Asian America

Thoughts on the Tensorate Series

BTOHSo my partner recently handed me the Tensorate series by Jy Yang and…Wow! That was a great decision.

The Tensorate Series consists of 4 novellas written by Jy Yang. They follow a loose timeline around the lives of the Sanao twins, Akeha and Mokoya. I love the world Yang created as a backdrop to these stories. Yang lives in Singapore, and their surroundings seem to influence their writing. Throughout each novel, we see a country, the Protectorate, that is an actual melting pot: people of various Asian backgrounds, religions, classes, all roiling together in the same stew, rubbing up against one another. There is still stratification in the Protectorate–for instance, the Kuanjin ethnicity seems to be privileged over Kebangilans and Gauris–but there is also an awareness of this in Yang’s writing that I rarely see in fictional novels. If anything, they bring the differences to the forefront to be commented upon. Characters are not shy about noticing one another’s differences and are not frowned upon for bringing it up as much as people would be in the United States. I enjoy hearing the Asian-ness in the writing.

While Yang’s writing style remains impressive throughout the series, I think the soft spot in my heart is always for Akeha’s story, The Black Tides of Heaven. This title comes from a saying that Akeha’s lover says, “The black tides of heaven director the courses of human lives…but as with all waters, one can swim against the tide” (166). Yongcheow says this to Akeha when Akeha claims his mother believes he is a mistake. Akeha is a lovable brute. Perhaps this says more about me than him, but I relate to him greatly. As a child, he is dauntless, reckless. It is interesting to watch him navigate his bond with his sister when they are children. At the time, both Mokoya and Akeha are non-binary. They live in a society that confirms gender later in life than at birth. Mokoya is clearly a controlling factor in Akeha’s life. He seems to put her wishes and desires before his own. I actually felt proud of him when he yanked the reins of his life out of Mokoya’s hands. He confirms his gender as a man (an unexpected move–none of the Protector’s other children were men), and promptly leaves the Protectorate for 18 years. To, you know, grow up and shit.

My heart breaks for him when he leaves Thennjay. Sadly, I don’t have much sympathy for Mokoya in the first book. She seems spoiled and a little ungrateful. Maybe also, it’s queerer for Thennjay to love Akeha than to love Mokoya. (I have no biases here at all, obviously). He gets just one kiss for all those feelings he has. Then he wanders into the woods to become Yongcheow’s honey and a Machinist. All in all, I think Akeha does pretty well for himself. I love a good rebellion, and it seems like a good choice to put our endearingly grumpy murderer twin in its waiting hands.

My heart breaks for him again when his niece dies. The irony of the century is when Akeha finally comes home after she dies. I remember reading that part and thinking, dammit Keha, couldn’t you have stopped being a butt-hurt little shit some time before that moment? There is something about stories that are both beautiful and sad, though. They are always the most memorable to me.

The other three novellas take us on a roller coaster of narrative styles. The Red Threads of Fortune tell us about Mokoya’s perspective after her accident. I like that Yang chose to write her in that way. She becomes a much more approachable character as a slightly broken, grieving mother than as The Prophet Of The Protectorate Married To The Head Abbot. Things I like about this book: Rider does really cool things with the slack. Mokoya fights with Thennjay Sometimes. Good to know. Mokoya and Akeha love each other. Yay. There’s a background thread of how the Machinists, the Monastery, and the Protectorate are kind of all at odds with each other, but it gets a little lost. The plot that I was most interested in was the one of intrigue and betrayal between Rider and Mokoya, and what they find out about Wanbeng.

In the third book, The Descent of Monsters, Yang takes a turn into darker secrets of the Protectorate. Of the four novellas, I thought this was the darkest one. I don’t know if it was meant to be hokey, but there are times when Chuwan Sariman is so oppositional to authority that it’s over-the-top. Granted, she does seem justified. The authorities are kind of gross in this book. They seem totally cool with sweeping the deaths of several people under the rug, not to mention the torture and abuse of several children. Maybe this was one of those Star Wars things: make really hard political themes easier to swallow with goofy and lovable main characters. The narrative style was also great, but presents a few pacing problems. For example, since we gain information through reports, interviews, and journal entries, the big reveal about the prophet-children does not feel as big as it possibly could have been. We only really know it is true at the very end. We spend a lot of time wandering around the lab, but some of it is repetitive. This is fair, since a number of the characters experience the same crime scene, but perhaps it could have been done just once–in Rider’s journal, for example–and the reader would get a feel for why covering up what happened at the lab is so horrific.

Lastly, The Ascent to Godhood takes us on a more intimate, sentimental journey. In this novella, we learn about Lady Han’s relationship with the Protector. After reading this book, my thoughts were that the Protectorate has seen some shit! Also, the Protector’s family is a riot. I’m not sure why, but I felt like pacing was again slightly off. Granted, it is a drunken monologue by Lady Han. Perhaps questionable pacing is the point. I feel the story could be improved if pacing was done more intentionally. For example, if Lady Han kept going back and forth in time, then the lurches might make sense. Again, Yang seems to skip over the parts that are truly revealing. A lot of groundwork was laid for Hemana’s betrayal of Hekate, but there didn’t seem to be as much for Hekate’s betrayal of Han. The reason is there and justified, but it comes as a small revelation, followed swiftly by the arrival of Xiuqing and Han’s escape. The end is actually more interesting to me than the beginning–and in other stories about rebellion leaders, such as Lawrence of Arabia or even The Empire Strikes Back, we get to see more of a before-and-after turning point that makes a rebellion leader. Then again, a novella is a rather different art form than a feature-length film. Perhaps the beginning–Lady Han and Hekate as young women–was all Yang wanted to get across.

In short, Yang has done some stunning work with this series. There are deep insights about gender, resistance, and being human embedded in each novella, and Yang does a great job of not hitting you over the head with some tired message. The characters in the series experience development and honest emotions like grief, fear, resentment, jealousy, and triumph. They also get to have secrets, which I feel makes them even more human and engaging. I deeply appreciate the world Yang created. Even with magic, it’s a reflection of a world that feels more real to me than that of most other books.

Thoughts on Exit West

exit westI recently finished reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Like the meme about toilet paper, this book only picks up the pace right toward the end. However, I think it is a beautiful novel. I like how it starts in the microcosm of a couple falling in love in a city, and eventually gets to the macrocosm of two whole lives lived in the aftermath of a war. Though the novel is about migration, I think Hamid’s most powerful messages are actually about human relationships and how closely people are connected in spite of violence.

I actually find Hamid’s tone to be surprisingly similar to that of Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games series–very even-keeled, though he is talking about heavy subjects. Perhaps that is the point. To dramatize violence is naive; it is so much a part of people’s lives everywhere in the world. Only in the Western world do we believe the lies we are told about how safe we are.

Against this backdrop, the kernels of truth Hamid offers are especially poignant. The way he talks about how Saeed and Nadia move from one country to another borrows somewhat from magical realism. We do not actually know how they get from one place to another–the two protagonists are said to go through “doors” (p.83) that take them from one place to another. The sinister implications are that, in the modern world, where borders are heavily policed, poor and desperate people will take huge risks to travel, and to ultimately survive. In fact, the novel could be arguing that migration is necessary. Lack of resources or lack of security forces people to take whatever route necessary to leave a country, often leading to massive, technically illegal migrations of people. I think here, Hamid begs the question of why we need to police borders with such fervor. What are we really “keeping out”? What does it say of our humanity that we would not allow other human beings to just live peaceful lives? Was there not a point in precolonial history when migration and exchange helped humanity thrive?

