At the end of last year, Kev Minh Allen posted a review of our book on Amazon.com. We are always happy to hear from our readers. Here is what he wrote:
“Where are you from?” is commonly taken as a provocative question among Asian Americans, especially when it is asked in an unfriendly and almost accusingly way. The reason is because the usual intent of the questioner is either xenophobic or ethnocentric. The question has the effect of categorizing and stigmatizing a person and making it more convenient for the interrogator to keep on feeding his prejudices. Before a word of explanation can be uttered, the question has already served to exclude the individual from participating in any national dialogue and from being represented in the national narrative. Thus, the title of this book, Where Are You From?, uses a good ironic twist to confront the history and continued harm of this type of question.
What pleased me about the book was how the narratives and poems in this collection seemed to be all over the place, in terms of voice and point of view, but that the main goal was the re-characterization and re-imagining of Asian America. Just as each author is an individual unto him/herself, so is every person of Asian descent in this country a unique human being, albeit sharing a common history of geography, immigration patterns, awkward attempts at assimilation, and enduring both egregious and subtle acts of discrimination.
Some pieces in this collection did not surprise me while others really made me mentally engage with the construct of “Asian American” and how it pertains to my identity and my life. A few of the authors I was familiar with, but many of them I was reading for the first time. Some of the standouts, for me, include Marivi Soliven Blanco, Valerie Katagiri, Diem Tran and Ben Efsanem.
If you choose to only read the book piecemeal, then I’d definitely suggest reading the “Point & Counterpoint” part featuring Simon Tam and Ben Efsanem. Efsanem’s counterpoint to Simon Tam’s essay regarding appropriation of the word “slant” was a valuable lesson for me in that it reminded me to be more critical of my own tendency to co-opt and re-use words like “bastard” and “orphan” with respect to my status as adoptee.
We tracked down Kevin and found that he is, himself, an Asian American writer. He wrote the following for us.
On (Not) Being An Asian American Writer
Here’s a secret about me as a writer that I’d like to share: I’ve written numerous articles/essays for quite a few Asian American-themed or -focused publications, both in print and online, and I’ve felt like a fraud each and every time I submitted them.
For although I generally fit the description of an Asian person (black hair, brown eyes, broad nose, brownish skin tone, relatively short), according to Western standards, I didn’t grow up with people who resembled me phenotypically because I am not blood-related to any of my immediate and extended family members. No Asian heritage or linguistic tradition was ever handed down to me containing a deeply embedded historical memory. You see, I was raised by white parents in a Rust Belt suburb in western New York (nowhere close to NYC, and believe me, there’s quite a socio-economic and cultural difference between the two). My upbringing never reflected my supposed Asian ethnicity, so unsurprisingly I never truly reflected on my Asian body’s place in a dominant white society.
In spite of that, I’ve been learning and realizing that writing about how the perception and reality of my existence in predominantly white spaces confounds people, as well as myself, fits perfectly in the continuum of Asian American history. As a person who identifies as a mixed race Vietnamese adoptee, my history has roots in Southeast Asia, but my present and future have constructed an experiential and psychological permanency here in the United States of America. I don’t feel like a first-generation immigrant, even though I have the naturalization papers to prove that I technically am. I don’t feel like I’m Vietnamese, even though I marked the box for “Vietnamese” on the last census form because I have the Vietnamese passport to prove it.
So, perhaps I was being somewhat melodramatic when I referred to myself as a “fraud” in the beginning. It’s just that it’s taken me years to come to terms with my displacement and misplacement, and orientation and disorientation, as an Asian man making his way in this American society. I’m steadily finding my way and leaving clues for whomever wants to follow.
My first book of poetry came out last year and I have a website http://myproudsacrifice.tumblr.com/ where you can buy it:
Book Title: My Proud Sacrifice
Short Description: This book plumbs the depths of my identity as an A.V.O.I.D.: “Adopted Vietnamese Of Indeterminate Descent.” I set about imagining and re-creating a personal history that reflected an inner truth that helped me peel away the little white lies which had been obscuring my view into my own existence.
For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org