How a Violent Act Led Me to Be a Story Digger

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Salad Days.”

It all started when I became editor-in-chief of the Asian American Quarterly (AQ) in my junior year of college.  Growing up in a mostly white suburb, I wasn’t used to hanging out in cultural organizations.  Assimilating and blending in with others was certainly the most preferred way to be.  In fact, I remember having such culture shock hanging out with my Korean American roommate and her Asian friends that I asked her if we could hang out with more white people.

Somehow though, the explorer in me had always sub-consciously been curious about my cultural heritage.  This is why I choose to do a research paper on Chinese immigration (I relate more to being Taiwanese American now) in my junior year of high school history and joined Asian American student organizations in college.

Even so, all of this was so new to me, and taking the lead at a magazine focused on Asian American issues introduced me to topics I never really thought about.  One in particular was brought about by my friend Mike, another editor of AQ.  While figuring out which articles to produce and how to edit them, we became embroiled in a heated discussion about discrimination against Asian Americans.  As an expert assimilator I had no idea what he was talking about, so I told him that I had never experienced discrimination, which completely shocked him.  Mike kept prodding me, trying to dissect it out of me – that I had been discriminated but just didn’t know it.

Being the explorer I naturally am, I wanted to find answers.  I wanted to know why Mike seemed to know something that I didn’t.   So, I decided to take a Student Organized Seminar called “The Asian American Experience.”  During one of these classes we watched a documentary about an incident almost ten years before called “Who Killed Vincent Chin?”

There on the screen I saw how a Chinese American was brutally beaten to death by auto workers in Michigan because of their racial prejudice.  This was during the 1980’s, the time when Japanese cars became popular and threatened American auto workers’ sense of job security.  When I heard one of the perpetrators say, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work” I felt my body tighten and I cringed in disbelief.  And then on top of it all, the judge only sentenced them to 3 months of probation and a $3000 fine  – for killing someone?!  When questioned about the sentence this is what he had to say, “Had it been a brutal murder, of course these fellas would be in jail now.”  What?!

It was then that something in my brain switched on.  My world permanently shifted – everything I had previously thought completely changed.  I became more aware of things people said and did.  I realized that when the white guy down the hall my freshmen year talked about wanting to date only Asian women, that was racial stereotyping.  When non-Asians asked me where I was from and I told them New York, their look of disappointment wasn’t that they didn’t like the state of New York.  It was because I didn’t answer the question they wanted to know, my ethnic heritage.  When people told me I spoke such good English, they weren’t complimenting my linguistic skills.  They were assuming English wasn’t my first language.

In fact, many Asian Americans have had a similar reaction as I did as seen in this clip of the documentary “Vincent Who?” which also talks a little about the historical context of how Asian Americans have been treated since the 1800s.

I couldn’t believe I never knew about such anti-Asian violence, that after splitting open Vincent Chin’s head with a baseball bat, after all the trials and retrials – that in the end, these two men would never serve a day in prison.  Unbelievable!! How could our justice system have failed so miserably?  This was 20 years ago when I discovered the story that changed my entire perspective on society and made me determined to learn as much as I could about this missing gap of knowledge.  Now I hope to tell people more about important stories like Vincent Chin’s through this blog!

For a Writer

Even though I’ve been writing in a journal since I was 12 years old, I never thought of myself as a “creative” writer, and it wasn’t until 4 years ago that I decided to take myself more seriously and call myself:  A WRITER.

The Quotes For a Writer page is dedicated to sharing the quotes I’ve collected since then. Hope they inspire and encourage you too!

This is the first quote that got me thinking about where my writing could come from.

…I think important cultural stories that need to be told…emerge from long-held silences, and with most cases, the storyteller has had to have spent a good deal of time mulling over the issues before breaking that silence…FOR A WRITER, as you live in this  kind of silence…not knowing quite what it is that the world is not giving you, not knowing quite what it is that your work cannot address as yet, you are at the beginning of a critique of culture and society.  It is the moment when powerful personal alienation slips into critical thinking – the origin of imagination.

– by Garrett Hongo, Under Western Eyes

 

Searching For What’s On the Other Side

Beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean for the first mile

Beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean for the first mile

Hello and welcome to my first official blog post! I’m super excited to get going with this new idea of mine – writing about those untold yet important stories that need to be acknowledged.

Often when I’m hiking or on a walk, the thing that keeps me going is the desire to know what’s on the other side. Sometimes I’m anticipating that spectacular view I heard about to appear so I can revel in its beauty. For example, on one of my favorite hikes up in Point Reyes on the Palomarin Trail, my friend Tracey and I were trying to find a beautiful lake smack in the middle of this trail that wove in to the Pacific coast and then away from it. Bass Lake was supposed to be four miles in from the trail head, but after walking so long along the ocean, away from it among several hills, onto a rocky path in between two more hills – we thought we were almost there, surely the lake should appear. But no, instead there was a forested area. We were determined though and kept hiking for another 45 minutes through the thick forest and into the sunshine. Still no lake and only shrubs to our right and left.

What we saw for a little while before finding the lake

What we saw for a little while before finding the lake

Right when we were about to give up, we spotted some birds flying overhead and followed their flight path to… YES, lo and behold, Bass Lake, this perfectly blue shrine out in the distance! All our hard work paid off.

So what does this have to do with digging up stories? Well, this is what I feel like a lot of my work will be on this blog. I know there’s a story out there to be told – one that isn’t commonly heard and celebrated every year – and it’s going to take hard work to find it, but if I stay with this part of me that naturally loves to explore and find that view, that nugget of information, I’ll get to it. I know it.

Bass Lake at last!

Bass Lake at last!