I have been severed for so long. Born severed.
I can’t name it. I don’t want to say it.
I NEED SOME OLDER, WISER BEING TO CRY TO. I TALK TO GOD BUT THE SKY IS EMPTY.
This work represents the beginning of my efforts to process and express my psychic paralysis, fragmented identity, perspective, and purpose. I was influenced by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s expression of exile and anguish through the avant-garde style of her novel Dictee, which combines various forms, languages, and artistic mediums as if in a collage. Cha described the process of writing such a stylistically and biographically personal novel as being greatly liberating and cathartic: if writing is a refuge, then it must be that, a personal scream, before it is anything else for anyone else. I felt a degree of release and relief in the process of creating my final project, and the desire to capture this emotion led me to not alter or edit certain sections that were scrawled (or typed) as an immediate response, escape, or method of coping and understanding. Sections which run on and are especially grammatically and syntactically weak, as well as repetitive and rambling, were influenced by Cha’s interactions with grammar and poor syntax. I felt the stunted expression represented the feelings and craze created by exile, which would not feel truthful or cathartic if reformatted grammatically or strengthened. I experienced the writing process as a sort of expulsion or “vomit,” a way of ruminating on the experiences and feelings collected in the body and bobbing in and out of the conscious mind.
I don’t know how to begin. I don’t know how to start—it makes me feel crazy. I am in the space before the vomiting. The empty heaving. Weary, tired.
Beginning where you wish, tell even us.1
I have been severed for so long. Born severed.
I can’t name it. I don’t want to say it. I can’t express it. I want to extract it from inside and remove it examine it.
I feel born into the invasion. Engulfed in it. Drowning in it.
Dictée liberated Cha from her malaise. “It is hard to say what I feel, how I feel, except that I feel freed, and I also feel naked,” she wrote her brother John Cha just months before the book’s publication. The book signaled a step forward for her. It was, instead, her final act.2
She vomited it out. She only got to vomit it out
Her vomit her tongue her fragmented patchworked tongue her language her creation
she has calling because there no response she believe she calling and the other end must hear. The other end must see. the other end feel3
A tangled wiry ball, spit out, vomit out, untangle for yourself for your sanity, the process will bring on insanity, and after you’ve spat it all out, what then? How do you not collapse from exhaustion? How do you move forward how can you let it drive you? Let it radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.
Anger. Let it make you angry. And it makes me angry, but then quickly makes me empty.
This other kind of anger in time can prevent, rather than sponsor, the production of anything except loneliness4
I don’t know where to begin. Cannot think about talk about. I am constantly censoring myself. Censoring myself in varying degrees. Measuring. Calculating*
I don’t know how to face such successful hate, as they call it. It makes me feel like a crazy conspiracy theorist. I am searching for my history. I am searching for my story. Searching in the shadows. I search for myself in the dark.
I don’t want to name it.
I think about Cesaire and his joy in collective pain, collective suffering, collective identity. I think about him declaring the colonizers “weary.” I’m so weary from it all I don’t know where to find the strength. I can’t find the strength to vomit it out to birth it, it might kill me in labor.
[W]hat stray ejection misplaced / Tertium Quid neither one thing nor the other / Tombe des nues de naturalized / what transplant to dispel upon5
I feel plucked. Plucked out of the collective. Stranded collective pain.
I almost miss the before. The simplicity of the anger. The lightness. The distance. The righteousness. I can see why it is so easy. And why it’s so draining to try to pull it out of others.
I see shards of glass poke out of the flesh, they blindly keep them in. Keep them in and kill the body. Kill the body to avoid the pain now. Caress the glass. Baby the shards. Comfort them cede to them kiss them. When, or if, you pull them out you heave out. You scream You cry out. You contain the bleeding. You compress the wound. You compress the wound and gag your mouth and scream. You won’t kill the body. You won’t let the body be killed you will feel the pain. Will your body heal? Or will the next? You pull the shards out anyways.
They walk around with their shards sticking out. They brush past you with their noses up and their shards drag across your skin, run across your wounds and cut you open again. They smile they smirk.
You have no shards to protect you from them. You spat them out. Ripped them out. You are lonely you are naked.
I want to spit out. Reset the bone shove the joint back into the socket. I scream I thrash to let myself spit it out. But I struggle to I lose the words I lose the coherence of thought. It’s too concentrated it’s too bodily. I want to get it out.
I want to feel the collective. I want to feel true. I want to be truthful I don’t want to hide.
