Ricepaper Magazine https://ricepapermagazine.ca Asian Canadian Arts and Culture Fri, 25 May 2018 17:54:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 “Chinatown Ghosts: Resilience in Writing and Translating Experience” by Miranda Choo https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/chinatown-ghosts-resilience-in-writing-and-translating-experience-by-miranda-choo/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/chinatown-ghosts-resilience-in-writing-and-translating-experience-by-miranda-choo/#respond Fri, 25 May 2018 17:44:20 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14942 Chinatown Ghosts, originally published in 1986, is a collection of poems that Jim Wong-Chu wrote over a period of years. Some of them were later published in Ricepaper.  I encountered Chinatown Ghosts during a visit to the UBC … more »

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Chinatown Ghosts, originally published in 1986, is a collection of poems that Jim Wong-Chu wrote over a period of years. Some of them were later published in Ricepaper.  I encountered Chinatown Ghosts during a visit to the UBC Rare Books and Special Collections Library to conduct research in the Jim Wong-Chu fonds. What I found particularly striking about the collection was how Wong-Chu captures lived experiences through his use of poetry to express the complex and entangled layers of history, as well as the emergent structures of feeling through which Chinatown continues to rear its ghostly presence. The literal and metaphorical translation of experiences and histories through the explicit discussion of Chinese immigrant histories and the figure of the ghost reveals the affective reverberations and gaps in Chinese Canadian identity formations.

Although Chinatown continues to exist, it remains a site of debate. We see continued attacks on Chinatown through gentrification: As of 2017, five proposals have been made to build condos at 105 Keefer, and according to by Hua Foundation, long-established local greengrocers, barbequed meat shops, dry-goods stores, and fishmongers in Vancouver’s Chinatown are faced with high rates of closure. Likewise, unfounded accusations of unsafe food practices by city health officials in the 1970s led to numerous temporary closures of the aforementioned barbequed meat shops, while redevelopment and beautification projects from the 80s threatened community members. But what else can we learn from these ghostly presences that linger and disrupt discrete notions of past, present and future in the production of the Chinese Canadian subject and community?

Chinatown Ghosts begins with a poem titled tradition, describing the process of consuming joong—savoury gluitinous rice packets that are often filled with salted duck yolk, pork, dried shrimp, mung beans, and mushrooms. It is through “unlocking” and “releasing the long thin strand/ which binds” histories, imaginings, desires and collective traumas that identity reclamation is framed as both an opening up and revealing of the individual. Enmeshed in a complex web of relationships with family, nation and place, self-identity and community, ghosts emerge.

Many of Wong-Chu’s poems are implicative of the history of early Chinese migration and involvement in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the mining industry, as well as questions of identity and navigating trauma. In the poem fourth uncle, Wong-Chu shows the importance of desire as it emerges from the legacy of these histories. The poem is about the relationship between a village relative and the persona, a young boy, the former who has returned to the West Coast to die and be buried in the old Chinese cemetery, buried alongside his companions in the direction ‘facing home’ alongside his companions in the old Chinese cemetery. This leads the boy to ponder about his own future and feelings of distance from his uncle, open-endedly leaving readers with the question: Where will the boy choose to die when the time comes? This sense of ambiguity captures the complexities of narratives of ‘belonging’ that have emerged out of histories of migration for settlers of Chinese ancestry through economic coercion and / or the desire for ‘upward mobility’ through complicity in indigenous dispossession—highlighting the connections between the formation and legitimation of the Canadian state and the practices and histories through which diasporic identity formations emerge in relation. The boy’s uncertainty and the presentation of affect moves away from taken-for-granted narratives of assimilation that necessarily pit first-generation immigrants against successive generations. This presents the possibility of considering the simultaneous feelings of ‘in-betweenness’ and questions of identity, community, and desire with more nuance. The literary translation of both the literal and affective traces of the past that have merged with the present are heavily implicative of death and loss, as it is commonly used to describe the current state of Chinatowns that are faced with the threat of gentrification, a denial of their futurity. However, the continued presence of Chinatown ghosts, despite their association with death, can be reconfigured as a liminal figure. The complexities of the figure of the ghost and the haunting metaphor functions can function as not only something to be feared of the uncertainty that they present but also something to reconcile with in thinking through the spatialization of Chinatown as well as bodies in the (re)formation of communities across generations, migration, and displacement.

Jim Wong-Chu

The figure of the ghost as a carrier of these historical legacies is one that rejects the institutionalized violence of modernizing projects because of its continued refusal to ‘disappear’ or lose significance despite attempts at erasure and negation. However, its presence should not necessarily be taken for granted. The speaker’s search for “scraps/ of memory” above earth under which the bones of golden mountain men lay in old chinese cemetery – kamploops july 1977 and questions of what healing looks when recognizing “our own ways/ of mistreating ourselves” in the poem not the first time for its presentation of the desire to retrieve “lost time” breaks the illusion of the Chinese Canadian as ‘just is’ and as neatly emerging out of a complicated history. But what does it mean to try to retrieve “lost time” in relation to experiences of disconnect that come out of our haunting? In an early manuscript of Chinatown Ghosts where Wong-Chu had used a stage-play format that included notes about sound effects, music and additional intermittent narration. The speaker of each poem was explicitly gendered; in the case of old chinese cemetery, the speaker is named as ‘female,’ knowledge that gives new meaning to the narrator’s experience of disconnect as well as the possibility of considering changes to immigration policies and migration patterns in relation to the gender and sexual politics of the development of the ‘Chinese Canadian.’ The old man’s lover in scenes from the mon sheong home for the aged is presented as claiming to have the ability to sense ghosts, although she is not taken seriously. With the cause of her missing items “lurking in the shadows” and “her tongue” as her only defense, she is put in a position where she must prove her experiences to members of her community. Ghostliness not only emerges out of the portrayal of histories but also the gaps in representation. Men are a central figure in the genealogy and partial memory of the Chinese Canadian as opposed to women. The erasure of the legislative construction of Chinese women who are both constructed relationally to Chinese men and White women invokes and legitimizes heteronormative and racist ideologies that are productive of the partial memories and histories of the formation of the Chinese Canadian, who must be figured and proved as loyal to the Canadian state, obscuring experiences of violence and trauma.

