Issue 72 | I like being Asian?
Dear Cosmos Community,
I like myself. Even with the depression, anxiety, tRaUMa, estranged family issues. Even with the years trailing boys who weren’t looking back, the three times I cried in the bathroom at work, the things I wish I hadn’t said to my parents and my sister, the things I wish I had.
“I think I’m pretty awesome, actually” were the exact words I said to my psychiatrist last week. We were discussing my self-limiting beliefs, of which I have many, but without prompting, I conjured up my greatest secret: even with all the issues, I think I am pretty great. My psychiatrist smiled knowingly, like she had suspected this all along in our freshly minted 1-year relationship, but had been waiting for me to confess. She’s so good!
I even liked myself when I didn’t like being Asian. “Hated” was the exact word I used in my diary, ages 13-18. But I hated a lot of things about myself then — my T-zoned acne, my wire braces (with rubber bands!!!), my inability to convince my mom that I needed jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch. I worry that the Asian part of the story gets all the attention, and that I allow it. I don’t talk to you about my strained relationship with salicylic acid, but acne registered way higher on my teenage hate list than being Asian.
I was a teen, and I look back at all this angst and it’s…adorably normal.
But the media, or anyone trying to tell my story, might call this “self-hate”. They might focus on the Asian part, because that’s a “story” in these times of racial reckoning, and the normality of it all gets washed out entirely, until “self-hating Asian American woman” is all the world sees.
There’s no one to blame for this, as vindictive as that might feel. I’m not a finger pointer personally, but it’s finger pointing within the Asian American Universe that’s prompted my declaration of self-liking today.
Jay Caspian Kang, a Korean journalist and writer-at-large for The New York Times, recently published The Loneliest Americans (aka Asian Americans). I haven’t read the book, but Madeline Leung Coleman, Senior Editor at Vulture, has. Last Friday she wrote a blistering review of Kang’s portrayal of Asian Americans: we’re “elites” who’ve forgotten the working class in our community in the desire to assume whiteness. She finds Kang a contradiction — criticizing the elite only to write an entire book about the life of one (his own)— but she concludes that it’s not just Jay. “Self-hate” has all but dominated recent Asian American critical texts, and she references Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings as an example. Oh no, not my girl Cathy!
A Twitter debate ensued, in which Cathy chimed in, as did many Asian American scholars and media folks, but not me. I sat quietly on my couch consuming and consuming opinions from people I did not know, all vying for a chance to define Asian American in a stream of rebuttals. I learned a lot, mainly that Twitter cannot contain the full truths of any person’s opinion, and that in the end, we are having very difficult, very existential conversations in 280-character text boxes belonging to floating avatar heads. This flattening impedes what is a Very Relevant Conversation about what it means to be Asian American, and importantly, who gets to answer that in a popular online culture mag, in a book sold by a major publisher, or in a low-circulation but passionately written newsletter like this one!
Mostly, though, I felt bad. I am definitely one of those awful elite Asian Americans. I do not do enough for the working class. I do not read enough Southeast Asian authors, nor do I do enough to promote non-East Asian points of view. I will not read Jay’s book even though I probably should if I’m going to write about it. My dad emailed me about not hearing from me for a while, and I haven’t emailed him back. I forgot to schedule my next therapy appointment. I’m on Twitter instead of taking my dog out to pee.
But I still like myself. I like being Asian. I am critical of Asian America, but I still care for her, I still fight for her, I still support her in questioning and re-imagining what she can be.
I think she’s pretty awesome, actually.
Karen, Co-Founder of The Cosmos
P.S. This is a low-budget newsletter, and I don’t have the funds to pay for an editor. I need one!! If there are any errors in the way I’ve summarized the events above, please let me know and I’ll make corrections :)
A place to help you find Asian American therapists & mental health practitioners committed to serving the community. Posts are sponsored by practitioners. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in a feature!
Ky Ngo Dennis | Licensed Psychotherapist | California-only
Ky Ngo Dennis, LMFT is a licensed therapist in San Diego, CA with a practice focused on supporting the AAPI community & healing arts practitioners. Ky is certified in Neuro Emotional Technique (NET), which utilizes acupressure points to release emotional stress and process old traumas in the body, and is passionate about integrating intuition & spirituality into her work.
Fall Community Book Swap + Potluck (Free!)
Sun Nov 7 | 11:30-1:30 PM ET | Prospect Park, NY
Y’all asked for it!!! Bring as many books as you want to our community book swap on Sunday, November 7th. Grab some coffee on your way, bring lots of shrimp chips, and join us for a fall picnic in Prospect Park. RSVP below and we’ll send you the exact location to meet up :)
Cosmos Book Club: Writing & Publishing with Larissa Pham, author of Pop Song (Free!)
Thurs Nov 18 | 4 PM ET | Zoom
A special event for emerging writers!! The Cosmos Book Club is sitting down with Vietnamese-American writer and author Larissa Pham to chat about how she wrote and published her first book in her twenties! Come for a very personal and transparent conversation where you can ask about navigating the publishing industry, putting a non-fiction book proposal together, and the writing process.
Pop Song is a memoir combining personal essay with pop culture and art criticism to tell the story of a woman and artist wrestling with the thrills and vulnerabilities of intimacy, seeking reflections and articulations of herself in art and lovers, and ultimately learning how to be alone. You know, living in New York in your twenties! :)
This week’s Culture Corner is dedicated to Filipino American History Month. October is when the first Filipinos arrived in the continental United States in California in 1587. It is also the birth month of Filipino American labor leader Larry Itliong.
***Call for Recommendations***
What BIPOC books, films, music, brands, and creators are you loving? Signal boost time!!!!! Email me at email@example.com, and I’ll feature them (and you!) in the next issue of the Culture Corner!
BRWN GRLZ (@brwngrlz)
The earrings you want but are always sold out!!!!!! Bay Area-based Gretchen Carvajal started making earrings in her dorm room to pay homage to the importance of jewelry in the history of women of color. Her designs are rad and radical, with vibrant pops of color and born-for-compliments designs. The next collection, SALINLAHI, in honor of her father’s birthday and generations of love, drops on Oct 22. We recommend following their Instagram to get the latest as their site is currently closed :) This will sell out!!
"Fixed Focus (Dead Center)” by Stephanie Syjuco
Imagine 36 files mounted in a grid. Each photo is a file from the days of American colonization in the Philippines. In the center of each file in the grid is an annotated correction of a mistake in the archived file. The focus is on the error, rather than the file, representing a subversive correction of the narrative of imperialism that’s dominated American history of The Philippines. This is the latest piece from artist Stephanie Syjuco, who was born in The Philippines, and is now focusing her work “on how photography and image-based processes are implicated in the construction of racialized, exclusionary narratives of history and citizenship”. You can (virtually) view the installation here.
“Concepcion” puts us forcefully and unapologetically on the hook of U.S. imperial history and its role in shaping Filipino and American identity — and never lets us off” - Robert Lovato, The New York Times
I’m in deep admiration of author Albert Samaha’s commitment to placing his family’s history decisively on the map, a defiant action against the erasure of the Filipino diaspora, both in Asian America and in American history overall. To write his family’s history into existence is an act of rebellion against a narrative many of us may know — the loss of our history with each generation.
Note: Book links are connected to The Cosmos Bookshop affiliate page. If you purchase a book from there, you'll be supporting our work and local independent bookstores!
**Do you want to read and review new and soon-to-be-published books by Asian American authors?*
We’re looking for more community voices to read and write mini reviews of books by Asian American authors! Your review will be featured in The Cosmos Book Club newsletter and future Culture Corners! Sign up to review here.