I’ve been collecting the poison. Organizing it in bursts. I’ve been collecting observing taking it all in. Preparing to expel. I want to expel it. Feel it more than the tangled dense mass it is now. Spit it out knead it out and see it. See it so I don’t feel insane.
[I]n attempting to witness, cannot escape the repetitive gesture of violence. [Violation unspoken will not be violated] There is a central aporia: if one represents, one risks reproducing, however slightly, the gesture of violence. But if one does not speak, one risks effacing the traces7
I pulled the shards out. But I haphazardly covered them in gauze and neglected them a while, unable to deal with the pain of dressing them again. Sometimes you are stuck, until you are stung, and you are reminded by the jab. The wound had become a dull pain, necrotic, but now you are reminded and you face it again.
The Chinese, 1.4 billion
Stop Asian hate. Stop asian hate please. I belong here I give myself to you. I promise I deserve to not be killed let me show you I deserve. Please love tolerate Chinese America I am not China I am chinese America. The “perpetual foreigner” the perpetual foreigner the perpetual foreigner we are not we are Americans we belong here we belong here we kiss the ground we give our flesh we give our past we wipe our memories Shut up shut up shut up shut up
Chinese American pride. American loving chinks China hating chinks. Run away from the Racist Hate throw yourself into the Racist Love. Did you know I don’t even speak? I can’t even write. I am such a bad Chinese, aren’t I? I am such a bad Asian. Shut up shut up shut up. I hate you I hate you
The unacceptable model is unacceptable because he cannot be controlled by whites. The acceptable model is acceptable because he is tractable. There is racist hate and racist love.8
I must spit it out. The spitting is a prerequisite. I pulled the shards out I must tend to the wound.
Swallows with last efforts last wills against the pain that wishes it to speak.9
The sanctioned transgressions have lightness. I must abandon the sanctioned transgressions.
[A] new establishment in which transgression is part of the game10
I have been coaxing W to take out the shards. I see him tire of the sanctioned transgressions. He tells me he has written too much on being Korean on being immigrant on being Asian American, he no longer wants to, it is milking it is tired
The sanctioned transgressions are against the extensions, the miniature brittle branches. Food smells, names butchered, aesthetics taken, whatever other repeated hymns, other permitted grievances which do not threaten empire.
There is no desination other than towards yet another refuge from yet another war. Many generations pass and many deceptions in the sequence in the chronology towards the destination.11
20% of the Korean population was killed in the war. As either direct casualties, or from starvation or exposure.
The People’s Volunteer Army. Three million Chinese personnel served in the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea by 1953. My great-grandfather 陈文镜 volunteered at 48, this would be his third time serving.
“Yeah, but that’s a good thing! I hope he’s more tough on China. Do you know what they’re doing?”12
Why do you feel comfortable saying this to me?13
Share 葱油饼 with me on Clement Street. Wander the aisles of New May Wah with me. Walk past signs advising to reconsider committing hate crimes with me.
I have miscalculated my censoring. Will adjust accordingly.
It feels dangerous. The tendrils of hate, the success of the hate. I need to dig around. I lose time digging around. Looking for proof. Looking for evidence so that they believe me. If I decide to speak. If I block my filter for a moment. I am scared. I fear the man in the seat next to me will see what I write. I fear he will see the picture of the great-grandfather and the star on his hat I am scared he will see “China” “Communist” and he will see my hair and my eyes. I’m scared the family sitting behind me will peer between the seats and see “DPRK” I am scared. I am scared he will see the pictures. I write with my screen black. I type into the darkness.
Yang described her “first breath of American air,” contrasting the “sweet and fresh” air to her hometown in China, where she reported wearing a face mask whenever leaving the house for fear of getting sick. “When I took my first breath of American air,” Yang waxed poetically, “I put my mask away.”14
“The fresh air of free speech,” as Yang put it, was a privilege only to be found in the United States.15
Freedom freedom freedom liberty free will free speech always so horny for free speech.
