i don't know how my ancestors walked to canada over the miles of roads meant for travel faster than foot: wagon paths of stone and mud with 10 chickens on their back, there's a reason there are a billion bicycles in China, great great grandfather must have had to file and sand his own knees to bend them into perfect circles. how else could these roads be traversed? meanwhile great great grandmother must have died of worry -- the worst sickness unknown to the family because telegraphs didn't span the pacific ocean. and paper was expensive. those chickens weren't yet money to buy rice, and they were too skinny for eggs, not that we could eat shells, anyway. but maybe we'll try. did i forget? how did he get to hong kong? kowloon? always the outer skirt of lady britain's domain, never quite city familiar. right, because money's hard to spend, when its locked in the white banker's savings. i hear that the bridge lies beneath the waters, foundations in ruins. and someday i'll walk it and meet grandma on the other side.
we act like that won't happen to us like our lands haven't too been ravished because we gave that up for the safety of our family. we rejoice at nightmarkets festivals that dot the landscape like stars in the sky but we forget that fireworks quickly turned into fires thunders and when we deny the violence that happens abroad we inch our way further from home. we're american canadian something new but the people who make our clothes but the people who grow our food they look just like us.
i'll never give up my history to assimilate into a culture that has forgotten its name a culture whose web of ancestry.com videos tries to sell back family history that was lost because it was more convenient not to have to carry ID. the stories of my people involve telling white people with white tongues how to fill out white papers. a white stamp on our head tax certificate: a white lie. the least wanted: the most documented and white i white my story, 50, 100, 150 years later white letters turn brown in well-whited archives listed addresses in the white pages never white delivered to village homes in red china. still,lost grandfather's secrets murmur beneath white blankets on gold mountain, under a fresh layer of white noise.
This poem was inspired by the ACCESS community television broadcast series Uncovering Gold, which discusses Chinese-Canadian migration through a multimedia format. Part 1 can be found here: http://youtu.be/eP5dakbuXG8.
Oh when i hear that southern drawl The kind that originates In the mother land, the Wide East... That language of tongue that is not Tone alone, but slang and wit and Whip-fast clever, a posture and a history... Do not mistake my polite nods for empty listening. That language creeps into me like a mountain rain, drifting above freshwater pools and lakes of emerald in an updraft, collecting at the ridges and peaks that are the bent backs of my ancestors weighted down by law and conquest they offer me their suffering and call it a better life on their steep slopes salt drips crashing through the currents of brownwater, resting in pools and pristine waters that would pose as the sky.. Here between cracked canyon smiles, haunting granite faces: i am a rain a field A thunder
I like to come on here with coherent, well-gesticulated thoughts but lately I’ve only had a random fiery, angry passion in the pit of my gut. I’m frustrated that we can’t seem to get it right. So many people are still unconscious when it comes to race and it really gets to me: yes, I get mad about stuff white people do, but I also am particularly fed up with the way that I’m ostracized by people of my own race. Racism isn’t for any specific race but the human race.
Last week during a basketball game a school friend had been telling me about his trip to Asia and how wonderful it was – except for the benefits of home (clean air, drinkable water, etc.) – and how I should really go there to see what it’s like. I gathered the intent was well-meaning, but I couldn’t get around the fact that I was being spoken to as if I was a complete ignoramus about the “old country.” My great grandparents on BOTH sides of my family came to Canada and America to start a better life. This was not without the obvious consequences of likely losing future generations to their home culture and language but there were also blatant systemic barriers that they faced. Racist Canadian laws like the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 separated my family for years as well as other Asian families. The state never even gave us the vote until 1947 (let alone Aboriginal peoples ). And so while I’m being told about a trip as if I’m unjustifiably ignorant – that is, if only I had been a “good” Chinese, I would somehow retain and know all of this – I’m thinking about how my opportunities were cut short long before I was even an intention of my parents. I wasn’t given the chance by the white government of Canada. And condemning about me is also racist because that’s excluding me from a category I’ll always be in.
Whatever I do, I’ll always be Chinese. And instead of feeling guilty about having learned to be extremely proficient in the English language or having an appreciation for my local ecology, I’m standing strong in my identity. So I’m gonna be the best damn poet I can be and sing the worst songs I can try. Asians can be good at basketball and bad at math. We can love cell phones and anime and white bread. We can dance the tango and break it down like any other. We can be peaceful and zen and outright angry. We can be ignorant and racist and we can be members of the Black Panthers. We can be feminists, writers, cooks, chefs, fashion designers, construction workers, secretaries, teachers, and filmmakers.
No matter what I do I’ll be Chinese. And Proud.