Interview with Jee Yoon Lee’s “Writing Like an Asian”

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Most days I feel like a mess, other days I know I’m an educator, a wife, a mom, a hiker, a home cook and gardener, but I love the days when I can call myself a “Writer” and thanks to Melissa Sipin, I got a chance to escape the imposter syndrome and discuss some of my greatest loves and life’s passions. Professor Jee Yoon Lee, who teaches at the Georgetown University Writing Program, has created an incredibly comprehensive website featuring Asian/American writers and artists with “Writing Like An Asian.” The scope is astonishingly wide and the interviews are deep, such as Q&A’s with Sipin, Barbara Jane Reyes, Marianne Villaneuva, David Mura, and the list goes on and on.

Here’s a taste:

Every word I write is summoned by my mixed race heritage, and the hundreds if not thousands of miles my grandparents traveled from the Philippines and from Mexico to make a life for them selves and for our family here in the States. I feel in some sense I am re-telling the same story, the origin of our mixed ancestry. How opposing forces from different parts of the world came together to make new.

Read the entire interview here.

Peep out my interview and please share with lovers of lit to spread the word on “Writing Like An Asian.”

 

Got our copy of Rabbit Fool Press’ latest anthology “Completely Mixed Up”

Completely Mixed Up

Yours truly has received my contributor’s copy of Rabbit Fool Press’ anthology “Completely Mixed Up” edited by Brandy Lien Worrall Soriano.

…fifteen years in the making. The project started in 2000, with a trilogy of 700 handmade chapbooks. Over the years, the project has been presented all throughout North America, most notably in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York. Seventy contributors offer over 150 works of visual art, writing, photography, and performance in this groundbreaking anthology, displaying creative expressions of what it means to be mixed race/mixed heritage Asian American and Canadian.

Please spread the word to your favorite readers and consider using the anthology for your classes or donating to libraries. Copies are available at their website and Amazon.

CONTRIBUTORS:
Ethelyn Abellanosa, artist and writer
Neil Aitken, award-winning poet
Kevin Minh Allen, poet
James Lawrence Ardeña, artist and poet
Sandy Sue Benitez, poet
Tamiko Beyer, poet
Sumiko Braun, poet, filmmaker, performer
Leilani Chan, award-winning performer and playwright
Tricia Collins, actor and screenwriter
Wei Ming Dariotis, professor and poet
Melinda Luisa de Jesús, professor
Alison M. De La Cruz, performer and writer
Cheryl Deptowicz-Diaz, poet and lawyer
Lance Dougherty, poet
Andrea Duke, poet
Dr. Angela “El Dia” Martinez Dy, poet, writer, educator
Hillary LP Eason, writer
Sesshu Foster, award-winning writer
Margaret Gallagher, CBC radio personality and writer
Shamala Gallagher, writer
John Endo Greenaway, photographer and taiko performer
Hazel H. Hill, poet
Jason Kanjiro Howard, filmmaker
Catherine Irwin, poet
Michelle Tang Jackson, writer and performer
Sherlyn Jimenez, writer and poet
Dr. Peter Nien-chu Kiang, award-winning professor and poet
Daniel Takeshi Krause, writer
Noemi LaMotte Serrano, writer
Claire Light, writer
Marjorie Light, spoken word artist and DJ
Cassandra Love, award-winning poet
Pia Massie, award-winning multimedia artist
Kelty Miyoshi McKinnon, landscape architect and artist
Trina Mendiola Estanislao, poet and teacher
Rashaan Alexis Meneses, award-winning writer
Dorian Sanae Merina, award-winning poet, journalist, and educator
Shyamala Moorty, award-winning dancer and performer
Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, professor, psychologist, and writer
Mark Nakada, writer and teacher
Lynda Nakashima, visual artist
Victoria Namkung, journalist, novelist, consultant
Debora O, writer and educator
Genevieve Erin O’Brien, award-winning performer and educator
Haruko Okano, interdisciplinary artist
Matthew Olzmann, award-winning poet
Giovanni Ortega, award-winning poet, performer, and playwright
Taro O’Sullivan, writer and journalist
Tony Osumi, poet, artist, and teacher
Stevii Paden, poet
Sandra Mizumoto Posey, professor, poet, and performer
Amal Rana, poet and educator
Mia Riverton, award-winning actress, writer, and producer
Tony Robles, poet
Freedom Allah Siyam, poet, educator, and organizer
Genaro Ky Ly Smith, award-winning writer
Michael Tora Speier, multimedia artist
Sebastian Speier, artist and graphic designer
Jeff Chiba Stearns, award-winning filmmaker, animator, and illustrator
Jason Sublette, writer and professor
Claire Tran, poet, lyricist, and dramatic writer
Julie Thi Underhill, photographer, filmmaker, writer, and performer
Alberto Vajrabukka, poet and performer
Lisa Valencia-Svensson, award-winning filmmaker and poet
Kieu Linh Caroline Valverde, professor and writer
Jane Voodikon, writer
Fred Wah, award-winning writer and poet
Chloe Worrall-Yu, writer and artist
Mylo Worrall-Yu, writer and artist
Anthony Yuen, writer

