Minor Feelings

by

Cathy Park Hong

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Minor Feelings Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Cathy Park Hong

Cathy Park Hong was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her parents were Korean immigrants to the U.S., and her father worked as a life insurance salesman and ran an industrial warehouse. In Minor Feelings, Hong depicts her childhood as largely tumultuous and unhappy but cites summer trips to visit her grandparents in Seoul as a rare bright spot. She was a self-described “socially awkward recluse” through high school, but she credits Oberlin College with opening her mind and giving her the confidence and freedom that she needed to dedicate her life to art. Although she started out planning to become a visual artist, she eventually switched to poetry, thanks largely to positive experiences studying with Myung Mi Kim. Hong then earned her MFA in Poetry at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she first confronted the complexity of writing about race as a poet in the U.S. She lived in New York for many years, where she worked a series of odd jobs, ranging from barista and aromatherapeutic cleanser salesperson to fact checker and reporter for the Village Voice. Her first book, Translating Mo’um (2002), won the Pushcart Prize for work published by small presses, and her second, Dance Dance Revolution (2007), won the Barnard Women Poets Prize. She has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the $165,000 Windham Campbell Prize, and a Fulbright scholarship, which allowed her to work as a journalist and translator in South Korea. The 2020 publication of Minor Feelings, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, launched Hong to national fame. In 2021, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. As of 2022, she lives in Brooklyn and teaches poetry writing at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.
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Historical Context of Minor Feelings

In Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong places special emphasis on the connections between colonialism, U.S. policy, international migration patterns, and the challenges that Asian Americans face today. For instance, she emphasizes how the Korean War transformed life in Korea forever and put many Koreans (including her own parents) in contact with the U.S. for the first time. The Japanese Empire occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945, but after World War II, the U.S. and Soviet Union took it over, split it in two, and established authoritarian regimes in their respective halves. The North invaded the South, until a U.S.-led coalition pushed back and invaded the North, and then China did the same in the opposite direction. Eventually, the two sides reached a ceasefire in 1953, but not until more than three million people were killed, most of them civilians. At the time, Koreans were still banned from immigrating to the U.S., as the nation’s immigration policy was based on a racist quota system that prioritized Northern and Western Europeans while severely restricting everyone else. People of Asian descent have lived in the present-day U.S. since long before the American Revolution and played a key role in much of its history, including in the construction of the transcontinental railroad and the growth of California’s agriculture industry. But, starting with the famous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the government put in place a series of policies designed to completely prohibit Asians from immigrating in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This meant that when the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act eliminated the racist quota system, people from Asia—and particularly highly-qualified professionals like doctors, engineers, and mechanics—were able to immigrate to the U.S. in substantial numbers for the first time in almost a century. In addition to contributing to the “model minority” narrative that Hong analyzes at length in Minor Feelings, this wave of immigration also sowed the seeds of a collective Asian American political consciousness—in fact, radical student activists at UC Berkeley coined the term “Asian American” in 1968. As of 2022, Asian Americans make up around six percent of the U.S. population, but this share is rapidly growing.

Other Books Related to Minor Feelings

Before Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong published three books of poetry: Translating Mo’um (2002), Dance Dance Revolution (2007), and Engine Empire (2012). The second-to-last essay in Minor Feelings focuses on the life, death, and work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, whose Dictee (1982) Hong cites as a major inspiration for her own poetry. Cha’s brother, the biographer and translator John H. Cha, has written a memoir about her death entitled The Rite of Truth: telling/retelling (forthcoming in English). Hong also writes about how she has been influenced by her relationships with other poets, like her friend Prageeta Sharma and her mentor Myung Mi Kim. Sharma’s poetry books include Bliss to Fill (2000) and Grief Sequence (2019), while Kim’s include Commons (2002) and Dura (1999). Of the many other works of poetry that Hong praises for innovative takes on race in the U.S., two that stand out are Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) and Bhanu Kapil’s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (2000). Meanwhile, Hong argues that Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing—most famously The Interpreter of Maladies (1999)—has come to serve as a template for much Asian American literature. In contrast, Hong celebrates writers like Ocean Vuong (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous) for breaking the mold. Finally, Hong also cites a wide range of media throughout Minor Feelings. Richard Pryor’s comedy specials, such as Live in Concert (1979), inspire Hong to talk differently about race, while Hollywood movies like Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) reflect major trends in American culture. Hong also explores Asian American identity through documentaries like Wu Tsang’s Wildness (2012), Ken Burns’s The Vietnam War (2017), and Jeff Blitz’s Spellbound (2002).
Key Facts about Minor Feelings
  • Full Title: Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
  • When Written: 2015–2020
  • Where Written: Primarily New York City
  • When Published: February 2020
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Creative Nonfiction, Cultural Criticism, Essay Collection, Autobiography, Asian American Studies
  • Setting: Los Angeles; New York City; Iowa City; and Oberlin, Ohio
  • Climax: Hong concludes that she must repay her debt to her country and parents through her activism and art, rather than by chasing the “privatized dream” of success under capitalism.
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Minor Feelings

Between Two Worlds. In an ironic twist of fate, Cathy Park Hong met her husband, a white man from Brooklyn, while they were both living in Seoul.