Creative

See creative writing and art by and for the Asian American community.

South Asian. Lived in East Asia. International student. Daughter of immigrants. South campus major. Where is the “artist” in these labels? Where is the Disney Princess movie being made about my life?

Are the mammoth residential buildings housing hundreds of families in Hong Kong not worthy of Walt Disney’s magic broadcast worldwide?

As a young Indian girl who grew up in Hong Kong, I struggled to find the words I needed to express myself. Silence was easier, except when trying to guess what dinner was from the spices’ aromas in my mom’s kitchen, or trying to guess what my dad brought from the roadside stalls after a long day at work. Having ju cheung fan right before a dinner with paneer tikka masala was not uncommon at home. The intensely different textures and tastes were second nature to my mouth. Yet the defiance of my mom’s cooking or my existence was not ever worthy of celebration in a city where Brownface is prevalent throughout mainstream media. My parent’s murtis and rituals during Diwali were too “foreign” and “weird” for “Asia’s World City”. For that young girl, I threw myself into INDUS at UCLA in hopes for a space to celebrate my messy identities and to find the words that I could never find even amid calligraphy during Chinese New Year, or henna (ha…) patterns adorning my hands.

The United States of America is no better.

The land of opportunities, filled with diversity, was sold to me at a UCLA information session. Yet here, it became even harder to determine my identity. I never expected to be so sharply pigeonholed into the paths of either doctor or engineer. Nor did I expect the persistent, probing question, “but no, where are you really from?”. The competing Cantonese, Hindi, Sindhi and English always leaked a “foreign” accent that can’t be “hella” enough. I was still too “weird” for this place.

What is the purpose of a “cultural melting pot” when all we do is tokenize the members of it and feign representation; it’s really just a chamberpot of lies and further disempowerment.

Whether in predominantly white spaces, or AAPI spaces, I am told that my narrative does not matter; that the narrative of my resilient grandparents, who all fled religious persecution 70 years ago does not matter.

Every day as a South Asian in the diaspora is a struggle that is unacknowledged. Even writing for Pacific Ties Newsmagazine that chose to rebrand itself from AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) to APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) is a tip of a hat to that struggle of the expression that we try to bring forth.

I am in awe of the resilience of the artists that are coming to the first ever UCLA South Asian Art Week, and I am in awe of the students I have worked with in the past six months to make this series of events happen in a world where fundings for the arts has decreased even more.

For that young girl in me who was unsure of how to express herself, I will try to wipe her tears when she realized she would have to work thrice as hard to express herself as an Indian, as a girl, as the kid who was labelled the “foreigner” in her Chinese local school.

You finally get to hear from successful authors that look like older versions of you in a publishing panel on May 31st.

Here’s to my best friend Christina, who dragged me to every art gallery as I slowly fell in love with contemporary art created by people of color, who resisted conforming to stereotypes of banality and lack of creativity. She made this happen for me in a city not known to be “cultured enough” for the arts. She made this happen when conversations about diaspora are always America-centric or Euro-centric, and I struggled to find a place for myself.

Come to the artist mixer to meet South Asian artists, performers, actors and create community with them on June 1st.

Here’s to the third culture freshman who was enthusiastic to embrace diversity and was looking for community to bring back expression to her life and the lives of so many of her friends, who forgot it at all as they paved their own ways towards being doctors or engineers. We were never just scientific professionals. Let’s reclaim the arts from the ostentatious monuments created by centuries-dead kings, and breathe life into ourselves to create more art.

We speak now on May 31st during a spoken word night, and we celebrate the films created by our peers in a film festival on June 2nd.

Here’s to fighting the fractures in our own community, to fighting APIDA hierarchies to actually elevate Desis within this strange encompassing label, and to resisting power structures that stamp down on the hands and labour of people of color every day, whether it is on this campus or beyond.

Here’s to the stories that were “too mundane” or “too ethnic” to make the final cut in the galleries, the publishing lists, and the performances.

Here’s to always celebrating the diasporic identities we have found for ourselves, whether temporarily or permanently.

Join us in our journey to create community for generations of the past, present and future.

Join us Week 9 for the inaugural UCLA South Asian Art Week.