I’m intrigued as well by Hamid’s decision to intersperse throughout the novel anecdotes that at first seem to have nothing to do with the plot, but one realizes are like trail stones on the path that Saeed and Nadia travel. The anecdotes in the beginning are terrifying and quite violent–like the one about the Japanese man who is incensed to find Philipina women walking in his territory (I cannot remember the page for this). And then after a while, the stories become softer, with more connection among the characters. Perhaps my favorite is about a Dutch man and a Brazilian man who at first have not much to say to each other, but eventually fall in love (p.175).

The protagonists travel from their city–which sounds like it could be somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa–to Mykonos and London, and finally end their journey in Marin, a suburb of San Francisco. While they travel, their relationship to each other changes from that of two young lovers to…something else. And perhaps that is the more interesting transition than their physical journey. While they migrate, they get to know each other intimately, but the romance declines. They sometimes experience the annoyance of two people who are close out of necessity, but they do not hate each other.

Eventually, Nadia and Saeed part ways (p.220), which seemed inevitable from the start. They have wildly different personalities, in some parts truly only getting along because they have to. Hamid comments on what we change about ourselves when we move to other places because of culture, because of necessity, or just because we finally can. Though she does not come to terms with her queerness until near the end of the novel, Nadia may always have been attracted to women. She just had never lived in a place where it was socially acceptable to admit. She claims she wears a robe so men won’t fuck with her (p. 16). Of the two, she is better conditioned for survival after living alone for a long while before migrating and navigating without the support of her family. In contrast, Saeed is like a pampered mama’s boy at the beginning of the novel (p.9). He lives in a comfortable middle class home with both his parents. As the novel progresses, he learns to understand life from more perspectives than his own. Often, it is Nadia who points out these perspectives to him, like she does when they talk about the differences between migrants to England and to their home country (p.162).

I like the implications about faith and humanity that Hamid makes. In the novel, Saeed never loses faith, though his relationship with religion changes. Near the end, he prays “as a gesture for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way…he touched a feeling that we all lose our parents…and we too will be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity…” (p.202). It reminds me of Antonio, of how strongly I still remember him. And of my grandfather and how the family I have that is part of my generation is at peace with the fact that he is dying because he was already so old when we came into the world, but my mom and her siblings are maybe less accepting because he was not old when they were born, and for so long he was not old. And that for them it is so hard to accept that they won’t even look at the reality that one day, Koka will leave us because that is the natural way of things. They don’t accept yet that we will be okay, we are still here for each other. And I will experience losing all of them as well. And one day, hopefully a very long time from now, other people will experience losing me.

I think what I like best is the very last sentence of the novel–that they do not know if that evening will come. I like that it leaves the door open for possibility, and that there is this hope that something good, something beautiful and pleasing, is on its way, perhaps. It might take its time coming to us, and maybe we have to get through hardship on the way to it, but it is there, waiting.

Visiting the Homeland

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Snowfall at Holyoke Community College

I am at work right now, and one of my naughtiest students is trying to cheat on a game again. She always tries this with every game. She is a cute little girl. Somebody does her hair very nicely every day. She’s gonna be a little heartbreaker when she grows up.

This has been a semester, y’all. I have never in the history of my life had a semester like this. I’m exhausted.

The people at Holyoke Community College are charming. Absolutely charming. They are so sweet and kind and just nothing at all like the people at any other college I have ever been to. Every conversation I start with an 18-year-old boy ends with me actually wanting to be friends with him. The professors are so adorable. Perhaps I was just lucky and ended up with the most adorable ones. Everything my math professor does makes me fall more in love with him. He draws beautiful things. He says beautiful things. Even the way he makes fun of us seems beautiful.

I love how easy it is for them to show their love for me, whether or not they are aware of it. Without hesitation, people will ask me if I’m free to hang out, or to get dinner. They tell me they know how smart I am. They notice when I’m not there. They ask me if I need help. I feel attractive and good and appreciated.

I wish I could always remember these things about myself. Because heading into this holiday season, I am once again doing something emotionally exhausting.

This year over the holidays, I am going to India to visit my grandparents. My grandfather has dementia that has progressed quite far. I have not seen him in 4 years, but he has had dementia now for my last few visits to India. I remember when I went alone at the age of 12, he was just starting to forget things. He couldn’t remember when his birthday was. Slowly, the number of things he’s forgetting is increasing. I remember once when I was in college or maybe after I had graduated, he was asking for me on the phone. He said he wanted to hear his first grandchild. I think that’s the reason why he knows I exist. I was there before the memory loss.

I’m supposed to stay with my mother’s family, a group of people who are not good at showing their love. Or perhaps more accurately, they can, but you have to know what you’re looking for.

My mom says that my grandfather was a very strict man with his three children. He was the one who enforced discipline. His children were scared of him. But I never experienced that side of him. By the time I was born, he was retired. I first visited him when I was 11 months old. I learned to walk in front of him. He visited me in Florida when I had grown a little older. I was 3 or 4 years old. My brother had been born by then. He liked playing ball with me. He would bounce a beach ball off his head for me to catch, like a soccer player. He gave me a little red stuffed rabbit. I still have it in one of my bureaus.

He liked explaining things to me when I was younger. I remember we used to take walks around the garden and he would show me different flowers and fruits and butterflies.

My brother is very hesitant to go. He’s anxious about how seeing Koka will affect my mom. He is already trying to be detached. I have every intention of treating that man like my grandfather. That is who he is.

I just wish my other relatives could remember I want connection with him, too. I know they will clamor, create lots of noise because that is what anxious people do in my family. They are not the only ones who lose him. When he’s gone, I lose him, too.

I try to remain optimistic about how this trip will go. I hope I will be able to take lots of photos and videos of good times because that’s how I want Koka’s last years of life to go, with lots of fun and laughter. These are some of the last years, though. I try to share that with the people who can hold it with me, so that I can hold some of my family’s feelings even if they can’t do the same for me.

Re-Evaluation of a Memory

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So aesthetic pretty wall to remind you of rustic old places. Location: Poet’s Seat Tower, Greenfield, MA. Credits: Me

I do a type of counseling where I am encouraged to look at a lot of my early memories, and I recently had a re-evaluation (what, in other counseling methods, may be called a “breakthrough”) in a very important place. I felt like putting it here because maybe this would be helpful to someone.

My early memories indicate that my father was a very happy person who made it clear that he wanted me very much. Every day, he came home from work and was eager to play with me. He was the one I asked to push me on the swings and let me run around outside and play games with me. He was a lot of fun! Oftentimes, when I have a crush on someone, it is frequently because they remind me of my dad. The thing is, they often have his shortcomings as well. He left every day for work, often before I was even awake. I spent most of my mornings and afternoons without him. I spent that time with my mom.

