“I’m half Chinese,” he began and slanted one eye upward with his finger.
“And half Korean,” he concluded and slanted the other eye downward.
I said, “Yeah, and you’re 100% racist motherfucker.”
My sixth-grade teacher sent me home for the day.
“Konichiwa,” I heard, followed by a string of incomprehensible syllables. I slowly turned in the chair of the teriyaki joint, knowing exactly what to expect, and said in my best Robert De Niro voice, “You talkin’ to me?” The young man looked at me, confused. I continued, “You know, if you’re looking to get some Asian flavor, you can take your cultural-fetishist ass somewhere else.” He first stammered, then adjusted his glasses and stalked out of the restaurant. I yelled after him, “If you’re wanting some yellowtail, you better go get some sashimi. ’Cause you ain’t getting none of it here! Anyhow, I’m KOREAN!”
The man approached me in the park. “Miss? Can you—Miss, can you read this?” He was in his mid-fifties, wearing an old military bomber. I peered at the locket he held between his fingers and saw a tangle of Asian letters. I said to him, “And how the fuck should I know what that says? Is Asia one big country? Are we all the same Ramen flavor: ORIENTAL? Man, you better consult a goddamn map and know that those nations are all separate and autonomous before you wear that kanji!” Then I realized that kanji is made up of both Chinese and Japanese characters. Oops.
As I passed the penny arcade, I heard, “Looks like we’re having chow mein tonight.” Seven men loitered around the entrance and on the steps. Not feeling like wasting words, I just chuckled at them in the most exaggeratedly moronic way possible: “Har har harrr….” They got mad. Their curses followed me down the hot evening sidewalk, aimed at my punk-rock attire: “You Chinese headbanger! Get out of here, you Chinese headbanger bitch!”
I sauntered out of their neighborhood, never changing pace, while the back of my neck tightened in anticipation of a bullet—the only heavy metal I might just be hearing that night. Then I realized that I just unwittingly tapped into two stereotypes of the men: sub-par intelligence and gangbangers.
When you’re a minority, you learn self-righteousness quickly, as the sole birthright in a land that was never promised to your people. The song is simple and the notes easy to remember: racism is bad, and its derivatives are, too. Because you feel marginalized, you mark the limited land you occupy with lonely totems of pride and rage, which are familiar to others in a similar position but solely and singularly your own.
To a cultural hybrid, both doors can seem locked. The country that people see you as from grows as unknowable to you as it is to them. And then you blame them for your own blindness—for being a stranger where you should have been born. The angrier you become at others, the more it tears you apart.
Eventually you realize that race has become a searing, self-inflicted brand that you wield like a hot poker—which only ends up scarring yourself.
But when denied territory of your own, it becomes necessary to fill the void and occupy a space that becomes fitfully alive with a selfness that flickers on and off, here and there, a light thrown erratically from an upset lantern, the hybrid’s own.
There is no choice but to gallivant across an interior land. At some precarious point of refuge, you may begin to redefine the terms and draw your lines as you desire, safely outside of bloodlines. Then, like a receding flood or a departing relative, race slowly pulls away.
And once you thought you were free from it, you realize that it leaves a stain—not the type seen on skin but the kind that colors and binds the human heart.
This is a multimedia presentation comprising my drawings and writing; it's called Displacing Rage: The Education of a Cultural Hybrid.
I initially gave the presentation at a 2010 University of Washington conference called Life in Marvelous Times: Cultural Work in the Racial Present, organized by the Race/Knowledge Project. I “performed” the text with the drawings projected on the wall behind me, and afterwards held a discussion on racial identity. This presentation was reprised in 2013 at the Breadline Performance Series at Vermillion Gallery in Seattle.
The presentation was reformatted as a looping slideshow with voice-over for the Bojagi: Unwrapping Korean American Identities show at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in November 2014.
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