Minor Feelings

by

Cathy Park Hong

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Cathy Park Hong Character Analysis

Hong is the author of Minor Feelings and a prominent Korean American poet and writing professor. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, then educated at Oberlin College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the Midwest. As of the early 2020s, she lives in New York City. In this book, she explores different elements of the Asian American experience, ranging from her personal experiences with racism and the “minor feelings” they have provoked to the specific challenges Asian American women face and the question of what “Asian American” truly means in the diverse contemporary U.S.

Cathy Park Hong Quotes in Minor Feelings

The Minor Feelings quotes below are all either spoken by Cathy Park Hong or refer to Cathy Park Hong. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Asian American Politics Theme Icon
).
United Quotes

My face was no longer my face but a mask of trembling nerves threatening to mutiny. There was a glitch in the machine. Any second, a nerve could misfire and spasm like a snaking hose hissing water. I thought about my face so much I could feel my nerves, and my nerves felt ticklish. The face is the most naked part of ourselves, but we don’t realize it until the face is somehow injured, and then all we think of is its naked condition.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hong’s Tic
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

I was finally living the New York life I wanted. I was recently married and had just finished writing a book. There was no reason for me to be depressed. But anytime I was happy, the fear of an awful catastrophe would follow, so I made myself feel awful to preempt the catastrophe’s hitting. Overtaxed by this anxiety, I sank into deep depression. A friend said that when she was depressed, she felt like a “sloth that fell from its tree.” An apt description. I was dull, depleted, until I had to go out and interface with the public, and then I felt flayed.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

For as long as I could remember, I have struggled to prove myself into existence. I, the modern-day scrivener, working five times as hard as others and still I saw my hand dissolve, then my arm.

[…]

In the popular imagination, Asian Americans inhabit a vague purgatorial status: not white enough nor black enough; distrusted by African Americans, ignored by whites, unless we’re being used by whites to keep the black man down. We are the carpenter ants of the service industry, the apparatchiks of the corporate world. We are math-crunching middle managers who keep the corporate wheels greased but who never get promoted since we don’t have the right “face” for leadership. We have a content problem. They think we have no inner resources. But while I may look impassive, I am frantically paddling my feet underwater, always overcompensating to hide my devouring feelings of inadequacy.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

When the 1965 immigration ban was lifted by the United States, my father saw an opportunity. Back then, only select professionals from Asia were granted visas to the United States: doctors, engineers, and mechanics. This screening process, by the way, is how the whole model minority quackery began: the U.S. government only allowed the most educated and highly trained Asians in and then took all the credit for their success. See! Anyone can live the American Dream! they’d say about a doctor who came into the country already a doctor.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Cathy Park Hong’s Father
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

My classmate’s repellent post was almost easier to handle than my graduate school experience, because the slow drip of racism at Iowa was underhanded. I always second-guessed myself, questioning why I was being paranoid. I remember the wall of condescension whenever I brought up racial politics in workshop. Eventually, I internalized their condescension, mocked other ethnic poetry as too ethnicky. It was made clear to me that the subject of Asian identity itself was insufficient and inadequate unless it was paired with a meatier subject, like capitalism. I knew other writers of color at Iowa who scrubbed ethnic markers from their poetry and fiction because they didn’t want to be branded as identitarians. Looking back, I realized all of them were, curiously, Asian American.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 16-7
Explanation and Analysis:

Patiently educating a clueless white person about race is draining. It takes all your powers of persuasion. Because it’s more than a chat about race. It’s ontological. It’s like explaining to a person why you exist, or why you feel pain, or why your reality is distinct from their reality. Except it’s even trickier than that. Because the person has all of Western history, politics, literature, and mass culture on their side, proving that you don’t exist.
In other words, I didn’t know whether to tell this guy to fuck off or give him a history lesson. “We were here since 1587!” I could have said. “So what’s the hold up? Where’s our white Groupon?” Most Americans know nothing about Asian Americans. They think Chinese is synecdoche for Asians the way Kleenex is for tissues.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 18-9
Explanation and Analysis:

The writer Jeff Chang writes that “I want to love us” but he says that he can’t bring himself to do that because he doesn’t know who “us” is. I share that uncertainty. Who is us? What is us? Is there even such a concept as an Asian American consciousness? Is it anything like the double consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois established over a century ago? The paint on the Asian American label has not dried. The term is unwieldy, cumbersome, perched awkwardly upon my being. Since the late sixties, when Asian American activists protested with the Black Panthers, there hasn’t been a mass movement we can call our own. Will “we,” a pronoun I use cautiously, solidify into a common collective, or will we remain splintered, so that some of us remain “foreign” or “brown” while others, through wealth or intermarriage, “pass” into whiteness?