I don’t remember my mom well from that period and that told me something about my relationship with her (this is before my brother was born, so before I was 3 years old. Most people are shocked I can remember that far back in my life, but I can). At first, I thought it was because she didn’t want me. I thought she was upset about the career she did not get to have. Or perhaps because she had immigrated to the United States. But neither of these explanations really made much sense. She had me 3 years after she moved to the country. I have seen photos of her from before my birth, and she looks happy. She and my father used to travel a lot. They went to lots of theme parks, had many friends, and visited many states. It is only after I was born that I remember my mother sleeping for long periods of time in the middle of the day, which is what initially made me think she didn’t want me.

I have worked on this memory dozens of times, and it never made much sense to me until recently, when a few important things happened. First, I recently broke the crush I have had on my math professor for the last two months. A counselor of mine said precisely what I forgot was true: it is nice to focus on a crush when everything else is going wrong. It provides escape. And I realized something else when she said that. I feel as though he (my crush) gives me something that few other people are giving me right now: he is not asking anything of me. And that is why I have fallen so in love with him. My father was not asking anything of me either, all those years ago.

Yesterday, I also got a good direction from a counselor that helped me figure out the other half of the puzzle with my mom. My counselor said “she was doing the best she could.” I was also working on other family matters at the time, talking about my cousins, who all live very far away. I was talking about how I wish I knew them more intimately, and I was thinking about how well I now know my math professor. I know what he likes, I know what he smells like, I know that he likes to dance. I don’t know any of those things about my cousins. That is why it is sometimes hard for me to understand why my mother thinks those relationships are important. My cousins are strangers to me, and I know I could change that, but I just don’t believe the internet is enough for me to really feel their presence.

I then had to connect that feeling with the time when I was pregnant. In the weeks leading to my abortion, I really wanted to carry my child to term, but every time I asked myself how I would make it work financially, I knew I couldn’t do it. I got an abortion. I thought about mom being pregnant 27 years ago, and what it must have felt like to realize that her baby girl would grow up with none of the people or things that she was familiar with. I would not have my cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. It would take a much greater effort for me to learn and maintain speaking Assamese. I would know nothing but what she taught me about the place where my ancestors are from.

I imagine all those things weighing on the mind of a 29-year-old immigrant woman. And I realized the reason why I cannot remember my mother from all those years ago is not because she didn’t want me. She wanted me very, very much. She was sad after I was born, but I was not the problem. The problem existed long before I did. She was sad, is probably sad still, because every time she looks at me, she thinks of all the things her little girl had to grow up without. My counselor said, if anything, this is a gift. My mom loved me so supernaturally that she is sad she cannot give me the things she really wants to give me.

And the thing I have to keep in mind is that I cannot give her what she wants. It is something I want so badly to do even now. When someone senses my hyper-responsiveness and latches on, draining me of all my energy, I still think I will be the one to give them what they want. I couldn’t make sense of what was missing as a child, and I thought I had the power to give my mother what she wanted. Again and again I would try. Her responses never made any sense. If I was doing well, the activity was too easy. If I wasn’t doing well, it was my own fault. She was impossible to satisfy. Eventually, I learned to shrug her off, to cut her off even, because after a good amount of time, I could identify her duality for myself. It still confused me. I have spent years trying to figure out what she could possibly want.

I love her, and it is not my responsibility to fill that gaping hole for her. I know now that the reason I could feel my father’s happiness is because somehow, he sees what I have, and what I am. I don’t know if it makes sense to hope for that from my mother. On a physical, material plane, I know she will retire some time in the next 10-15 years and perhaps after that her mind will settle enough to lead her to what she wants. In the spirit realm, who knows how to fill that abyss of hers. It comes out of her in every way, especially toward me. If anything, without knowing it, every time I pull away, every time I reject her, I make it worse for her by reminding her strongly that I am not like her. What I am making of my life here is not at all what she made of hers, nor is it something she ever could have made of hers. How many years of counseling would it take for her to unravel over twenty years of feeling inadequate, of feeling she couldn’t provide, of feeling I should have had more that she could never give me?

That I wasn’t asking for.

That I don’t know, and will never know.

I wonder which is better, having the mother that wanted me to know, and therefore told me everything, setting expectations I could never reach, or the mother that chose to never tell, bottle the truth, and let her child continue in blissful ignorance.

Thoughts on Crazy Rich Asians

My apologies to y’all for being on hiatus for so long. I am actually undergoing some major changes in my life, specifically a career change. I am going back to school to become a civil engineer. I start school again in September. It’s gonna be an adventure.

craAnyway, a good friend and I recently watched Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Neither of us had read the book beforehand, but I thought, listen, we’re getting a movie with an entirely Asian cast. Clearly we cannot miss this.

There is a lot about Crazy Rich Asians that makes it really different from other romantic movies. The friend I saw it with is Korean and is familiar with Korean soap operas, and she says the movie is “basically a Korean soap opera, but in a 2-hour movie instead of a 20-hour television series”. I understand what she means; the film does a much better job of character development than the average romantic comedy.

First of all, I think both Constance Wu and Henry Golding deserve better than the roles they were put in. Wu is such a badass. She could easily play a lead role in a Marvel movie. In this film, she plays kind of a sappy, second-wave Asian girl who somehow doesn’t know who the richest family in Singapore is even though she’s an economics professor at NYU. Is anyone else not a little bothered by this? Isn’t it supposed to be harder to fool a woman of her caliber? Purportedly, the novel is based on some truth, but I feel like there was a way to portray Rachel Chu that makes her look less silly.

My friend and I also had problems with Nick Young (Golding) as a character. In my friend’s words, “He seems dumb. He has no empathy for Rachel. When she’s being destroyed, he offers her sushi.” I do see her point. My critique comes from how Nick doesn’t seem like a real character. The story focuses so much on Rachel and her experience of the family. Nick barely does anything, which makes him look like a mama’s boy who gets whatever he wants. Maybe that was the point. I was just hoping for someone more complicated. Hasn’t Golding played Oscar-nominated roles before, or am I getting my Asians mixed up?

My other problem with the film is that the supporting characters are FAR more interesting than the two leads. My god, where do I begin. First, I’m in love with Astrid Young (Gemma Chan). According to my friend, there is a character like this in every Korean soap opera: a beautiful model-girl/lawyer/CEO who is modest and kind to everyone. She reminds me a little of Raina Amin (Yasmin Al Massri) from Quantico. I love that moment when she tells her husband, Michael (Pierre Png), that she can’t give him something he has never had, and walks away. Seriously, the supporting women in this film carry the entire movie.

Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) is also such a fierce bitch. I love all of her outfits. When I’m an old Asian woman, I want to be that gorgeous. Honestly, I was a little bored with the fact that the future-mother-in-law is the antagonist because if you observe what she says, Eleanor is not actually working against Rachel. She is just brutally honest. When she says Rachel could never measure up to the family’s expectations, she speaks from experience. As a first generation child of immigrants, I can relate to that sentiment. I try to be honest with my white partner about what my family will expect from them. If anything, Eleanor is doing Rachel a favor.

On a tangent, I thought the story would have been more interesting if Rachel and Nick did not end up together, but perhaps were brought together by circumstance later on in their lives, perhaps after a child or two and a divorce or two. I think that would have been a more realistic story. But I guess the movie had to appeal to an American audience, and Americans are hardly realistic.

