Fred Ho, a composer, saxophonist, writer and radical activist who wrote politically charged operas, suites, oratorios and ballets that mixed jazz with popular and traditional elements of what he called Afro-Asian culture, died on Saturday at his home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was 56.
The cause was complications of colorectal cancer, his student and friend Benjamin Barson said. In books, essays, speeches and interviews, Mr. Ho said he had been at war with the disease, his preferred metaphor, since 2006.
Mr. Ho, who was of Chinese descent, called himself a “popular avant-gardist.” He was inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and by the ambitious, powerful music of African-American bandleaders, including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and especially Charles Mingus. But he rejected the word jazz, which he considered a pejorative term imposed by Europeans.
Self-reliance was a priority for Mr. Ho. He rarely played in anyone else’s band. Among the exceptions were stints with the arranger Gil Evans and the saxophonists Archie Shepp and Julius Hemphill. Describing himself as a “revolutionary matriarchal socialist and aspiring Luddite,” he never owned a car and made many of his own clothes from kimono fabric.PhotoCreditJoshua Bright for The New York Times
Despite his determination to stand outside the mainstream, he found support from grant-giving organizations, academic music departments, which hired him as artist in residence, and nonprofit arts institutions, including, in New York City, the Public Theater, the Kitchen and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Born Fred Wei-han Houn on Aug. 10, 1957, in Palo Alto, Calif. — he changed his surname in 1988 — he moved with his family when he was 6 to Amherst, Mass., where his father taught political science at the University of Massachusetts. He felt a powerful attraction to the art and rhetoric of black culture. As a teenager, he audited college classes taught by Mr. Shepp, the drummer Max Roach and the poet Sonia Sanchez, who were all putting progressive politics in their art. He never formally studied music, but began teaching himself baritone saxophone when he was 14.
In interviews, Mr. Ho recalled that his father physically abused his mother. “One of my first insurrections,” he told Harvard Magazine, “was to defend my mother against his physical beatings and give him two black eyes.”
He joined the Marines in 1973 and learned hand-to-hand combat before being discharged in 1975 because, he said, he had fought with an officer who had used a racial slur. In his 20s, Mr. Ho briefly joined the Nation of Islam and then the I Wor Kuen, a radical Asian-American group inspired by the Black Panthers. Like his two younger sisters, Florence Houn and Flora Houn Hoffman, he attended Harvard University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1979.
His sisters and his mother, Frances Lu Houn, survive him.
Mr. Ho moved to New York in the early 1980s to pursue a career as a musician. He formed the Afro Asian Music Ensemble and became associated with other Asian-American musicians working on a newly emergent hybrid conception of jazz. They included the pianist Jon Jang and the saxophonist Francis Wong. His first records, “Tomorrow Is Now!” and “We Refuse to Be Used and Abused,” were released by the Italian jazz label Soul Note.
In 1989, Mr. Ho had his first work performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the bilingual opera “A Chinaman’s Chance.” He then created two ballet operas based on the Chinese novel “Monkey,” by Wu Ch’eng-en, “Journey to the West” (1990) and “Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey.” Both used Mandarin Chinese in their librettos, and both reimagined Monkey, a trickster figure, as a political agitator, upsetting the power structures of the gods. Mr. Ho called them “living comic books.”
Other ambitious works, many of which were recorded, were on the subjects of Chinese folklore, physical combat, domestic abuse, the black power movement and revolutionary feminism — and sometimes all of those subjects together, as in the opera “Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors” (1991), written with the librettist Ann T. Greene.
That work imagined a meeting of Fa Mu Lan, the Chinese fighter who was the subject of a sixth-century folk ballad; Yaa Asantewaa, who in 1900, in what is now Ghana, led the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism; Sieh King King, a young Chinese-American woman who agitated for women’s rights in early-20th-century San Francisco; and Assata Shakur, the Black Liberation Army activist.
After learning in 2006 that he had colorectal cancer, Mr. Ho documented his fight against the illness in a book, “Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level,” followed by another, more prescriptive one, “Raw Extreme Manifesto: Change Your Body, Change Your Mind and Change the World by Spending Almost Nothing!” He wrote about his treatment in a blog, naming the doctors he mistrusted, thanking his friends and theorizing about his illness.
In “Future’s End,” a lecture from 2010 that he published at the site of the artists’ collective Commoning, he wrote that the cause of cancer is “capitalist industrialism” and “social toxicity,” and praised Luddism, his philosophical passion, as the only alternative: “The opposition to technology (any of it) that is harmful to people or to the planet.”