Thrilled to be included in the much anticipated anthology “Completely Mixed Up” Chapbook

Soon to be released by Rabbit Fool Press, Completely Mixed Up is part of the anthology series, which

began in 1999, when Aisarema, an Asian American literary organization in Los Angeles, approached Brandy Liên Worralland her colleague James Ardena to curate a reading by mixed race Asian American poets and writers. With their backgrounds in book and visual arts, Brandy and Jamie produced 300 handmade chapbooks, entitled “Mixed Up,” to commemorate the reading…Over the next 10 years, they produced “Too Mixed Up” and “All Mixed Up,” publishing works by over 70 writers and artists from the U.S., Canada, the Philippines, and Japan.

Featuring art, photography and writing Completely Mixed Up explores  what it means to be mixed race and come from mixed heritage. Copies will be available here soon!

 

Rabbit Fool Press Release All Mixed Up Anthology 2015

 

Speaking on Love & Labor for Barbara Jane Reyes’ class “Filipina Lives and Voices in Literature” at USF

Thanks to professor and poet Barbara Jane Reyes and the sponsorship of the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program and Asian Studies Program, I was able to guest lecture for Reyes’ Spring 2012 course “YPSP 195-01/ANST 195-02: Filipina Lives and Voices in Literature” at the University of San Francisco on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. Before my presentation, sixteen savvy students read my short personal essay “Barbie’s Gotta Work,” published in Doveglion. The essay was included in the course’s unit on “Work and Domesticity.”

Reyes recently discussed this very same class and its inception in her recent post on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet The Blog:

One day, I’d casually asked our program chair whether he was interested in an all Filipina/Pinay (Filipino women) literature course, and he said, yes, draft a syllabus, and we’ll get it approved by the curriculum committee. It was approved. It was quickly filled. This is the first semester I am teaching the course, and I’m still in disbelief. All Pinay Literature. I always think, wow, where was this class when I was young, and when I needed it most. It seems a lot of people have been asking this question too, as I have been asked by more people than I can count, for my syllabus and reading lists. So, in this space, I will be talking a bit about some of the items from my syllabus, in the hopes that it will prompt readers further.

Read entire post here.

For my guest lecture, after giving a brief power point presentation, featuring pictures of my family, my maternal and paternal grandparents at work and at play in their youth, the students asked challenging questions about the superficiality of Barbie and how that was complicated in the essay and what it was like to be a professor of color. Another student broached the gap between generations, wondering how to relate with family members who might not share the same  educational experiences. This brought on the idea of exploring the roots that hold us together and the stories family members share no matter where their paths in life take them.