In addition, Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina) is fantastic. Her family is fantastic, too. She and Oliver T’sien (Nico Santos) are the gay best friends that everybody needs to have. I love how she shows up to the Young’s estate in dog-print pajamas and changes in their house like it’s no big deal. She is also a fucking good friend to Rachel (women, take note: this is how to be there for one another in the most feminist way). She gives her the outfits she needs to fit in with these crazy rich people. She gives her a place to stay when she’s bummed and has no will to do anything (because she thinks she’s not going to end up with Nick. Women, take note: this is a stupid way to be. Being with a man is not everything. They should have gone to the mall and been fabulous.) She knows how to have a good time and not take herself seriously. Best character.

I do enjoy the cast of goofy men in this film, too. Ronnie Chieng as Eddie Young is perfect. Ronnie does a great dickbag impression. I also very much enjoyed Jimmy O. Yang as Bernard. In the words of my friend, “there’s always that one guy who wears ridiculous things and is a huge asshole.”

While the plot is a bit contrived, I do enjoy the absolutely beautiful shots of Singapore. My mother has been to that country and I greatly envy her for it. I love the implication that Asian countries can and do compete with the U.S. as beautiful places. I have always contended with the idea of a “first world” and the rest of the world, and while this movie perhaps does not contradict that (it is about rich Asians, after all), it does challenge the notion that all Asian immigrants were escaping communist dictators or abject poverty. Now someone just make a movie about crazy rich Arabs, and I shall be satisfied.

All in all, I would say Crazy Rich Asians is a visually stunning piece with some notable supporting female characters. Though I wish the same could be said of the main characters, I am impressed by the level of detail that was given to the supporting characters. There were so many, but I did feel as if each one was a whole person. A work in progress, I hope to see more in this vein, but bigger, more fireworks!

Rant on “IndoWestern” Fashion

I usually don’t like categorizing things as a rant. However, today’s post is going to be exactly that: a rant.

There is this horrible disease going around, mostly among Indians, but also sometimes among hippie-bohemian people of the white variety who like to appropriate things. It is called “IndoWestern” fashion.

I don’t know which idiot thought these two things could be combined to still look beautiful. I think Indian fashion on its own has an elegance that is rarely paralleled. Western fashion can be cryptic, but it also has its perks as it is usually more utilitarian. But why, WHY would you put these two things together??

Examples of how bad Indowestern fashion sucks: fusion outfits. First off, I feel like fusion has always been the bottom of the barrel in terms of Indian dance teams, though perhaps that’s not their fault. Bhangra, garba, and raas teams showcase dances and outfits that are specific to a region and are usually narrowly defined. Fusion, on the other hand, can be everything and anything–usually confined to Hindi pop (though I’d love to see teams challenge that norm).

The first mistake they usually make is to take 8 songs and turn them into one mix like it’s cute (hint: it’s not. Stick to like 2 songs per mix, okay, y’all?). Also, instead of trying to find folks who have the potential for leadership and organization, fusion teams usually just attract people who are already friends of people on the team, leading to a clusterfuck that loosely resembles a sorority (except sororities actually have a point sometimes). I will spare these folks the embarrassment of being sourced.

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Scarves tied around butts are always so attractive.

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This one is called the Victoria’s Secret-wannabe-sportswear look.

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Can’t be an Indian fusion team unless you’re wearing over-the-top, fluffy pink pants, a belly dancing belt, and a top that doesn’t cover your midriff.

(The exception to this rule is Gator Adaa from the years of 2011-2013. That team had everything: leadership, organization, and class. Shoutout to you women. Y’all were fierce.)

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Source: Gator Adaa: Fusion Dance Team Facebook Page

To be self-critical, I understand that on first glance, it might seem like I’m slut-shaming. Look, maybe I am, but here’s the thing, right? I’ve seen classy hoes, okay? Remember Rani Mukherjee in Saawariya (2007)?

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Source: India-forums.com

I’d love to see a fusion team showcase a look that is about having fun as a woman in whatever role she is performing, not the “WE HAVE TO LOOK BROWN AND EXOTIC BECAUSE WE ARE DANCERS” look. Other examples of truly heinous Indowestern things:

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Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: a green that even your visually impaired grandmother would not wear, royal blue mummu with pink trim for when you want to look like a fish??, a thing trying to be both a dress and a top, WHY WOULD YOU PUT LIME GREEN AND CORAL TOGETHER IN THE SAME OUTFIT THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL SEPARATELY, what is this cut, what is this print.

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Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: Dafuq is this print, actually kinda cute but I could get from Forever21 for 6 bucks, assflap?, what is THIS print?, for the 7-year-old in you, mushroom-high-psychedelic print.

Right. So what did we learn today, y’all? Indowestern “fashion” is NOT FASHION. Brown women, I suppose you are the ultimate arbiter of what you put on your body. But I do feel like the amount of grace I find (at least in ready-to-wear shit) in the mixing of these styles is little and far between.

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YES! Source: utsavfashion.com. 

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YES! Source: utsavfashion.com

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YES! Source: Target.com

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YES! Source: pinterest search “pants”

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Thoughts on The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Content warning: Sexual assault, abortion trauma, domestic violence

You know, before I go into talking about the book, which is commendable even as I critique it, I will say it’s been a hard week. In the United States, there have been a number of really depressing developments, which I wrote about in a previous post. The newest is the #MuslimBan. I cannot overstate how dehumanizing a move that is. At the same time, though, it has sparked some pretty spectacular protests all over the country. While I personally doubt the administration cares much about why people protest, I do think protests hinder normal operations. I think this is actually where our strength lies. Hinder the normal operation of things. Throw a wrench in the gears. If things are slowing down, that means the effects of capitalism and colonization come to at least a temporary halt. That means we can buy time to do more strategic planning.

tsbuSo I recently finished The Space Between Us, published in 2005which could actually provide some insight into the turmoil that is under way. If I’m being really honest, the plot is not unlike that of The Help, except the role of Skeeter Phelan is played by Umrigar herself. That is probably my biggest critique of the book; Umrigar’s role is not unlike those of well-intentioned anthropologists who think they are “saving” Native Americans by collecting data on their lives and presenting it to the world. In reality, they take from the community without really giving anything in return. Just as Skeeter plays white savior to Aibilene, Umrigar plays upper-middle-class hero to Bhima. Umrigar claims that the character of Bhima is based on a real person who served her family when she lived in Mumbai. If that is the case, did the Bhima of Umrigar’s life ever receive any compensation for basically being her inspiration? Was she given any credit for providing the details to fill the pages of this book? While I can understand Umrigar and the person she is writing about may not keep in touch due to social taboos in India or because of the passage of time, nothing is explicitly stated about the process by which this story was told in the interview that follows the text. I prefer a little more transparency.

In addition, the “message” of the novel is a little heavy-handed if you ask me, though perhaps understandably so. The experience of poverty (which, it should be noted, is neither mine nor Umrigar’s) is to have the effects of sexism and classism compounded in everyday life. Thus, Bhima’s family experiences AIDS, an industrial accident, alcoholism, separation and displacement, sexual assault trauma, and abortion trauma. The character Sera Dubash also experiences domestic violence. You’ll notice a lot of these are phenomena that disproportionately impact women. It does feel like every few chapters, Umrigar hits us over the head with the message “INDIANS NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE STATE OF ITS WORKING CLASS WOMEN.”