Dear My Immigrant Parents,

I want to start by asking you both a question. What was it like moving to a country where you would start off with a clean slate, from your social circles to your education, and even the way that you would assimilate into society as individuals? I ask because I cannot imagine the work that must have been put into moving from a culture that stressed the importance of collective identity such as India, to one in which the focus is on the individual before the family.
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Mom, this must have been so hard for you. I know this to be true because you pride yourself on family values and have built your maternal empire in the U.S. on the importance of family. I can only imagine the loneliness from sitting at home waiting for Dad to return from work so you could have a sense of familiarity in an unknown country.

Dad, I know those nights were not easy for you either: having Mom wait for you at home while you work during the day and take classes at night to attain your graduate degree to make ends meet. You had a lonely bride and tons of responsibility both here in the U.S. and in India. That responsibility came from taking care of your family back in India and your family out here in the states.

How did you two do it? How could you share such a small apartment in Culver City with multiple people? I am sitting in my apartment in Westwood attending the same university that you did Dad, but the main difference here is my support system is 30 minutes away, while your support system was oceans away. I am not on my own.  I am not putting in the same amount of work for my opportunities. I have no burden of responsibilities on my shoulder. Why? Because my parents made the choice to move to this country and give me the freedoms that they did not have. I visualize the struggles that you both went through to make it in this country. There were  cultural and racial barriers to overcome, and you went the extra mile when it seemed impossible, with all the sleepless nights, blood, sweat, and tears to achieve your dreams.

Mom, when you tell me “It’s not that I did not have a career Sabreen, I did work when we first moved to the country,” tears roll down my eyes because you never have to justify that you were a career woman, my respect and appreciation for you is trifold. The work that you’ve done to support Dad when he was rising in his business, and the buses you took through the Rodney King Riots to get to work were enough to generate multiple opportunities for many generations to come. The sacrifice you made to stay at home and raise Shefa and me, gave us plenty of opportunities for the future. You made it Mom, your career will pay back in the best dividends, we promise. Thank you Mom.

Dad, you came to this country with less than a thousand dollars in your pocket. Yet, my tuition at UCLA is much more than that. You allow me to study without the fear of not having fees for the next quarter, compared to the time you wondered whether you would be able to pay fees and the apartment rent while you were a student.

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Without your sacrifice, I would not have the type of time freedom that I do right now, the ability to pursue my dreams without having to worry about my constraint on time during the day, whether it be from a part time job or work study. I am grateful, that I can allocate all my time to pursuing my goals without any responsibilities weighing me down.

To my immigrant parents, I thank you with every cell in my body; your efforts will be paid back in the smallest amounts of happinesses throughout your life, but never will we be able to pay you for all that have you done for us. The sacrifices you made for us were so monumental that they will impact many generations of our family to come.

Yours Truly,

Ever Grateful Child

    1. You learned to refuse gifts until the the 3rd time before you finally allowed yourself to accept them.
      screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-1-27-03-pm
      Photo courtesy of @butterchickenlover (Instagram)

       

    2. Your household had a collection of complimentary hotel soaps, shower caps, conditioners and shampoos.

3. When you were growing up the kids at school thought you had a disease because of your mehndi but now it’s “aesthetic.”

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-1-31-56-pm

4. When you had at least one year of school where you dressed up as an “Indian Princess” or “Jasmine from Aladdin.”

Me with my 4th grade teacher, circa 2004
Me and my 4th grade teacher, circa 2004

5.When you asked your parents if you could hang out with friends you got this response:

Photo courtesy of @butterchickenlover (Instagram)
Photo courtesy of @butterchickenlover (Instagram)

 

6. You give your grandmother/mother a heart attack when putting marriage on the backburner.

Photo courtesy of @insta.single (Instagram)
Photo courtesy of @insta.single (Instagram)

 

7. When “maths” were more important than anything else.

8. You had to clean your room whenever anyone was coming over.

9. Your mom always lies about the time.

10. Which makes you never, never trust anyone who says “We’ll be there in 5” (IST FTW)

 

 

By Jenny Huang and Andrew Lopez

This poem represents a dialogue between the Philippines and the United States that attempts to portray the relationship of the two countries during the Philippine–American War (1899-1902), throughout the US colonization of the Philippines (1998-1946), and arguably after.