We discussed looking at life and literature through a prism of lenses, much like looking through a kaleidoscope; we can shift the angles. We also talked about family memories that shape who we are. Some of the students shared their own experiences, remembering the work of their mothers, fathers, and grandparents.

Below is a sneak peek at the writing exercise students worked on, sifting through their past and their parents’ and grandparents’ pasts to uncover half-forgotten memories concerning love and labor, two themes that I keep coming back to with my own writing.

Love & Labor Writing Exercise

  • How do your parents and/or grandparents use their body at work?
  • How did work define your parents and/or grandparents?
  • What sense of self and purpose did they find through their labor?
  • Describe one of your parents or grandparents at work: What is the setting? What are their hands doing? Explain the actions of the body and mind.
  • How are they interacting with their setting? With other people at work?

Revving up for the APASA Keynote Graduation Speech at Saint Mary’s College

Honored to be delivering the keynote speech at Saint Mary’s College of California’s for the following ceremony:

Asian Pacific American Graduate Celebration
Saturday, May 14th
2-4 p.m.
Hagerty Lounge (Please note the change in location; it was originally scheduled in LeFevre Theater.)

Here’s a taste of the speech, an excerpt from an essay written in response to a call for Fil-Am literature:

“Barbie’s Gotta Work”

Unlike my mother who grew up in an old Army barrack tacked to the dusty farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley or my father who sometimes had to sleep in the chicken coop because his family’s house off of Franklin Boulevard in Sacramento was over-crowded with six other siblings, not only did I enjoy a spacious suburban room of my own, but I also had full governship of a pink and white miniature estate. At four feet, the Barbie Townhouse towered over my seven-year old frame. First released in 1975, my three-story edition boasted a blush bedroom suite with a lace canopied bed and matching pink armoire on the top floor. The second level living room afforded Barbie and her friends a cozy space to converse and enjoy tea while lounging on white wicker furniture. On the bottom floor, Barbie hosted small dinner parties and cooked in a cramped kitchen that lacked a stove, an oven, and a sink but offered instead a mini-refrigerator. The townhouse also featured a canary-colored pull-string elevator, which ended up stalling dramatic storylines. Between unspooling the pulley and positioning Barbie just right so her limbs wouldn’t catch as she was towed between floors, she eventually bypassed the elevator, so she could continue her arguments or flirtations uninterrupted.

***

Inspiration for this particular essay was partly borne out of that plastic pink dream we call Barbie. Before I fell hopelessly in love with Louise Erdrich’s tales or stumbled trying to follow the footsteps of Woolf, I wove stories and created characters using the most pink and most traditional of mainstream narrative tools.

Image from Celebrity Baby Blog

The Barbie Townhouse circa 1970’s release was my cardboard and plastic play-stage where I could re-enact and revise plot-lines from One Life To Live and All My Children with an ethnic twist. Instead of Barbie as the lead her friend, Island Fun Miko, was lady of the house and the center of all my Barbie narratives.

Image from Jemboy’s World

“Tropical Island Fun with Barbie and Miko” January 26, 2009

The Barbie Travel Agent Set was a surprise gift from Santa who, ironically, had designs to usher and initiate me into Third Wave Feminism:

Image from The Henry Ford Museum, “Happy 50th Birthday, Barbie!” March 2009

Zadie Smith, a post post-colonial writer?

From The New York Times’ “Other Voices, Other Selves” published January 14, 2010, Pankaj Mishra explores important points regarding Zadie Smith’s collection of essays in the collection, Changing My Mind, which, according to Mishra, Smith only edges around post-colonial politics, and skirts past mixed-race themes when she should be tackling these issues head on:

The essays that follow discuss some prominent dead white writers (George Eliot, Kafka, E. M. Forster, Nabokov, Barthes, David Foster Wallace), but they display no Edward Said-style counterreading of canonical texts. Their quirky pleasures derive from Smith’s own critical persona — always bold, jauntily self-reflexive and amusing — and her inspired cultural references, which include both Simone Weil and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There is little hint of Smith’s culturally diverse background in her essays on (mostly Hollywood) movies and stars; they belong recognizably to an Anglo-American tradition of writing about cinema that alternates between masochistic reverence and slash-and-burn japery.