By contrast, what makes this book radical is Umrigar’s descriptions of Bhima’s thoughts. The process is frequently laced with a humor that only the Previously or Currently Colonized will understand. In one example, Bhima describes her encounters with white people:

Serabai had once explained to her why these people had yellow hair and skin the color of a hospital wall–about how something was missing from their bodies…She felt sorry for them then and, seeing their long hair and shabby clothes, wanted to give them some money, but Sera laughed at that and said she needn’t pity them, they actually were very proud of their white skin. How can you be proud if something is missing from your body? Bhima wanted to ask, but before she could, Sera said they didn’t need money from her and that they came from places far richer than she could imagine. Now Bhima was sure that Sera was lying…one look at their dirty hair, faded shirts, and torn blue pants, and any fool could see that these untidy, colorless people were very poor. (2005, p.93)

Bhima has clearly never been around white people before, and her worldview reflects this reality. The beauty of her lack of (Western) education is that she does not think that structures of power apply to her (and in fact, they don’t!). Thus, she does not follow the narrative of being “less fortunate” or inferior to the white people she encounters. If anything, she truly believes she could be of help–to them! In spite of Bhima’s stubbornness, Umrigar’s description of her won me over with this passage.

Furthermore, Umrigar’s greatest strength is her ability to describe rare moments of humanity, especially those shared or experienced by women. The strength with which I relate to some of these moments is eerie. For example, this is a moment when Bhima is massaging Sera’s arm, after Sera has been beaten by her husband:

Sera recoiled. Bhima had never touched her before…Although Bhima’s thin but strong hands were only massaging her arm, Sera felt her whole body sigh. She felt life beginning to stir in her veins…Even at the sweetest moment of lovemaking with Feroz, it never felt as generous, as selfless as this massage did…When you got right down to it, sex was ultimately a selfish act, the expectations of one body intrinsically woven into the needs of another. (p. 108)

I am bemused by how Umrigar seems to know the inner workings of my head. Perhaps this is a common experience among Desis? Among women of color? Among all women, even? I am not sure, but this moment embodies the eroticism described by bell hooks, the kind that is not sexual, but life-giving. It is a kind of human connection I have only felt with other women. My tendency to intellectualize causes me to connect with people on more of a conversational level rather than a physical one. Even then, my discussions with other women make me feel more connected to them than I ever have during sexual encounters with men.

Bhima is capable of giving life with her hands. Moreover, Bhima seems to symbolize those whose humanity is still in tact to give this kind of care. She is a simple person–not stupid, but uncomplicated. While she massages Sera, her only concern is to keep the arm from scarring and to make Sera physically better; to stop what she is doing because of class divisions does not even cross her mind, though it crosses Sera’s. This seems indicative of how deeply Bhima, and people like her, knows her own and others’ humanity.

The eeriness does not stop there. Many of Maya and Sera’s experiences are ones that I relate to as well. After her abortion, Maya is described as

…stone-faced, as if the abortion doctor has killed more than her baby, as if he has…scooped out her beating heart, just as Bhima scoops out the fibrous innards of the red pumpkin that Serabai puts in her daal. (p. 129)

Maya refuses to go back to school or take a job after her abortion. Again, I question whether or not this is a universally Desi experience. It cannot be some mistake that I remember this feeling after my own abortion. I was told I would feel relief afterwards. I waited for days, weeks, and months to feel anything. I did not feel anything, and it was not until I found a therapist 9 months later that I understood why. My therapist said that a person who is allowed to mourn publicly will feel relief. This is how people move on after someone they love dies; they grieve, and their community comes together. But for many women who get an abortion, we are not allowed to grieve publicly because we do not want people to know that this is what we have done. Thus, we grieve alone and internally. No one comes to our side to comfort us. People treat us as though nothing has happened, as though we should be the same. It is not the same. Knowing I could have had a 5-month-old child right now is sometimes unbearable. My only consolation is that perhaps if I am lucky enough to give birth in this life, it will be under far better circumstances than the ones I’m in now.

Maya’s experience with sexual assault is also strikingly familiar to me. Viraf asks her to give him a back massage somewhat flirtatiously, but she is unaware of how powerless she truly is.

It felt good to be giving him so much pleasure. As her hands kneaded and caressed Viraf’s back…Maya felt important and strong–and powerful…But then he spun around so fast that for one confusing moment, her hands strummed air…and somehow [she recognized] she was the cause of that tension…And her awe turning to pride and the pride turning to panic…She protested; she did not protest. It did not matter, because it was inevitable what was about to happen…(p.277)

I admire Umrigar for the ambivalence of this excerpt. Sexual assault is rarely the violent, horrific act that Alice Sebold describes in The Lovely Bones. It is frequently much more gray. This passage is immensely complicated. On one hand, Maya seems to discover for the first time that she possesses an immense bodily intelligence–one that people who are more embedded into society’s upper crust or positions of privilege hardly know. I have a theory that because of capitalistic consumption, people in the upper strata of society cannot easily know that kind of intelligence. They listen too much to propaganda about what they are “supposed” to be doing, instead of listening to The Gut, which operates on a far more physical, sensory frequency.

At the same time, Maya’s discovery is not an invitation, and Viraf takes advantage of this moment when she is incredibly vulnerable. This is something men have done to me again and again. The power to unfurl the human body is terribly dangerous, simply because it puts one in close proximity to another person. When I was a much more naive person, men I hung out with asked if I would mind cuddling or if they could sit next to me when we watch a movie in their apartment, and somehow I never saw sexual assault coming. The word “sex” was never explicitly said, so I was never even given a chance to say “no”. And in the end, it was always me who walked away with a reputation for being “easy”. This is the power that men have–with the skills of a lawyer, they trap me in situations I cannot escape from, and then act as though it was my fault.

Sera’s experience with her abusive husband, Feroz, also reflects the hypocrisy of sexism. Her situation is complicated by the fact that she and her husband shared many friends, and these friends knew very little about the reality of her life. When her best friend asks her if she is missing her “dear husband”, these are Sera’s thoughts:

Sera looks at her oldest friend, unsure of what to say. She envies Aban her innocence, her simple way of dividing the world into love and not-love; good and bad…Does she miss Feroz? She is unsure of the answer. She does not miss the shame-inducing beatings…In fact, what she misses is not the marriage, but the dream of the marriage. (p. 160)

Sera has to deal with a complicated grief after her husband dies. Her friends and family remember him fondly as “loving husband” or “loving father”. She knows a very different reality, and is not able to share this with the people she knows because she has hidden the truth from them for the duration of her marriage. Arguably, the only person who actually knows what has transpired in her marriage are Dinaz, her daughter, and Bhima, her maidservant.

