ASIAN AMERICAN PACIFIC ISLANDER HERITAGE MONTH
May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month – a celebration of the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history and are instrumental in its future success. Learn more about this national initiative here.
In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, Regimes Museum presents a poem written by Jenny Yen. Ms. Yen is a current student at Chapman University and a board member of the Asian Pacific Student Association at Chapman University. Through writing about her personal experiences, she hopes to bring more awareness to intersectional Asian issues.
We stare at each other until our faces distort, blend, melt, until our demons lick the glass that separates us.
We are made of glass. To be admired and broken, to be seen but invisible.
Our demons. Their names are those of our fathers, of our brothers, of our boyfriends, our landlords, our homeroom teachers. All those who found a way inside us; there they live, inhabit us, critique us with an eye we cannot escape.
We see them everywhere, there, the voyeur’s eye we shoulder. Our demons. We tilt our heads and they slip with our black hair. We see their hunger flicker on reflective surfaces, in the dead of our screen, in the sheen of her lip gloss, in the wet of our eyes, the bathwater that burns our skin red, the cough syrup that turns our insides purple.
We don’t get the white picket fence, the security of white walls, it is hard being colorful in a world that expects whiteness.
I pried them open, second grade, pulled them open until the pink and red of the inside of my eyelids blinked back at me. I looked demonic. Deadeyes.
I called them Deadeyes. They didn’t sparkle, the brown trying to blink back, dark and dull. They looked Dead. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get them to look. Couldn’t get them to look the way I expected them to. Before looking at those reflective surfaces, I forgot that I had Deadeyes. Regardless of the stinging dryness, I kept them pried open, regardless of the monstrous hunger that possessed my eyes, I kept them open. They looked Dead otherwise.
Dead eyes. We have Dead eyes. DeadeyesDeadeyesDeadeyes. Our browns, we wish them blue, our dark we pray light. We burn, bleed, butcher until we blend into the walls we’re put within. Pull up our lids to see the ways they see us, they hack off our limbs to be sold for parts. They enjoy the taste, see us only as breasts and thighs. They sell us, parts that can be plunged, they sell our parts to businessmen from abroad whom we beg to pay more than ten cents. They sell our skin on clothing hangers. Sell our bodies as commodities.
Take our hair, our forced fingers, they devour us, until even our bones are gone, when we no longer have anything to give, they demand more. They tell us to shut up, be grateful that we are a fantasy, a fetish. They tell us we are lucky, we aren’t at the bottom, that it could be worse.
They defend those whose hands, arms, bodies, are stained with our blood.
They serve and protect their own, standing on the breathless corpses of all those that dared to exist in.
They say it was a bad day, that race had nothing to do with it. Fucking Lies.
We’ve seen stained collarbones, we’ve felt hands push our heads further down, the fear forcing his way down our throats. Our faces slashed, we bleed on subway tiles, they just walk past, to them we are made of glass.
Our skin set ablaze, the very skin we’ve kissed gingerly; under our lips her skin is as soft as worn leather, hands that have known only steering wheels and bike handles, spotted from afternoon sun. We’ve seen them cry, beg to be listened to. We’ve done the same.
We’ve seen the ways entitlement breeds danger. We’ve seen the ways we’re so easily discarded.
We’ve seen the titles:
Pull up our eyelids to see the ways they see us.
They sell our bodies as commodities.
They turn our eyes inward. So we can do their work for them, so we can hate the other. Their gaze devours what was once ours, we lose ourselves.
They take our lives so easily, so carelessly, so violently, they take until we don’t know who we are anymore. We look at imigration papers, one month or they return to a country they can no longer call their own, their children left parentless in a land that hates yet fetishizes them.
We call home, remind our parents to stay safe, to be careful. She can only look at me with glassy eyes and tell me to stay
safe. Safe. Safe. Safe. We wonder what safe feels like. Angry fists, angry words, we wonder what it feels like to feel protected. For those who enforce a broken system to stand at a podium and excuse our behavior, regardless of the crimes, sins, we’ve committed.
But he likes steak, and he has such a bright future ahead of him.
But he was having a bad day, and it has nothing to do with race.
It was a sex addiction, it’s just a preference.
Watching through Deadeyes, what other choice do we have but to survive?
Wonder if survival is worth it. Worth the knife to the neck, the cracked lip, the smokey eyes and ashen skin. Worth the burnt, slashed, shot skin. Wonder if our tears can keep sustaining us. Dead. Eye look at you, at we, we who scream to be heard. To be acknowledged for more than a day, a week, we who have to scream as we slip into oblivion once we no longer sell stories, bodies, myths.
Dead: wonder how many more will die.
Eyes: though we see beauty, there is more to us than the beauty we contain. Eye’ve seen smiles that heal, eye’ve eaten noodles that fill my soul and stomach, eye’ve been held in tight embraces, felt love so strong it couldn’t help but leak from my eyes, eye remember the scent of perfume, shampoo on pillowcases, eye have lost and found myself, others, eye used to hate my-eye-self, but now only gaze upon us in soft affection.
Let our demons lick the mirror, we are learning to break that (image of) glass.