As a mixed writer, am of two minds about this. Wondering why we are expected to declare our ethnicity time and time again, as if our skin color, our names, our history, our family, and every living pore of us doesn’t announce it everyday of our lives. Sometimes we’d just rather talk about something other than our otherness. There’s more to that, as well, why be the first one to call ourselves out. If we announce our ethnicity, we are immediately placing ourself in the ethnic corner, which the critics will do whether we like it or now. Why can’t we just be “writer” or “president” without the qualifiying

In this essay (which compares Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland” with Tom McCar­thy’s “Remainder”), Smith passes over the many novels from outside the West that have helped expand traditional bourgeois notions of self and identity. Yet her essay on Barack Obama is replete with the postcolonial-cum-postmodernist themes — hybridity, mimicry and ambivalence — that professors of literature and cultural studies commonly employ in American and British universities. Smith’s hope that Obama’s “flexibility of voice” may lead to “flexibility in all things” derives not so much from hardheaded political analysis as from academic high theory, which assumes that those who live between cultures best represent and articulate the human condition today. According to Smith, the moral of Obama’s story is that “each man must be true to his selves, plural.”

On this point, at least, Smith is ideologically consistent. In fact, the idea that “the unified singular self is an illusion” could be the leitmotif of this collection. It allows Smith to revisit her own early assumptions and to question such essentialist notions as “black woman-ness.” Reflecting on Kafka’s ambivalence about his ethnic background, she writes: “There is a sense in which Kafka’s Jewish question (‘What have I in common with Jews?’) has become everybody’s question, Jewish alienation the template for all our doubts. What is Muslimness? What is femaleness? What is Polishness? What is Englishness? These days we all find our anterior legs flailing before us. We’re all insects, all Ungeziefer, now.”

This may sound a bit melodramatic. But then — as Salman Rushdie and other practitioners of postcolonial postmodernism have stressed — ambivalence, doubt and confusion are essential to forming dynamic new hybrid selves. Smith seems to bring to this now entrenched critical orthodoxy the particular weltschmerz of today’s bright, successful but sad young writers. This is most evident in the collection’s final essay, a long and passionately argued panegyric to David Foster Wallace in which Smith diagnoses the central dilemmas of her own increasingly lost generation. These are dilemmas, she argues, that Henry James, who assumed awareness leads to responsibility, never encountered: “the ubiquity of television, the voraciousness of late capitalism, the triumph of therapeutic discourse and philosophy’s demotion into a branch of linguistics.”

Having hybrid identities, not belonging anywhere or indeed belonging everywhere, may have its advantages, but these attributes must still contend with pressing circumstances like the voraciousness of 21st-century capitalism. Far from floating free in a state of unbelonging, most people are trapped in predetermined social and political positions; they must act within the history that surrounds them. The possession of multiple selves and voices doesn’t seem to be helping — and may even be inhibiting — Barack Obama. The victims of the seemingly endless violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan would draw scant comfort from the knowledge that the present occupant of the White House has an ear for different accents and can mimic everyone from a white Harvard nerd to a Ken­yan elder.

Read entire article

More Mixed Race Portraits

From NPR’s “Mixed Race Americans Picture a Blended America” :

The 2000 U.S. census was the first to give Americans the option to check more than one box for race. Nearly 7 million people declared themselves to be multiracial that year, a number that’s expected to shoot up in the 2010 count. As more of the nation’s population identifies itself as of mixed race, the authors of a new book say Americans’ traditional ideas of racial identity are in for a challenge.In the book Blended Nation, photographer Mike Tauber and producer Pamela Singh combine portraits of mixed-race Americans with stories of living beyond the sometimes rigid notions of race. The husband-and-wife team tell host Liane Hansen they wanted to highlight the personal experiences of life between categories.