Even in his final years, as Mr. Ho underwent multiple operations, he was still working: on “Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon!,” a choreographed martial-arts opera based on the 1970s manga comics of Kazuo Koike, performed for two weeks at La MaMa in May and June 2013, and on “The Sweet Science Suite,” for a 20-piece band and dancers. Dedicated to Muhammad Ali, it had its stage premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October 2013.
This historic photograph captured the ceremony celebrating the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which united east and west coasts of this country by a land route for the first time; yet, the thousands of Chinese Americans who helped build the railroad were conspicuously absent. Photo credit: Wikipedia
On May 10th of this year, the transcontinental railroad will be 145 years old. On that day in 1869, track laid by Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad companies finally connected, and insodoing created a railway that spanned 1,928 miles. For the first time in American history, it was possible to travel from coast-to-coast without sailing around the North American continent.
It is estimated that as many as 12,000 Chinese American labourers helped build the transcontinental railroad, predominantly on the West Coast. Working for a fraction of the pay of their non-Asian White counterparts, Chinese “coolie” labourers were assigned some of the most dangerous tasks, including blasting away rocks that lay in the path of the track. Unknown numbers of Chinese American men lost their lives in the course of laying the railroad. This was in part because of ongoing anti-Asian racism among the work crews; White labourers viewed their Chinese American colleagues with disdain,calling them “midgets”, “effeminate” and “monkeys”. Nonetheless, Chinese American labourers participated in the construction of virtually every railroad track on the West coast built during that era.
Yet, when the railroad was completed on May 10th, 1869, an event commemorated in a historical photograph that showed actual railroad workers crowded around the final spike as it is hammered into the ground, Chinese American labourers were left out of the photograph. They were literally erased from history.
Every year on May 10th, that historic photograph is re-created by the park officials who maintain the national park commemorating the site of the Golden Spike ceremony. And every year, park officials refuse to make any specific effort to make the Asian American community visible in the photograph recreation.
This year, acclaimed Asian American photographer and historian, Corky Lee — whose iconic black-and-white photographs have documented some of the most landmark moments in the political history of Asian America — is organizing a “flashmob” style event to correct the historic wrong of that 1869 Golden Spike Ceremony photograph.
On Saturday, May 10th at 9:30am, Corky is inviting Asian Americans to join him at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Tremonton, Utah (group transportation is being organized from Salt Lake City). He is hoping to get at least 145 Asian Americans to join him in recreating that historic photograph, but this time with the faces of Asian America front and center!
If you are 1) Asian American, and 2) able to get to Utah on May 10th, I urge you to please come out and help him in making this important project happen! Please help challenge the erasure of Asian Americans from the history of the transcontinental railroad.
Please join (and share)this Facebook Event page to help get the word out.
And, if you are able to make it to Utah on May 10th, please contact Ze Xiao (zxiao [at] slco [dot] org), who is coordinating transportation to the Golden Spike site for Corky’s photograph.
NYC Folks: In January, Mr. Kang Wong, an 84-year old Chinese American, was injured and hospitalized after being stopped by police for allegedly jaywalking. Mr. Kang Wong has since been charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstruction of government administration.
We need your support to pack the courts for his hearing on Wednesday, March 12 (tomorrow). We demand all his charges be dropped and the City and NYPD be held accountable! To RSVP, e-mail Ruben at email@example.com.
Justice for Kang Wong: Pack the Courts Action:
Date: Wednesday, March 12 at 9:00 AM, Press Conference Proceeding the Court Hearing (10:45 AM)
Location: Criminal Court, 100 Centre Street, Courtroom AR1, Manhattan
On January 19, 2014, 84-year old Mr. Wong was hospitalized and in need of stitches to his head after he was stopped by the police for allegedly jaywalking. On that day, Mr. Wong was returning home from Chinatown, crossing the intersection at Broadway and 96th Street as he has always done for years. However, this time when he crossed the street, an officer asked him for his ID. Mr. Wong gave the officer his ID, but had no idea why the officer was holding onto his ID and he wanted it back. Mr. Wong speaks Cantonese and he was confused because he speaks limited English and there was no officer on the scene who spoke Cantonese. The precinct recently began to crack down on jaywalking after three pedestrian fatalities occurred in that area, but Mr. Wong was unaware of the crackdown. The incident escalated, Mr. Wong suffered head injuries and the police officers handcuffed him. He has since been charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of government administration.