The Chinese The chinese free China free Asia China Bad china bad censorship bad guzzle it down lick your fingers suck down the last drops to sustain you the Government, not the people, not the people love the people hate the government love the people poor people help the people free the people Educate them poor brainwashed Chinaman poor downtrodden stray. 1.4 billion brainwashed machine made made in China robots, smart, ruthless, naive, brainwashed, phenomenally all incapable of critical thought. Gorge yourself on it. Poor Chinaman believes everything they tell him I heard. Save them. Save them by hating them. China bad poor Chinaman he doesn’t know Chinamen all repressed all suppressed need us need us. Evil Chinaman doesn’t even know he needs to be freed. We are free we are free. Pat me on the back pat me. Foolish China stupid china, china too smart must be stopped
In a salacious article titled “The Chinese Influence Effort Hiding in Plain Sight,” the Atlantic compared Chinese students in Germany, the United States, and Australia to “mushroom tendrils spreading unseen for miles beneath the first floor,” invisible to European leaders yet growing in nefarious power.16
Sneaky cunning deceitful naive manipulated mindless humanoid. A frail mushroom strangled by contradictions.
The racial regime of Chinese exclusion that had animated a transnational Chinese alliance in support of China’s national liberation gave way to Cold War tactics of contingent Chinese inclusion that sought to presage the U.S. battle for “hearts and minds” by symbolically integrating loyal Chinese Americans.17
I meet her for dinner. She, too, went to school in Hawai’i. A female friend? A Chinese friend? A safe person, perhaps. She wears a black leather jacket, I wear a brown leather jacket. We both sport black shoes black tights skirts that hit just below the knee. I joke about the NYU girl hive mind. She says she wants to work with me have me act in a project of hers. I smile and agree. (Happy to have an option clean of the questionable motivations of an art boy scouring for a way to be alone with you). She swings her “Liberals Make Better Lovers” tote bag onto the ear of the chair. We eat at a Chinese restaurant a few blocks from my dorm. I high-five the classmate who connects us, I say “Chinese-Korean solidarity!” she grimaces she jokes that she is made uncomfortable. She takes it back. I laugh. I laugh I am confused. I let her into my single. She comments on how she loves the decor how cool the posters are how much she likes the room. She sits. She sees my red framed preserved revolution poster. She frowns to herself she sucks her teeth furls her eyebrows. She scoffs. I wonder what she means by it. I wonder what would happen if I asked her. I remember to protect myself. But I can’t help but wonder what she might say. What she might spew.
A few weeks pass and she plans we meet again. My friend Zoe joins, they share a production class. I arrive at Daily Provisions. Sleep deprivation caffeine the border of exiting a depressive episode the remnant of my cold give me false lightness. I turn to Zoe and announce that I had a realization at the Holiday Market, that I have let myself become far too Americanized in appearance, that the mother-daughter team at the jewelry booth spoke to each other in Mandarin and to me in English. That I decided to respond in Mandarin to establish that I am like them I speak too. Speak some. I joke that it must mean I have become too Americanized in appearance that they would assume I cannot speak that I am not recognized not seen as Chinese. Zoe laughs, mostly at my delirious state and strangeness. She frowns lightly scoffs, ever so familiarly now. She returns to Final Cut Pro.
I am now on the other side of delirium. This jab this scrape this strike presents the wound to me again. I can access the wound again. I’m forced to access it again. I get to access it again. Dress it. Clean off the residue dress the wound.
We end up in my room again. She remarks she feels comfortable in this group that this dynamic feels good. She wants me to teach her some Mandarin and for us to teach Zoe Hawai’i talk. Next time we should invite Arina and Sofia, it can be a Chinese plus Zoe hangout, she says.
Yes, and the body has memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight.18
K gives me notes. He gives me words and requests mine.
My sister warns me, they want my flesh. I say no, he wants my words.
I meet him. He tells me about himself, proving his difference from the others, easing me in. We sit across his computer monitor, a few platonic inches between us. He offers to get us tea.
He returns and sits; I feel denim against the skin on my knee where my skirt ends. He politely asks for my pinky. Then my hand. My wrist. The nape of my neck. Hips. He asks for my lips, pauses, retreats. He tells me he sees my fear. He says to disregard his solicitation. I nod.
He asks for my eyes. He requests my lips. He requests pieces of me. I train myself to leave my body.
I go to my room. I feel my kneecaps fill the hollows of my cheeks.
I sit in lecture. K gives me a note. It apologizes for his transgressions.
He stops me as I leave. He tells me he must show me what he has written. He has new words for me he has lyrics for me. He says he took some of my words, so he must show me. I inhale. (This ought to be a cliche; at this point I figured it only existed in fiction.)
He eagerly tells me how he has reflected. He has been impassioned by our encounter and wants to show me the fruits of his creativity.
