All posts tagged: Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Joss

By PATRICIA LIU 

Image of a river and houses on a hill.

Yunnan Province, China

Paper is thin. In the beginning, still billows in the wind, still petal-like, still grounded in this world 

of living. The incense is the only material that translates the viscera to mist. Early, the fog has not yet 

lifted, and we move through the white drip as if through total darkness. Fish lost in the deep under-

water. It is easy for water to find home in our bodies. How wonderful it is to think my father’s

dead father a translation of our living selves, the water in-between my cells, the same water of

ghosts. Of women and Buddha, of lotus flower and palace, of lion. See the shine of fire, even

now. See the smoke, encapsulated by the fog. My father tells stories of the state’s inexorable beckoning,

the brothers, and the sisters, too, sent to the countryside. What they remember most is the truck

and the dust, the broad shoulders of horse, that first night and its stars, the mass exodus of dragonflies

following the monsoons—but no, exodus is uniquely a human endeavor. My father cannot bring 

himself to anger; he knows it is shame that is the ugliest language. Somewhere, I have lost my place 

in the life-wheel, and the only words I know in Chinese are our names. Jiayu is rain. Jialei is rosebud. 

Only years later do I learn that Jiayu means jade. Only years later do I long for pure, unadulterated 

fortune over the ritual of early rain. Somehow, turn face to sky. Here. In memory, to burn is to revere.

Joss
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Mother’s Tongue

By JENNIFER SHYUE

 

I remember I was talking to a colleague in the break area of a 2017 translation conference when a tall, snowy-haired man came up to us. (I say “remember,” but my memory is hazy. We are told to forget these sorts of incidents.) The interaction went something like this: The man walked toward us and, without preamble, planted himself before me to ask if I knew a noted translator from Japanese. The translator is Asian-American, like me. (Or—maybe there was a preamble; maybe he asked us our names first.) I felt my smile gelatinize on my face. No, I said. I had never met that translator.

Mother’s Tongue
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Split Me in Two

By CELESTE MOHAMMED

 

Kamala Harris is a dougla.

Without italics, you might be tempted to think that’s a typo or just bad copyediting; that I mean to say she “is married to a douglas.” But, on the off chance you are of West Indian heritage, you know exactly what I mean. You know dougla is a real word and you know it means the new Vice President of the United States of America is half-Indian and half-black.

Split Me in Two
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The Jews of Kaifeng

By ADRIENNE SU 

 

When the exhibit went up at Peachtree Center,
the Chinese of Atlanta flocked downtown.
Jews had been in Henan so close to forever,
they weren’t seen as foreign. And we had found
an exhibit on China that wasn’t old vases.
Jews were Chinese in more ways than food.
Migration was not always out of the places
our families had fled; it had once been to.
Our pantries were “ethnic” not just for the shrimp chips
and wood ears, but as well for the matzah.
Maybe, when asked, Do you celebrate Christmas?,
we were not being checked for Zen or the Buddha.
We didn’t say it in so many words.
The line between Asia and Europe had blurred.

The Jews of Kaifeng
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Notes on Camp: 2020

By VAL WANG

“John jumped.”

I had no idea what the short sentence meant, only that it came from the Bible and when I said it, all the other campers in my Bible study group laughed and I was off the hook for answering any more questions about God, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, none of which I knew anything about.

Notes on Camp: 2020
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The Idle Talk of Mothers and Daughters

By DANIELLE BATALION OLA

A statuette of the Virgin Mary stood guard as my mother and I sipped from glasses of wine cooler on our living room floor. We’d propped our front door open to let in the breeze, leaving only a flimsy screen between our shelter and the world outside. Every once in a while, we’d hear our neighbor calling for her wayward son or the laugh track of a sitcom playing too loudly in the next house over. We’d echo it with giggles of our own, seated on faux mink blankets from the Philippines laid over ceramic tile.

The Idle Talk of Mothers and Daughters
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The Mapmaker

By KAREN KAO

The Bund, Shanghai

The first time I went to China was in 1984. I didn’t need a map. You could only travel in groups back then with a government handler to navigate the way and guide thoughts. We travelled from Beijing to Xi’an in a decommissioned military airplane reserved for the exclusive use of Party leaders and foreign tourists. From Xi’An to Luoyang we took a train that required eight hours to cover a distance that now needs just half that.

The Mapmaker
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Ends of the Earth & Edges of Dream

By PIBULSAK LAKONPOL

Translated by NOH ANOTHAI

from By the Bank of Brokenhearted River

 

I’m thinking of a classic geography text that explains how humans use rivers and mountains to mark their borders. The difference is that rivers help humans come and go from each other while mountains keep them apart.
But from the textbook of my own travels, I know this isn’t true. The only real borders are those humans make themselves, in their own minds.

—Suddan Wisudthilak, Thai scholar

 

1.

Two years ago, I stood aghast at the sight of a little island in the Moei River, the border between Thailand’s northwestern Mae Sot district and Burma, on which refugees from the latter had made their home.

“This is it—this is what they call a no-man’s-land,” said my friend, a local provincial administrator, who’d taken me there. “It’s not only that they lack a military force. For me, it also means there’s no humanity. Just look.”

Ends of the Earth & Edges of Dream
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