Organizations Working On This Statement:
Asian Americans for Equality
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities
Hamilton-Madison House City Hall Senior Center
JACL- New York Chapter
OCA-NY Asian Pacific American Advocates
Research Grant for an undergraduate student intern to conduct population eye research in China
Dr. Shan Lin, Professor of the Department of Ophthalmology and the Asian Health Institute at the UCSF Medical Center, and Dr. Guofu Huang, chair of the Nanchang Eye Hospital Institute at the Nanchang University are jointly co-sponsoring this public health research position for eye diseases (glaucoma, cataracts, etc.) in China.
The grant recipient will station at the Nanchang University for 12 months, and will help to conduct the research under the guidance of Professor Guofu Huang, chair of the Nanchang Eye Hospital Institute at the Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University, Jiangxi Province, P.R. China.
1. Over 18 years old
2. Currently an undergraduate or graduate student at an accredited university
3. Speaks Mandarin fluently, speaking Cantonese as an additional language will be an asset
4. Reads simplified Chinese
5. Types Chinese characters using the keyboard
Additionally, the applicant is preferred to have some research experience.
What the position offers to the successful applicant:
1. Salary: 42,000 Yuan (approx. $7000 US) per year (provided by China’s National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No.81260147))
2. Lodging: Free (provided for by the Nanchang University)
3. Airfare: An economy class round-trip air ticket will be provided to the successful grant recipient to fly from San Francisco to the nearest international airport to Nanchang in China (provided for by the Asian Health Institute)
4. Publication: Will be included as an author in publications related to the research conducted
5. Letters of recommendation for future academic /work applications
Deadline for application: Open now till January 1, 2014
Application format: Please send 3 items:
1. Application letter of interest which includes a statement about your future academic goals
3. Most recent grade report
Where to send application: Please email the 3 items to Dr. Shan Lin: “Lin, Shan” <LinS@vision.ucsf.edu> and Dr. Diana Lau: “Diana Lau” <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Notification for the award funding: January 15, 2014
Join us for a talk on Growing Up in Transnational Worlds: A Comparative Look at Chinese and Dominican Americans, by Vivian Louie, on Friday, December 13, 2013, from 6pm to 8pm, at 25 West 43rd Street, 10th Floor, Room 1000, between 5th & 6th Avenues, Manhattan. This talk is free and open to the general public.
Transnationalism refers to the phenomenon of immigrants maintaining connections to their country of origin, and employing a dual frame of reference to evaluate their experiences and outcomes in the country in which they have settled. How does transnationalism matter in the identities among the second generation, e.g., individuals who were born in the United States, or migrated by late childhood? In this presentation, Dr. Vivian Louie examines this question among second generation Dominicans and Chinese who have grown up in strong transnational fields and had parents who want them to participate in the homeland imaginary. The focus is on transnational orientations and/or practices among second generation individuals with particular attention to generational status, class, ethnicity, gender, and race.
Vivian Louie is the 2013-2014 CUNY Thomas Tam Visiting Professor at Hunter College. Dr. Louie received her Ph.D and M.A. from the Yale University Department of Sociology, M.A. from the Stanford University Department of Communication, and A.B. from Harvard University. She has previously worked as a newspaper journalist, journalism teacher and youth magazine editor, and an associate professor in education and lecturer in sociology at Harvard.
Dr. Louie studies immigration, education, and identities with a focus on the contrast between lived experience in urban and suburban neighborhoods. Dr. Louie’s two books, Compelled to Excel: Immigration, Education, and Opportunity Among Chinese Americans(Stanford University Press, 2004) and Keeping the Immigrant Bargain: The Costs and Rewards of Success in America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2012), reveal how academic success is achieved in similar ways among working class Chinese, Dominicans and Colombians, even though they belong to groups typically framed at opposite ends of academic success (the Asian American high achiever and the Latino American low achiever). Dr. Louie is also an editor of and contributor to Writing Immigration: Scholars and Journalists in Dialogue (University of California Press, 2011).
To RSVP for this talk, please visit www.aaari.info/13-12-13Louie.htm. Please be prepared to present proper identification when entering the building lobby. Can’t attend? Watch the live webcast on our website homepage, starting at 6:15PM EST, or access the streaming video and audio podcast the following week.