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 28-9
Explanation and Analysis:

It’s like being ghosted, I suppose, where, deprived of all social cues, I have no relational gauge for my own behavior. I ransack my mind for what I could have done, could have said. I stop trusting what I see, what I hear. My ego is in free fall while my superego is boundless, railing that my existence is not enough, never enough, so I become compulsive in my efforts to do better, be better, blindly following this country’s gospel of self-interest, proving my individual worth by expanding my net worth, until I vanish.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
Stand Up Quotes

The poet’s audience is the institution. We rely on the higher jurisdiction of academia, prize jury panels, and fellowships to gain social capital. A poet’s precious avenue for mainstream success is through an award system dependent on the painstaking compromise of a jury panel, which can often guarantee that the anointed book will be free of aesthetic or political risk.
Watching Pryor, I realized that I was still writing to that institution. It’s a hard habit to kick. I’ve been raised and educated to please white people and this desire to please has become ingrained into my consciousness. Even to declare that I’m writing for myself would still mean I’m writing to a part of me that wants to please white people.

I didn’t know how to escape it.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Richard Pryor
Page Number: 40-1
Explanation and Analysis:

How naïve to think that my invisibility meant I could play God! If Whitman’s I contained multitudes, my I contained 5.6 percent of this country. Readers, teachers, and editors told me in so many words that I should write whatever felt true to my heart but that since I was Asian, I might as well stick to the subject of Asians, even though no one cared about Asians, but what choice did I have since if I wrote about, say, nature, no one would care because I was an Asian person writing about nature?

I suspected that if a reader read my poem and then saw my name, the fuse of the poem would blow out, leading the reader to think, I thought I liked the poem but on second thought, I can’t relate to it.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

The ethnic literary project has always been a humanist project in which nonwhite writers must prove they are human beings who feel pain. Will there be a future where I, on the page, am simply I, on the page, and not I, proxy for a whole ethnicity, imploring you to believe we are human beings who feel pain? I don’t think, therefore I am—I hurt, therefore I am. Therefore, my books are graded on a pain scale. If it’s 2, maybe it’s not worth telling my story. If it’s 10, maybe my book will be a bestseller.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In Pryor, I saw someone channel what I call minor feelings: the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed. Minor feelings arise, for instance, upon hearing a slight, knowing it’s racial, and being told, Oh, that’s all in your head. A now-classic book that explores minor feelings is Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. After hearing a racist remark, the speaker asks herself, What did you say? She saw what she saw, she heard what she heard, but after her reality has been belittled so many times, she begins to doubt her very own senses. Such disfiguring of senses engenders the minor feelings of paranoia, shame, irritation, and melancholy.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Richard Pryor
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Writing about race is a polemic, in that we must confront the white capitalist infrastructure that has erased us, but also a lyric, in that our inner consciousness is knotted with contradictions. As much as I protest against the easy narrative of overcoming, I have to believe we will overcome racial inequities; as much as I’m exasperated by sentimental immigrant stories of suffering, I think Koreans are some of the most traumatized people I know. As I try to move beyond the stereotypes to express my inner consciousness, it’s clear that how I am perceived inheres to who I am. To truthfully write about race, I almost have to write against narrative because the racialized mind is, as Frantz Fanon wrote, an “infernal circle.”