…manufacture your consent…
I nod. He asks what I think. I say that he seems to have an affinity for Noam Chomsky.
He laughs. He is pleased.
I go to my room. I sit until I can leave my body.
Wisteria finds me, he dries my shins.
How shall I find the strength to tear off my veil, unless I have to use it to bandage the running sore nearby from which words exude19
W walks me out. We sit down in the dining hall and I tell him about Hawaiian statehood and how I hadn’t thought about the Cold War connection before. I tell him how it was the first Asian American senator (a Republican representative) who led the movement towards statehood, and that in testimony to Congress he declared that statehood for Hawai’i, with its Asian majority population, would dispel communist allegations of US racism, comparing the projected effect of statehood to that of the Marshall Plan. I tell him how it is interesting that Hawai’i gained statehood in 1959, in the middle of the 1956-65 Chinese Confession Program. He nods and says he’s happy I’m learning about things that interest me.
Compromise. Compromise! Heal the world through compromise. Lesser of the evils, choose the lesser choose the lesser or die. Do the smart thing be logical be pragmatic realistic think about it a little more read a little more and you’ll get it. Choose the poison not the bullet do the smart thing. Odorless gas I want the odorless gas! The global south tells them it means nothing it does nothing. Shut up let us help you
A MAH-UHM variant inevitably exists in us, it must. It may have been forced into dormancy. To activate it you must take a stake to your own and try to control the bleeding. I want to free myself and others, we’ve been taught to guard it let it eternally hibernate and wither away into a mere symbol.
Oriental Jane Doe. “A woman who was found slain in a Chinatown parking lot was identified yesterday as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, 31, of 247 Elizabeth St.,”20
The pain feels like craze but the discarding of the shards is worth the pain. Cha freed herself undressed vomited created un paralyzed. She, too, wandered in San Francisco, Hawai’i, New York.
You are all the rest all the others are you21
I had never traced my history before. My direct blood history. Blood repulsed me.
It took me 18 years to learn that my great-grandfather participated in the Nanchang Uprising against the nationalists, that he fought against the Japanese imperialists in the 1938 Bombing of Chongqing and against the US in Korea.
After it was all over. You were heard. Your victory mixed with rain falling from the sky for many days afterwards. I heard that the rain does not erase the blood fallen on the ground. I heard from the adults, the blood stains still. Year after year it rained. The stone pavement stained where you fell still remains dark.22
I have the collective it may skew it may take labor searching digging, it may skip generations It lives. I remind myself teach myself again that it lives. I spit it out so I can try to let it live I learn to speak so I can live.
I remind myself, if they continue to lie, hate and oppose, then we are still there. We remain a threat and we remain. They continue to fight because it lives.
They would not go to these lengths take these measures if we no longer threatened
their hegemony their empire their exploitation
- stepping stone
- home, opening, entryway
- love and longing in separation
I invite him to join me at the People’s Forum to attend the Nodutdol annual fundraising event. He accepts.
- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee (W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library, 2020), 7
- Mayukh Sen, “The Radical Afterlives of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha” (The Nation, Aug. 2020), 19
- Cha, Dictee, 15
- Claudia Rankine, Citizen (Penguin Books, 2015), 24
- Cha, Dictee, 20
- Assia Djebar, Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade (Heinemann, 1993), 219
- Najat Rahman, Literary Disinheritance: The Writing of Home in the Work of Mahmoud Darwish and Assia Djebar (Lexington Books, 2008), 229
- Frank Chin and Jeffery Paul Chan, “Racist Love,” in Seeing through Shuck, edited by Richard Kostelanetz (Ballantine Books, 1972), 65.
- Cha, Dictee, 3
- Paul Bowman, “Bruce Lee Between Popular Culture and Cultural Politics,” Beyond Bruce Lee Chasing the Dragon through Film, Philosophy and Popular Culture (Columbia University Press, 2013), 54
- Cha, Dictee, 80
- Personal communication, August 2020
- Rankine, Citizen, 14
- Qiao Collective, “Can the Chinese Diaspora Speak?” August 19, 2021)
- Qiao Collective, “Can the Chinese Diaspora Speak?”
- Qiao Collective, “Can the Chinese Diaspora Speak?”
- Qiao Collective, “Can the Chinese Diaspora Speak?”
- Rankine, Citizen, 27
- Djebar, Fantasia, 219
- Sen, “The Radical Afterlives of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.”
- Cha, Dictee, 85
- Cha, Dictee, 85.