who i am by isaac joel louie

i
am
an earth dragon
born of the thunder clan
chinese-canadian settler
 third generation
 islander at heart.
i live for the wind
 the rain
 camp-
 fires.
four seasons
 a stove.
hair of abandon
 the coo of a moth.
one sun, one moon, all stars
 &
i’ll be the first
 to spot
 an eagle.

slang

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.

a foreigner

i am a foreigner
 only, i don't know from which land
 i am foreign to.
 here, in a nation called "Canada"
 i am not treated as a citizen. though, i was born
here
and qualify by the rules.

i am treated as an outsider
 within my own people,
 gossip passed in front of me,
 like a bottle of wine
 around a young child.
contents forbidden.

and when i go back 'home'
 i cannot read the signs in my language,
 only in English.
 i need a translator
 to speak to my elders.

and, though i try to find a home in the name of
 "wanderer"
 i do not really go wandering.
 if anything, i am searching,
 purposefully looking with intent,
 but the results are not easy
and as i dig, and dig, and dig,
the deeper i go, &
the wider the hole.
the wider the hole.
the wider the hole.

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.

My middle name is Joel

Everyone carries a cross. Or a star of David. Or a jade Buddha. There is some connection to our family’s roots we bring with us and, under the dust of the windy and clouded present, is the gravestone of our cultural histories. Some are heavy. Some are feather light. Whatever it is, I found my jeweled pendant around my neck again after reading this Busy Dad blog post, its stone warming against my chest. Take a minute and read it through, and tell me you don’t feel for him.