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December 31, 2007

Asian American Poetry Triple Header!


Host: Bryan Thao Worra
Location: The Loft Literary Center
1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 US
When: Friday, January 25, 7:00PM
Phone: (651) 815-5490

Join us for a unique reading in Minnesota as California-based poet Lee Herrick joins Twin Cities poets Sun Yung Shin and Bryan Thao Worra for a one-night-only performance!

Each will present incredible work from their 2007 debut collections of poetry!

The event is free and there will be food and refreshments, door prizes and a chance to meet the authors:

Lee Herrick was born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted at eleven months. He is the author of This Many Miles from Desire.

His poems have been published in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Berkeley Poetry Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Many Mountains Moving, The Bloomsbury Review, MiPOesias, and others, including anthologies such as Seeds from a Silent Tree: Writings by Korean Adoptees. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a 2000 Los Angeles Poetry Festival Award finalist.

In Skirt Full of Black, Sun Yung Shin employs the techniques of investigative poetry and collage to craft a nuanced, unique language for navigating the politics of gender, ethnicity, and identity. As she spins new myths from Christian and Buddhist traditions and bestows new connotations upon the characters of the Korean alphabet, she gives voice to the spiritual and cultural hunger of those caught between the two.

Bryan Thao Worra's On The Other Side Of The Eye is the first book of Laotian American speculative poetry and is a journey to the hidden edges of the universe and the human soul, examining secret wars and ancient kingdoms, myth, history, science and dreams, drawing on over 17 years of his work that has appeared internationally.




December 24, 2007

Intersectionality

Intersectionality: how am I different than a white woman?

It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything. Everyday I say I am going to write, but I don’t. It is my responsibility to write; I feel I’m not doing my job when I don’t. But the truth is, when I’m not writing I’m living.

Sometimes living means creatively stretching the paycheck. Means eating that last can of soup in the cupboard before going to the grocery store. Going to the grocery store means rent, the electric bill, or the phone bill will accrue late charges, again.

Sometimes living means time and energy spent trying to explain I am not a nobody, a nothing. Means confronting people who trample me because they can, because they are privileged and powerful. Means even if I lose, I win because I am not silent, not passive. I can be who I am even if I can’t change how other people choose to identify me.

However, sometimes living is remarkably enjoyable and I want to inhale every breath of it, not write about it. There are plenty of unashamedly, self-satisfied writers that write happy all the time.

I have a friend who wears a hearing aid. He doesn’t pretend to hear when he doesn’t, but sometimes he hears what he thinks he hears which isn’t always what was said. He was surprised when he heard me say I write “happy.? I laughed. What I said was, “I write snappy.? I write what some people don’t want to hear, but I unwittingly write it with small jabs of humor.

I suppose I could write happy, but I’d rather be happy than write happy. To be happy I have to write all that other stuff that women of color are so good at writing—those difficult stories that save our lives!

There are always exceptions to my own rules. This morning I went to the grocery store. The temperature was 15 degrees below zero wind chill; the roads were icy. I was hungry. There was no meat in my freezer (or food in my cupboard). For several days I had been hungry. Last night and this morning I obsessed about wanting to eat steak.

I bought the cheapest steak amongst very expensive steaks. I bought the smallest steak. I bought a nine dollar steak. I also bought pork chops and chicken. I bought broccoli, but passed on the tempting sweet potato fries, and potato chips. I passed on the strawberries and raspberries too (which cost as much as meat)! I purchased my food with money I borrowed to pay bills. I was happy. I am happy. I am writing happy.

It’s the morning before Christmas Eve day. I’ve eaten bacon and toast for breakfast. I am drinking last night’s coffee. And I am dwelling on a question asked of me during one of many early morning holiday phone conversations. A question I felt inadequate to answer, though I knew the answer. How is a woman of color different than a white woman? How am I different than a white woman? What are the issues that separate us?

I remember the chocolate chip frozen cookie dough that I bought at the store—another luxury. I am happy, but decide to interrupt some of my “happy? space to answer my friend’s question. It was a heartfelt question, not at all disingenuous. He is interested in who I am and is not obnoxious or confrontational.

