j e n e v i e v e
May 18, 2017 · 3 min read
photo: isaac lam

last night a white homeless man yelled at me through my car window,

“hillary’s gone, hillary clinton’s gone”

i ignore him the way i ignore the fact that hillary never spoke for me

he then pauses and says,

“you eat dog”

it takes me less than half a second to remember the middle school taunts

the forced slanted eyes

the chorus of ching chong chang’s

the yellow always just beneath the white

i try to think of something clever to say but all that comes out is

“are you fucking kidding me”

i’m sitting in the car with someone who sees me

who knows that i am more than just a color

but she does not hear him


i do not have the stomach to repeat what he said

i think a lot about this silence,

about how often i don’t have the stomach to say what needs to be said

how often asian americans are read as silent even when we are calling out to you,

with our palms upturned and our arms outstretched,

how our bodies are a currency we can never afford,

how vincent chin would have been 62 today had white supremacy not taken him from us,

how the chinese exclusion act turned 135 this year and so did my patience,

how being chinese is about being patient when the fire is licking at your lips

how fen nu tastes a lot like an apology i don’t want to make

how being asian is an apology i never wanted to make

how whiteness has a way of making you say sorry for something that’s never been your fault

so let me tell you something about being Other,

about being on the other side of the car window,

how i wrote this poem with my teeth clenched

and my whole body held so steady in place by rage that i did not move a muscle,

how racism is an oil-laden field and lately

i am always a lit match,

how my eyes feel heavy with knowing i may always be seen as foreign,

as though i do not belong here,

and maybe the truth is that i don’t want to look like i belong here

because what’s so great about a place that does not honor its land, its ancestors, or its history

that equates immigrant with inconvenience

that loves its diversity but hates its reality

that speaks to my mother like she doesn’t know english

that speaks to me like i don’t know english

that lets the word chink cling to my brother’s body like a scarlet letter

that finds any excuse to feed into the difference —

what’s so great about a land of the free built on the enslaved

or a place that says “prove it” every time you say i’m from here

what’s so great about a homeland then

if it’s so rarely a home


so often a test —

one that we did not ask to take,

one that is conditional,

one that we cannot unlearn,

one that lingers on me like smoke

even as i roll up my car window

and pass silently into the night

j e n e v i e v e

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