Archive of Stories
Select stories from hundreds of submissions.
“Carrying so much intergenerational trauma also means that I have to wait to be myself.”
"I would be less hesitant to identify as transgender if I did not feel so unsafe sometimes. Already, there’s a big part of Asian racialization and gender in which Asian men are emasculated and desexualized and Asian women are hypersexualized. (Think K-pop and the Atlanta spa shootings). It’s very difficult to explore transfeminism without feeling I’m already behind on performing gender and on challenging these stereotypes. My parents almost assume by default that no matter how “strangely” I might look to them or how I behave, at the end of the day I will marry a woman and have children and carry on the family line.
I think a lot about like taking hormone therapy and other steps but also, I'm not ready. And that’s OK, too. Carrying so much intergenerational trauma also means that I have to wait to be myself. That I am continuing on my own path, even though I break so many of the traditions of my ancestors."
“You just feel aware, that this is a place that has a lot of power slated against me.”
"I was recently out with my girlfriend and two friends who are both butch and married. My girlfriend is white and femme and when she’s by herself she’ll often be straight-passing. But when we’re together, we’re very much a queer couple. A man was sitting outside an ice cream shop we were trying to enter. As we passed, he had his phone out and pointed at us, yelling, “Oh look, it’s the shameful Asian sex predator brigade!” over and over.
I was the only person in that group who was Asian. For him to see all of us as perverts was vitriolic. A large part of butch-femme history has been associated with the false belief that butches are failed men who take away women who could have been a part of straight society. Already, visibly queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people have been seen as sexually degenerate, and their behaviors criminalized. Being Asian only adds another layer of discrimination.
There have been times when my girlfriend and I will be getting food and the space will feel too white, cis, and straight. When we’re together in public, there’s a tension: will something happen, or something trigger something to happen? I’m always on high alert. I’ve learned to look at people’s eyes and faces—their glances may tell me I need to keep my guard up. It’s not like anyone’s cracking their knuckles at you but you just feel aware that this is a place that has a lot of power slated against me."
"I started writing to try to make sense of things I didn’t understand."
I started writing to try to make sense of things I didn’t understand. I grew up Korean in a white family, and in a largely white community, and writing — at first keeping a diary and later, writing short stories and poems — was a way of observing and expressing a range of emotional and intellectual responses to that difference.
In teaching, I try to help students to name and make explicit those ideas, values, and assumptions that have historically been considered and presented as neutral or default, to interrogate them, bring them to light. Deepening our capacities to identify how social, cultural, and political conditions have shaped our experiences and our aesthetics can help us understand that racism and all systems of oppression are made and upheld, not innate. This is a critical stance, as it challenges the status quo, but writing is an act of intervention, and language wields power.
––––Mary-Kim Arnold, Korean,
“My mother had to find work in less than a month of coming to America in order to keep our family from becoming homeless.”
My father was in re-education camp for ten years for fighting alongside the Americans during the Vietnam War and for trying to flee the country by boat. To keep him alive, my mother quit college to sell cigarettes and used clothes in the street of Saigon to buy my father medicine and dried fish to eat. My mother had to find work in less than a month of coming to America in order to keep our family from becoming homeless. Working in the nail shop was the best fit because she was not required to know English and she knew family friends who owned Nail Shop in Riverside and Corona. She liked working in the nail shop because the tips helped her pay for food and she could learn English from talking to her customers. But over time, she developed asthma from breathing in the fumes from the nail shop. Her only dreams are for two her sons to graduate from college and to visit her seven siblings living in Vietnam.
"My Japanese is not a family heirloom, it’s a crummy arts and crafts project I assembled out of mediocre materials."
I’m unbearably jealous of bilingual speakers of Japanese. It feels like I’m missing out on an inside joke. “You had to be there.” But I can’t have been, there’s nothing I can do to change that. I will never be a native speaker, and I will probably never be a fluent speaker. My Japanese is not a family heirloom, it’s a crummy arts and crafts project I assembled out of mediocre materials—iPad apps, tutor lessons, vocabulary Quizlets, an abandoned Duolingo account, forgotten school teaching. As it is now, it will fall apart before I can give it to my children, let alone share it with my grandparents.
––––Miya, Japanese, Irish, German, 22
"That won't stop me from becoming a speech-language pathologist."
My future career as a speech-language pathologist is dominated by white females. About 80% of SLPs are white females, only 20% consists of various minorities. From that 20%, Asians make up about 2-3%. This may not seem like a big deal to others, but it shows that there is clearly a lack of diversity in this field. And why? Asian parents struggle to accept the idea that their child could possibly have a speech issue (or any issue like mental illnesses), and therefore it is never addressed. This results in their children never receiving exposure to that field of work. Most of my classes have white women sitting in classroom seats with a few POCs sprinkled around. It feels uncomfortable, but that won't stop me from becoming an SLP because when I enter the field, licensed and all, that's one more Asian in the field of speech pathology.
––––Anonymous, Filipino, Chinese, 20
New York City, NY
“I didn’t even know the Korean words for queerness—only in English.”