How do we navigate and respond to feelings of longing, pain, and questions of connection and disconnection that emerge out of our encounters with ghosts? The development of relationships through a shared understanding is an important reoccurring theme in Chinatown Ghosts as they reveal the productive possibility of solace, love, and affection in reconciling with experiences of haunting. Warmth emanates from Wong-Chu’s poem dreams, my favourite from the collection, as its speaker presents a promise of support. Addressing an unknown subject, “waiting/ ready to catch you/ as you fall” when you reach the threshold between that which is and is not discernible, the poem effectively shows the significance of shared understandings as a source of comfort and legitimation. Similarly, Wong-Chu produces a delightful image of artists coming together in his poem “medley in ink and brush,” where they are “bond[ed] . . . like bamboo brush and cuttle ink/ to the soft rice paper.” He beautifully describes the physical and psychic intimacies of writing, from brush to paper and the coming together of artists, a process through which “bodies emerge”—remaining singular yet retaining all of their complexities. Thus, the possibilities of emergent feelings of anger, confusion, happiness and grief and the ability to be vulnerable and transparent with others are not a sign of weakness, but as a site of potential creativity and care, is reflected by the multifaceted nature of the ghost as a figure does not necessarily need to be defined by or limited to death. Wong-Chu’s work opens up the possibility for dialogue about the effects of histories and continued institutionalized of forms of racism, alongside understanding and affirming experiences of incoherency and moments of clarity in our relationships with ourselves and our communities.

Chinatown Ghosts, 1st edition (1989)

Reconciling the presence of ghosts with our own ghostliness and experiences of being haunted through the translation of experiences and histories through the translation of the affective, the accumulation of feeling that emerges out of and through experiences of partial memory reveals the fluidity of the ghost figure, transposed onto bodies, spaces and objects through which they persist. Despite the undesirability of haunting for its liminality and the fragmentation of memories, it presents a challenge to narratives of identity that rely on respectability politics with the effect of illuminating on histories that have been made obscure and presenting the possibility of navigating experiences of loss, disconnection, and shame. The ghost is fluid in the ways by which it emerges out of the traces that we leave behind and that accumulate in processes of displacement, spatializing and the formation of diasporic communities. Haunting reveals the instability and artificiality of belonging, for what the ghost is and isn’t and the ways in which it is a rejection of the notion of modernity wherein the ‘present’ is understood as separate from the past and what we believe to be the future


Chinatown Ghosts will be republished by Arsenal Pulp Press in September 2018 and launched at the LiterASIAN festival in September 2018.


Miranda is a queer second-generation Chinese settler on Coast Salish territories. She is completing her fourth-year at the University of British Columbia, majoring in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice and minoring in Asian Canadian and Migration Studies. Likes cats and dogs equally.

 

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‘Coins’ by Eileen Chong https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/coins-by-na-wang/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/coins-by-na-wang/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 19:39:06 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14958 after Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Hour’

This evening, in the train station,
I ascended, you descended—
our eyes met, then I turned away.
My husband was behind me, and
you went home, to your wife and child.
It’s hard to believe … more »

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after Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Hour’

This evening, in the train station,
I ascended, you descended—
our eyes met, then I turned away.
My husband was behind me, and
you went home, to your wife and child.
It’s hard to believe I once felt
hunger for you, that a stolen
glance would carry meanings (I know
now) were empty. No treasure there—
just these coins, dropped, buried in mud.


Eileen Chong is an Australian who was born in Singapore of Chinese descent. Her poetry collections are Burning Rice (2012), Peony (2014) and Painting Red Orchids (2016).  Chong writes about food, family, migration, love and loss. The Singaporean-Australian poet Boey Kim Cheng has said that ‘Chong’s work offers a poetry of feeling, rendered in luminous detail and language, alive to the sorrows and joys of daily living.’ Her work has short-listed for numerous awards, including the Anne Elder Award 2012 for a first book, the Australian Arts in Asia Award 2013, the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award 2013, and most recently, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award 2017.

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‘5 foundings’ by Jonathan Chan https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/5-foundings-by-jonathan-chan/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/5-foundings-by-jonathan-chan/#respond Sun, 20 May 2018 18:55:41 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14954

Illustration by Hedy

“He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with
shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” – Psalms‬

kuala lumpur | houston, 1981.
they say these streets
were paved with aspiration.… more »

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Illustration by Hedy

“He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with
shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” – Psalms‬

kuala lumpur | houston, 1981.
they say these streets
were paved with aspiration.
the ranches are far from
our cul-de-sac. at church
the peace shows who was
here first. dusty staircases
nestle an ornamental clock.
the angklung is beside the
piano and the swords
above the organ. there
is turkey in the jook and
lapchung in the stuffing.
it’s burrito not popiah,
skewers not satay, but at
least their names don’t
have to change.
new york | singapore, 1997.
marriage was an episcopal
church in a concrete borough,
envisioned in faded photos
on a living room cupboard. in
traded cityscapes emerge
questions of what it means
to taste perennial unease. for
there is no continuity in
sweat-stained uniforms, in
red-scratched booklets and
stripe-smeared faces.
automated welcomes ring
hollow, but the newscasters
who bow and the wafting
smoke and the whispers
good night let me know
that i’m home.


Jonathan Chan is an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge reading English. Born to a Malaysian father and Korean mother in the United States, Jonathan was raised in Singapore and sees his cultural tapestry manifest in his writing.

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Aurora Awards Nomination Open, Canada’s science fiction awards https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/aurora2018/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/aurora2018/#respond Sun, 20 May 2018 01:02:36 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14962 The nominations for the Aurora Awards, Canada’s science fiction awards, ends on May 26, 11:59 p.m. EST. Open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, membership in the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association for $10 gives members the right to … more »

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The nominations for the Aurora Awards, Canada’s science fiction awards, ends on May 26, 11:59 p.m. EST. Open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, membership in the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association for $10 gives members the right to nominate stories and books and to vote in the final ballot.

For 2018, Where the Stars Rise, an Asian anthology of science fiction and fantasy, by Canadian publisher Laksa Media, is eligible to be nominated in the category of Best Related Work. Please consider nominating this book by Asian writers for the Aurora Award.

For more information about the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and the Aurora Awards, visit their website.

 

 

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‘The Shape of her Absence’ by Daisy Moriyama https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/the-shape-of-her-absence-by-daisy-moriyama/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/05/the-shape-of-her-absence-by-daisy-moriyama/#respond Fri, 04 May 2018 13:05:53 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14872

It’s been almost ten years now since my grandmother died. My grandfather came to live with us later that year, and spent the whole time fighting with my dad. I didn’t speak to him while he was there – I … more »

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It’s been almost ten years now since my grandmother died. My grandfather came to live with us later that year, and spent the whole time fighting with my dad. I didn’t speak to him while he was there – I had to avoid the questions I didn’t know how to respond to. Where’s Yosh? He would ask angrily, not remembering she had died months before. Do you like it here? He was frustrated. He thought we were in South Carolina on vacation. He thought he had just seen her.