This is also a feeling I can relate to. Abuse can be convoluted when community is involved. I have avoided events, blocked people on social media, and blocked phone calls from people because of the abuse I experienced from men I used to date. I was stupid enough to choose men whose parents are friends with my parents or whose social circles intersect with mine somehow. On rare occasions (because I have mostly left these circles behind at this point) those people come up to me and tell me things like “You and that person seemed like such a great couple! Why did it end?” or “Why weren’t you at this event? We really missed you!” And I know I never give them a satisfying response because dragging the truth out in the open means defending myself against an onslaught. These people would feign confusion, defend my abusers and rapists, or tell me to get over my feelings before they admit to obvious facts–that sexism is a violent structure, that women are frequently abused by the people closest to them, and that I tell the truth.

On a last note, I think my favorite thing about this novel is the Pathan. This is a character from Bhima’s past, a man who used to twist balloons at a stall on Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai. A Pathan is a person of ethnic Afghan descent, and the word is synonymous with the Pashtun people. Bhima and Gopal would frequently encounter the Pathan when they were younger and went for walks together at the beach. This was one memorable exchange:

Gopal had said, “Compared to our Bombay, with the monsoons and all, your Afghanistan must seem as dried up as an old woman, no? All hills it is, dry as a bone, correct? I saw a picture of it once.”

She had expected the Pathan to be insulted, but he laughed, “Nahi, sahib,” he said in his low, dreamy voice. “My Afghanistan is very beautiful. A hard land, yes, full of mountains, but toughness has its own beauty.” (pp. 199-200)

I think it is no mistake that Umrigar evoked the image of a woman with this exchange. I think it is no mistake that the earth has always been called “Mother Earth”. Just as the Pathan defends his homeland as beautiful, I would like to think this exchange alludes to, in Warsan Shire’s words, “women who are difficult to love”.

I also think it is no mistake that the Pathan symbolizes a number of things, of which the most important are perhaps God (or a Creator of some sort) and diasporic people. He is depicted as a creator of beautiful, colorful things (his balloons) that give children joy. Yet, his life was probably not easy, as he says:

“Everybody in my homeland is a poet, sahib. The country makes you so…That is, everybody was a poet. Now the country is broken. Too many people fighting over the poor land, and the land is sick in its heart. Night and day it is weeping. Now it cannot take care of its sons and daughters…There is a saying in my community…They say that when something is very beautiful, the Gods of Jealousy notice it. Then they must destroy it. Even if it’s their own creation, its beauty begins to make them jealous and they are afraid it will overshadow them. So they destroy the very temples they have built.”(pp. 200-201)

This excerpt made me cry the first time I read it. I’m not sure I can even convey what it means to me, but I can tell you what images come to mind. I think of Natives fighting for their land, and for the right to live, and for a chance at creating a more meaningful life than the one the American dream offers. I think of all the immigrants that come to this country under the illusion that life is going to be better, only to find out being successful in this country is a pipe dream, and perhaps even to be turned away at the doorstep. I think of the land we live on being ravaged for its resources, in order to keep feeding a capitalist existence that allows for a select few to live in luxury that the vast majority of people will never know. I think of the wars of this century and the last, almost all of them started over colonial feuds, and which only colonizers have any hope of “winning” (what does that even mean? To “win” a war? At what cost are wars won? How inhuman do you have to be to want that?).

In short, I admire the depth and reverence that Umrigar gives to her characters. While I wrote a pretty lengthy post here, I still have a great number of thoughts on this novel, things I am still grappling with because I struggle to find the words to describe them.

The Monolith Myth

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Light in the night. Source: Leonie

I’m going to tell you all a little story. So I work in a tutoring center in a library at a community college. I work on a relatively tightly knit staff. All ten of the writing tutors know each other, and the younger ones frequently socialize outside of work. I remember this was a conversation I overheard one day, between two of the tutors, one a multiracial Asian man (MM) and the other a middle-aged white woman (WW). It should be noted, the story being told is, if I remember correctly, the story of how the multiracial man’s parents met.

MM: …at that point, my mother was thrown out of the house by my grandmother. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence because my grandmother was a pretty abusive person.

WW: Oh…how horrible.

MM: She used to do things like beat my mother with a broom. So she [his mother] needed a place to stay after being kicked out of her house.

WW: I used to know a Korean girl whose mother would beat her, too.

This was the point at which I removed myself from hearing distance of the conversation because I knew exactly what was happening. It’s something that happens a lot to people who belong to racial minorities. I suspect that, as a person who is multiracial and who has been raised by and befriended a lot of white people, the Asian man telling this story is a little naive to the intrusive and often dangerous assumptions white people make about marginalized people. Thus, he did not edit out the details that people of color usually do around white people to protect the collective that is their community.

As for the white woman, it was as though I could see the little gears turning in her head. I could see her trying to connect dots which are not meant to be connected. She hears one story about an abusive Asian mother. Her memory is jogged to another time when she encountered an abusive Asian mother. Just like that, a stereotype is born! Now she believes all Asian woman are abusive to their children.

And this is not some new occurrence in my life. I went to a graduate degree program that was dominated by (bless their hearts) white queers. Because I am obliged to (and only because I liked my program adviser), I will say here that there are a small handful of white people in my program who genuinely try and are doing the work to recognize their role in a racist society. And then, there are all the rest.

Their judgment came every day like the morning news. Black men? Too aloof, militant, very sexist, not worthy of attention. Asian women? Scary, too opinionated, emotional, incapable of restraint. Black women? Think too highly of themselves, standoffish, stingy, secretive. Latinos? Clannish, always hungry, annoying, not prepared for the academy. The only way you won approval as a person of color was if you were queer and you outwardly showed more commitment to the queer community than to any other marginalized community.

In front of that group, where we were so frequently asked to talk about our social identities and our upbringing as part of classroom participation, I found myself hiding the truth about my family. I was not about to give these Northern white people any other reasons to look down upon me, my family, or the community of brown people that raised me in a Southern city. So I did not tell them about how hard it actually is for me to go home, to live with a mother who constantly comments on my weight and how I dress, who thinks that using a vibrator leads to becoming a prostitute (like a gateway drug), who always has to know where I am going and who I am with, even though she never gives my brother the same constraints. I did not tell them because I could not. How could I express the truth without throwing my family under the bus? How could I tell the truth without allowing white people to think my mother is an uneducated, backwards, primitive person who suffers greatly from internalized sexism? How could I give voice to my individual experience without having white people conjure the image of the Starving Brown Child in India, just waiting for their help? How could I say those truths without sounding as though I was inviting white people to save poor little brown me from the clutches of my medieval South Asian parents?  These are things I only ever talk about with woke people of color.

Instead, I only acknowledged the good things about my community in front of my colleagues–the parts about how, as children, we were basically raised gender-neutral until we reached puberty, and how radical that was. Or how arranged marriage was actually a financially and socially radical thing to do because it gave us kids the social capital we needed to survive in America. Or how the sex-negativity of Asians is also a radical concept because it precluded queer people from being ostracized from society. They only got to know the radical stuff. They were only allowed to see my community in a good light. I would not expose my community and my heart to the degrading nonsense of a bunch of people who think meals can be made out of oats and kale. Or worse, a bunch of people who think that because they understand Foucault’s theorizing, they are somehow the designated saviors of the Previously Colonized World.

You’ll notice, of course, this left (and perhaps, still leaves) me rather isolated. I present one truth to the world, and that is the only way I allow them to perceive me, and I know another, very different truth. This is not a strange or even rare practice. For people of color completing graduate degrees, compartmentalizing in this manner is a commonplace tactic.