The question reminded me of a college class I was asked to teach. Students were assigned my book, CHINESE BLACKBIRD, as a text. They were having difficulty understanding intersectionality. How did race, class, and gender impact my stories? I was asked to explain. Although I understood intersectionality on an experiential level, I struggled to articulate the concept in theoretical language. I tried to visualize it by drawing a diagram with my name circled in the middle of the page. Other words came quickly—Mother African American Father Chinese relationships retirement gender church teenager education race death class German work children, etc. I made copies of the diagram and gave one to each student. Then I told them a story beginning with: before I was born

My Chinese father emigrated from China to the west coast of the United States when he was eleven. He sold vegetables from the back of a truck. He also went to school, participated in sports, was artistic, went to community college—then he jumped a train for Chicago and eventually ended up in Minneapolis and met my mother, a black woman who was handing out towels in the bathroom of a popular Chinese restaurant. Father wanted a boy. Girls in Chinese culture were considered worthless—of no monetary value. Father left his four daughters and the son Mother was pregnant with for the red haired woman who was also pregnant. I was five years old and fatherless. Mother became Mother and Father. I had neither the experience of being Chinese nor black. I was Scandinavian; passing for white. I attended the Lutheran church and sang in the choir. In fourth grade my Sunday School teacher asked if we should allow black people to be members of our church. I was confused. The answer was no. My mother had an eighth grade education. But earned a high school and business degree when she was fifty-eight years old, when all of her children had graduated from high school. We were raised on welfare and love. Raised on Government subsidies and my mother’s sewing. We were sheltered. We were disciplined (State Fair yardsticks broke on my behind). There was music and dancing and my oldest sisters’ boyfriends. We were afraid of snakes, and dirty ol’ men. I lived in the same house, the same neighborhood for eighteen years.

I asked the students to draw lines from my name to the other words on the diagram that related to who I am. Hint: there could be more than one line from one word to others. When they finished, there were lines everywhere. My story couldn’t be told without the intersectionality of the many aspects of my identity.

The first wave of white feminists tended to analyze discrimination of women based solely on gender. Women of color feminists recognized multiple and intersecting discriminations. How could white women not recognize class differences? And what about race?

My five year old world changed from a Chinese want to assimilate white father centered environment to a black female headed passing for white environment living on welfare Salvation Army white dolls for Christmas environment knowing how to play Mah Jong but not knowing Chinese beyond colorful tiles and chow mein environment having to use lemon cream to keep my skin light environment having to wear make-up to keep my skin masked environment relatives only can visit at night so no one can see they are black environment can’t go to high school football games because there might be a race riot environment to men in white sheets haunt me and still do today environment.

To better understand intersectionality an internet search provided clarity:

CENTER FOR WOMEN’S GLOBAL LEADERSHIP
http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/globalcenter/policy/bkgdbrfintersec.html

The UN and Intersectional Discrimination

Central to the realization of the human rights of women is an understanding that women do not experience discrimination and other forms of human rights violations solely on the grounds of gender, but for a multiplicity of reasons, including ages, disability, health status, race, ethnicity, caste, class, national origin and sexual orientation. Various bodies and entities within the UN have to a certain extent recognized the intersectionality of discrimination in women's lives. However, the structures of the UN do not necessarily support the implementation of such an understanding. . . .

A definition of intersectional discrimination

An intersectional approach to analyzing the disempowerment of marginalized women attempts to capture the consequences of the interaction between two or more forms of subordination. It addresses the manner in which racism, patriarchy, class oppression and other discriminatory systems create inequalities that structure the relative positions of women, races, ethnicities, classes, and the like. Moreover, intersectionality addresses the way that specific acts and policies operate together to create further disempowerment. For instance, race, ethnicity, gender, or class, are often seen as separate spheres of experience which determine social, economic and political dynamics of oppression. But, in fact, the systems often overlap and cross over each other, creating complex intersections at which two, or three or more of these axis may meet. Indeed, racially subordinated women are often positioned in the space where racism or xenophobia, class and gender meet.?

What does all this have to do with me?

My mother: hid her black identity to live in a white neighborhood so her children could hopefully live lives isolated from racism; work opportunities were limited by Mother’s eighth grade education, being a black woman, having five young children to raise on her own; etc. Class. Race. Gender.

Me: a mixed race don’t want to pass for white woman writer moving from one relationship, one house, one job to another running from prejudice and discrimination from racism and sexism only to encounter both over and over again earning a graduate college education in midlife earning less money in a lifetime than a white husband without a degree could earn in a year.

Sometimes I am happy. Sometimes I believe love is possible. Sometimes I believe my next lover will love all of me even though I know I am too much to love.

Sometimes I eat steak.


Women of Color: Please click on comments to add your story—how does intersectionality impact your life?