Monday, December 7, 2009

A Collection of Asian American Identity Poems, Pt. IV

(Backstory: I don't remember when these poems were written but my estimated guess would be around the Fall of 2009). 

The "Guess where I'm originally from" Game 

When you ask me
“Where are you really from?
“Where are your parents originally from?”
Or my personal all-time favorite,
“Where are your ancestors from?”

I’ll play a little game with you to answer your question
A guessing game, for kicks and giggles
And your job is not to guess what ethnicity I am
But rather to figure out what makes me ME

Before you get to learn what my colored skin is all about
And the complicated, terrible, and beautiful history that it carries

Let me tell you the passions of my life and what drives me forward
Let me excite you as I tell you where we as people will move towards
Let me be enigmatic and mysterious to your perceiving senses
Let me show you what I’m all about before you make any pretenses

I’ll be a question mark in your desire to box and label me nicely,
Turn myself into an exclamation, a comma, or perhaps a semi colon
When we get to the end of the game and I let you in on my skin
You’ll see me the way I want you to see me.


Let's Go 

I just wanna feel accepted//can't I just be accepted?//just wanna wake up to a simple day//a day without any struggle//but without struggle there is no passion//at this rate, will I ever attain a content and normal life?//but normal life is for suckas//for people who sit with their hands on their asses//let them sit, let them wander//i know i got a purpose that is worth fulfilling//but first i need to stop sitting on my own hands//so much potential, not enough action//yet the potential is growing//growing growing//growing so enormously//all i need is a light//a match to ignite the flames

A Collection of Asian American Identity Poems, Pt. III

(Backstory: This poem below went three three revisions and technically came before "Revision of the Asiamerican Man's Dilemma". The first version was written two weeks after the VA Tech shooting, the second version was written and performed for my W&M college's Muslim Student Association during their Islam Awareness Week's "Hug a Muslim" performance on April 1st, 2009. The third and final version, the one you see below, was performed for the Def Jam Poetry Contest in my college on April 11th, 2009, in front of students and spoken poets Jon Goode and Rafael Casal. The first version was the rawest and contained the most pent up anger. After that, the second and final versions were done two years after the VA Tech incident and thus did not carry the brute anger that the original contained. I kinda wish I knew where the original version went...) 


April 16th, 2007.

The day when a repressed and conflicted college student decided that the best way to express his feelings to the world was through violence and hatred. As his world around him became covered with the blood of people who did not deserve his rage, he ended the slaughter by ending his own life.

To society, he was deemed a lunatic, a monster.

To his parents that loved him, he was Seung Hui Cho, their only son.

To me, he was my brother who I never had. My brother who made it possible to say the things that I needed to say, my brother who helped me come to terms with my racial identity and acceptance as a human being. My brother who I wanted to tell this poem to so he can understand that he was not alone in feeling the rage and hatred that he felt for the world, and that this feeling does not make him a monster. My brother who I wanted to tell that everything will be alright.

For the longest time in my life, I’ve had this rage and self-hatred that was inside of me, this corrosive force that made me ashamed of being an Asian man and all the stereotypes and misconceptions that this skin came with.

This rage and self-hatred that started at home, with my father, with a man who could not handle the beatings and temper of his father before him, a man who could only express his love to me by repeating the sins of his father.

But because of him, this rage and self-hatred would define my childhood and my identification with being a Korean. If we are to suffer the uncontrollable rages of our fathers, the silence of our mothers, then I want nothing to do with this, this yellow skin, this yellow sin, this terrible reminder of a race that I have nothing but the utmost contempt for.

My hatred for my old man turned into hatred for myself, hatred for the entire Korean race. I saw nothing but race, and every words of “chink”, “gook”, the sounds of “ching chong”, would strike me hard every single time and I would feel the burn of self-hatred eating into me.

Self-hatred. What a powerful force it is. It is a force that has made me contemplate inflicting my rage to people who did not deserve it. It is a force that has made me contemplate suicide to prevent such a disturbed boy as myself expressing his feelings in the most pathetic manner possible.

So when April 16th came around, I could not help but feel the connection that I had with Seung Hui Cho. That if people labeled him a lunatic and a monster for feeling the way he did and for committing such an atrocious act, then I cannot be too far behind because my rage have dangerously come to that breaking point several times.

As our lives intertwined closer and closer together, as my world would grow darker and over shadowed with his, I realize I have a choice in how I want my story to be told. I can be ashamed of my ugly past and inflict it on the world or I can accept it and let it be told, let something ugly be turned into something beautiful.

I realize that I have too much love to give to be driven to such despair, that I need to live out my life and give my love to the people around me. I want to give hope and joy to my children so I can give to them what my father never gave me.

I want to remind myself and be proud of my Korean heritage but know that I will always be a human being at heart, unwilling to allow labels and stereotypes to define who I am and who I want to be.