After they both died my dad didn’t speak about them, or about any part of his childhood. He refused to. Now, he’s finally beginning to talk and ask questions after years of silence. He tells me he sees my grandmother in me. I wonder what that means. I see him in you, I tell him jokingly, speaking about my grandfather.

‘Don’t say that,’ he responds.

My grandmother had two C-sections because her hips were too narrow for her to give birth. That’s probably not the real reason, but that’s what I was told, or at least what I remember being told. The first baby, a girl, came out fine. The second, a boy, came out with a cut across his face where the doctor had gone in too deep with the knife. I wonder now if she was happy in birth. If she was one of those women who would say that it was some sort of euphoric experience, or if she hated it – having a strange group of men cut open her stomach, digging blue rubber-gloved hands right into her uterus, her womb. Her premature six-pound baby boy with a cut across his cheek. Instead of seeing him right away she probably had to wait until her stomach was stitched back up, and his face too.

We only found my grandmother’s notebooks and designs when we were packing up her stuff after she died. She was good at hiding things.

I have the same shaped hips as my grandmother, the same basic bodily structure. We have the same round face. I know from pictures that her forced smile looks similar to mine – where the mouth widens and the teeth show, but our eyes just look flat. Her hugs were meek like mine, a delicate tap on the back and a lean in, but never quite an embrace. There were no gross wet kisses on the lips like my mother’s parents, and not even the polite waspy peck on the cheek. I never saw her dance; our hips aren’t really made for it. I don’t believe that anyone ever heard her sing although I do imagine that she enjoyed it. Maybe she sang on her walks to and from her job at Dominion, when the streets of her Don Mills neighbourhood were cleared of children and fathers. Maybe during her lunch breaks with the apartment to herself, she’d hum her favourite songs as she soaked the rice for her family’s return – whatever those songs may have been. Maybe not, but I do have an image that I’m sure is true, of her as a child, singing and picking flowers or fruit wherever she lived before. I imagine this because she loved it when I played the piano. She used to sit on the chair beside my bench and listen – her eyes closed and wearing the closest thing I ever saw to a real smile. Sometimes she would hum along.

I do know that my grandmother liked to design dresses. Her family owned a little dress shop in Vancouver before the war. My grandmother would work in the studio at the back of the store, where she would carefully cut the patterns her mom drew, and patiently sew along the lines set out for her. Maybe one day she would have created her own patterns, but when the store windows were smashed in and the family was scattered across Canada, none of them got to bring any fabrics, needles or machines. She found herself in Toronto working as a house cleaner. When Brian Mulroney apologized and offered compensation for her lost drawings, she was already a wife and mother. We only found my grandmother’s notebooks and designs when we were packing up her stuff after she died. She was good at hiding things. She even kept them hidden while we were moving her out of her family home and into her senior home. I guess she didn’t want us to share in her disappointment.

She was very quiet for all of her life, and when she had a stroke in her old age that took control of her facial muscles she got stuck that way. In her silence, she was somehow both there but not quite, looking on and thinking, but not engaging. My mom says that it reflected a deep sense of shame . Maybe it was Japanese shame, caused by the internment and the racism experienced before and after – creating a quiet desire to assimilate and deny the visible self. It could have been a woman’s shame – the kind that makes us apologize more and take up less space. Or maybe a culmination – a feeling that results from the experience of being trapped in a body shaped by unknown hands and stuck in a world shaped by unkind builders. My grandmother’s shame deterred me, and seemingly everybody else, from knowing her. It created an overwhelming presence of her absence. Sometimes I worry that I’ve caught it too.

She had a mother and sisters who loved her and a daughter who never visited. I never heard her say a word.

I see it in family. My dad looks down when he talks, always avoiding contact. My brother is sometimes quiet for so long that his face gets red if he speaks, as if something huge and awful is about to crawl its way out. I find them silent at the dinner table, as if their voices have simultaneously become unusable, like a fist when it’s been clenched for too long and the nerves no longer know how to activate the muscles. My dad didn’t speak out loud to anybody except his mother and sister until he was six. Sometimes people think that they’re rude and disinterested, but I don’t. I understand it.

Because I never got to ask my grandmother directly, I question my almost equally quiet family members about her whenever I have the opportunity. This is what I’ve gathered: she was the second of nine children, one of three from her mother’s first marriage. She married my grandfather shortly after the war, and was a good wife and mother. She made good sushi and put money in Easter eggs with notes for my brothers and me every year, even as her writing became less and less legible. She continued to ‘read’ even as she lost her eyesight. She spoke Japanese fluently, which none of us knew until late in her life. People called her Yosh, and I’m still unsure whether her full name is Yoshiko or Yoshiye. She had a mother and sisters who loved her and a daughter who never visited. I never heard her say a word.

‘What did she say before she lost her speech?’

‘She didn’t say much,’ my dad answers. The cut from the botched C-section is no longer noticeable under his wrinkles.

‘I was looking for a little bit more than that, dad.’

She looks beautiful there, like a ceramic Japanese doll with white skin and black hair, blushed round cheeks, and a Japanese silk dress.

But I don’t expect more. He doesn’t say much either. Not about her at least. We don’t speak about our lives and our stories. We never talk about race. Why would we? He never did experience racism, although my mom tells me that they were the Japanese family in Don Mills in the 1960s. If pushed, he will laughingly admit that people liked to call him frying pan face. When he does speak, his regrets and resentments are conjured as advice – you should get into science, math, or computer programming – and I nod along.

When we have a few glasses of wine, he smokes a joint and relaxes, and expresses his worry that he ruined my middle brother’s hockey career by cheaping out and giving him my eldest brother’s hand-me-down skates. If only he invested in skates, my brother could be so much better off, more active, more motivated, and maybe even happier. He could have even been a Maple Leaf. Maybe not, but he definitely wouldn’t have skated on his ankles with his knees together, always falling behind the play. At our best and most intimate, my dad likes to talk about the book he’s reading and the latest guru’s articulation of the power of now.

‘Well Dai, I don’t know what else to tell you. She was quiet.’

‘What was grandpa like?’