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
The End of White Innocence Quotes

Rather than look back on childhood, I always looked sideways at childhood. If to look back is tinted with the honeyed cinematography of nostalgia, to look sideways at childhood is tainted with the sicklier haze of envy, an envy that ate at me when I stayed for dinner with my white friend’s family or watched the parade of commercials and TV shows that made it clear what a child should look like and what kind of family they should grow up in.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

On its own, Moonrise Kingdom is a relatively harmless film. But for those of us who have been currently shocked by the “unadulterated white racism … splattered all over the media,” we might ask ourselves what has helped fuel our country’s wistfully manufactured “screen memory.” Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is just one of countless contemporary films, works of literature, pieces of music, and lifestyle choices where wishing for innocent times means fetishizing an era when the nation was violently hostile to anyone different. Hollywood, an industry that shapes not only our national but global memories, has been the most reactionary cultural perpetrator of white nostalgia, stuck in a time loop and refusing to acknowledge that America’s racial demographic has radically changed since 1965. Movies are cast as if the country were still “protected” by a white supremacist law that guarantees that the only Americans seen are carefully curated European descendants.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Innocence is, as Bernstein writes, not just an “absence of knowledge” but “an active state of repelling knowledge,” embroiled in the statement, “Well, I don’t see race” where I eclipses the seeing. Innocence is both a privilege and a cognitive handicap, a sheltered unknowingness that, once protracted into adulthood, hardens into entitlement. Innocence is not just sexual deflection but a deflection of one’s position in the socioeconomic hierarchy, based on the confidence that one is “unmarked” and “free to be you and me.” The ironic result of this innocence, writes the scholar Charles Mills, is that whites are “unable to understand the world that they themselves have made.” Children are then disqualified from innocence when they are persistently reminded of, and even criminalized for, their place in the racial pecking order. As Richard Pryor jokes: “I was a kid until I was eight. Then I became a Negro.”

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Richard Pryor
Page Number: 74-5
Explanation and Analysis:

One characteristic of racism is that children are treated like adults and adults are treated like children. Watching a parent being debased like a child is the deepest shame. I cannot count the number of times I have seen my parents condescended to or mocked by white adults.

[…]

By not speaking up, we perpetuate the myth that our shame is caused by our repressive culture and the country we fled, whereas America has given us nothing but opportunity. The lie that Asians have it good is so insidious that even now as I write, I’m shadowed by doubt that I didn’t have it bad compared to others. But racial trauma is not a competitive sport. The problem is not that my childhood was exceptionally traumatic but that it was in fact rather typical.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Cathy Park Hong’s Mother
Page Number: 77-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Whether our families come from Guatemala, Afghanistan, or South Korea, the immigrants since 1965 have shared histories that extend beyond this nation, to our countries of origin, where our lineage has been decimated by Western imperialism, war, and dictatorships orchestrated or supported by the United States. In our efforts to belong in America, we act grateful, as if we’ve been given a second chance at life. But our shared root is not the opportunity this nation has given us but how the capitalist accumulation of white supremacy has enriched itself off the blood of our countries. We cannot forget this.
As a writer, I am determined to help overturn the solipsism of white innocence so that our national consciousness will closer resemble the minds of children like that Iranian American boy.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 89-90
Explanation and Analysis:
Bad English Quotes

It was once a source of shame, but now I say it proudly: bad English is my heritage. I share a literary lineage with writers who make the unmastering of English their rallying cry—who queer it, twerk it, hack it, Calibanize it, other it by hijacking English and warping it to a fugitive tongue. To other English is to make audible the imperial power sewn into the language, to slit English open so its dark histories slide out.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

A side effect of this justified rage has been a “stay in your lane” politics in which artists and writers are asked to speak only from their personal ethnic experiences. Such a politics not only assumes racial identity is pure—while ignoring the messy lived realities in which racial groups overlap—but reduces racial identity to intellectual property.


We must make right this unequal distribution but we must do so without forgetting the immeasurable value of cultural exchange in what Hyde calls the gift economy. In reacting against the market economy, we have internalized market logic where culture is hoarded as if it’s a product that will depreciate in value if shared with others; where instead of decolonizing English, we are carving up English into hostile nation-states. The soul of innovation thrives on cross-cultural inspiration. If we are restricted to our lanes, culture will die.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 101-2
Explanation and Analysis:

I turned to the modular essay because I am only capable of “speaking nearby” the Asian American condition, which is so involuted that I can’t stretch myself across it. […] I sometimes still find the subject, Asian America, to be so shamefully tepid that I am eager to change it—which is why I have chosen this episodic form, with its exit routes that permit me to stray. But I always return, from a different angle, which is my own way of inching closer to it.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 103-4
Explanation and Analysis:

In thinking about my own Asian identity, I don’t think I can seal off my imagined world so it’s only people of my likeness, because it would follow rather than break from this segregated imagination.