A Collection of Asian American Identity Poems, Pt. II

(Backstory: This poem was performed during the opening performances for hip-hop spoken poet group iLL-Literacy, when they came to the College of W&M on November 2nd, 2008.)


My name is Eddy and I think I'm racist against my own race.
To rephrase that, I am extremely resentful against other Koreans.

I can tolerate an individual
But I am not inclined to instantly develop some
"Kimchi Connection" with them
Just because they're Korean.

I definitely don't want the other Korean to expect me to do the same thing
Just because I have this Korean skin
Since if they do, they will find themselves sorely disappointed.

When I see a group of Koreans all huddled together by themselves,
Speaking in their exclusive Korean language,
I get a disgusted shudder all over my body.

When I am in a room full of Koreans,
I want to scream and crawl out of my skin.
I see these Koreans and Korean-Americans
and I see nothing worth liking.

I can't take it anymore.
I need an explanation why I feel this way.

Do I feel this way
because I am disconnected from their culture
and their way of life?

Is it because I have absolutely no grasp of the Korean language
and I get extremely jealous
when I see Koreans who can speak both languages fluently?

Could it be that I feel this way because I believe that Koreans are...

One of the most narrow-minded and prejudiced people in the world who hates everybody that is different from them, whether they be the blacks, the queers, the Muslims, the Chinese, the Japanese, and so on and so on? Do I feel such hatred for these Koreans because individuality is considered a weakness and if I take the risk of expressing myself, I will be ridiculed and hammered down with the rest of their conformist society?

Or does my source of rage and discontent lie deeper within my core?

Am I afraid of being thought of being seen as a Seung Hui Cho
whenever I have an angry outburst?

Does my anger at my own race
Reside in the possibility that I have this hatred for myself?

So many questions that I have no answers
to the ultimate question why I feel such hatred against Koreans.

I've been looking for the answers for all these years
and I'm not sure if I found what I was looking for.
I've learned to stop hating myself
but I still can't get around the feeling of being extremely uncomfortable
or be judgmental around other Koreans.

Perhaps...maybe, just maybe...
It is entire okay to be uncomfortable with my own race
as long as I don't force myself to put on the act of being comfortable.
It is better to be honest with myself
than attempt to fool the world in feeling something I do not.

Perhaps, in a sea of them...I found myself.

So let me re-introduce myself.

My name is Edward Sunghoon Hong
Though you may call me a Korean-American
I refuse to be lumped into any category except HUMAN.

A Collection of Asian American Identity Poems, Pt. I

I amassed a collection of poems that I wrote that dealt with my coming to terms with my Korean American identity as well as race poems in general. They are put in nearly chronological order so you can see how I have dealt with my racial identity over time. Since many of these poems are incredibly long, I split them up as individual entities and will post them as seperate blog entries.

(Backstory: Not quite sure when I wrote this poem but it was roughly around several months after the VA Tech shooting). 

Revision of the Asiamerican Man's Dilemma

What is this pain I am feeling?

This sensation that I get when everytime someone of my racial heritage fucks up and makes the rest of us look bad in the eyes of America?

Why must I feel guilt or shame over the act of a single individual?

Is it the subconscious collective Asian mindset telling me to feel bad? Or is it the fact that we are a minority population and our small size in numbers make us feel like ants being burned alive by a magnifying glass?

Could it be the connection of a racial heritage that is based on

Kimchi, countless mind-numbing PC cafes, cheap soju, suppressed sex in DVD room and seddy motels, disgrunted and drunk middle aged men pissed off at
their work and families, janitors with tired, resignated faces as they scrub off the shit on the streets and subway tiles, abusive fathers, silent mothers, and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness?

Or is it simply because the connection I feel is that we are both Korean and shared the same feeling of destructive rage?

If so

It is a connection that forces me to re-examine the alienation and self-hatred of my own racial identity.

A connection that while it is shared by many as "collective guilt"
That if you feel compelled to dig even deeper within me
You will find what was once a deep-seated hatred

Anger forged by the belittling prejudices and misconceptions of Asian men, of constantly being seen as a perpetual foreigner, the hurtful words of "chink" and "gook", and that my anger is not genuinely validated but instead mocked.

I am ANGRY because I constantly need to fight to make a simple statement that despite everything, I am a normal human being.

My anger seems to restricted to three forms by American society:
A Bruce Lee-high kicking-kung fu madman
A chain-smoking Yakuza gangster
Or the most recent development in Asian male anger...
An unassuming and repressed individual who takes out his rage through bloodshed and violence...a Seung Hui Cho.

I want people to recognize my anger simply as it is.

When I object to you calling me "Oriental", I 'm correcting you because it's as if you're calling an African American a "Negro".

When I get mad at your insensitive Asian jokes, I am not being overly sensitive but instead I am hurt because it re-opens my wounds of self-hatred.