‘He was a good man. He had a hard life. You know, he was only nine when his mother died?’

‘I know. She killed herself, didn’t she?’

‘Who told you that?’

‘Mom.’

‘Oh… yeah, I guess she killed herself.’

My grandfather’s mother was a mail-ordered bride, shipped to Canada in her teens to marry a much older man, who was also often described as ‘rough.’ In the language of polite reservation taken up by all of my dad’s family, I can only imagine that ‘rough’ means awful, if not violent and abusive. She bore him nine children, left to visit her family in Japan, and never came back. I was told that they found her hanging on the boat. It seemed like a suicide, but nobody knew the details. As a child, from the bits of words and lots of silences I imagined a story. In it, her life ended with her hanging off the bow of a  ship, floating over the Pacific. She looks beautiful there, like a ceramic Japanese doll with white skin and black hair, blushed round cheeks, and a Japanese silk dress. This is all I know of her. We don’t know her name, and we don’t speak about her. When she died her husband went back to Japan, and my grandfather, the second oldest of nine siblings, was orphaned in Ocean Falls, BC.

‘He was a hard worker.’

He was. He was always building things and doing favours for people. When he was young saved up to go to UBC. He wanted to become an entomologist. He was fascinated by bugs. He wanted to dissect their squishable little worlds. Why dad? I don’t know. His passion for bugs was revoked by the War Measures Act 1941. We don’t if he’d been locked in the barns of the Vancouver exhibition place or for how long. We don’t know if he lost his brothers and friends, or if he was interned as a worker or a prisoner of war. He kept it in the past.

By the time my grandfather got his honorary degree from UBC, he had already started and retired a painting business, got married, provided for a boy and a girl, got Alzheimer’s, and died. His daughter didn’t come to his funeral. Why not?

‘I don’t know Dai, I guess she didn’t like him much.’

‘Was he okay to you guys?’

‘Yeah, he was fine. Kind of rough, but fine.’

I knew my grandfather was ‘rough.’ Nobody ever had to tell me. He enjoyed telling people whatever it was that he found wrong with them. His oft-repeated joke was that my mother’s mother was pregnant when she was in her late 70s. He went so far that she stopped coming to family dinners. He refused to hug my brothers, calling them wussies if they ever so much as gestured their hands towards him in any indication of affection (to be a wussy was the worst possible condition for a man). He had a tank of piranhas and dared children to put their hands in it. He had a warty old dog, whose under-bitten teeth showed when she growled, which was almost constantly. But he was nice to me and I loved him. He always told me that I would make a good wife – I could make good sushi and I was pretty – so long as I didn’t let my belly grow anymore. For him I was always on the verge of becoming fat (probably the worst possible condition for a woman). He constantly called his wife dumb because she was silenced by old age.

‘Yeah, he was funny,’ I respond.

His anger became an ongoing joke. It wasn’t him, but his dementia, or at least that’s how I saw it. He was playfully mean.

The only thing still standing is the urn with his parents’ ashes in a china cabinet filled with my grandmother’s crystals.

As we speak, my dad and I sit in the backyard of our Don Mills family home, a red brick rectangular house covered in slowly-dying ivy vines. A yellowing oak tree hangs over us with the eye-shaped knot that my dad tried so many times to fill. His newest girlfriend goes to bed early because she’s cold, but he and I bundle up in wool socks and fleece jackets and set our kitchen chairs around an old barbecue grate that was recently dug out of our hoarder’s garage. Inside the house the cabinets are taken apart and randomly piled in the kitchen, the appliances are preparing themselves for the garbage, and painting paper and concrete dust coat the ground. The only thing still standing is the urn with his parents’ ashes in a china cabinet filled with my grandmother’s crystals. As he speaks he looks up and sometimes right at me, although usually his eyes are unfocused, looking down and around. His green crocs are propped up on a garden rock, and his hands, folded over his belly, sometimes reach for my shoulder or knee.

‘Yeah, I guess he was…’ he lingers, as if he has something more to say.

I pry, subtly and politely, the way I’ve learned from years of forced communication.

‘You know, when my mom died…’

I do know. I was woken up on early on a Saturday. Sad news. They slipped under the covers with me. Grandma’s dead. She fell, was all they said. She was eighty-three. I imagined her on the white tiled kitchen floor of her senior apartment with blood spreading from her head. She was always falling, and still refused to use her walker. This time it was fatal. Contrary to my imagination, there was no blood, just internal bleeding.

We didn’t speak about it after it happened, but I felt her in our house, watching me doing things I wasn’t supposed to do. I didn’t want to be naked anymore because I wasn’t sure how she felt about nudity. If we had Ichiban for breakfast I could feel her disapproval. I know my dad could feel her too. He lost his business, most of his money, and his father soon after. He retired to his office, watching the stocks go up and down. His silence grew tangible, haunting his marriage and our home. When my mother left he curled into his shame, spending what felt like years enclosed in the red walls of his bedroom. His absence drove a wedge in our world. My brothers and I moved out soon after, leaving him alone with his dog, warty and growly like his father’s.

‘It was strange, where she hit her head,’ he continues slowly, ‘where it was bruised.’

The bruising was on the top of her head, he explains – a part she couldn’t have fallen on. Maybe the cabinet door in the kitchen was open. Maybe she hit her head on the dining room table at an almost impossible angle as she was falling. It seemed, only to my father and the coroner, that his mother’s death was unnatural.

‘Well, what do you think happened?’ I ask.

‘I don’t know. But you know how my dad used to get angry.’

I do. In his old age my grandfather was always angry. He didn’t understand her fragility. He was phasing into dementia and was frustrated.

‘The coroner wanted to look into it…’ my dad tells me’

‘And?’

‘I told him not to. She’s dead either way.’

Our hands grasp each other’s, both scarred from years of nervous picking. I don’t say anything more and neither does he. But when he tilts his head towards the ground, his subtle submission presents something he claims to not exist – that the violence which began long before his birth continues to haunt him after his mother’s death. I want to ask questions and make connections, to find a story in his silence, or a shape in her absence. But I don’t. It’s part of being politely reserved.

Instead we look down and away from each other – something we both learned from her.

It is in the past now, anyway.


Daisy Moriyama is a third generation Japanese Canadian, studying literature and philosophy at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Lingering familial and historical ties continue to exert their influences in Jane Komori’s Afternoon Obituaries, set in the arid spaces of Kamloops, and Hannah Polinski’s Homecoming, in which she traces a journey from Canton to Toronto.

