Yeo boh say yo?
I say into the phone,
Quickly and quietly
But still the room grows silent
and I wonder
How many eyes have me in a glass case propped up for display.
I end the call after 3 “yeah”s and 1 “no” and 1 sentence that felt would never end until the
friends started laughing and adults started asking and the “how do you say” requests and
I start wishing I wasn’t Korean.
White peers see bilingual as a gift
But do not confuse this as our talent show,
When in reality we are captured in a circus act
Are the brown and yellow animals laboring for your entertainment,
Today, yesterday, for the past few centuries.
Our various languages feel pain by different
sang cheo deul, kizu no, shan kou
But you condense us into one chunk to grind into humor
To have our difficulties peppered into your jokes.
Have our distinct language histories be forgotten
So you can compare our unique names
To silverware tumbling down the stairs
The stairs in which we then throw our names
Down like white flags to surrender to new, “prettier” ones
Meanings that were held in each syllable replaced with empty Latin letters
Easily written but always seem to st um b le
And come out like unaccustomed animal groans-trying to mimic the sound of human words
We hear you laugh at our attempts to fit in
As we start our small businesses from scratch
But you only seem to see them as balls balanced on our noses
We work our asses off
Only for people to just walk out and say
“That Asian lady’s accent was so bad”
followed by a gross imitation of her speech
or “Ugh those cheap asians totally ripped us off”
As If America Didn’t Rip Us Off
With their banner printed “All men are created equal”
under “Land of the Free”
But with our limited English
What we didn’t notice was the small print at the bottom
Letting us enter the tent, but seating us in chains.
Inviting our words, our food, our culture,
People want Asian writing
Decorating their houses, tattooed on their arms
Because it “is beautiful” or “really cool”
But once we read it they jump to the sounds of “ching” and “chong”
Much like author J.K Rowling
Who thought Cho Chang was an appropriate name to give to the only Asian girl in the story,
If you stop and actually start to appreciate Asian culture
Instead of Asian mimicry
You’ll know that Cho and Chang are last names of two different nationalities
But don’t mind that she just needed a name for a character, it’s no different from Elizabeth
Smith or Emily Johnson
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
A great classic with Audrey Hepburn, pearls and black dress,
But Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, the always-angry-homeowner.
Hear the fake Japanese accent like factories whirring,
Look at his face artificially crafted like those on Mount Rushmore
Wipe that off, show white skin underneath
If Only I Could ‘PRETEND’ To Be Asian
Wear a temporary yellowface mask
put it on in the morning when everything about it looks fine in all directions
take it off at night before snuggling in white sheets of privilege
take it off when some kid makes a dog-eating joke
when my house is pervaded by the smell of kimchi
when some girl makes a joke about nail salon workers,
when i’m with my parents in public
When that one day in a car ride back from school my mom asked,
“Are you ashamed?
That I speak in an accent, My English is broken?
Are you ashamed that you come from my womb
Birthed in Korea, raised by these hands,
Yet are you ashamed because I sound stupid?”
I give no answers, I can’t
find words in either language to respond
Because Ashamed is another one of the A-words I was.
Going along with internet Asian jokes, learning them, repeating them myself
Forgetting who I was
I propped up the entirety of my origin as a prop,
My vision distorted by stage lights
My feet stepping to the rhythm of the circus master’s whip.
The spotlight does not glorify me.
I now see the bars,
inside the tent,
And the gift shop selling miniature imitations for cheap
Customer throws one at me, starts screaming that I didn’t catch it
“Why can’t you take a fucking joke”
These bars don’t give me space to laugh