by Irene Villaseñor
Falling asleep while reading the Joy Luck Club (1989)
During breaks from IQ testing in elementary school
Must mean I’m one overworked Asian kid
But the truth is that book bored me–and I’ll fast forward
throughout its movie adaptation too. Mishima
was way more exciting because I’d rather be
a Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea than Waverly Jong.
I don’t know how I’m supposed to interpret compliments
That I’m beautiful like Mulan, especially when it’s coming from
sweet elderly Chinese women–like my acupuncturist. Am I
pretty like Disney’s Mulan (1998) or historical Hua Mulan?
Bridal Mulan or Warrior Mulan? Do they really think the only
striking reference I’ll have of an attractive or powerful Asian
woman is a cartoon? Or are they assuming I’d be familiar with
ancient Chinese poetry due to my studies? I will never know.
Nutshelling Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother (2011) means pointing
out Chinese people in the Philippines circled their wagons and
defended themselves by pursing excellence as their main protection
in hostile environments. But ended up eating their young in the
process. And some people keep spreading this disease.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018) may just upgrade old Asian stereotypes and
introduce new ones. Already there’s disapproval for a casting as a leading
man Henry Golding, who’s half-white. But his other half is Iban from Borneo.
That part of his heritage comes to the fore because I’m not looking for
whiteness. But seeking instances where being indigenous isn’t shameful,
ugly, remote, brokeass, or backward buffoonery. If more Asians could see
and value indigeneity, then maybe whiteness would be less important.
By Stacie Evans
I am not supposed to be beautiful. If I am famous – a singer, an actor, maybe I can be pretty, maybe striking, maybe exotic. Because then I am an exception, I can break the rules. But me – plain, ordinary, everyday woman – no. I am not supposed to be beautiful.
If I am beautiful, equations don’t square. If I am beautiful, where is the logic in keeping me hidden, selling me relaxers and skin-lightening creams. If I am beautiful, there is no need to cover my thick, nappy hair, hide me in the kitchen, shame me for my hips and thighs, mock me for my lips.
So I am not supposed to be beautiful. That is the forever domain of light women, of white women, of any-shade-brighter-than-mine women.
My neighbor, walking home beside me in sixth grade, told me I was pretty. He said it with a clearly confused wonder, “You’re actually pretty,” he’d said. He couldn’t understand it. But then he worked it out, settled me into a category that explained how I wasn’t ugly: “It must be because you don’t have those nasty liver lips like most Black people do.”
Because even at 11 years old, he understood that I wasn’t supposed to be beautiful, that beauty in my face was some dangerous anomaly, some breaking down of natural law.
I am not supposed to be beautiful. My mother and her mother and all of her foremothers – we, none of us, are supposed to be beautiful.
And yet. And yet. And yet.