“Dualities of a History”

Salvaging the savage

To rescue, recover, reclaim

Like a ship lost at sea

Savage you are to blame

Uncivilized and free

Monkey is your name

Uncontrolled, uneducated, violent

Here you ought to remain silent

Cross-eyed, knees bent

Let the U.S. represent

You call us savages

Have you looked in the mirror lately

Perpetual madness

Centuries sacrificed but still not free

Our backs are your stepping stones

As the gateway to China

You chew and spit out our bones

Like the milkfish we dine on

We were promised our independence

Yet it feels like a life sentence

The great empire’s destiny

To expand our territory

We come to your broken islands

Not invaders, but friends

Little brown brothers, why defend?

Amigos by day, guerillas by night

Such a dirty fight

Savages that need to be cleansed

Drop the guns and hold a pen

Accept your fate and assimilate

You hide behind good intentions

A nation full of politicians

You portray yourself with a business face

As imperialists, only to expand your space

Like so many more before you

Who’s footsteps do you need to follow?

Even if desired, we could never be brethren

This is the colored man’s burden

To always look up to a higher power

Not a god or a deity, but a man with desire

We are your salvagers,

Looking down like guardian angels

Assisting with food and medicine

It is the White Man’s Burden

To make human you half-devil, half-child

To take you from the wild

And give you degrees, not diseases

We had a little splendid misunderstanding

An unnecessary insurrection

Since 1898, you were freed

Salvaging the savage

Placed under the same roof

Native Americans, African Americans

Our skin dictated the truth

The truth that textbooks hide

I guess that’s just national culture

Because as long as we close our eyes

The past will remain our future

I remember God telling me

I am a savage

By Jenny Huang, Andrew Lopez, Jazz Kiang, Tiffany Guo, Daniel Kim and Gensei Kawahara

“Unanswered”

We speak for equality

Destroy the patriarchy

Power in the world

Opposing sides of a coin

Are we heads or tails?

We were the unheard

They laughed when we tried to join

But we cannot fail

A tail has no voice

As a penny on the floor

But still holds value

If given the choice

Would we still want to look down

Or have a new view?

We remove our veils

The potential to be both

While being the heads

We will be the tails

We have all of the power

We stand as the end

We speak for equality

Destroy the patriarchy

Patriarchy isn’t colorblind

Women of color haven’t been recognized

They say women got the right to vote in 1920

White, brown, black, and yellow women were of plenty

Yet suffrage wasn’t meant for women of the working class

Just the ones with white fences and green grass

Feminism says that we’re women so together we stand

But how come you won’t hold my pigmented hand?

We’re all in this fight equally

Stand up to the hetero, cis, white, man, the bully

We speak for equality

Destroy the patriarchy

Not a single cut more,

distress and pain galore.

Our hearts have bled,

ouch!

but look we have never fled.

Not a second more,

tick tock!

time to act in valor.

Join us in alliance

Fight!

rebel and rise up in defiance.

The movement feels rough during tough times,

But ten pennies weigh more than a dime

Don’t get lost in sorrow,

heads up!

there will still be a tomorrow.

Where should we find an answer for equality?

Shoulder-to-shoulder,

march,

show them who is bolder.

No, it’s not provocative,

look in the mirror,

It’s our prerogative.

Icons last forever in patriarchal memory

But the real lions are women in our families

Grace Lee Boggs, Nobuko Miyamoto, Yuri Kochiyama

Their legacies are more than just periods and commas

We speak for equality

Destroy the patriarchy

When you say you do
You don’t know where I have been
Judge me by my skin

When you speak to me
You don’t know what I can see
Judge me by my eyes

All of these problems
All of these outer demons
All of these are you

You single me out
Is it me or my background
Or just how I look

Push me or kick me
Afternoons of misery

All of my issues
All of my inner demons
Are all caused by you

It takes time to cope
I still go through the process
I want to progress

I know my own skin
I accept the way I am
I know my value

When tomorrow comes
I’ll be a better person
Not afraid of you

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