But having said that, how can I write about us living together when there isn’t too much precedent for it? Can I write about it without resorting to some facile vision of multicultural oneness or the sterilizing language of virtue signaling? Can I write honestly? Not only about how much I’ve been hurt but how I have hurt others? And can I do it without steeping myself in guilt, since guilt demands absolution and is therefore self-serving? In other words, can I apologize without demanding your forgiveness? Where do I begin?

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
An Education Quotes

The avant-garde genealogy could be tracked through stories of bad-boy white artists who “got away with it,” beginning with Duchamp signing a urinal and calling it art. It’s about defying standards and initiating a precedent that ultimately liberates art from itself. […] The problem is that history has to recognize the artist’s transgressions as “art,” which is then dependent on the artist’s access to power. A female artist rarely “gets away with it.” A black artist rarely “gets away with it.” Like the rich boarding school kid who gets away with a hit-and-run, getting away with it doesn’t mean that you’re lawless but that you are above the law. The bad-boy artist can do whatever he wants because of who he is. Transgressive bad-boy art is, in fact, the most risk-averse, an endless loop of warmed-over stunts for an audience of one: the banker collector.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 114-5
Explanation and Analysis:

I would have had a happier four years in college had I never met Helen. But I wouldn’t have been the writer I am today. Helen validated us, solidified us, and made us feel inevitable. We were going to define American culture. […] We had the confidence of white men, which was swiftly cut down after graduation, upon our separation, when each of us had to prove ourselves again and again, because we were, at every stage of our careers, underestimated. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. That struggle kept me faithful to the creative imagination cultivated by our friendship, which was an imagination chiseled by rigor and depth to reflect the integrity of our discontented consciousness.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Helen
Page Number: 149-50
Explanation and Analysis:
Portrait of an Artist Quotes

Cha doesn’t ever direct your reading of Dictee. She refuses to translate the French or contextualize a letter by former South Korean leader Syngman Rhee to Franklin D. Roosevelt or caption the photo of French actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti in Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. The reader is a detective, puzzling out her own connections.

[…]

Cha spoke my language by indicating that English was not her language, that English could never be a true reflection of her consciousness, that it was as much an imposition on her consciousness as it was a form of expression. And because of that, Dictee felt true.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Page Number: 154-5
Explanation and Analysis:

The length to which scholars will argue how Cha is recovering the lives of Korean women silenced by historical atrocities while remaining silent about the atrocity that took Cha’s own life has been baffling. […] The more I read about her, the less I knew. And the less I knew, the more I couldn’t help but regard Cha as a woman who also disappeared without explanation.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Page Number: 157-8
Explanation and Analysis:

By introducing me to Cha, my professor Kim established a direct, if modest, literary link: Cha, Kim, myself. Not only did they share my history, they provided for me an aesthetic from which I could grow. For a while, however, I thought I had outgrown Cha. I’d cite modernist heavyweights like James Joyce and Wallace Stevens as influences instead of her. I took her for granted. Now, in writing about her death, I am, in my own way, trying to pay proper tribute. But once, when I read an excerpt of this essay in public, someone asked if Cha would have written about her rape homicide in the fairly straightforward narrative account that I’m writing in. “Not at all,” I said. “But I’m just trying to write what happened. I found that formal experimentation was getting in the way of documenting facts.”

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Myung Mi Kim
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
The Indebted Quotes

The takeaway from the crowd-pleasing opening scene in the novel and film Crazy Rich Asians is the following: if you discriminate against us, we’ll make more money than you and buy your fancy hotel that wouldn’t let us in. Capitalism as retribution for racism. But isn’t that how whiteness recruits us? Whether it’s through retribution or indebtedness, who are we when we become better than them in a system that destroyed us?

