing to me: Do you want children, soon? Do you want to get married, soon? Are you financially stable enough so that we could raise a family together, soon?
(Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult)
When I Froze My Eggs, I Wasn’t Prepared for the Depression That Followed
[ Catapult | October 16, 2019 ]
My depression dragged on for months. It was hard for me to feel joy, and it was made worse, still, because the people I most wanted to talk to—my best friends, my boyfriend—were people I thought might feel implicated by my sadness. I believed that showing how much I was struggling to my friends would seem selfish; that they would believe I was jealous of their joy, or that I didn’t appreciate how hard it was to be a new mother. I believed that showing how sad I was to my boyfriend would seem like a passive-aggressive accusation because he wasn’t ready to have a family. And I believed the people I loved would be right to feel this way—I was selfish; I was passive-aggressive; I had no right to feel sad, or to wish for someone in my life to see and understand why. This cycle will be familiar to anyone who has dealt with depression and self-loathing thoughts—you feel bad that you feel bad, which makes you feel worse.
What Does the Rest of the World Think About the U.S. Election?
[ The Establishment | November 8, 2016 ]
I want to assure the folks who ask me that America is just hitting a rough patch. That we’re on a rocky road to becoming that place that both they and I believe America can be. That at the end of the day, the will of the American people won’t be synonymous with hate, obscenity, and intolerance, but one synonymous with broken glass ceilings and a willingness to change for the better.
[ The James Franco Review | September 22, 2015 ]
I imagined the Asian American community inspecting my work for politics that would serve a collective agenda and jeering at me when they found none. I imagined a white audience dismissive of work that featured no lotus flowers, no tiger moms, no secret fans.
In a world where I saw white writers publishing a diversity of subjects and styles while marginalized writers were pigeon-holed into “ethnic” shelves, I yearned to have what the white writers had. I wanted their freedom. And part of their freedom, it seemed to me, was the ability to be apolitical if they wanted to be.
[ The Rumpus | November 7, 2017 ]
One time a total stranger walked up to me in Times Square and whispered in my ear, “I’m going to lick your cunt.” One time a drunk man sitting next to me on a bus kept creeping his hand up my thigh, even after I repeatedly asked him to stop. One time a man pressed his hard penis into me on a subway car for two stops. One time a man sitting on a bench shouted for a massage as I walked by. One time an older male client I was working with asked me to pick something up from the floor when I was in a skirt, and when I turned around, his gaze lingered on the lower half of my body before he smiled knowingly at me. One time a man I was dating kept me up all night while I was trying to sleep because he would not stop putting his fingers up my vagina, even after I pushed him away. One time, when I was twelve, a much older man stroked my face and told me I was beautiful. One time a man hit on me by telling me all of his favorite porn stars were Asian. One time, after I told a man I was casually dating that I didn’t appreciate how he would not stop groping me through the night, I was told he expected more play on the next date.
It’s Always Hot Pot Season in Taipei
[ Eater | March 6, 2019 ]
For the years that followed — through the rest of college and beyond — I had hot pot with friends many times, sometimes at all-you-can eat restaurants and sometimes huddled around a communal pot in someone’s dorm room. The meal became not just an excuse to gather, but an expression of togetherness rooted in our longing for home.
What I Did for the Chance to Have a Baby Someday
[ Catapult | May 22, 2019 ]
The first time I dreamt of you, I was in my mid-twenties. In the dream, I labored for what felt like an eternity and a mere minute (time being fluid and paradoxical in dreams), and then you were pressed against my breast. I could see the tuft of dark hair plastered against your scalp, I could feel the down of your skin prickle against my cheek. Your warmth filled my greedy body with something unnamable and I drank it in, the weight of you all that I had not known I wanted.
My Body, My Story
[ Indelible in the Hippocampus | McSweeneys | September 2019 ]
Reprinted in Catapult
There is a story that lives inside my body. My body does not lie. We say listen to your gut, but I have learned to listen with my liver, my lungs, my back, my sternum, my palms, my teeth. I have left men because their gas-lighting left my jaw sore; I have imagined my beloved’s departure and read love in the twinge in my chest. I have felt guilt trapped in the cold sweat on my spine, security in the bright light expanding in my lungs after laughter.
How Did I Get to Thirty-Five Without Really Understanding My Reproductive System?
[ Catapult | March 19, 2019 ]
On the ultrasound, my uterus looked like a staticky, bluish paisley shape. My ovaries were gray cavities, filled with clusters of tiny, shadowy boba. I could barely comprehend the images with my untrained eyes. And yet, when the technician pointed them out to me on the screen and explained what those fuzzy images were, I felt amazed, the way I’d felt when I saw Jupiter through a telescope. Except instead of a herculean planet, it was my body that was miraculous, this body I had carried around and lived in for the last three and a half decades. This was a universe that dictated entire swaths of my life—from my wardrobe decisions (no white pants today) to my understanding of my mental health (is this bad stretch hormonal or environmental or chemical?) to how I vote (stop legislating my womb). To be face-to-face with something so intimate, so essential yet still so mysterious—I couldn’t have predicted how much it would move me.
My Grandfather's Fateful Goodbye, Reimagined
[ Longreads | July 7, 2017 ]
In another few minutes, he will board the ship. I try to imagine this last moment: him waving from the side of the boat at the small sweet figure of his mother, she staring after the boat until it is just another gray wave upon the sea. I imagine my young grandfather turning his back on the skyline of his city, turning toward the adventure that awaits.
It is early 1949. In another few months, the Communists will win the civil war, and China will close its ports. Nearly four decades will pass before my grandfather steps back onto the soil of his hometown. He will never see his mother again.