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Millennial Hua https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/millenial-hua/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/millenial-hua/#respond Fri, 27 Apr 2018 23:26:26 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14894

your blood goes picnicking at a grave
            brooms and burnt paper in hand

4/4/[2000 + 4×4]

At Qīngmíng only the magnolia huā (花)
bloomed munificent white against a grey curb.
Like the first mourner at a mythic funeral
you—little (华)… more »

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your blood goes picnicking at a grave
            brooms and burnt paper in hand

4/4/[2000 + 4×4]

At Qīngmíng only the magnolia huā (花)
bloomed munificent white against a grey curb.
Like the first mourner at a mythic funeral
you—little (华)[1] girl—
knew of, not knowing

how to proffer greetings and farewells abroad.
White huā/huá  honouring their Aprils
              —not cruel like ours,
but we have learned.

    Know, without knowing of
that will not be your hill to die on                                                                                                                                        //[2000 + x]

“Miss me ambiently”
maybe their bodies whisper;
Look about and know of better 花(样) elsewhere—
will they still bloom
when your flowering years (年华) are gone?

*
Visiting ghosts saturate branches
practicing heliotropism at dawn.
Forego your duties, little花 girl, to sit downwind for afternoon tea.
Upon evening departures
              —save petals
from east-facing blossoms.

But these magnolias are no华royalty;
hear their hungry roots calling

until they find you cutting toenails on your bedroom floor
preparing for a warmth
wrapped in the feet of some great-grandwoman.

She is still journeying towards the magnolia
spring when you arrive, knowing:
              brooms and burnt paper in hand.

[1] Overseas Chinese

 

Born and raised in Toronto, Victoria Liao is a mad and queer second generation Chinese-Canadian writer and undergraduate student at the University of Toronto. Between assignments, she edits and reads for The Spectatorial, Looseleaf Magazine, and Augur Magazine. In her own time, she reads, writes, and dreams about fantasy worlds where marginalized folks can voice their stories, and where every cat gets its cuddles. Some of her writing can be found in The Spectatorial, The Strand Magazine, and Goose: An Annual Review of Fiction.

Zixi Mu is a freelance illustrator from China. She is living in Hangzhou. She hopes that one day her illustrations could warm you up and support herself as well.

 

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‘Personal Taxonomy’ by Peter KS Yu https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/personal-taxonomy-by-peter-ks-yu/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/personal-taxonomy-by-peter-ks-yu/#respond Fri, 27 Apr 2018 13:06:30 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14877 Personal Taxonomy by Peter KS Yu

Tamagawa Kanjin. This was my father’s name. He told me that Tamagawa is Japanese for marble river. Such a conflicted meaning–marble does not flow. Other translations, jewel river and bullet river, are just as poetic and unclear. But … more »

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Personal Taxonomy by Peter KS Yu

Tamagawa Kanjin. This was my father’s name. He told me that Tamagawa is Japanese for marble river. Such a conflicted meaning–marble does not flow. Other translations, jewel river and bullet river, are just as poetic and unclear. But names are not meant to be translated. They are meant to be immutable, fixed in their original language. They are chosen with intention and hope, an attempt to establish an outline into which the person might grow.

He never questioned the significance of having a Japanese name, nor did he question the shift to his Korean name when the occupation ended.

My father was born in Korea in 1934. He is known by Koreans as Yu Hwan-Jin and by Canadians as Hwan-Jin Yu. Up until his adolescence, he lived under Japanese occupation in Korea. Tamagawa was the surname that his family was temporarily forced to adopt, his first name modified to the more Japanese-sounding Kanjin. He casually shared this information years ago at a family dinner. Of course I had already known about the Japanese occupation, but hearing him speak his Japanese name startled me, forcing me to face the reality of his difficult history. The choice of Tamagawa was arbitrary by his telling. Tamagawa had no relation to his real surname. The adoption of a Japanese name was a symbol of forced submission and a key part of the attempted re-branding of Koreans into Japanese subjects. But my father says that having a Japanese name did nothing to make him Japanese. Like most children, he simply accepted his name as a given. He never questioned the significance of having a Japanese name, nor did he question the shift to his Korean name when the occupation ended. In his mind, his name was an externality, something used mostly by others. He remained the same person with either name.

My father’s family was rooted in what was then the countryside outside Seoul. The story goes that the original ancestors of the Yu family line came from China, bringing this Chinese surname with them. People often say that my father doesn’t look Korean. I often get similar comments. Whenever I meet someone who is Chinese, they inevitably assume that I am also Chinese after learning my surname.

My parents immigrated to Canada one year before I was born. The full name they recorded on my birth certificate was Peter Yu. My Korean first name is Kyung-Suk, but this name was never recorded officially. My parents also chose William, a very English name, as my middle name, but it was also never recorded. As I grew older, I simply shed it. No one seemed to notice.

When I was a young adult, I applied to add the initials KS, representing my Korean name, to my birth certificate. I felt that Peter KS Yu had an appropriate hyphenated-Canadian quality to it. It sounded right, or at least more right. Then in 2000, Korea adopted a new method to anglicize Korean words. My Korean name should now be written as Yu Gyeong-Seok. Peter GS Yu. The same name, but different.

My mother’s maiden name was Kim, surely the most Korean of names. Interestingly, my Korean first name, Kyung-Suk, is almost identical to her Korean first name, Kyung-Sook. As a gay man, this similarity has always resonated with me. I’m curious but I’ve never asked her about it.

My husband’s surname is Brandt and our son Simon has a hyphenated last name, Brandt-Yu. Yes, we know the hyphenated system is not sustainable. Our son knows that he is free to alter his surname as he pleases when he reaches adulthood. To us, it is just a name and changing it does not change his connection to us.

Before we adopted Simon, the Children’s Aid Society social workers told us that his birth mother had chosen the first name Joe in addition to a Chinese middle name meant to bestow good luck. Though he was an infant, we still questioned whether it was fair to change baby Joe’s name, whether we would be erasing his connection to his birth mother. In the end we, decided to drop the name Joe in favour of Simon, which is Hebrew for the listener. Like other parents, we wanted a name that we liked, that sounded right to us, and that we would enjoy saying. But as adoptive parents, we also wanted to respect his origins, so we kept his middle name as a way to connect him back to her. Months later, we were surprised to learn that Joe was in fact a mangling of his birth mother’s surname. Baby Joe had never been baby Joe. During meetings with social workers, she had said her baby’s original surname, her surname, first, in traditional Asian fashion. But the social workers had misheard it as Joe and officially recorded it as his first name.

