POETRY: Use Your Words (or Unsolicited Advice to 2nd and 3rd Gen Asian Americans)

by Jen Soriano


After: Jeanann Verlee’s “unsolicited advice to adolescent girls with crooked teeth and pink hair.”

When they ask how you speak English so well, don’t feel proud.
When they tell you to go eat bat, tell them to go eat baby cow.
When they ask if you work at the Chinese restaurant down the street, ask if you can take their order — and their money.
When they harass you, push you, spit at you and blame you for COVID-19, raise your voice: 
Say no to racism and xenophobia, and demand a world without scapegoats and hate

When they ask where are you from? say: Chicago.
When they ask where are you really from? say: my Mama.
When they say “you know what I mean, where are you really from?” stand proud.
Say: my ancestors are from the Philippines and I’m here
because the United States was there,
how about you?”
Do not say: I’m American.
Do not defend your place in the violent myth of white America, redefine what made this land the settler country that it is.

Learn from the civil rights and Black power and Black Lives Matter movements that 
citizenship does not guarantee humanity
Learn from American Indians and Alaskan Natives that in the eyes of America it doesn’t 
matter who got here first.
Say: I am a migrant settler or the descendant of immigrants or a refugee on indigenous land.

When they ask if Asians are the model minority, say no. 
When they ask if Asians are essentially anti-Black, say hell no.
When they ask if Asians are essentially white, say no, but … Be ready to have the conversation;
practice it and let these words roll off your tongue:
Relative Access to Privilege in the Racial
Hierarchy
Invented and Imposed by White Supremacy
Remember this is a conversation, not a lecture, in which you might learn something, too

When they treat you like a lily, growl at them. When they call you a tiger mom, eat them.
When they say you’re a crazy rich Asian, remind them of the low-wage workers who make their high-priced smartphones.
No, not in China, but in California, in Silicon Valley, in the good ol’ U.S. of A. 
When they ask what are you? Say: I’m hungry
When they ask are you Japanese? Korean? Laotian? 
Say: I’m not your wife, I’m not your  friend’s wife, and I’m not your girlfriend from the base where you were last stationed.
When they ask: “well what are you really?” 
Say: I’m whomever I want to be.

And then be: your fierce intelligent radiant yellow, Brown, Black, white-passing, mixed race, multi-ethnic, east or south or southeast Asian self; be your monolingual, multilingual, ESL, enby, trans, cis, intersex, questioning self.

Be YOU. An Asian stereotype detonator, you will explode their narrow minds with your expansive being

Take up space.

When they walk at you on the sidewalk, don’t move.
(unless they’re not wearing a mask, then move really far away) When they interrupt you, speak louder.

When they diminish you, outshine them. When they fetishize you, outsmart them. When they attack you, outorganize them. When they use
you as a wedge, build bridges.

Build bridges

Like we built railroads, like we harvested grapes and sugar cane, like we canned salmon, like we nursed and cared for the young and the sick and the elderly, like we continue to do today, like we run the bases, like we run the court, like we run for office, like we continue to organize for our humanity, for Black lives, for decolonization, for climate justice, for a
multi-racial democracy, for liberation.

And when they ask how you speak English so well, use. your. Words.


Jen Soriano

Jen Soriano (she:they) is a Filipinx-American lyric essayist and performer. They are the author of Making the Tongue Dry, a chapbook of lyric essays and prose poems. Jen is also the author of “Multiplicity From the Margins,” published by Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. Their critical and literary work can be found in numerous journals including Waxwing, Pleiades, TAYO and Cirque. Jen lives in Seattle with her husband and son, where she works as a communications strategist for social justice organizations (by day and by night, and the writing happens wherever it can in between). She wants whatever you are eating right now, and would love to connect on Instagram @jensorianowrites or Twitter @lionswrite.

Jen Soriano bio photo by Naomi Ishisaka.

Featured image attributed to randychiu under a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY 2.0).

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