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

I began this book as a dare to myself. I still clung to a prejudice that writing about my racial identity was minor and non-urgent, a defense that I had to pry open to see what throbbed beneath it. This was harder than I thought, like butterflying my brain out onto a dissection table to tweeze out the nerves that are my inhibitions. Moreover, I had to contend with this we. I wished I had the confidence to bludgeon the public with we like a thousand trumpets against them. But I feared the weight of my experiences—as East Asian, professional class, cis female, atheist, contrarian—tipped the scales of a racial group that remains so nonspecific that I wondered if there was any shared language between us. And so, like a snail’s antenna that’s been touched, I retracted the first person plural.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

Sow the cratered lands with candy and from its wrappers will rise Capitalism and Christianity. About her homeland [South Korea], the poet Emily Jungmin Yoon writes, “Our cities today glow with crosses like graveyards.”

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 184-5
Explanation and Analysis:

To be indebted is to fixate on the future. I tense up after good fortune has landed on my lap like a bag of tiny excitable lapdogs. But whose are these? Not mine, surely! I treat good fortune not as a gift but a loan that I will have to pay back in weekly installments of bad luck. I bet I’m like this because I was raised wrong—browbeaten to perform compulsory gratitude. Thank you for sacrificing your life for me! In return, I will sacrifice my life for you!
I have rebelled against all that. As a result, I have developed the worst human trait: I am ungrateful. This book too is ungrateful. In my defense, a writer who feels indebted often writes ingratiating stories. Indebted, that is, to this country—to whom I, on the other hand, will always be ungrateful.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

In 1968, students at UC Berkeley invented the term Asian American to inaugurate a new political identity. Radicalized by the black power movement and anti-colonial movement, the students invented that name as a refusal to apologize for being who they were. It’s hard to imagine that the origin of Asian America came from a radical place, because the moniker is now flattened and emptied of any blazing political rhetoric. But there was nothing before it. Asians either identified by their nationality or were called Oriental.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

I bring up Korea to collapse the proximity between here and there. Or as activists used to say, “I am here because you were there.”

[…]

My ancestral country is just one small example of the millions of lives and resources you have sucked from the Philippines, Cambodia, Honduras, Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, El Salvador, and many, many other nations through your forever wars and transnational capitalism that have mostly enriched shareholders in the States. Don’t talk to me about gratitude.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Poetry is a forgiving medium for anyone who’s had a strained relationship with English. Like the stutterer who pronounces their words flawlessly through song, the immigrant writes their English beautifully through poetry. The poet Louise Glück called the lyric a ruin. The lyric as ruin is an optimal form to explore the racial condition, because our unspeakable losses can be captured through the silences built into the lyric fragment. I have relied on those silences, maybe too much, leaving a blank space for the sorrows that would otherwise be reduced by words. […] By turning to prose, I am cluttering that silence to try to anatomize my feelings about a racial identity that I still can’t examine as a writer without fretting that I have caved to my containment.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 196-7
Explanation and Analysis:

Our respective racial containment isolates us from each other, enforcing our thoughts that our struggles are too specialized, unrelatable to anyone else except others in our group, which is why making myself, and by proxy other Asian Americans, more human is not enough for me. I want to destroy the universal. I want to rip it down. It is not whiteness but our contained condition that is universal, because we are the global majority. By we I mean nonwhites, the formerly colonized; survivors, such as Native Americans, whose ancestors have already lived through end times; migrants and refugees living through end times currently, fleeing the droughts and floods and gang violence reaped by climate change that’s been brought on by Western empire.

Related Characters: Cathy Park Hong (speaker)
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:
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Cathy Park Hong Character Timeline in Minor Feelings