If I’m being honest, I do not know that I have yet come across anything that feels like a solution to this problem, the problem of white people lumping people of color into monoliths, in which no one person of color is discernible from another. I also do not think I am obliged to find one. I think, before I even jump to solutions, it is worth proposing, to all communities, actually thinking about what this implies for our realities. What does it mean for people of color to constantly be protecting their communities? What kind of toll does it take on us to never tell anyone the whole truth? What are the implications when communities of color frequently don’t have access to things like mental health counselors because these are not critically conscious institutions and/or because counselors are too expensive? What does it say about the still-predominantly-white country we live in that we have to protect our communities when we are in the academy?

And for white people, what does it mean that communities of color go to this length to make sure you don’t interfere with their affairs? What does it mean when people of color are not comfortable telling you the truth about their upbringing? What does it mean that people of color try to protect their communities from you? What does it mean when people of color do not trust white people whose gender analysis is stronger than their racial analysis? What does it mean that in Massachusetts, a place that claims to be pretty liberal, a person of color can feel unimaginably lonely?

 

I don’t really have answers. I’ll end on this note. A few days ago, I went to the wedding reception of an old friend. All the people there were brown, and they acted like it, with moms feeding kids with their bare hands and people shoving people out of the way with absolutely no manners. I was going to post a funny status on Facebook about how you know you’re at a brown party when you feel like you’re surrounded by barnyard animals. It was just people having a good time. If it was a wedding reception full of white people, I probably could’ve gotten away with it. But I thought about how a post like that might come off to people who only know one brown person, or none. I thought about the mile-long list of stereotypes that already exists for my community. Did I want to add “barnyard animal” to that list? No, I didn’t. So I decided not to.

Thoughts on Rogue One

Many thanks to Maritere Gomez for making this post possible.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched Rogue One yet and you care about spoilers, you might want to save this post for later.

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Source: IMDb

As far as I am concerned, none of the Star Wars movies had ever been noteworthy from a critical perspective, (which did nothing to deter me from avid fanhood). Sure, they were either lovably campy or laughably trying too hard, but I think the closest we ever got to critical was the comparison some could make between the Galactic Republic and the Roman Empire in the prequel trilogy (if I’m remembering things correctly).

That all changes with the release of Rogue One.

It should be noted, the timing of this movie’s release is miraculous. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much, and this movie far exceeded even the expectations I could have had. I don’t know how Gareth Edwards knew that radicals of the world would need a message like this after the election we just went through, but if you need an antidote for your cynicism (like I always do), then this movie is for you.

Rogue One was so different from any of the Star Wars storylines we have seen so far. For one, it is not concerned with the Big People at the top. The film shows us the nitty-gritty ugliness of war among middle management and the poor. In fact, the images evoked in this movie bear a remarkable resemblance to wars throughout the twentieth century, especially World War II. From the very start, we are taken to Jyn Erso’s (Felicity Jones) home in Lah’mu, a mountainous, evocative, green place that vaguely resembles Switzerland or Germany (with the exception of the planet’s rings in the background). This scene, where Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) puts up a futile last stand against Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) even hearkens to The Sound of Music, when German soldiers attempt to coerce Captain Von Trapp into joining the army because they “need” his military prowess. I have mixed feelings about this scene. On one hand, I think it was practical of the screenplay folks to portray the mother’s death at the hands of empire. Lyra (Valene Kane) pleads with Krennic to leave her family alone, and he kills her. The Empire gives no fucks about families (kind of like empires in real life). On the other hand, it bothers me on some deeper level that this is still a scene that is only possible with white people. Let’s be real, even smart people of color are not spared by empires. They become labor forces or casualties of war.

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Lah’mu. Source: Star Wars/Lucas Films

The casting of Felicity Jones was curious to me at first, but made sense after watching the caliber of acting this film calls for. I notice that with the trilogy movies, the actors being recruited are rather new to Hollywood–which I’m guessing is strategic because it adds to the campiness of the film, since there is no “image” attached to the actors yet. (This is not to say that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega don’t have talent or do the roles justice). But Felicity Jones is relatively established–we are familiar with her in The Theory of Everything and Inferno, two films that seem somewhat dramatic compared to the Star Wars films. I wondered what the significance of that could be.

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Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Source: Wookiepedia

The answer came to me after I saw the movie. Even before Jyn was born, the Ersos lived with the threat of war. Jyn’s family is eventually torn apart as a direct result of the empire’s actions when she is very young. Nonetheless, she retains some semblance of innocence, in spite of being handy with a gun and throwing very effective punches. Though she is bold, she is not vengeful, nor is she originally aligned with the Rebellion. Cassian (Diego Luna) reminds her again and again that she is different from members of the Rebellion because she “chose” not to do anything about the forces that have displaced her and cause her pain. Jones does a great job of portraying a person who has seen a lot of violence and also spends a lot of time running from violence. Jyn is a person who has lived in fear all her life, as have many other people under the Empire’s reign. Rogue One aptly portrays the effects of a despot’s control over people’s daily lives.

I think the casting of a young-looking person for the role of Jyn was done intentionally. Jones is a small woman at 5’3″, and at 33 years old, she could still pass for someone in her early twenties.To me, Jyn is a symbol of the many children and youth, past and current, who live with the legacy of war. Even the settings in which she travels throughout the movie and the situations she finds herself in–hiding in small spaces, lashing out at people who claim to be helping her–are reminiscent of children in places like Syria, Palestine, Venezuela, Cambodia, Vietnam, Germany, and the streets of Chicago, who behave this way to survive.

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Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera. Source: Wookiepedia

On Jedha and Scarif, the film comments on how war affects people of color. The settings of both planets seemed very intentional to me. The city on Jedha closely resembles cities in the Middle East (or at least, the American interpretation of them). Jedha is dry and sandy, and in the crowded streets, vendors and residents wear long, flowing clothes. It is here that the main characters find Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and also where the Death Star is first tested.

It speaks volumes that the Death Star is tested in a place where it seems like a lot of black and brown people must live (Saw dies in this first test). The Death Star acutely conjures images of nuclear warfare. This first “test” alludes to the days of testing nuclear bombs in Indigenous territory. It also appeals to more recent drone strikes in various Middle Eastern and African countries. The Empire’s excuse for using Jedha as the test site is that they know that a rebel base exists there. Yet, the force used by the Empire to demolish the base is analogous to being annoyed by a fly and throwing a brick at it. Were they really getting rid of the rebels, or did they need an excuse to get rid of a whole city of aliens/people of color/people the Empire didn’t approve of? Dare I say Rogue One seems to be commenting on the US’s interest in military force at the expense of people of color?

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Jedha. Source: Star Wars/Lucas Films

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Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. Source: Wookiepedia

The symbolic cast of people of color in this film was fascinating. I’m not sure whether or not that was done on purpose, but if it was, I find this technique to be both admirable and a little concerning (admirable because people of color are playing roles where people of color should be, and concerning because I’m still not sure how I feel about one person representing a vast and diverse group). It pleases me greatly that Diego Luna, who plays Cassian, has an accent as thick as a tectonic plate and was born in Mexico City. I don’t know nearly enough about the wars of Latinoamerica to tell you how it is fitting of Luna to play Cassian, a character who is known for being kind of ruthless and fiercely loyal to the Rebellion, but I know enough to say that it is fitting.

