Activism for Readers: #StopAsianHate

People demonstrating on a city street, holding signs against hate crimes, including Stop Asian Hate.
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

One of Medium’s best ideas in 2021 has been starting the #StopAsianHate blog. I’m looking forward to reading and learning more about what life is like for people who identify as Asian in the present day and in the past. Reading has been an important way for me to educate myself about racism and anti-racism.

I’m especially hoping that Medium will include voices of transracial and transnational adoptees who identify as Asian, like J.S. Lee who writes about the trauma of transnational adoption for Yes! magazine

As a domestic adoptee, I feel a sense of solidarity with all adoptees. We all bring an outsider’s perspective with us to some extent, but people adopted from other countries and into families of other races often have an especially keen perspective on American culture. In any conversation about #StopAsianHate, the words of transracial and transnational Asian adoptees make a critical contribution, as so many have been “reckoning with racial identity and systems that tolerate and encourage racism” all of their lives.

As part of the announcement about the new blog, Medium sent an email asking folks to participate with some #StopAsianHate writing prompts, including “What does it mean to be co-laborers to advance racial justice? What does allyship look like to you?”

So what does allyship with Asian-Americans look like for me, a little old 97% white lady?

First, I’ll out myself as a disabled person: traveling and showing up at demonstrations are both difficult for me. I spend most of my time at home, but I am an avid reader and writer. My allyship takes the form of promoting Asian American literature by writing and publishing reviews of new books. Books from independent presses are usually the ones that get my attention. I publish the reviews on my blog, Amazon, and Goodreads, and sometimes the reviews are published online by literary magazines.

If you’re looking to read work by Asian American writers, I’ve included links to several of my favorite authors’ webpages at the end of this article. Meanwhile, here’s reviews of two recent books by Asian American adoptees that I enjoyed:

Cover of the novel FAMOUS ADOPTED PEOPLE by Alice Stephens

Famous Adopted People by Alice Stephens (@AliceKSStephens) kept my attention riveted from start to finish, like a roller coaster ride through a kaleidoscope. It’s a book that switches gears a lot, and the author manages the transitions very well, partly because the novel is told through the perspective of a single protagonist who has a distinct voice. Lisa, a multiracial international adoptee from Korea who grew up with white adoptive parents in America, is a hard-drinking, work-shirking young woman whose close friendship with Mindy, another international adoptee, blows up when the two young women are traveling in Asia. What starts out as a story about friendship and identity becomes a crime mystery/political thriller/cultural criticism story with a little magic realism and a good bit of humor thrown in.

This was a very satisfying read for me. It kept me up at night and it kept me thinking. The whiplash ways of this novel seemed to me to be a meta-metaphor for the situation of transracial and international adoptees whose lives, like all adoptees’ lives, begin with the emotional whiplash of family separation and are further complicated by the cultural whiplash of being raised by a family that is obviously not their family of origin.

I love reading stories about adoption — fiction or nonfiction — because I was separated from my family by adoption as an infant, and I need stories that represent my experience. As a domestic adoptee, there are significant differences between my experiences and those of Lisa, the novel’s main character, but I still identified strongly with her questions about her own identity and her sense of alienation.

If you’re looking for a classic page-turner, I highly recommend this novel. And if you’re looking for insight on the adoptee experience, I highly recommend it for that reason, too. [originally published on my blog]

Cover of Tiana Nobile’s poetry collection CLEAVE

Cleave by Tiana Nobile is a poetry collection of magnitude and fascination, spanning continents, history, and personal obsessions. I started reading it one evening after dinner and stayed up late with it, still reading. As poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi notes on the publisher’s page, “With breathtaking lyric beauty and formidable formal range, Nobile details the intimate effects of the international adoption industrial complex on children and parents caught up in a system’s unrelenting hunger. This is a book of remarkable compassion and real horror. Its stories will be news to many and all too familiar to others.”

Most, perhaps all, people who are adopted by strangers have experienced feelings of loss and alienation and an absence of knowledge about their origins. I’m a domestic adoptee, and Tiana Nobile identifies as a Korean American adoptee, so there are important distinctions in our two experiences of adoption, but her stories are still “all too familiar” to me. In a series of poems titled “Abstract” that are spaced out in the collection Nobile works with the abstraction that looms in absence. All these poems begin with wide, white space, visually illustrating the blank page that many of us face.

Mother without a face
looks in the mirror. I wonder what creases we share. I wonder
how long her hair is. I wonder if she chews on the inside of her mouth
until the skin is chafed pulp . . . (10)

Adoption is often portrayed as a private family matter, but it’s a cultural practice, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The adoptee experience of loss and alienation can be exacerbated in transnational and transracial adoptions in a country like the U.S., where racism and anti-immigrant hate poison communities, families, and individuals. Tiana Nobile’s poems place her personal experience of adoption in that wider community and in a historical continuum of American imperialism in Asian countries, making this a critical book for our critical times.

It’s also an aesthetically rich book, full of sensory delight in language and provocative use of many traditional elements of poetry like internal rhyme, organic form, alliteration, and startling imagery, much of which is taken from the “monkey love” science experiments of the 1960’s that separated newborn monkeys from their mothers in a study of maternal deprivation. From “Mother of Wire” (43)

Call me Rhesus
Young and Moonless
monkey without a cloth
to dust her bones

A variety of intriguing formats in addition to the “Abstract” poems are included in the collection. For example, in “Where Are You Really From?” Nobile employs a justified prose poem format. A list of place names in the U.S. create a mystery narrative — one that illuminates the empty past of people separated from mother, family, culture, language, and history

Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Fertile, Iowa. Uncertain, Texas. Hazard, Nebraska. Accident, Maryland. Why, Arizona. Hell, Michigan. Disappointment, Kentucky. Embarrass, Minnesota. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Nameless, Tennessee. No Name, Colorado. Nada, Texas. Nothing, Arizona. (9)

Many of the poems mine science (or pseudo-science) for information on the mother-infant bond and details about fetal and infant Nobile’s poem, “Lost First Languages Leave Permanent Mark on The Brain, New Study Reveals,” uses this headline format to introduce a final meditation on what is lost

How do I translate
the sound of my mother’s
moaning? It’s a soft wail
I hang on the wall
of my windpipe (44)

[originally published at Mom Egg Review]

A few more brilliant Asian American writers with recent brilliant books are graphic memoirist Mira Jacob (I wanted to give her Good Talk to everyone I know!), novelist Matthew Salesses (existentialism updated for a quirky 21st century), and Steph Cha (literary fiction meets crime drama meets recent history).

Writing even a very short review on Goodreads or Amazon for a book you enjoyed can have a significant impact on sales. It’s an effective way to support Asian writers doing the important work of bringing their stories into the light.

Read everything from Michele Sharpe — and more.

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More from Michele Sharpe

Words in NYT, WaPo, Oprah Mag, Poets&Writers, et als. Adoptee/high school dropout/hep C survivor/former trial attorney. @MicheleJSharpe & MicheleSharpe.com

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