The timeline below shows where the character Cathy Park Hong appears in Minor Feelings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
United
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Art, Voice, and Audience Theme Icon
“An imaginary tic” sparks Cathy Park Hong’s depression. Her husband doesn’t see anything, but she’s convinced that her face is spasming—like it... (full context)
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Friendship and Solidarity Theme Icon
Hong decides to find a therapist. She finds the only Korean American name in her insurance... (full context)
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Hong has always “struggled to prove [herself] into existence.” She has always felt inadequate, no matter... (full context)
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Once, in graduate school, Hong got a pedicure at a shop owned by a Vietnamese family. The only available pedicurist... (full context)
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History, Ignorance, and Racism Theme Icon
In Korea, Hong’s father grew up poor but succeeded in school. In 1965, the U.S. began allowing a... (full context)
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Hong’s father may sound like the kind of “model immigrant” who wouldn’t care about race, but... (full context)
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In graduate school, Hong learned that one of her classmates wrote an anonymous blog post criticizing her work and... (full context)
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When Hong reads a selection from this book at a New York gallery, the gallery owner, a... (full context)
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The University of Montana hired Hong’s friend, the poet Prageeta Sharma, to direct its creative writing program. During a party at... (full context)
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Hong admits that readers might instinctively question whether racism is really at play in this story.... (full context)
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...is a Korean word for a special kind of “instantaneous deep connection.” This is what Hong imagined feeling with Eunice Cho. In fact, she really hoped that working with a Korean... (full context)
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After Donald Trump’s election, Hong gives a reading in Michigan. In response to Trump’s planned Muslim registry, she discusses Japanese... (full context)
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...million people, including countless innocent civilians, died in the Korean War. American soldiers broke into Hong’s family’s home, destroyed all of their possessions, and dragged Hong’s grandfather outside to execute him.... (full context)
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Hong remembers this story when she sees a video of airport security violently dragging Vietnamese doctor... (full context)
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When people say, “Asians are next in line to be white,” Hong thinks, “Asians are next in line to disappear.” The U.S. wants them to stay invisible—except... (full context)
Stand Up
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During her year of depression, Hong spends most of her time lying down in her apartment and struggling to eat, sleep,... (full context)
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...comedians like Bill Cosby—until he realized that this didn’t at all represent who he was. Hong feels the same: she asks, “Who am I writing for?” Poets often pretend that they... (full context)
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Hong first started writing poetry in high school after reading classmates’ work and deciding that she... (full context)
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When Hong was young, the crowds at her poetry readings were always mostly white. It took her... (full context)
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Hong identifies with Pryor because his work reminds her of the Korean concept of han—the sense... (full context)
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When Hong was young, Koreatown was the center of her family’s universe. But white people never went—to... (full context)
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In 1992, riots broke out between Los Angeles’s Black and Korean residents, and Hong saw firsthand how racist her community could be. In fact, many Korean immigrants ran successful... (full context)
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...in the newspaper. He was the only Korean who died in the violence. But when Hong saw his mother describe her experience in a documentary, she remembered women in her own... (full context)
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Hong’s writing requires her to confront the political and personal dimensions of racism at the same... (full context)
The End of White Innocence
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As a child, Hong admired her white friends’ calm, orderly home lives. In contrast, her family was chaotic and... (full context)
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Hong’s teachers expected her to identify with stories like Catcher in the Rye—but she didn’t. Unlike... (full context)
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Hong remembers how her mother once unknowingly sent her to school in a shirt with the... (full context)
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When Hong was little, her grandmother—a tough former refugee who crossed from North Korea to South Korea... (full context)
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In 2018, Hong visited an art exhibit by Carmen Winant, who covered the walls of the Museum of... (full context)
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...fundamentally unites Americans of color, and it should be part of the core American story. Hong wants to help the U.S. put such perspectives at the center of its national consciousness. (full context)
Bad English
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Most kids collect toys or dolls; Hong collected pencils, erasers, and notebooks. Her Korean peers frequently ostracized her. They spoke the local... (full context)
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Hong enjoys “collecting bad English,” browsing sites that post incorrect translations from signs and t-shirts in... (full context)
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Hong’s mother is strong and brilliant in Korean, but she struggles to express herself in English.... (full context)
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Hong has always tried to break English apart by mixing words, registers, and genres in her... (full context)
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Hong quotes the filmmaker Trinh T. Min-ha, who argues that artists should “speak nearby” other cultures,... (full context)
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...their stories in a form that white audiences and publishers will want to read. For Hong, bad English is an alternate way for different groups to connect their experiences, without putting... (full context)
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...Wildness opens with a shot of the sunset over Los Angeles, a scene familiar to Hong. It goes on to profile the Silver Platter, a mostly Latinx bar where Tsang found... (full context)