When I was five I was put in a different school because there was an ESL (English as a Second Language) program there. You may be wondering, “what’s wrong with that?” Well, for starters, I was born in Ohio and English was my native tongue. I was reading novels by kindergarten (totally spelled that wrong the first time, fail) and I prided myself on the fact that I had an extensive vocabulary for a toddler. I had been speaking English with exquisite finesse up to that point in my life (okay, that may all be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point). So I didn’t know why I was being put in an ESL program, but I didn’t argue because who’s going to listen to a five year old? At that age, you don’t question things, you just accept. I carried forth with my days throwing raisins at the teacher and drawing cartoon characters on the desks. It wasn’t until later in life I tried to analyze the situation and came to this conclusion: I was put in that program for one reason, I was a shy Asian girl and everyone jumped to the conclusion that I couldn’t speak English. I know I tend to joke about this story, but there’s a lesson to be learned.
As a young child, I didn’t understand race or skin color. I assumed everyone was white, including me. I hope I can speak for most Asian-Americans here, but there is that earth-shatterning moment in our childhood when we realizewe’re not white.
You can take it two ways: embrace that you’re not white or try everything in your power to become white.
You start to realize that wearing shoes in the house wasn’t that big of a deal and not everyone ate rice for every meal. That when some people speak slowly to you, it’s not because they’re trying to be articulate, but it’s because they think you don’t understand English (as if speaking English slowly to a non-English speaking person helps). You notice that not every grocery store carries Pocky and not every family speaks a different language at home. You also realize that it’s not that common to call everyone who’s older than you Uncle or Aunt. When you learned about the Civil Rights movement again, you start to wonder what happened to Asians during that time or when people are describing you, the first thing out of their mouth is that you’re “oriental.” (On a side note, I hate being described as oriental. It makes me feel like a spice or dish).
Being Asian-American has always been a difficult part of me. I was (and am) proud of my heritage and how far my parents have come, but I had a hard time feeling as if I belonged somewhere. Experiencing first hand segregation and racism has made me despise my race for many years.I was trapped between two worlds.
Racism isn’t just black and white. In my experience, all my classes about race are taught by a black professor. I remember sitting in one of my media classes discussing race; we had spent weeks on how blacks and whites are portrayed in the media. As my professor went on and on, I sat there wondering when she was going to bring up Asians, Hispanics, or Middle Easterners. Finally, as if God had heard my plea, a thankfully inquisitive student in the front raised his hand, “What about Asians?”
There was five minutes left in class, and all she said was, “Well, they tend to be the ‘model minority,’” and carried forth with the discussion on blacks and whites.
Model minority?!?What about the shocking statistics of1.3 million Asians that are undocumentedor the fact thatSoutheast Asians have the highest high school drop out rate?
I’m not going to lie, I was flattered in high school when people I’ve never talked to asked me to be part of their group for a project. I felt included and thought they wanted to be friends, but I soon realized that many of them only picked me because I was the “Asian kid,” and instantly categorized as the smart one. My favorite (sarcasm) was when my peers would ask me how I did on a test expecting me to say “A,” or ask me to help them with their math homework… and most of the time I was just as lost as they were. But none of that mattered to me, I liked the attention and appreciated that people thought I was smart.It wasn’t until I couldn’t live up to the stereotype that the pressure truly manifested.I wanted to write stories and make music for a living or design t-shirts and play soccer, not become an engineer, doctor, or lawyer.
Now, I understand why the discussion on race tends to be about blacks and whites. America’s darkest days were about slavery and the civil rights movement. There’s a lot to be said about the resilient nature of the African-American people. Schools teach to let usnever forget where America came from and from the mistakes of our past, we can learn justice and tolerance. However, even to this day, as sad as it is, we still struggle with racism among the two.
But if race is such a huge topic in American studies, why is it that I never learned about the Asian & Chinese Exclusion Acts in my classes or the fact that we only briefly touched on the Japanese Internment camps?
Why is it that after the Virginia Tech shooting there was a huge controversy and focus on the shooter’s ethnic heritage. With racists slurs and comments being brought upon Asians in that time. Whereas race wasn’t ever thought about in other horrific school shootings committed by white people?
The very first day of college a young and bright lad who is going to go far in life (sarcasm again) asked me, “Why do Asians always travel in packs?”
Literal face palm. I snapped back with “Because of people like you. Let me ask you, why do white people always travel in packs?”
We’re not friends.