When I balk at all the Hollywood movies that marginalize or fetishes Asians, I am not being overly critical because movies are my passion and it hurts to see such depictions over and over again.

And this is where I will stop for now.

Because I am constantly revising myself.

From a young and confused boy who couldn't control his rage and wanted to take it out on people who did not deserve it

To a bitter and rebellious teenager who rejected and loathed his Korean identity

To finally becoming a self-confident man who is finally taking pride in his Korean American self and who wishes to give his love fiercely to my all families, in blood and in spirit. A simple man who will fight, protect, defend, honor, argue, and love not only for himself but for everybody that also fights to be seen as a normal human being in this corrosive world of hatred and ignorance.

This poem does not have a true end because to truly end it would mean that my fight, my struggle is over. Or that I have accepted my fate.

So in that case...

To be continued.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hate Crimes & Humor

I woke up this morning and ignoring the growling roar that my stomach was making, I went to my favorite website of all time, Angry Asian Man, to see what was up in the Asian/Asian-American community. On one of the author's most recent postings, the Japanese American Citizens League demand an apology from the movie studio Paramount for the "Pearl Harbor" joke that was in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard which stars Jeremy Piven.

- - The movie is about a notorious used car salesman who takes on a big Fourth of July sale. During the scene in question, Jeremy Piven fires up his fellow salesmen with a pep talk, invoking World War II: "Don't get me started on Pearl Harbor. We are Americans and they are the enemy! Never again!"

The scene culminates with an angry mob beating up the only Asian American person in the room, Teddy Dang (played by Ken Jeong). Piven's character also uses the racial slur "Jap" in the scene and, acknowledging it was a hate crime, conspires with employees to say that Dang was attacking them with a "samurai sword" and "Chinese throwing stars." - -
(taken from Angry Asian Man)

When I first saw this scene in the restricted trailer before the movie came out, I wasn't quite sure whether I should laugh or not. While I found the joke to be somewhat humorous, there was a real ugly gut feeling that was forming in my stomach. It had a bitter taste that I couldn't shake off and I realized that after reading AngryAsianMan's post, I was feeling the hurt that I felt all those years ago for being 'different' along with the simple knowledge that hate crimes are incredibly difficult to joke about, let alone joke about at all. If the movie made a joke about lynching black people, would that be okay? Would that be acceptable? Certainly not and the black community would raise a huge voice to protest against it.

The joke that the Jeremy Piven character was referring to came from a real historical source, something I don't quite believe that it can be joked about. Back in WW2, Japanese Americans were heavily discriminated against and the fear and the paranoia eventually led to Franklin D. Roosevelt to pass Executive Order 9066, an act which forced all Japanese and Japanese-Americans on U.S. soil to be placed in internment camps across the nation. It was an act that singled an ethnic minority and treated them like second-class citizens because of their different racial background.

Can we laugh at one of the darkest moments in human history? And when we do, are we admitting that we as humans have evolved since then? Or are we laughing because we will always be ignorant and prejudiced against those who are different from us? Do we laugh because violence against those who are not us are justified? All these questions come into my head and all I can think of is Thien Mien Ly and Vincent Chin, two very real and ugly moments in American history where being ethnically Asian got you killed. All I can feel is concern everytime an ugly racial joke flies my way. All I can hope is that I won't explode into anger but rather I will treat the matter with firm grace and humor.

For the longest time, I felt the radical fire burning inside me, and the source of the fire comes from my grasp of my Asian American identity and my desire to help out the Asian American community through the performing arts, the flame spreads to all who are treated severely for being different. I remember when I read about the hate crimes that occurred to Muslims and anybody who "looked" like a Muslim after 9/11, my blood boils and tears start welling up in my eyes because to me, it is outrageous that a certain ethnic group should be targeted so senselessly for the act of few. It is not fair and it is not just fair and the passion grows within me each time, telling me that I must do something about this. I must yell, I must shout, I must rise up. In doing so, sometimes it'll make my friends and acquaintances look at me in confusion why I'm making so much ruckus and others will ask me to calm down and take a joke once in a while. I thought for some time that maybe I am a little too rowdy for my good but now I understand that I will not apologize for my behavior or my beliefs.

But I'm still blunt and rough-edged. I want to hone my passion into a cutting edge and that cutting edge will be wit and humor, the two things that I have most trouble with when I am in a high emotional state. I understand that if I want to do this, if I want to grow and evolve, I must encounter these stupid ignorant moments not with a frown, but with a smile on my face. A smile that is firm and unyielding, a smile that will make you feel stupid for even saying such a stupid thing in the first place.

I'm still so young and I still have so much to learn. I'm only beginning to understand myself in a social and historical context, and I must do so in order to not be so focused on myself and the harms that were done against me. I must be compassionate, understanding, and know that I am not faultless for being ignorant or prejudiced myself.

There is so much to do!