Monday, May 6, 2013

Beautiful Things At & After Mr. Hyphen

I went to Mr. Hyphen recently. It was my first foray to an Asian American event since beginning life in North Oakland in late March. The magazine and event have been on my mind since college, and it was a little surreal to be there. For some reason, this event just seven hours away felt very far from me when I was an undergraduate at UC Irvine all those years ago. I take it as a good sign when it feels like things are coming full circle. Which brings me to the winner of Mr. Hyphen: Sean Miura, curator of 1st&3rd Tuesday Night Cafe, among other things. 
Photo by Intwined Bows
Beyond dancing and wrapping cable with him in Aratani Courtyard, I recall midnight forays for carne asada fries in Gardena and long talks about each of our histories in consciousness of Asian Americanness and the Asian American movement. We've talked about our processes of politicization, and shared passion over the music of the API movement-- artists who came through TNC, artists on other coasts, artists from thirty years ago. He shared a wealth of MP3s with me and I fantasized about him leading a TNC dance crew. We talked about history. A lot.
Photo by Vincent Trinh

At Mr. Hyphen, I got to see an integration of everything Sean is on stage at Brava Theater: his humor, his sincerity, his passion, his (sigh) puns, and all of it rolled up into his dance:

Watching Sean made me wistful for Los Angeles and moved me to write poetry of questionable quality. It was evident that he had put a huge amount of effort, care, and energy into preparing for Mr. Hyphen, fueled by a deep commitment to Tuesday Night Project. I'll be celebrating in spirit with everyone at tomorrow night's TNC for all the gaff tape the $1,000 prize will buy.

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Photo by Vincent Trinh
I was inspired by Ni├▒o-Pierre Galang's discussion of the importance and power of knowing our mother tongues. Thinking about my fluency in Khmer has always been a big part of my struggle as a poet and writer-- it is so strange to think about how such a big part of me has always felt in a way separate. He talked about how important learning Tagalog has been to him. What place does language have as we reconcile our Asian/American identities? Is it a novelty? How do we make a place for language?

Last week I went to have lunch with family for a cousin's birthday. One of our relatives has an adorable baby daughter. Conversation around the dim sum table veered to the other parents telling her to read to her daughter every night. She recently immigrated from Cambodia and English is her second language. She joked that her daughter would be reading to her soon enough. A feeling boiled up in me and I asked her whether she also had books in Khmer to read to her daughter.

I could have cried when she said yes. I was relieved that this little girl will grow up with a different relationship to language, to Khmer, than I grew up with. She's second-generation as I am, or maybe she's 2.5, and she's growing up in a different emotional climate; one in which the echoes of war are farther back in time, and in a different socio-economic status. I know this doesn't mean negotiating her Asian American or Khmer American identity will necessarily be any easier, but it's comforting that perhaps she'll be literate in Khmer and will able to relate to her parents in a healthier way than I did growing up.

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Not being fully employed and also not yet receiving paychecks means I hesitated to buy the $30ish dollar Mr. Hyphen-plus-magazine subscription package, but it felt good to spend money supporting a community institution-- and realizing that thirty dollars is less than I would spend on gas for some climbing trips. And now I'll get stories of Asian America delivered to my doorstep.

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

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