This illustration and poem combo explores my feelings around invasive assumptions and advances people have made in regards to my Japanese-American identity. More often than not, fascination of my heritage derives from media's depiction of Japan and other vaguely Eastern depictions on screens big and small. A non-exhaustive list includes anime, Japanese period pieces (primarily samurai), kaiju movies, weird commercials, overworked salary men, etc.
In Japan, "いらっしゃいませ" (Ira'shaimase) or "Come on In" is a common phrase people would hear when entering a store, restaurant, or commercial space. When patrons enter or graze curiously in front of the store, employees at these places would often shout this phrase or simply mumble it under their breath as courtesy. I took this phrase sarcastically - inviting people into my space if they're willing to go through various levels of their biases in order to see me and other Asian-American people as complex humans.
いらっしゃいませー (Irasshaimase ー Come on in)
to the Family Room
where hangs the finest American curtains
When you do, maybe you’ll look closely
below the protective layer
of model minority prestige,
how my past lives weaved
patterns of countryside, urban life,
with sunlit grids of Butsudan, flower shops,
and an unforgettable lace
of suicidal nationalism.
The curtains will cast shadows onto me
for everyone to see:
Yes-Men, Salary Men, Robotic Men,
“Exotic, sexual, but still nice” women
nodding politely to narcissist bosses
who expect tight lips,
to 65 year old white men,
who see me as young enough to fantasize
yet old enough to consent
to marital questions in the “too close for comfort” economy seating
You’ll sit with voracious curiosity
on the sofas, a rusty mahogany
built from a colonial past -
Shadows of thousands
dead from “my people’s” imperial spread
The cushions will hide
fistfuls of shame and crime.
nibble away at memory
despite their screams
to be heard
by a denying country.
Maybe you’ll notice the ceilings lights, made
from thousands of cranes for hibakusha -
my grandfather, my great aunts and uncles, unborn babies
buried in the ashes, remnants
Of a bomb
Of deadly lies.
If you join me in the Kitchen,
you’ll see a handsome spread of outside expectations.
A table colored by sushi, dumplings, miscellaneous fish,
Onlookers expecting flavors
of mecha-robots and screaming Super Saiyans
Against the background of masterfully painted scenes -
“Oh you speak Japanese?
Blurts an ecstatic wide-eyed "weeb"
“But also, Why are Japanese people
But if you take a bite
You may realize
That the sushi tastes like New Jersey’s Route 3,
fermented for 18 years -
greased by motor oil -
acrid yet sweet with a 1:00AM diner hospitality.
The dumplings, wrapped with perfect English,
Leave a history of bilingual failure.
The fish, with its sumptuous juices
Holds more than orchestras and anime OSTs -
You will taste flavors like Cardi B, Beyonce
Beatles, Ariana Grande
And the rice isn’t just rice
reflecting back your whiteness-
superior enough to question and comment
the hues and sensations of my Orient.
This grain is not just a Color
that institutions, funders, white gaze try to scrub away
under the running tap
and slap onto the emotional chopping block
to suck out all of its marketable wokeness
This grain smells of all my homes:
my ancestral home, my birth home, my home away from home -
Memories conjured from sweet, hot steam
embrace the dry air of this New England apartment
colored by makeshift 仏壇, protected
with thriftstore picture frames and おみやげ keychains,
This grain, with thousands of others just like it,
emit steam from a lovingly gifted electric pot,
that you might mistake as
In my Bedroom,
I’ve decorated the walls
Mirrors that reflect
back to my birth home,
back to my ancestral home,
back to my regrets of bilingual failure
back to my memories of a last breath
and resisting the pull of voyeuristic oppression olympics
back to me -
back to back / I come face to face
with bodily autonomy and insecurity,
with high-functioning depression
with hopes for the future and dread for what's to come,
with those I love dearly looking
back at me / seeing me,
Individual pieces of me
collecting those into some form
of a person they imagine me to be.
And I’ve spread my bed
With soft comforts
Like painting at daybreak,
Like running with a slight breeze
At 65 degrees, cloudy.
Like Netflix Kdramas that overpromise
Like the Beatles my mom used to hum -
Like the person
I want to be.
But why should I tell you any of this?
You’re not even here.
You haven’t even made it
into the Family Room.
You haven’t even knocked.