My personal taxonomy illuminates the path that has brought me to this point in time.

Peter Yu. Peter William Yu. Peter Kyung-Suk Yu. Peter KS Yu. Yu Kyung-Suk. Yu Gyeong-Seok. And somehow, Kim, Brandt-Yu, and Tamagawa too. This string of names, my names, shows how names are foundational yet arbitrary, can change and be changed, have meaning but are meaningless, while connecting and dividing us.

My personal taxonomy illuminates the path that has brought me to this point in time, a useful trail of breadcrumbs that helps me identify my origins. It traces my story and connects me to the fractured history of my ancestors. It binds together three Asian cultures from which tides of people and influence washed back and forth during times of peace and aggression. Now it reaches the new world and continues on in wonderful ways that my ancestors could not have imagined.

But my names cannot tell me who I am. Just like my father and my son, my names have meaning but they do not define me. Names are labels, not definitions, applied to a person to identify, connect, classify, and in the worst moments, to oppress. But even in extreme circumstances, the name does not make the person, despite what anyone might wish.


Peter KS Yu is a queer Korean-Canadian writer and teacher. He is second generation Canadian and lives in Toronto with his husband and son. Peter came to writing late in life, having first trained as an architect and then as an elementary teacher. Common themes of his writing include identity, childhood, culture, family, connection, and nature.

For further reading on navigating between different worlds and identities, read more in Kawai Shen’s Dispatches from Nowhere and Vincent Ternida’s Java Mausoleum.

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“Too Much Korean Food? A Debut Children’s Author’s Perspective” by Angela Ahn https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/toomuchkoreanfood/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/toomuchkoreanfood/#respond Fri, 27 Apr 2018 05:36:07 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14918

“Krista Kim-Bap” by Angela Ahn

I am a debut children’s author. It’s probably worthwhile noting that I am Korean-Canadian. I am a 45-year-old SAHM, living in a leafy, affluent, mostly diverse and eclectic neighbourhood in a part of the world … more »

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“Krista Kim-Bap” by Angela Ahn

I am a debut children’s author. It’s probably worthwhile noting that I am Korean-Canadian. I am a 45-year-old SAHM, living in a leafy, affluent, mostly diverse and eclectic neighbourhood in a part of the world where there are often fewer white people around than other kinds of people. I know “affluent” “diverse” and “eclectic” don’t sound like they go together, but they do where I live. But this neighbourhood is nothing like my childhood. I grew up very working-class, in a neighbourhood working-class families could afford. My dad worked in a sawmill on the edge of Fraser River for over twenty-five years, hauling lumber. My mom held jobs as a cleaner and as a line worker in a fish factory. Somehow, my parents managed to raise 3 daughters who have a fine collection of six university degrees, hanging proudly on the wood-panelled walls of an aging Vancouver Special.

My children know nothing of sawmills or fish factories. They attend public school in French Immersion. If I look at their most recent class pictures, I see a multitude of ethnic backgrounds and children of mixed races. Their classes have children with non-traditional family structures and children who are self-exploring gender identities. We are an English-speaking house that occasionally slips into cringe-worthy French (the parents, not the kids) and we lean heavily towards Korean food, but we also like tacos, a lot. Don’t forget the tzatziki. My son considers it a food group. My world is full of colour. Could it be more colourful? Absolutely, but still, pretty darn rainbow-like.

I often stand behind white kids in line-ups and I marvel at what they eat here in rainbow-like Vancouver. Once, a couple of white teenagers buying instant spicy Korean noodles and aloe vera drinks, really got my attention. I get the feels when I see a white kid drinking bubble tea. Then, the other day, at a bakery where you can get a steamed Chinese saipao bun, a blonde boy bought two buns. He turned to his friend with warm buns in his hands and said, “Don’t forget to peel the paper off the bottom. Try it, you’ll like it.” Warm and fuzzy cross-cultural experiences, right? This is where I live.

I was excited and nervous to have my book, Krista Kim-Bap accepted for publication by Second Story Press. Writing a children’s book was never a life-long passion or goal. It was something that just happened. I didn’t stride elegantly or confidently into publishing; I stumbled, like a patched-up Frankenstein plodding my way awkwardly into the literary landscape. Incredibly, I had made it. I climbed the insurmountable slush-pile and got myself published after a year of casual submissions and without a literary agent.  I’m here. A “diverse” debut author who wrote a book featuring a young Korean-Canadian girl. Did you check out that flying kimchi on the cover? I was feeling pretty good.

Now comes the learning curve. I’m a public figure. Gulp. Goodreads reviewers. Who are they and why do I care so much? Cough. Trade Reviews. Kirkus? School Library Journal? Faint. Subtle forms of racism.

Wait, what? My idyllic sense of racial harmony was in for a rude awakening.

The first hint of it came upon my first big review. The reviewer didn’t like my book much. I tried to be stoic in the face of my first public criticism. I told myself that fiction, like all art, is subjective. I tried to let it go. But what I couldn’t let go was this line:

“Krista Kim-Bap is a book for multi-cultural classrooms.”

It was the last line of the review, the closing, the final punch. At first, I tentatively agreed, but then quickly changed my mind and quietly seethed. Why is a story about a Korean-Canadian girl for multi-cultural classrooms? Why not all classrooms? A feeling kept scratching at me – a feeling I’ve known before. It pestered me until I had no choice but to admit it to myself. This statement felt racist.

What was worse to me was that this was a Canadian review. I can be that flag waving lunatic who refuses to see that sometimes the vaunted Canadian ideals of multiculturalism get swallowed up, but not really absorbed. I forget that my wonderfully “progressive” country can be narrow-minded and insular, and that we just hide things under a veil of politeness and excessively saying “sorry” when we are in fact, not sorry.

The next time I felt like maybe my initial encounter with books and racism was not an isolated incident came in a more subtle way. The misspelling of my book title, in a social media boost by a big name in the Middle Grade fiction world, which was meant to support and endorse my work. The misspelling of the Korean word of the title. Bittersweet irony at its finest. Innocent enough, maybe, but I couldn’t help but feel it was just representative of a larger issue. Unfamiliar foreign words or names can easily be dismissed by a lack of care or ignorance. It’s hard not to notice that white people are the influencers and gate-keepers of children’s fiction. A tweet or social media boost can get your book on the radar of readers, librarians and teachers.  One of them just misspelled my book title, which happens to include a Korean word.

