For you were strangers in the land of Egypt

Right now is full of anger and fear.

I realize being angry without taking action doesn’t do much, and that I am not the target of these recent policies and so must make space for those who are to be heard. But I also — oh, God, I’m so furious, specifically with people I always thought I could trust.

Angry white racists, or even angry PoC whose misogyny/internalized racism/colorism/etc blinds them to what is right in front of their faces, voting for Tr**p saddens me but isn’t very surprising. Even the patriarchally driven, Islamophobic, anti-social welfare wing of the self-titled religious right going pro-Tr**p doesn’t surprise me as much as I wish it did.

What hurts — who I’m furious with — is when the people I grew up around, people in the church that helped raised me and were part of my community life, advocate for an administration that turns away refugees for hateful, xenophobic reasons on the basis that Tr**p has God’s anointing. I’m not putting that phrase in quotes because I don’t want to devalue it; my relationship with faith is often strained (to say the least), but I do still believe the idea of being chosen with love by the Creator of the universe means something. That’s why this hurts so much.

Of course, not everyone in the church is pro-Tr**p, and even the leaders (who did the advocating) weren’t exactly thrilled about him. But they advocated for him anyway, and now. Now —

— we were immigrants once. Not in the “all Americans are immigrants” way; because if you go with that I have some belated grade school history lessons about Native populations and the transatlantic slave trade for you. In Hawaii, though, we non-Native-descended residents know when our ancestors came over, because the answer is always “a few generations ago.” Our overseas origins are never that far from us.

I have a step-great-grandmother who couldn’t read or write, which I know from seeing the immigration card she signed with an X. My grandmother lost a baby brother on the boat journey to Hawaii; he had to be thrown overboard in a shoyu barrel because there was nothing and nowhere else to bury him in. My great-grandfather worked through his days under the blazing sun on a pineapple plantation. When his wife died, their daughter, my grandmother, was only seven, but he still had to work in order to feed them and keep them housed. Imagine having to sacrifice your relationship with your children so they can survive.

Then imagine that one of those children would grow up not only to have a steady income and accommodation, but to own an apartment complex. Imagine being married off at thirteen and being able, one day, to see your children graduate from college. My cousins and I are doctors, lawyers, dentists, and, uh, a Humanities researcher, only two generations removed from a twenty-one-year-old widow with a baby, hiding behind her house’s blacked-out windows during World War II, likely wondering whether the government would take her away like they did so many others who shared her racial background.

And in case we forget, our food is there to remind us. The family and community parties I grew up attending were always food-oriented — like pretty much all gatherings in Hawaii — and that was where the proof of our comingled roots really came out: in the Spam musubi, the Chinese-style noodles with Japanese fishcake, the kim chee, the mochiko fried chicken, the gau gee, the shoyu poke, the gandule rice, the pipikaula, the crab legs, the iso peanuts…we shared them and ate them all together. Each dish spoke of long histories that we couldn’t articulate in words but could invite others into via food. Even now, it’s what brings us together and keeps us going in community.

So how, then, can anyone vote against this? Conceptually we are voting against our own stomachs, which anyone from Hawaii would say was unthinkable. How can anyone advocate for a power structure attacking the love that helped us to thrive and, in many cases, to exist in the first place? What God is this who, you claim, anoints a man striking at the very core of who we are as a people? This is the God you taught me to believe in, the God whose example you said we should follow in increasing our capacity to show love and compassion. What did I, or you, or all of us misunderstand?

There’s a part of me that wants to shout at them, HOW CAN YOU LOOK INSIDE YOUR HEARTS AND SOULS AND STILL SAY THIS IS RIGHT? TELL ME! TELL ME WHY YOU DID THIS!

There’s another part of me that knows it wouldn’t work. The Lord works in mysterious ways, I’d be told, or maybe something about how if I continue to believe I’ll see how it all works out.

In more privately fearful moments, I wonder: what if this is some kind of judgement? The Old Testament tells us how, when the Israelites begged for a king, God sent them Saul, and that did not work out real good, what with the paranoia and continually trying to murder his court musician/son-in-law. But that doesn’t make sense, given who’s being targeted by Tr**p’s chief white supremacist’s policies. I mean Tr**p’s policies. No, wait, I don’t.

At least it would make sense. I desperately want this all to make sense, but it doesn’t. Right now I’m scared to go home. That is, if home even exists anymore.

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From the vaults

I wrote this three years ago, when I’d just started getting into Judge Dredd and was coming to the end of a truly dispiriting string of temp jobs.

 

Future Shocks

 

It got them all: intergalactic lovers,

outlaws on Saturn, robot anarchists

surrendered in five pages to that twist

of irony. Huddled under the covers,

 

post-bedtime torch in hand, you held it back

until 2000 and its judgment came

for you too, hissing in your ear: the crime

is life or forwarding your council tax

 

to a nonexistent clone or wiping out

your ex’s records from the timestream. Twenty

years of spreadsheets in the cubes is plenty

of time to think it over, creep and doubt

 

you ever dreamed of lighting the black sprawl

between the stars. Your future’s in the walls.

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The Wire Mother’s Lullaby

Hunger is the beginning of every story. -Kristiana Willsey

I knew a story about a queen who had everything but
a baby, a milkfat miniature to hold tight

forever. She ate witch-blossoms and got one good,
one who hid herself in tatters and rode

out of her life. If I ever felt that hunger
chewing its way in, I would scratch flowers

from the earth until my fingers cracked. I would swallow
a thousand whole to see myself good

and small, to press my sleeping self’s ear
on the hollow where I think a pulse should be.

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IGNCC 2016, and general updates

Before I get into the International Graphic Novels and Comics Conference 2016, some general updates:

I’ve created a list of services here, which lays out some ways I can work with you on projects and events. I’ve also put together a Panels and Podcasts page, where you can find out more about and listen to my comics-related chat.