I digress. Let’s shimmy back up to the beginning. How did I respond to that decision I had to make during my life-changing epiphany? Growing up as a child of immigrants I felt trapped between two worlds. I guess for me, I tried both. I ignored the fact for much of my early life, just living life colorblind. But for a brief (let me stress brief) time in middle school I embraced my full on “Asianness.” I hung out with mostly Asians, I watched Asian dramas and listened to Asian music. I got bangs and camera-whored with a peace sign. That quickly ended when I realized the facade of it all. Yes, ethnically I’m Asian, but culturally I’m not. I can squeeze my way into that culture by learning it and copying it, but I’ll never trulybeit because I did not grow up in it. Visiting my parents’ homelands was a huge disappointment because people there did not accept me as fully Chinese. They could tell I wasn’t local just by looking at me. I had all the stereotypical facial features, but my composure, dress, and attitude was basically the equivalent of me wrapping myself in an American flag. Even my extended relatives joked about my American accent or lack of cultural respect. I’m Chinese, but I’m not.
After that heart-wrenching revelation, I betrayed that identity and landed myself on the flip side. I stopped speaking in Chinese, tried my hardest to erase my memory of those embarrassing Asian-washing times, and tried my best avoiding all FOBs (for you politically correct people, it’s a slang, and actually somewhat offensive term for immigrants: fresh-off the boat). I would tell my parents to keep quiet in public in attempts to save my face and stray from being different because I was scared their accent or what they say would embarrass me. My dad caught on to this pretty quick. Before I left for college he told me, “Hey, be nice to the international students, I was one of them.” It got to the point where I was making fun of the FOBs (but of course only Asians were allowed to make fun of Asians).
I thought this was all going well for me until one day in college, my friend runs up to me saying, “Connie! I just met the Asian version of you!”
After a few giggles and punchlines, I started to wonder. Why is it that I had to assimilate myself to become “white” in order to make friends and not the other way around? Why do people say “it’s ok, you’re so white-washed” as if it’s a good thing? Why do my friends and I think it’s funny to speak in an Asian accent? Why is it that the “tiger-mom” parenting tactic is so-called “bad”?
I believe that as Americans, we’re scared to accept difference, even in this day and age.We tell ourselves that we are more tolerant and accepting, looking to how far we have come, but in reality,we’re currently stuck in a rut.The ones who fall victim to this hallucination are actually the young people. We think we are America’s next great hope, blaming the intolerant ones on the older generation, when in reality we’re just as foolish as the generations before in relations of race.
All this is so counter-intuitive. America prides itself on being a melting pot (or for those who are really specific, tossed salad). So why is it that the whole image of the “ideal American” is, dare I say, white? I’m tired of taxi drivers asking where I’m “originally” from. If we’re being truly honest here, a white or black person may say they’re from Chicago and that’s the end of that, but I always get the followup question… “but where areyourpeoplefrom?” and then they go on forever about how much they love China. Let me ask, if a foreign European were to walk the streets of America how many times would they be stopped or stared at for being “foreign”? How many “Go back to where you came from”s would they hear? Just because I don’t look Anglo-Saxon or black, I instantly get an extra inquiry: immigrant, foreign, or native?
It’s no wonderJulie Chenfelt the need to undergo the knife to advance in her white-male dominated industry. Which, by the way, I totally understand her decision and don’t expect her to have to apologize for it. She did what she had to do and by coming out about it,she opened many more doors to the truth about racism toward the Asian-American culture.
In the end, I’ve decided that being Asian-American is all together another race and culture.We are the ignored minority.We currently don’t have a place in middle school textbooks or in sociology. Not enough people walk on eggshells when talking about the Asian race. I’m not going to apologize for the scent our food makes when we’re cooking (which is heavenly by the way), or that we do get a little overly excited when we interact with our loved ones. On one side, the Asian culture has taught me respect and honor for authority, to be self-less and encounter a holistic approach to life. I have learned to value education and diligence, to be resourceful and never wasteful. On the other hand, the American culture has taught me independence, consideration for even those I don’t know, and the importance of having goals in life. It has introduced me to diversity and faith into my life (but I’m not saying those who aren’t Asian-American haven’t learned this). Being Asian-American, is a world all in itself, and since we are a fairly young race, we’re still figuring things out, I’m just asking for a little acknowledgment from the rest of America.
So to the Asian-American awakening, Let this be the moment when you realize you’re not white nor are you solely Asian, you’re Asian-American (and cue cheesy sap music).
I connect with this a lot.
What was your Awakening moment?
I’m doing research on Jubilee from X-Men as a possible Halloween costume and ran across this nifty bit of information.
Alhambra Source and real estate developers Sam and Jackie Wong organized a scholarship in May that asked students to answer questions about their name, heritage, and growing up a child of immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley. The selected essays will be published once a week, starting with a piece by UCI student Shannon Ho. The 20 year old won first place for her essay about the two stages of shame that result from being a child of immigrants. Read her essay below.