The third incident came while talking with a person who works in publishing and genuinely supports me and what I want to write. He started discussing artists and he threw out a name, and said, “She’s Korean too.” He threw out a really well-known name. I had just read one of her books and she is most definitely not Korean. Dim sum and Chinese things feature prominently in her work. His mistake was not malicious, but it was to me, a haunting moment.  I realized then, that as a writer of colour, this was the kind “honest mistake” I may have to face all the time.

You don’t have to like or read my book.  But the industry needs my book and books like mine.  We need books to show you perspectives that have not been heard in children’s fiction. We need so many diverse books in stores and libraries that you stop calling them “diverse” and simply call them books.

Talking about race and publishing is awkward for me — I just debuted, remember? The dissonance between my daily life and my publishing life is disheartening. Sadly, other writers of colour will probably also have similar anecdotes to tell. These are the kinds of stories we’d rather not be writing. But for anybody who works in children’s literature, who has never faced slights, put-downs and hurtful off-handed remarks about their ethnicity, gender or who they are, you need to know it’s happening. All the time. It’s already happened to me and I never saw it coming.

Call them micro-aggressions. Call them macro-aggression. I call it a lack of sensitivity and awareness. In my case, it was all very subtle, but persistent. Nobody shouted at me or called me a racial slur. Everything was just so polite, but it was there. Don’t give me a seat at the table and then make me feel like an awkward guest.

Like my main character, I grew up being the only Korean-Canadian kid in my elementary school, constantly being mistaken for Chinese or Japanese. I lived in Hong Kong for two years teaching English but looking like I could have been a native Cantonese speaker. Trust me, I don’t speak Cantonese. I’ve travelled all over SE Asia where I was “konichiwa’ed” on a daily basis. I can’t tell you how many times people have spoken Mandarin to me. I get it. I’ve never liked it, but I get it. Being sensitive to what people “are” is hard and confusing.

I get it wrong too.  I was at a bike shop with my son last month. We went back the next day to buy the bike we had been looking at, and the store employee asked me, “Who was helping you yesterday?” I said, “Oh the Chinese guy.” The white fellow responds, “Oh you mean the Japanese guy?” I felt like an jerk and a half.

We are all constantly learning, I hope. I know I’ve still got learning to do. Publishers, editors, reviewers and others in a position of authority or influence – you’ve got learning to do too. Let’s learn together through open, honest discussions about race and publishing. Let’s talk about books written by and about a previously marginalized group of people you’ve never seen in a book before, all while eating some new food you’ve never tried before. I highly recommend Korean BBQ. This job of story-telling, where we can actually influence young minds, is too important for us to not try better.


Angela Ahn is a former teacher and librarian. She lives in Vancouver with her two kids and husband. She is proud to say that the most frequent complaint of her children is, “I need a new book to read!”  She is the author of Krista Kim-Bap.

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‘Where I Belong’ by Jade Liu https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/where-i-belong-by-jade-liu/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/where-i-belong-by-jade-liu/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 13:04:38 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14867

I always had a penchant for doing things I wasn’t supposed to, especially as a child. One hazy summer, I was poking around on my mother’s silver MacBook, feeling quite clever for having cracked her not-so-difficult password: my full name. … more »

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I always had a penchant for doing things I wasn’t supposed to, especially as a child. One hazy summer, I was poking around on my mother’s silver MacBook, feeling quite clever for having cracked her not-so-difficult password: my full name. I felt that familiar rebellious rush as the screen brightened, revealing dozens of unread email advertisements my mother never bothered to delete. Before I could close the window, one heading caught my eye: I had a lovely time last night.
Not again. Rolling my eyes, I hovered over the delete icon. Then I noticed the small purple arrow. She’d replied. Hoping it wasn’t with her credit card number, I clicked.
The email contained a well-crafted love poem, accompanied by a picture of my mother and a stranger at a restaurant soaked with romantic lighting. His arm was around her shoulders, hugging her close. My first instinct was to cringe at my mother’s reply.

Dearest Elliot,
Beautiful words, baby! I love the cake you make for us… Think about you all night…
Sweet dream,
Your Rose

My stomach constricted as I choked the mouse with whitening fingers. Though I knew life at home wasn’t perfect, I never thought she would be so selfish. Perhaps it had just been easier for me to pretend nothing was wrong. Growing up watching grandparents and parents alike fighting each other convinced me that screaming matches were just characteristics of a typical Chinese family. I never even noticed her discontentment. But now the piercing pixels forced me to acknowledge reality.
The black words dared me to tell my father. I knew what would happen. Uncle Terry and Aunt Mei Lin had just gone through a divorce, something that my grandparents still considered taboo. The messy process resulted in my cousin Ivy tossed between broken homes like a bargaining chip. My mother told me that Ivy no longer had a proper family, that she no longer had a place to truly call home.
I closed the lid of the laptop and dragged the papers back across the top, disregarding the collection of overdue credit card bills. I exited her room on tiptoes, as quietly as I could.

Perhaps it had just been easier for me to pretend nothing was wrong.

Four years later, the secret slipped out in a moment of heat. The bright summer day had been sweltering, contributing to my irritation as I stormed into my mother’s room. The reason for my anger could have been anything: her refusal to give permission for a trip to the mall or to buy me the newest overpriced jacket or constantly forgetting to close my bedroom door. By then, all the fights had blurred together into a mass of high-pitched screaming and foot-stomping.
“Stop being so difficult, Jade! Why can’t you just behave for once?” My mother clutched her forehead.
“Am not! You don’t even know how much I’ve done for you!”
“You’ve done nothing but give me a headache!”
“Oh yeah? Oh yeah?!” I took a sharp breath. “I know about Elliot!”
My mother froze, her fists trembling as her nostrils flared. “How do you know that name?” she asked, her voice taken several notches down as she glanced at the open door.
“It doesn’t matter! You’re cheating! You’re a cheater!” I cursed the stinging tears that sprang to my eyes. I longed for fury, but found only pain.
She came towards me and I had no energy to resist. She wrapped her arms around me as we both sank down to the worn carpet. Without a word, she stroked my hair and rubbed my back rhythmically until my breath returned. The weight of her hand lifted, taking the burden of the secret with it.
“Your father never talks to me, except to ask for money.”
“He’s just like that. You know that.”
I could hear the sob building in her throat despite her struggle to hide it. “He hasn’t kissed me in ten years.”
“Then why didn’t you leave? Why don’t you?”
She held my gaze with misty dark eyes as her embrace tightened. In this way we sat, allowing silence to wrap us in its heavy blanket. The sun soon sank into the ocean, and my grandmother called us for dinner.

