I recently discovered that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Seem like a long name, but I suppose it’s sufficiently inoffensive and descriptive.
There seems to be some who take offense at the “celebration” of it. I remain noncommittal about it.
When I was younger, I didn’t make much of an effort to read books about or by Asian Americans. It wasn’t until my 20s, when I actually went to China, that I decided to seek out those books. The first book I picked up was The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. It is a delightful book exploring the lives of four Chinese immigrant women and their daughters. And while I loved the book, it didn’t have as profound an effect on me as the next book I read, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. It is probably one of my favorite books of all times. Her story-telling and use of the language is amazing, but the way she parallels old Chinese tales with modern life as an Asian American is where she astounds me.
Li-Young Lee is an amazing poet. I love his work as a poet, not merely as an Asian American poet. Also, check out the work of Marilyn Chin. She writes poems that are almost painful in their approach to being Asian.
I don’t write many poems that start to slip into the political, but this is one I wrote that I think would be appropriate for this month.
Dark Feel in Yellow Skin
being neither white nor male
raise my gaze
peel labels from my back
at imagined mailorderbrideclothes
footprints off my forehead
I carry my lack of accent
in my purse
next to social security
in case anyone asks
23 April 2003