"A lot of my experiences in queer Asian communities have been tightly knit to Christian missionary work. Where I grew up in Missouri, there were a lot of Korean immigrants who attended Christian Church and shared strong ties with American missionaries. My mom is religious, too, and I only told her that I was lesbian through a letter.
I had been following a podcast called Nancy hosted by two queer Asians, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, who help listeners write coming out letters to their parents in a five-step process. For Asians, “coming out” is different because certain communal and cultural values of “collectivism” and “safe spaces” are absent in our community. In my letter, I didn’t even know the Korean words for queerness—only in English.
Although my mom has never used the words “lesbian” or “gay” around me, I understand how she feels. Her status in the United States was dependent on her being able to adhere to social norms and to be a “respectable immigrant” much like many other Korean Americans."
"My Mom didn't have a lot of education growing up."
Without my Mom, I probably wouldn't have gotten a Ph.D. Seriously. And if I didn't have a terminal degree, I probably wouldn't be able to teach at a major university. I think she's very proud that I'm a professor.
My Mom didn't have a lot of education growing up. She was born in Japan, but when the Korean War ended, she came back to Korea with her family. Life was really hard for her. Even though her ethnicity was Korean, she had been born in and had grown up in Japan, and so her Korean wasn't very good. She also didn't get a lot of schooling in South Korea. So I think she's very happy that we were able to get what she wasn't able to have. For Asians, education is so critical. I don't even think she knows what a Ph.D. is, but she was like ‘yeah, get the best one or something like that.
––––Chul Chang, Chinese, 55
"During this time, a huge crisis of confidence occurred when I came up for tenure."
As a graduate student in ‘71, there were maybe 50 Asian Americans on campus. If you walked across campus and you passed another Asian and didn't say hello, it became a big deal around campus, like why didn’t so-and-so wave? You can't imagine that today.
We went through a huge struggle in the 1980s over admission quotas on Asians. We wanted to support affirmative action, but at the same time, we did not want discrimination against Asian Americans. It was a long struggle that might have been the struggle that really got me in trouble, but ultimately, it changed the complexion of this very campus.
When I graduated, I started teaching Asian American studies as special “diversity” courses and for many years they were the only Asian American classes. It was a battle to establish an ethnic studies concentration. We had to organize ourselves. Students were key players who provided a great deal of energy to the movement.
During this time, a huge crisis of confidence occurred when I came up for tenure and the Department voted unanimously in favor but the university committee on tenure denied me. It was scary... but Asian American representation had become a national issue and Asian American students and scholars from all over the country were protesting a lack of diversity within academia. Eventually, Brown’s president, Gregorian, took my case and the board finally reversed their decision.
––––Robert Lee, Chinese,
“It’s a strange, and admittedly terrifying feeling that the words are all so familiar, but feel so foreign when they come out of my mouth.”
I’m scared of gaining an American accent when I speak Japanese. To somebody who doesn’t speak Japanese, it’s harder to pick up. There’s certain mouth shapes, certain cadences, certain tongue placements that sound like the difference between a native speaker and a foreigner. I used Japanese my whole childhood, being sent to Japanese weekend school begrudgingly every Saturday from kindergarten through high school. But like many bilingual children, I’ve fallen into the habit of responding to my mother’s Japanese with English. It’s a strange, and admittedly terrifying feeling that the words are all so familiar, but feel so foreign when they come out of my mouth.
As someone who looks outwardly more black than Asian, I often feel the need to prove my “Asianness” in Asian settings. I can’t help but feel like losing my “proof” of being Japanese is losing a piece of myself.
––––Elliot, Black-Japanese, 20
"So I slip out the door. Unnoticed, unmissed."
Why had I thought it wouldn’t matter, the fact that I had grown up in the near-absence of other Asian Americans? In my small town I was used to my otherness, but tonight, in college, at this Asian American student gathering—this is a new kind of otherness, and it is worse. Everyone here seems to share something I don’t. A certain ease, a certain kind of experience. I don’t feel Asian enough. Korean enough. I am all wrong in the one place I thought I would be right. So I slip out the door. Unnoticed, unmissed. September is cool against my skin as I walk back to my dorm through the dark, alone. When I step into the circles of light cast by the streetlamps, I see my discomfort, my confusion, nakedly exposed for a brief moment. Then I pass again into the shadows.
––––Naomi, Korean, 21
"Uniting in shared laughter or communal experience creates self-acceptance"
We live in the meme age where pages like Subtle Asian Traits, Subtle Curry Traits and others are uniting Asians around the world. Most days, I have at least some interaction with one of these pages from being tagged in a joke or screenshotting something to send in a group chat with Asian friends. But this was not always the case. Living in a predominantly white area, I didn’t grow up with any Asian friends. I think back to times where I would see a meme about immigrant parents or about a certain Indian food we were forced to eat as kids and instead of tagging or screenshotting, I was alone in that enjoyment. With our current political climate, there are many more serious experiences of loneliness that Asians face, but I share this because uniting in shared laughter or communal experience creates self-acceptance. I wish I had reached this point earlier.
––––Anonymous, Indian, 20