Read more

Listen to audio archive

'Blended Nation' by Mike Tauber and Pamela Singh
Blended Nation: Portraits and Interviews of Mixed-Race America,
By Mike Tauber and Pamela Singh,
Hardcover, 136 pages
Channel Photographics: $34.95

GoodReads Review: Mukherjee’s dance between Casteneda and Conrad

Leave It to Me (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Leave It to Me by Bharati Mukherjee

My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
Being citizen of the world is crazy-making. You belong to nowhere and every where claims you. You could be Egyptian, Thai, Fijian, Spanish or Persian, and strangers with a downright rudeness will marvel at your hair, dissect your skin color, and speak brazenly about the otherness of you. Mixed race, multi-culturals must learn to straddle borders and serve as ambassador to a crowd that only pretends to be homogenized. Members of the “rainbow tribe” learn to belong to multiple worlds and become schizophrenic in the process. Bharati Mukherjee’s rambunctious and mythic novel, Leave It To Me is a fast-paced tale that lassos and wrestles the mixed race experience to the ground. Her writing, as in Jasmine and Middlemen & Other Stories, scintillates. She cuts through all the B.S. and morass to get to the beating, bleeding heart of our racially complex world.

Debby DiMartino, or the reinvented and reincarnated Devi, is a force of a nature. What makes her a great main character is that we don’t know what she’s capable of and neither does she. The best literary characters instill just enough fear in their readers, so that we’re surprised, almost aghast, at their potency. Half Indian and half American, Devi raises a path of destruction and retribution as she seeks her birth parents. Born and raised in Schenectady by her adoptive Italian American parents, the family that cared for and loved her throughout childhood, adolescent, and teenage years gets tossed aside, while Devi follows a thin line between sanity and insanity, stalking her heritage to the Bay Area of California, a bastion for changelings and shape-shifters. Circuiting the cracked out Haight, berserk Berkeley, and even an off-road jaunt through the Caldicott Tunnel for an evening of suburban madness in Lafayette, Devi meets soul-searchers and cosmonauts who are more lost and more confused than her own orphaned and jumbled self. With psychic and transcripted transmissions from Rajasthan, Mukherjee alights the Pacific Rim with a burning tale of explosive souls enmeshed in a Vietnam love versus war saga. Devi’s origin is the twisted tale of a hippie American mother, who romanticizes the East, bowing to her Oriental lover and lo! a hapless baby with a hunger for revenge is borne. Leave It to Me, is a perverse dance of both classic and contemporary themes, when Casteneda meets Conrad.

View all my reviews.

“What R U ???”

Thursday evening, April 9, 2009, NPR aired the show In the Mix: Conversations with Artists…Between Races. Spliced with sound bytes from 44th President Obama’s Inaugural Speech, producer and narrator, Dmae Roberts, raised all too familiar themes and experiences of confused identities, raising awareness, and the exasperating questions I’m habitually poked and prodded with by strangers and acquaintances. “What was she?” shall be written on my epitaph. But with the proliferation of mixed race people, like myself, according to the show, “Nearly 7 million Americans are of mixed race” and “by year 2020 half of the people will be of mixed race,” perhaps we won’t have to serve as Cultural Ambassadors and explain how babies are created, no matter the ethnic backgrounds.

Quotes from some of the artist interviews:

Thomas Lauderdale:

“Coming from no where and everywhere. Openness to everything different.”

“Identity is a puzzle that has to be solved.”

Demetra Pittman:

“Love complexity, revel in it. Life isn’t black and white.”

Velina Hasu Houston:

“Misidentities, made me curious about other cultures across the world.”

Robert Karimi:

“Create communities not just on race Life is a negotiation.

“Point of departure to intersections”

Mixed Race Vocabulary: inclusive, sensitivity, rainbow tribe, Heinz 57, cultural consciousness, melting pot.

http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R904111300