When I worked security for a brothel in upstate New York

A colorful pile of shoes. (Photo credit: DepositPhotos)

By Guest Contributor: Kathryn Clemensts

A moment of indecision can have life-altering consequences. I already knew that and I knew I had to act when I heard the growl and muffled whimpering. 

I was fed up hearing about the girls taking punches. Few of them used the alarm buttons because they were afraid of losing trade, id est of being told to leave and don’t come back. Accusations of violence were a matter of a hooker’s word against a punter’s. Guys can be clever enough to not leave visible marks. The internal marks of degradation are harder to bandage up and their cumulative effect can be devastating. 

Why is it then, that when a john has gotten what he wanted, he feels the need to assert superiority by striking the woman who took his money? By beating her he punishes her for an act that took two to carry out. It’s his way of letting her know “You shouldn’t have done that but I’ll be back in a couple days to get more, if not with you then with someone else.” Picture a backwater town in upstate New York kept alive by traffic on the way to a state-maintained castle, a popular spot with tourists. There are seasonal highs and lows. 

What keeps people going during the lows? Well, if you’re not an agrarian or connected to that, there are two other options open to you: sex or drugs. Take your pick; they’re not mutually exclusive. 

Continue reading “When I worked security for a brothel in upstate New York”

Find your Place in the Revolution: Grace Lee Boggs’ Final Message to Asian Americans

By Guest Contributor: Scott Kurashige

Eight years ago amid the heat of a Detroit summer, legendary Chinese American scholar-activist Grace Lee Boggs sat in her Eastside home with a small group of Black, white, and Asian American activists to discuss the changing racial dynamics in the city and the nation. At the age of 99, she had a lifetime of experience to reflect upon. For most of her life, Grace had established her reputation as a movement organizer in the Black community, in partnership with her husband, Jimmy Boggs, a Black autoworker from the Jim Crow South. 

By her eighties and nineties, however, Grace began to speak more directly to and about Asian Americans, as she did in her home on that day in the summer of 2014. “I think when you’re an Asian American, you’re not regarded as very significant,” she said. “But I think we have to change our thinking about that.”

This was, to the best of my knowledge, the final recorded address Grace made to any grouping of people before she entered hospice care. Today—June 27th, 2022, and 107 years to the day Grace Lee Boggs was born above her family’s restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island—I want to reflect on the dual challenge she presented to us in that address in 2014. Why did she choose this moment to condemn the dismissive attitude toward Asian Americans? How was she calling for us—Asian and non-Asian alike—to “change our thinking”?

Continue reading “Find your Place in the Revolution: Grace Lee Boggs’ Final Message to Asian Americans”

Am I Asian American Enough? 

Photo of Mia at 3-years-old, with short black hair and bangs. She sits on her foster mother's lap, looking at the end of a pen light. Her foster mother is Korean. She has a pink My Little Pony in her other hand. Sitting next to her foster mother is her adoptive mother, who is white.

By Guest Contributor: Mia Ives-Rublee

I spent my childhood hearing from white adults about the immoralities of Asians. I was told about how strict Asian parents were and that Koreans were too patriarchal. People would go out of their way to show me negative news articles that talked about Asians in a bad light. They insisted I was lucky to not have parents like that. 

The continual feed of negative attitudes rubbed me the wrong way, making me want to be less and less connected to the Asian American community. As a child, I ascribed to the colorblind philosophy that adults pushed upon me. Oftentimes, I forgot I was Asian unless someone pointed out some physical difference I had. 

Continue reading “Am I Asian American Enough? “

REVIEW: The Loneliest Americans is an incoherent rejection of Asian American identity

Cover of "The Loneliest Americans" by Jay Caspian Kang

By Guest Contributor: Sudip Bhattacharya

In The Loneliest Americans, Jay Caspian Kang attempts to argue that mainstream “Asian American” politics is a fabrication: a smokescreen behind which some of us hide, or from which we try to glean some superficial meaning.

Asian Americans are too diverse for one singular pan-ethnic label, argues Kang, and so the class divide within our group continues to fester and grow. According to Kang, some of us choose to manufacture an Asian American community through the trite, with social media postings about boba tea or Lunar New Year celebrations scattered across our Instagram. He writes:

How do you create a people out of such silly connections? And why do we, the children of immigrants, feel the need to fulfill some hyphenated identity when our parents seemed perfectly content to live as either Koreans or Chinese or Indians or Vietnamese in America — or, if they felt particularly optimistic, insisted that they, too, were Americans? (The Loneliest Americans, p. 16)

Kang suggests that contemporary mainstream Asian American politics has been preoccupied with the concerns of upwardly mobile Asian Americans. As such, he argues, the Asian American activist class – overtly English-fluent, second-generation, highly-educated progressives – ignore the issues of “real” Asian Americans – first-generation working-class immigrants who categorically reject their own racialization as “Asian American”.

“The stuff that you generally hear is about that — it’s about the bamboo ceiling, it’s about Hollywood representation, it’s about Scarlett Johansson stealing a bunch of roles,” Kang stated in a recent interview.

Notwithstanding the fact that I do enjoy boba, there is a level of truth to what Kang, now a staff writer at the New York Times, is writing about in The Loneliest Americans, his first non-fiction book in which he challenges the relevance of Asian American identity and politics in a neoliberal age. Obviously, The Loneliest Americans is neither the first nor the only text to discuss Asian American identity politics. Over the years, we’ve seen a growth in research and writings that confront some of the major issues impacting Asian American identity, from Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings to Desis Divided by the political scientist, Sangay Mishra to others. Asian American stories and perspectives are enjoying new interest from mainstream readers, and Asian Americans writers now have greater opportunity to write books that seek some understanding of themselves and the politics they’re surrounded by. Kang’s The Loneliest Americans is the latest contribution to this increasingly popular genre.

Continue reading “REVIEW: The Loneliest Americans is an incoherent rejection of Asian American identity”

Phở, fuh, and the secrets of Vietnamese noodles

A bowl of phở with chopsticks on a wooden table.

By Guest Contributor: Nam Le

“It’s pronounced phở, not fuh.” 

It is a joyless sentence to say, if I am ever saying it at all.

My first language is a rusty hand-me-down — the kind of thing I am shy to show in public, because it always has to be wrangled out of my pockets awkwardly. But it does work; and on this occasion, it strains and reaches for the last inflection —a balloon rising out of the throat —then sticks the landing.

The distinction does not register.

“I don’t get it. I’m saying what you’re saying. Fuh.”

“You know what? It’s fine. Let’s just go eat.”  

I leave the rest of what I am thinking unsaid—because it has to be.

Continue reading “Phở, fuh, and the secrets of Vietnamese noodles”