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Esther Tseng: “Moving East”

Poetry

I moved west to head towards my east
            Born and raised in the land of cheese
The land of milk, beer and cheddar
            Cold weather
And colorful trees
            with gold, ruby autumn leaves

Last fall, I went back to where I came from,
Drove in with my brother
            Wanted to remember how it felt like to be the other
Never forget those small town values
            Be kind to your neighbor, no matter what their use, to you

We weren’t white, but we were white collar in a sea of blue
My city employed by Miller Beer, Harley Davidson
            and the Brew Crew

I am yellow. I am different.
To everyone, I am Chinese, Japanese,
            and have dirty knees
I do what is prescribed
            I play the piano, I play the violin, I skate on ice

I was born in the Midwest
            wishing I was white
Needed to move east towards my inner peace on the
            open Coast
I needed mountains, beach and snow
            not just slush on the flat open road

And then I’m in Westwood, with my fellow brethren
            Asian American,
but I had assimilated to make myself unlike them

Believing the lie of the model minority, good over bad immigrant,
Yes, I speak English well
            and with no accent
            I’m not ignant
            I’m embarrassed of my parents and their being immigrants

That’s why I moved west to move east
            Towards my roots, to feel complete
But it wasn’t immediate relief

Asians on this side of America did not greet me with
            ease
They called me whitewashed, I was Midwestern nice
            A façade masking layers of inner strife

Expecting a melting pot, I got a salad bowl
            Walking into a city bursting with racial harmony was a naive goal
Self segregation by students aligning along color lines
            Opened up my eyes, struck down the lie that is being colorblind

So started my reclamation
            Of the journey over the destination, my reeducation
Gaining historical knowledge
            in ethnic studies courses in college
Meeting humans of different races
            learning in third spaces

Experiencing a wide range of cuisines
            Made all my fears go unseen
Tapioca pearls in milk tea, doro wot over injera, green
            curry mussels in coconut soup

Pineapple slices on tacos al pastor, abalone in my jook
Yakitori on Sawtelle, kebab on Brand
            Biryani in Artesia, Michelin starred chef on Grand

I am just another transplant in Los Angeles
            Twenty-three years I’ve been down for this
Thinking I’d leave, but transience gave way to
            permanence
Los Angeles is acceptance, deceptiveness and
            indifference
I love that light shines through the cracks in those
            sentiments

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