 

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Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Source: Wookiepedia

I’m not sure I am as sold on Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. I do feel as though they made Ahmed play up the sleazy look a little bit (not to mention the temper and the big mouth), which is a bit of a stereotype considering the guy is Pakistani. I can’t lie, though; I’m still happy there is one brown dude reppin’ the Subcontinent in this movie.

 

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Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe. Source: Wookiepedia

But the pair that absolutely warms and breaks my heart are Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). The deaths of these two characters seemed symbolic as well, as they took place on the planet Scarif, which was intended to resemble the Pacific Front of World War II. The last battle takes place on a beach covered with palm trees that looks as humid as Vietnam. The use of the Death Star on Scarif seems to implicate the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, the last few scenes are a kaleidoscope of events on the Asian front of World War II.

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Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus. Source: Wookiepedia

Chirrut and Baze give radically queer vibes in the scene where they both die. Chirrut, a blind warrior-monk who staunchly reveres the Force, dies after successfully opening the portal in order for the Death Star plans to be sent. He dies in Baze’s arms, and Baze finally says the words Chirrut repeated all his life to ward off danger: “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.” There was something moving about this burly Asian guy holding a delicate, more effeminate Asian guy and crying over his demise. I swear, I cried too.

There is a hint of a connection existing between Jedi and Indigenous peoples, too. I think I was awakened (no pun intended) to that possibility when we learn about Kyber crystals, which are used by Jedi to make light sabers, and which are also used by the Empire to power the Death Star. Insofar as the crystals are a natural resource, there are probably factions in the Star Wars world who fight to preserve them, and factions that fight to harvest them. It would be interesting to see if this is a point upon which future saga directors elaborate.

In short, Rogue One shows us the possibilities of what a robust, organized force of radicals can achieve. It seems to argue something beyond just arming ourselves or debating identity politics–it shows the potential of a radical collective. It is not as though Jyn, Cassian, and their band of rebels arrive on Scarif with any sort of plan. However, it takes all of them together to send the Death Star plans back to the Rebel Alliance. Perhaps our strategy to combat empire, in this modern era, should literally just be numbers. One person’s stamina only lasts for so long, but a group can get a lot done if the work is staggered or if people just have each other’s backs. Perhaps it is not the answer to all our problems, but in the information age, where the number of twitter followers you have determines your level of outreach, it’s a start.

 

Top 12 Fiercest Bollywood Actress’s Outfits, According to Me

Well folks, if you don’t know it yet, I fucking love Bollywood. Love is not a strong enough word. Of course, I usually keep this under wraps because let’s be real, of someone as Desi and hyper-femme as me, it is totally the most predictable thing in the world to be obsessed with. Hindi films will probably never achieve the status of “high art,” but that’s what makes Bollywood so radical: it is accessible to the masses.

That being said, here are, in ascending order, the fiercest Bollywood actress’s outfits (from songs) that I think are damn fierce. Admittedly, I definitely used stills of Youtube videos. #thatlowdefinitiongrind

12. Aishwarya Rai, Hai Mera Dil, Josh (2000)

blue dress

I’m so thrilled that maxi dresses are a thing now (they weren’t in the year 2000) because I can wear something like this in the middle of the day. Aishwarya Rai in this midnight blue, understated fit-and-flare dress is stunning, and I’ve wanted a dress like it ever since I first saw this song.

11. Rani Mukherjee, Dhadak Dhadak, Bunty aur Babli (2005)

blue and pink

Rani Mukherjee looks so glamorous in this blue and pink ghagra. I love the long, full skirt and the mirror embellishments. It made such an impression.

10. Alia Bhatt, Radha, Student of the Year (2012)

pink

Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Alia Bhatt fan. For some reason, she always looks like a teenager to me. I actually like this outfit because she looks a little grown up. I love the silver-pink colorblock. I especially like the cut of the blouse, and the way it ties up at the back. It’s a flirty, fierce little outfit.

9. Kareena Kapoor, It’s Rocking, Kya Love Story Hai (2007)

silver

One of the things I love about Kareena Kapoor is that she always looks like she’s having so much fun. I like the huge slit in this shiny, silver number, and the way it billows in the wind. It reminds me of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch.

8. Karisma Kapoor, Mayya Yashoda, Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999)

hsshorange

This orange and gold ghagra that Karisma Kapoor wears in Mayya Yashoda stole my heart. Karisma Kapoor looks like a queen with all that gold jewelry. I want this outfit…for my wedding day. Haha!

7. Aishwarya Rai, Nimbooda Nimbooda, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999)

nimbooda

Whoever did Aishwarya Rai’s hair and makeup for this song deserves a medal. And this ghagra, dear god! I love the contrast of the peacock blue against all the warm, pastel colors, the calf-length skirt, and the sheer dupatta. Beautiful costuming decisions.

6. Deepika Padukone, Lovely, Happy New Year (2014)

deepslovely

Deeps does this number so much justice. It was actually really hard for me to pick just one outfit from this song because all of them are pretty fierce, but this black blouse with the plunging neckline is so sleek. And so is Deepika’s pole dancing!

5. Kareena Kapoor, Halkat Jawani, Heroine (2012)

kareenayellow

First off, who doesn’t love when men worship women the way they are supposed to? Furthermore, Kareena Kapoor looks so good in this highlighter-yellow ghagra. The mesh blouse is so pretty, as are all the sequins and those magenta bangles she accessorized with it.

4. Urmila Matondkar, Rangeela Re, Rangeela (1995)

urmilam

Urmila Matondkar was the OG of badass in Bollywood. I love a number of the outfits from this song, but especially this tomboyish ensemble of parachute pants, a crop top, and a vest. I definitely see the influence of 90’s American hip-hop.

3. Aishwarya Rai, Achche Lagte Ho, Kuch Na Kaho (2003)

cowgirl

There’s a reason why Aishwarya Rai is on this list three times. She is always styled to perfection. I love her flowing curls in this song, and you can’t tell from this still, but her eye shadow is on point. With that cropped jacket and blue-and-leopard-print ascot, she has a fierce coyness about her.

2. Rani Mukherjee, Nach Baliye, Bunty aur Babli (2005)

Ranibnb

This song proves Rani Mukherjee is one of the fiercest bitches of all time. She’s tiny and curvy, and in Nach Baliye, she throws down like a boss. I love her in this sparkly blue bandeau, flared jeans, and high-heeled sandals. So hot.

1. Deepika Padukone, Love Mera Hit Hit, Billu Barber (2009)

deepsbikini

There will never be a time when Deepika Padukone, in this rainbow bikini, is not sexy as hell. This outfit was the one time when the whole shredded-fabric aesthetic actually worked. Folks have tried it in other songs (Anushka Sharma in Thug Le), but none compare to this gorgeous ensemble. I feel like there are two things that make this outfit my absolute favorite. First, it’s colorful. Like, they really went bananas with this entire song, and I love it. But also, whoever thought to put long, flowy pants on Deepika’s long legs is a fucking genius. They perfectly complement her figure.