Everyone has a story itching to be told. In light of the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, this article aims to be a collection of authentically told Asian stories. By sharing our experiences, we hope to showcase the diversity in the Asian community and enable accurate and holistic representation. Enjoy a few stories from members of the Dear Asian Youth and TV Wasteland community.
Riya Watches Her Sisters Fight for Honour (The Last Barfi)
5th October 2019.
Durga Puja is Riya’s favourite time of year—
this year is no different. Music swells
in the belly of her mother’s kitchen as she recites another prayer
before the day’s end. Riya would like to pray herself,
but struggles without Ma’s direction,
aware of her inevitably incorrect diction.
She prays anyway. Thank you for my family,
thank you for these blessings.
She scoops pomegranate into her mouth,
pops its skin with her teeth, relaxes into the sweet,
in the midst of her didis’ debate
over who gets the last barfi,
the final milk diamond on a silver plate.
Gita unpins layers of orange cloth from her blouse
as Mahua, adorned in pink, devises a fair game.
Riya can be referee. (She can’t eat pistachio barfi…
a stupid allergy. Apparently, God has a sense of humour.)
Rock-paper-scissors would be too easy,
halving it too diplomatic.
A sword fight, Mahua suggests. Whoever wins their honour
takes the treat. Gita, ever the eldest, sighs
but stretches in preparation.
The clash of the century!
Where had they left the wrapping paper rolls?
Riya meets her mother’s gaze, the golden warmth of her affection,
as Mahua shimmies out her gown, takes a battle stance.
She has the advantage: three years younger, trained by Ma in dance.
Ma approaches, kisses Gita on the forehead,
pinches Mahua on the cheek. Bestowing armour.
“May the best woman win!”
Blink of an eye, Ma sticks out her tongue, swipes the barfi, chews
heartily. Her daughters are too busy sparring.
She winks at Riya, giggling to herself.
Riya laughs in return. The October sun rests easy.
– Uma Biswas-Whittaker
When I was younger, my mind was young and impressionable—fresh, like a mound of malleable clay waiting to be molded into something of value. Countless hands have formed my mind, their lives impacting my own in some shape or form. Dearest family, closest friends, and strangers I haven’t even met yet—endless fingers have molded me as an individual, leaving imprints without an outward mark. Yet clay is also fragile. It can crack under external pressure. It can break if it’s not handled with care. Could the same go for me?
Over the years, countless people have tried to shape me to fit their standards. Usually, their hands barely leave a mark: the subtle digs at my eyes, the attribution of my accomplishments to my heritage, and the offhand remarks about my food were simply normal. However, amidst the pandemic, the hands have been especially rough and unwieldy. On the outside, I may be physically unaffected, but not everyone has been so lucky.
Is it just that there has been a more than 800 percent increase in racist incidents against Asians in the last few years, making me terrified to walk down the street? Is it righteous that my success in school is attributed solely to my race? Is it fair that people poke fun at my outward appearance, mocking the features I cannot control? This year, I realized that I’ve never truly been safe, and I won’t ever be unless I advocate for myself.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s a month of making my voice heard and paying homage to the lives of those who came before me. It’s a month of being loud and proud and celebrating my culture, despite all of the hands that try to deface, demean, and diminish it. It’s a month of growing into myself and finally living up to my name. While racism fosters division, pain, and hate, speaking out against it facilitates unity, healing, and love. I am not soft. Unlike clay, no amount of molding and sculpting can change who I am. Unlike clay, I will not break.
– Justine Torres
I see my brown skin that identifies my race.
I see my dark hair that I run my fingers through when I’m daydreaming.
I see my upturned eyes with irises that can be as sweet as chocolate or jagged as the rocks upon which ships crash.
I hear my parents listening to the soft yet upbeat melodies of Khmer music that floats from the speakers.
I hear my cousins and aunts and uncles at a party, their voices raised to the point where everyone yells over each other.
I hear the blend of Cambodian and English woven in conversations, spoken as quick as lightning but as gentle as rain tapping against the window.
I smell the freshly cooked rice that greets me when I visit my parents.
I smell garlic and lemons and soy sauce, scents that fill me with the comfort of home and family.
I smell the smoke of the incense sticks after we’ve prayed to our ancestors.
I taste the salmon that’s been cooked to perfection and melts in my mouth.
I taste the sticky rice topped with mangos and covered in coconut sauce.
I taste the salt in my tears from laughing with cousins over childhood stories, arguing whose parents were stricter.
I feel the strength of our community when people see us as less than human.
I feel the resilience of my ancestors coursing through my veins.
I feel the pride in being Asian American.
– Eric Nhem
What They Saw
– Chris Fong Chew
Storytelling in Four Tongues
My multicultural tongue can only handle so many flavors.
In the beginning,
it was seasoned with the spices of Vietnamese stories until American milk washed it away.
Now, I can say “pho” and “cam on Ong Ba Ngoai”.
My mother’s tongue smells like four kitchens.
English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and French tickle her taste buds. She tells stories of adversity in perfect English, letting Hard “R”’s in “hamburger” and “fries” roll from her throat.