***

This year’s International Graphic Novels and Comics Conference (IGNCC 2016) was great. I was feeling no small amount of trepidation beforehand, considering that last year’s International Bande Dessinee Society (IBDS) conference in Paris was an exercise in white privilege-induced anxiety, and had resolved that this year’s conference would be my last academic comics conference, at least in the UK/Europe.

However, IGNCC 2016 — in Manchester this year — felt even more positive than I could have hoped. Often I’m the only non-white person at these events. At IGNCC I met a Native American scholar* as well as several other Asian attendees, including a guy from the Philippines (this NEVER happens; I’d never met another Filipino person at a humanities event until this) and a Chinese woman. I also met some fellow female scholars from America and Spain, and had some delightful chats with them during and after conference events.

The theme of the conference was “Graphic Gothic,” so there were a lot of papers about Batman. The first panel I went to ended up being all about space and madness in Gotham City, which was totally my jam even though I don’t always connect with talk of spatial/architectural significance. My panel, “Gendering Gotham,” which dealt with representations of women and gender in Batman, featured a female moderator and another female speaker as well as myself. Three women talking about gender and feminism — and no one asked us any shitty questions. This also never happens. The questions we did get led to debate, discussion, and friendly chats, but no sexism or mansplaining in sight; overall, very respectful without anyone losing sight of their opinions.

I had to leave on the second day of the conference due to other work commitments, so possibly there were negative occurrences on the days I didn’t attend. But for me, the only real drawback was that several of the panels I wanted to attend were at the same time as mine, or conflicted with panels more directly connected to my research interests. Then again, maybe that’s a good sign. Too many interesting panels is much better than too few!

On the whole, it was an excellent note on which to go out. I felt emotionally and socially safe, I met some really interesting people, and I felt fired up about my research again. (I even wrote another poem, which I’ll post here soon!) More conferences should take a tip from IGNCC 2016.

 

*I think he was Native American; I didn’t ask, but he was from the Black Hills area of South Dakota and definitely wasn’t entirely white.

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More punishments

As a supplement to the previous post:

 

You’re one bad day away…

 

From being me, he says, having learned the spitting

dialects of foreign gunfire, to read blood and powder

like cold tea leaf dregs. From the meat-stink of combat

dug into your nails (it never scrubs out).

 

We were born

on a bad day, then, with the husks of bad days

heaped and rotting at our doors. He learned the rush

of offense. We always knew it: hissed attacks rustling

 

through once-friendly quarters, a fearless step springing

spikes into the heart — we were children, torn open

in full color. No bad day disremembers

how scars grow with your skin, not enough. Learn that.

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Punishments

My favorite Punisher comics are when he turns into your dad (or, as they say up here in Cal-Hab, “yer da”) on Facebook, complaining groundlessly about “liberals” while he beats up bad guys.

No, wait — my favorites are the ones where he infiltrates high schools to stop kids from taking drugs, and beats up children and/or spies on them from his unmarked van in the process.

Then again, I also have a soft spot for Punisher: Armory, which takes ten full issues to detail the specs of his many weapons while using far too many exclamation points and words like “hooboy”.

It’s not a rational concept, is my point, which is why I like it.

There isn’t much you can do in the way of realism when it comes to the Punisher; you can mirror real-world events, such as the late 80s post-Jonestown story about a suicide cult in South America, but you can’t ask readers to realistically cheer on murder. It’s a power fantasy. That’s the appeal.

…especially for me, because as a woman of color, as an Asian woman, I don’t obviously see those very often.

I’m not just talking about power in terms of guns or ass-kicking. White straight guy characters are relatively free of the burden of representation, which allows them to be individuals rather than ambassadors for an entire race, gender, nationality, etc. If they screw it up, countless white straight guys will be next in line to pick up the slack, so they only have to be themselves.

An Asian character whose shtick revolves around killing bad guys would at least be some sort of mystery shadow ninja. If they were female? A mystery shadow ninja/sexy murder geisha. I can’t imagine what a white-guy world would make of a black character whose house was full of guns and went around shooting the evil rich.

The Punisher is. He’s been called a force of nature, which is not only accurate but highlights his role as something natural/unconstructed/unbounded by ninja bullshit (okay, he did go to a “Ninja Training Camp” for a few issues in 1989, but he got the hell out of there because it was fake ninja bullshit). If I could see more characters who looked like me being described as natural, without excessive reference to Mt. Fuji or dragons or whatever, that would be ideal.

Not that I want to be a white guy. I’m comfortable as an Asian woman, proud of my heritage, and at ease with my gender identity. But in public life I’m continuously looking over my shoulder to ensure that I don’t misrepresent, that I don’t put forth a bad image of my race(s), gender, or nationality as a whole, and it’s exhausting. Frank Castle and implacable white male avengers like him have never had to worry about that. What they do stands alone. I wish I had that kind of access to institutional power, where I can stand as an individual and not as a de facto representative for several marginalized groups, often all at once.

That’s the power fantasy I’m talking about. And maybe I shouldn’t want that; in fact, I’m sure it’s hugely problematic. But until I see more characters like me at the center of that fantasy, Frank and his ilk are kind of all I have.

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“Educated into our freedom”: what we talk about when we talk about Charlie Hebdo

On 2 September 2015, three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and his family fled Syria as refugees.

He drowned during the crossing.

Read his name again; say it. Aylan – not Alan – Kurdi. That is the name of a boy who will never see his fourth birthday or see the new homeland his family was trying to reach. His parents will never hold him, hear him laugh, watch him grow up, introduce him to a world filled with something other than war and fear and wanton destruction.

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