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?
always the outer skirt of lady britain's domain,
never quite city familiar.

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.

diasporic memory

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
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
and when we deny the violence that happens abroad

we inch our way further from home.

we're american
something new

but the people who make our clothes
but the people who grow our food

they   look   just   like

no train to china

i'll never give up my history
to assimilate into a culture
that has forgotten its name
a culture whose web
of 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.

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:

A thunder

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
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..

cracked canyon smiles,
haunting granite faces:

i am  a rain
      a field

      A thunder

Chinese (and proud)

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.