I’ve come to the realization that as a child of immigrants, I have experienced at least two stages of shame in regards to my cultural background.
The first stage was relatively easy to pinpoint. It was the almost crippling embarrassment you feel when you realize that your family’s cultural heritage singles you out, when you want nothing more than to blend in. It began at an early age — though not too early. Those first formative years of life are blissful in innocence, and usually a child that young is unaware of being self-conscious or embarrassed about any definitive trait of identity.
My first stage of shame began in middle school. I had just been pulled out of a private school and transferred to a public school, and was feeling particularly vulnerable. Without my bubble and the friends I had since kindergarten, I became hyperaware of my actions, my appearance, and how others saw me through these factors.
A year later, in fifth grade, I had made a few friends and was getting along somewhat happily. One day, my teacher announced that there was going to be an essay contest, and the winners would be able to ride on a float at that year’s Tournament of Roses parade. The topic of the essay was something akin to explaining what you think defines an American.
My mother encouraged me to participate in the contest, and as I sat down to think about the topic, I realized how huge the question was. At that age, the word “American” evoked images of big houses with huge families and gorgeously kept lawns, birthday parties, expensive blue jeans, and fancy cars. We did not live in a huge house with a lawn. We did not have a huge family, nor did my parents ever throw me any lavish parties or buy me brand name clothing. At the time, we drove an old Toyota Camry that had roll-up windows and manual locks.
I didn’t feel as though I looked “American” either. I, like almost every other girl who was born in the early 90s, was a huge fan of Britney Spears and the Olsen twins. Heartbroken, I realized that I didn’t look like them, nor would I ever. Being an American-born Chinese girl wasn’t ever too big of a deal for me before this. I was born in Monterey Park and lived in Alhambra with my family, went to a Chinese church, and lived my life surrounded by Chinese people and Chinese culture. But now, I wished for blonde hair, blue eyes, and long legs because I wanted to be an “American” girl.
This was when the full force of my first stage of shame came into play. I ate my packed lunch of dumplings or rice and stir fry and wished ardently that I was opening up a Lunchables instead. I felt my face flush when my parents would make grammatical mistakes in their English. My father loved martial arts and I wished instead that he was an avid basketball or football fan like all the other dads. The list went on and on. This shame was a hot ball of fire I felt in the very pit of my stomach, something I thought could be quenched through “Americanization.”
As I entered high school, this ball of fire cooled considerably, but I still felt its heat linger. One day, I was in charge of organizing a food sale during lunch to fundraise for my club, but our first option of burgers had fallen through. At my parents’ suggestion, I decided instead to sell curry fishballs. A non-Asian student bought a skewer, brought it over to his friends who were within earshot, and they all began laughing raucously. Shouts of “Gross!” and “Why does it smell so nasty?” seeped down into my stomach and rekindled what I thought were dormant sparks back into an all-too familiar raging flame.
I am currently going through my second stage of shame. While this one is harder to define, harder to identify in terms of time, it became clear that this shame stems from the painfully slow realization that I had taken my Chinese identity and regarded it as a curse instead of something of which to be proud. I feel this new stage of shame when I remember that while we didn’t live in a big house with a big lawn, my parents gave up their master bedroom for me and my brother, and divided it down the middle with bookshelves so that we could each have a space to ourselves. That my parents cooked and packed me lunch because it was more nutritious and in retrospect, tasted so much better than a Lunchables ever would. That my parents driving a used, older car and refusal to buy expensive clothing was so that they could afford to send me and my brother to private school for as long as possible. That my parents’ insistence on speaking Cantonese at home has provided me with an unbreakable link to the rest of my family in Hong Kong and China, and a great new appreciation of the complexities and beauty of language. That I didn’t have the kind of super affectionate “Full House” relationship with my father because he spent so much time at work to provide for our family. That my face and my physical features contained a rich heritage I was once so ready and eager to discard for the sake of assimilation and acceptance as an “American.”
Unlike the first stage of shame, however, this one isn’t a painfully searing ball of fire. This shame squeezes me momentarily, and then releases me to feelings of pride and clarity. But I am not cleared of the fire —occasionally, to my frustration, I feel it flare. However, I know now as a child of immigrants that this journey is necessary. Every burn of the flame and every squeeze of the heart only lead me further to fully loving who I am.
Essay was edited and condensed.