I AM

This poem received first place in the Prentiss Cheney Hoyt Poetry Contest held by the English Department here at Clark. It was written by Cassidy To, a senior Psychology and Asian Studies major. Writing has always been a constant in Cassidy’s life – mostly in journals, reflecting on experiences and fanciful daydreams. She has recently taken her first and only English class at Clark: Writing the Novel, a course that has challenged her to pursue the “one day” dream of publishing a novel. Cassidy has also been inspired by Clark Writes to explore poetry, and “I Am” has surfaced as a result. Originally a class assignment, this poem follows some of Cassidy’s experiences with language and culture as an Asian American. Read it below.

I Am

Cassidy To

 

I am
Born and raised in the Bay
From San Leandro to Fremont to Hayward to San Ramon
Frequent visitor of Oakland Chinatown
Where yeye mama gunggung popo reside
Where Cantonese lies heavy on the tongue
My name is 蘇曉彤
Lover of a land of language lost to Mainland ears
And lost to my sisters’
A loss to my children
For my tongue grows heavy
In my lost vocabulary
Not lost to my parents who raised me
They speak the language I wish to master
I am their progeny
My parents, seekers of their own destinies
From a small island in Ha Long Bay to Hong Kong to Minnesota to California
From China to Hong Kong to California
To camping trips and Chinese restaurants
Not really Chinese restaurants
If they were Chinese restaurants
There would be no need to call them Chinese
Only speak it and be understood
I am not understood
I am a traveler based in California
Braving ‘cross continents to colder coasts
Where ‘merica runs on Dunkin
And Chinatown exists only in cities
Bigger than Wormtown
Where the winters bring snow banks taller than I
Where the sun deceives me by its blinding brightness
While wind cuts sharper than any blade
But worse are the careless comments
Of those who laugh and say
She’s from California
As if somehow
Broken bones
Slipping tires and
D for vitamin deficiency
D for seasonal depression
Was better in their eyes
I am the Californian sun
Rising on golden coasts
And setting in the land of the rising sun
Yellow face
Among yellow crowds
Speaking a foreign tongue
Once again outside in more foreign lands
Where the tongues are twisted
From tongue of home, lost
Among the tongue of the land
Now the tongue of this land
Is the alien one
Whereas the tongue of home
Is spoken too often
Who am I?
I am American
I am not Japanese
I am not Chinese
But the wielder of something far “greater”
A mix of East Asian and Western
The desired tongue foremost
But mannerisms a little more similar
Familiar
I am チアサ
Mistaken for national
Yet their psychology is a mystery
Their words wash over my ears like a torrential rain
My words flow over my tongue like a thirsty stream
Possibilities muddied by
Quick consonants confusing confounding and
Comforting
I am a child of many languages
Languages bring richness to experience
Therefore I am much poorer
Four times over
For back in the United States of Nothing
My language
My people
My race and my color
Are only seen only through a filter
Where lack of a protective pigment
Gives most to its owners
I am many in one
Daughter of refugee and immigrant
Second generation college student
Californian, Bay Area no less
Asian American
Native of English
Oppressed and privileged
I am given a choice platter
And I am more privileged than I like to admit
But there, I said it
I am privileged
And although this has yet to manifest in equality
I speak with undeniable power
For my voice
My presence
My existence
Is resistance
Recognition
Value
And all that matters
Is at the end of the day
I know
I matter

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