She has passed on one phrase to me in all four languages:
“My name is / me llamo / ten toi la / je m’appelle”.
(“I wish you could speak Vietnamese,” she would mumble, glaring at an angry customer in front of us.
Me too, Mom.)
I want to taste the tales of others and
Season my tongue with the cultures of the world.
I want to tell stories like my mother.
There are things that she tells me that cannot be translated into any verbal language. Her favorite phrase is “I love you”,
which is declared when she cuts fruit for me.
“I’m proud of you”
is hidden in between her teeth when she smiles at me.
“You are enough”
is within the slight head nod she gives me.
I want to learn Vietnamese again, but
My throat trips over all the accents and my
tongue gets stuck behind my teeth.
Oh well, at least I know what my name is.
– Alena Nguyen
– Kristie Lee
(Originally published in Inkblot Literary Magazine)
Snippets of Time
I’m a little over one. My Dad is taking me shopping at our local grocery store in Southern California. I’m wearing my pink striped pajamas and early 2000s pop music plays throughout the shop. When we go to check out, a nearby woman makes idle conversation with us, “Oh! She’s so cute!” She gestures at me.
My Dad smiles, “Thank you!”
“Where’d you get her?” The woman continues, “I’ve always wanted one.”
His smile drops.
I’m eight and being introduced to my new 3rd grade classmates. I’ve just been transferred to a new school in a wealthier part of town. The classrooms here are brightly decorated with paper and everybody has a desk. No one has to share textbooks.
When recess rolls around, I wander about the playground for a few minutes before I finally work up the courage to ask a group of girls to join their game of handball.
“But you have funny eyes!” One of the girls laughs and the rest join in. Everyone at my new school was equal parts perplexed and grossed out by my appearance.
I go home and burst into tears, begging my Mom to fix my squinty, hideous eyes. It takes everything within her to not cry with me.
I’m ten and my parents are struggling to explain the concept of race to me.
“Not very long ago, your Dad and I couldn’t have gotten married. It was illegal,” My Mom gently explains to me, “We have different skin colors.”
I look between her and my Dad, “Why would it be a crime?”
They both sigh.
I’m fifteen and mindlessly tapping my way through Instagram stories when I come across some by one of the girls that had bullied me in elementary school. “ALL LIVES MATTER,” she says, in bright red text, “STOP BEING SNOWFLAKES.”
I’m sixteen and I’ve just been labelled a traitor to the United States alongside some other young activists in my area by some parents on a school Facebook group. They flood our social medias with hatred and threats. They bombard our parents with complaints about our behavior.
I’m sixteen when I realize that racism doesn’t come from nowhere. It’s taught, like a language, dark and elusive. Hidden with euphemisms of euphemisms, often only visible when viewed through the eye of those who experience it the most. It’s woven into our society, into the way we raise our children and the way they will raise their children.
Racism is a disease that benefits the powerful and hurts those most vulnerable. It corrupts goodness and it’s everywhere. It must be killed as infections are – with identification and action.
– Zoe Leonard
It Isn’t Always Obvious
– Billy Agustin
Living in a Nightmare
It’s five in the morning. On a Saturday. Maybe it’s because I passed out from studying for my APs deep into last night that I forgot to turn off my alarm, but now I am awake and can’t fall back asleep at five in the morning. On a Saturday.
I lie in the little dent in my mattress I have created from sleeping in the same position for too long. Might as well read the news, hopefully I’ll find an article dull enough to put my body back into sleep.
If only I could return to this thought.
On the headlines of Apple News lies a CNN article that is titled, “FedEx facility shooting kills 8 in Indianapolis.”
The gunman was clad in black
Two assault rifles were found at the scene of the shooting
The FedEx employees were not allowed to keep their phones on their persons.
They could not
I finish reading the article. Why FedEx? The gunman was a previous employee at FedEx, but why would he target
Matthew R Alexander,
Karlie Smith, and
I try to rid the assumptions I have in my mind, try to stop forming them, because I cannot afford to believe.
I cannot afford to speak without my throat closing up.
So I silence myself.
But three days pass and now my passiveness has become deafening. I open up the news app, hoping not to see any confirmations of my quietened assumptions, but
I cannot escape the truth
On the headlines of Apple News lies a CBS article that is titled, “FedEx gunman visited white supremacist websites a year before carrying out his attack.”
I cannot escape the truth that
The gunman was a white supremacist,
and that four of the employees he killed
on April 16th, at 11 pm local time
were people whose skin
shared the same color
– Prerna Kulkarni
AAPI Spotify Playlist!
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Stories from Billy Augustin, Uma Biswas-Whittaker, Justine Torres, Eric Nhem, Chris Fong Chew, Alena Nguyen, Zoe Leonard, and Prerna Kulkarni
Artwork by Kristie Lee
Video editing by Ellie Weber
Playlist compilation by Joan Park
Social media graphics by Maiqi Qin, Sophie On, Lillian Han, Alena Nguyen, and Katie Rice
Organized by Lillian Han, Alena Nguyen, and Ellie Weber
Brought to you by Dear Asian Youth and TV Wasteland