You know, all the people upstairs do is play with their dog and be happy. They’re a real family.

Five years later, retreating from talks of divorce, I moved out. My newfound freedom lost its appeal when I caught a violent flu in the middle of the second month. In the tiny kitchen of the basement suite, I sleepily waited for the kettle to boil. A sudden barking from upstairs caught my attention. Then the shuffling of the giant golden retriever, mixed with delighted laughter from the joyful Caucasian family I rented from, filled the room. The Tylenol could not suppress my jealousy.
I looked down at my phone. The text my mother sent me a few hours ago lingered in my inbox and mind. Can you tell dad to stop silence? He keep ignoring me.
My answer was less than friendly since I’d just woken up. I’m sick. Maybe later. By now, too much time had passed for me to send a follow-up text, so I shoved the conversation to the back of my mind, focusing on the kettle instead.
I was about to head back to my room when I heard a knock on the door. Confused, I pulled it open. “Jade!” It was my mother. Her hair was damp from the rain and her cheeks were rosy.
“Mom? Come in.” I noticed the lunchboxes she carried as she stepped past me. “What are you doing here?”
She moved into the living room, placing containers onto the dining table before turning around. “You said you were sick.”
“I can take care of myself…” I said as she unpacked, revealing a whole feast for one as she whisked away lid after lid. “You didn’t have to come.”
“Don’t be silly.” She even took out her own chopsticks. “Here, eat. The soup took three hours to make, you know.”
I sat, using the utensils to pick up a leaf of bright green bok-choy. My mom looked anxiously as I put the piece in my mouth, finding it still hot. “It’s good,” I said as I took another. I followed it with a piece of pork that she must have barbequed herself.
She smiled. “You can taste it?”
I nodded, tasting not only the familiar flavors, but how carefully she had rinsed every stalk and roasted every slice.
We listened to the clock tick while I ate. “So, did you talk to dad?” Her hands knotted together like a fishnet.
I shook my head. “No. Why can’t you deal with it yourself?”
“He only listens to you.”
“You know, all the people upstairs do is play with their dog and be happy. They’re a real family. It’s not fair!” I pretended not to notice the hurt on her face, ignoring the ache in my chest. But my vision blurred as I attempted to refocus. I squeezed my eyes, but failed to stop the trail of tears or guilt. I turned my reddening face away to the window, where the steady rain beat on glass. I tried to chew but my jaw locked.
“Jade? What’s wrong?” Mom asked when I finally lifted a hand to wipe at my face. “Hey, hey, why are you crying?”
“I’m sorry,” I choked, half a bite of rice still in my mouth. “I’m sorry you couldn’t leave him.”
“Jade,” she said. “Liu Jie Yu. I have no regrets.”


Jade Yu Liu is an aspiring writer of Chinese descent, based in Vancouver.  She currently attends UBC, majoring in English Literature and hopefully creative writing as well. She loves to paint images with words, and snuggle with cats in any type of weather or season.

The complicated notions of family play key roles in Marc Perez’s Tatay, in which he returns to Manila to look after his ailing father, and Terry Watada’s 1942, where he explores his family’s incarceration in an abandoned mining town in British Columbia.

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Racism in #CanLit: A Statement https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/racism-in-canlit-a-statement/ https://ricepapermagazine.ca/2018/04/racism-in-canlit-a-statement/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 12:58:24 +0000 https://ricepapermagazine.ca/?p=14913 Contemporary Canadian literature, despite its lofty ambitions and aims, is still a difficult world to navigate for women, writers of colour, and other marginalized communities. Our Speculative Fiction Editor, Yilin Wang, was witness to an incident that happened earlier more »

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Contemporary Canadian literature, despite its lofty ambitions and aims, is still a difficult world to navigate for women, writers of colour, and other marginalized communities. Our Speculative Fiction Editor, Yilin Wang, was witness to an incident that happened earlier this year that shows how entrenched prejudice and bias are in Canada’s literary community. Read Yilin’s statement below.

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As a young Chinese Canadian woman, writer, editor, and occasional translator, I was one of the witnesses to a racist incident at a Vancouver book sale in January, which continues to affect me months later.

At a warehouse book sale co-hosted by two local bookstore owners, Massy Books and B, I witnessed B, an elderly white man, making racist comments about Chinese poets and the Chinese language in front of a staff member at Massy and a local literary series organizer who worked with B.

B complained that at a local multilingual reading series, World Poetry Canada and International, a Chinese poet read in Chinese for ten minutes. He did a very mocking and offensive imitation of the poetry reading, saying words like “Ching Chan Chong” loudly.

B did not stop until finally Patricia Massy intervened, upon seeing I was upset and leaving the book sale. I found out later B is a retired professor, a literary events organizer, and a current and past board member of several literary, publishing, or library organizations.

B is a gatekeeper in the literary and publishing community. His disrespectful words reflect the larger prejudice and barriers faced by Chinese Canadians, writers of color, and women in publishing.

His actions came across as mockery and disrespect for the writing and work of all Chinese Canadian and Chinese writers. My editorial team at Ricepaper had to pull out of a planned event with the local literary organizer who was speaking with B at the book sale.

I had to talk with friends at Room magazine after discovering that B had attended one event that I co-hosted prior to the incident and might attend future events. In the months since, multiple literary groups and writers have contacted B for a public apology.

I’m grateful for support and advice from allies at World Poetry, Room, Ricepaper, and the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop, as well as the help and advice of writers like Shazia Hafiz, Elaine, Jonina Kirton, Nancy Lee, Jen Sookfong Lee, Tom Cho, Jane Eaton Hamilton, and others who reached out. Thank you.

B offered an apology to World Poetry’s organizer and to me, but denies ever making fun of Chinese poets or the language. It’s clear after 3 months that he won’t take responsibility. I continue to struggle with feeling unsafe at literary events and spaces in Vancouver.

I want to call for everyone in the literary community to think about ways to make all spaces safer for Chinese Canadians and all marginalized groups. Please intervene when you witness racism. Stop these types of incidents from ever happening again.


Read Yilin’s expanded statement here.

Other useful readings includes The Unbearable Whiteness of CanLit by Paul Barrett, Darcy Ballantyne, Camille Isaacs, and Kris Singh, as well as CanLit is a Raging Dumpster Fire by Alicia Elliott. 

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