My feelings re: Minor Feelings by Cathy Hong Park
Cathy Hong Park describes minor feelings as “emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed”.
Minor feelings are a lot like cognitive dissonance. The biggest lie in the Asian immigrant community is that we should be “grateful”. We should be grateful because despite the generational poverty and racism and trauma we face, our counterparts in the third world have it even worse.
Grateful and Angry. I can never reconcile these two feelings. My family immigrated in 2004. Stayed with relatives for a while before my mom saved enough to move us into a mobile home park. 8 years later, we finally got off the waitlist for section 8 housing. Every single year of my life, my living circumstances have gotten significantly better. 16 years later, I got my first single room when I became a resident assistant in college. Now, I get to travel all the time, eat out whenever I don’t feel like cooking. The other week, I even spent $70 on a pair of jeans. And I mean I’m grateful for all of it. Or at least, I feel like I should be. But really, the gratitude feels grossly misplaced. When I really dig in, my gratitude feels like I’m putting on a show- mostly for my parents, maybe even for white people, for the old white lady who bought my brother’s school supplies the first year we were here, or for the churches who sponsored the first wave of Vietnamese immigrants after the war. I want to say that I’m grateful, just so their sacrifices meant something. Because isn’t that the worst possible thing? To sacrifice for nothing.
It’s worse than nothing, it’s a waste.
Growing up poor, I don’t think there can be anything worse than waste.
The more I read and listen and study from radical thinkers like Cathy Park Hong, I realize that I’m not that grateful. And it’s okay. I’m not grateful because my parents didn’t choose to sacrifice their lives. They were forced to. And that, I can be angry about. They were forced to leave Vietnam because we had no chance there. The U.S. made sure of that when they bombed the country to oblivion for their sick power games. Games that took millions of lives, including my own. In another life, I could’ve grown up in my home country. I would be a fluent Vietnamese speaker, going to college in Saigon, immersed in a sense of connection and belonging that I will never be able to feel here.
The only time I’ve ever been back to Vietnam was in 2008, for my cousin’s wedding. My mom took me to a mountain that had some religious statue on top. The walk up was gruesome, not because of the insane elevation or steps. It was because of the victims of the U.S. ‘s chemical warfare scattered all over the sides. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. burned the cities with napalm and agent orange, killing millions and leaving the rest with a legacy of painful illnesses and birth defects. Infants born without legs, arms, or faces. They grow up to be adults and they lay alongside these mountains so that when tourists come, they’ll leave them money. My mom brought a ziplock full of cash to give out to these people when we went. I guess that’s all we can do. Try to infiltrate the system and redistribute little by little. I have no interest in finding my “place” in America anymore. I think immigrants need to move beyond trying to “find our place” because really, our places are gone. The U.S. destroyed them with their wars. We didn’t choose to be a part of this story. If I had a choice, I would probably be in my native country and it would still be rich, with fully formed bodies untouched by agent orange and cultures not plagued with generations of PTSD. But I guess for now I’ll just be “grateful” that I still have a chance to learn and honor the legacies the U.S. tried so hard to squash with all that napalm.