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When Hong was growing up, Black, Latinx, and Asian kids were casually racist to each other all... (full context)
An Education
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Hong went to high school art camp hoping to become a cool kid instead of a... (full context)
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In her twenties, Hong had an artist friend named Joe. At one of his shows, he just hung raw... (full context)
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Most of Hong’s peers in Koreatown spent their careers working hard to satisfy their parents—either to pay off... (full context)
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In college, Hong, Helen, and Erin would sit for hours at an Ohio diner and discuss art. Their... (full context)
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...which was in part a way to reinterpret her family trauma. Years later, Erin asks Hong not to include the details of her trauma in this book. Hong complains that Asians... (full context)
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As a college first-year, Hong convinced the art department to put her straight into an intermediate class. The professor complimented... (full context)
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Unlike Hong, Helen never gave up on beauty. For one final project, she created a vast web... (full context)
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A year later, Hong and Erin moved into a dilapidated, old, ant-infested house at Oberlin. Their roommate, another art... (full context)
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One day, Helen went to Hong and Erin’s house after a “heroin bender” and sprawled out on their armchair. Hong remembered... (full context)
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Hong grew tired of her art class and realized that Erin and Helen were far better... (full context)
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Hong also switched to poetry because she was “too neurotic for art”: she wanted to reproduce... (full context)
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Hong is lucky to have studied in the 1990s, when multiculturalism was the norm in college... (full context)
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In college, Hong didn’t want to share her poetry with Helen: she was afraid of Helen’s judgment, and... (full context)
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...the administration emptied her studio, destroying all of the art she had made in college. Hong worried that Helen would commit suicide—but she also resented Helen for the emotional chaos of... (full context)
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Hong wasn’t planning to write about Helen—just Erin, who stayed her best friend for many years... (full context)
Portrait of an Artist
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...then continued past the company that published her poetry book Dictee and the building where Hong would live more than two decades later. Cha was already sick of the corrupt New... (full context)
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Hong read Dictee for the first time in Myung Mi Kim’s class at Oberlin. In the... (full context)
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...a staple of Asian American literature courses. Cha’s art has also reached a worldwide audience. Hong teaches her students to treat the words in Dictee like those of a language they’re... (full context)
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Hong contacts curators and scholars with questions about Cha’s death, but they reply that they prefer... (full context)
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...rolled her body up in a rug and dumped it in a nearby parking lot. (Hong wonders how specific to get—at what point does more detail start to dehumanize Cha?) Sanza... (full context)
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Hong interviews Cha’s brother John, who wrote a book about the murder (The Rite of Truth).... (full context)
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...Flitterman-Lewis, a friend whom Cha was supposed to meet the night of her murder, tells Hong how the scratch marks on Sanza’s face and arms became important evidence in the trial.... (full context)
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Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s work has deeply influenced Hong ever since Myung Mi Kim introduced her to it. And this essay is Hong’s way... (full context)
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Hong wonders why other critics haven’t written about Cha’s death—perhaps it’s because the word “rape” is... (full context)
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...a sexual fetish. Many learn to assume that all interest in them is really perversion. Hong recalls the poet Bhanu Kapil’s question: “What is the shape of your body?” For Hong,... (full context)
The Indebted
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After becoming a mother, Hong feels stuck, unable to travel or get much time alone. She goes swimming in the... (full context)
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...will fight racism with capitalism, by making enough money to buy white people out. But, Hong asks, is this any different from just becoming white? Writing this book about race was... (full context)
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Hong returns to the moment when the American soldiers nearly murdered her grandfather during the Korean... (full context)
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Hong feels indebted to her parents, just as her parents feel indebted to the U.S. This... (full context)
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...Power movement and hoped to bring a concern for Vietnamese people into the anti-war movement. Hong didn’t appreciate the radical origins of Asian American identity until years after college—in the 1990s,... (full context)
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Hong hasn’t been to Seoul since 2008, when her grandmother died there in a miserable nursing... (full context)
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Hong is in the U.S. because the U.S. was in Korea. The U.S. army mercilessly bombed... (full context)
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Hong hates the cliché that immigrants feel out of place in the U.S. and need to... (full context)
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Hong argues that writers of color must move beyond “racial containment,” or the norm of writing... (full context)
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...may not have been soldiers, and his commanding officer praised him. Upon seeing this interview, Hong thinks of the word “traitor.” But the soldier was doing exactly what the U.S. asked... (full context)
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No matter what Hong writes, violence always seeps back into her work. She knows that her comfortable life today... (full context)
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...the government plan to reopen the camps as immigration detention centers. “We were always here,” Hong concludes. (full context)