Higher Education Experience

Thoughts on an Event: Women in STEM Fields

women in stem

credits: Jenna Reyes, 22 News

I feel that, perhaps out of a selfish desire to seem a little better than I actually am, I ought to preface this commentary a little. If the friend of mine who invited me to this event were ever to read this post, I feel she would be rather hurt, or that her opinion of me might change for the worse. Maybe at best, she might think I’m a little judgmental. I do care about her opinion to some degree. But you have to understand, this was my first introduction to people who are pursuing jobs in the same field as me and face some of the same challenges. I could not possibly spare them my critical lens at such an opportune moment.

Last Wednesday, I went to an event for women in STEM fields. The guest of honor was Prasha Dutra, who started the blog Her STEM Story to connect women in STEM fields all over the world. Dutra interviewed three women on a panel about their experiences in STEM fields (I arrived an hour late, so I missed a lot of the panel, but managed to catch the last 20 minutes or so). I think the purpose of the event was to give the attending women a sense that they are not alone and to get a chance to network a little. For me, however, it was far more interesting as a sociological study of The STEM Field Woman. She is a fascinating species, not one to disappoint at all if I am to dissect her critically.

(It should be noted, there was a comment made at some point during the event that women in STEM fields have a tendency to “bring each other down”. I would frame that observation entirely differently. I believe women in any field bring each other down. Women who don’t even work bring each other down. This is a result of living in a sexist society: the oppressed perpetuate their own oppression. Anyway, I am also aware that in this commentary, it will seem as though I am doing precisely this–I am “bringing other women down” by judging their idiosyncracies. In my defense, I would argue that if women in STEM fields, or any field for that matter, are brought down by something so flimsy as the commentary of a first-year, community college student, they didn’t have much power to begin with. And the latter is not true–women have power, as much as any human being does, but that is for a whole other post. I would say the problem is, they have been told lies their whole life, which they now believe to be true.)

Anyway, I found most of the advice and/or concerns expressed by the women present to be rather boring. It was the kind of surface-level, “how do I life?” stuff that (condescendingly, I know) I am either good at or if I am not, I choose not to be for specific reasons. It was interesting to compare this crowd to the social activist crowd. At this point, I have attended so many gather-ins, seminars, rallies, and events centered on social justice issues that the discourse that takes place in them tends to bore me as well. The questions are all “This gargantuan, systemic institution sucks. How do we powerless students make it better?” And the answer is always, “with hope and charisma!” Gag. But there’s a pattern present there, is there not? I feel like people at social-justice related events feel they have a right to complain about how much society sucks. They feel the because institutions do very little to address identity politics (or validate them), they ought to be condemned, and that their condemning of institutional politics is a Very Good Solution.

Not this crowd. Oh no. Women in STEM fields often start their stories very similarly to the social justice crowd: with We Are At The Bottom. The pattern takes a very different trajectory, though. Soon, we hear the person in question’s illustrious school career (first I was failing, but then I went to all the tutors and all the TAs and all the office hours, and then I passed! And I passed again! I got all the good grades!). You will note the lack of vulnerability in this story. We completely skip over the pain and embarrassment of being a struggling student, which so many people in STEM fields are, and where I think the true potential of community building lies. So many STEM students are international, speak tons of different languages, and come from working class backgrounds. No one takes the opportunity to bring that to the forefront of the conversation, nor do they talk about the challenges of assimilating (or, perhaps not assimilating as the case may be) to the American workforce as an educated professional.

The women would then typically progress to talking about overcoming all odds and landing a great job with a good company. Then they talk about how even though they seem confident and sparkly, they still have gaping self-esteem holes that they “still struggle” with to this day. They also give the impression of being very, very type A–they may not have been consciously aware of it, but the amount that coffee is talked about (not to mention the amount of wine being consumed in the room, or the number of times I have walked into a class and smelled cigarette smoke) indicates a tendency to be workaholics. I get the impression that even if a woman in a STEM field acknowledges she has struggles–whether they are career-related or social–she either self-medicates in order to cope or ignores it by throwing herself at her work.

And I have to admit, that makes me more than a little sad. I want better for my fellow women in STEM fields. I forget sometimes that I have access to an incredibly supportive community in RC that would not allow me to wallow in self-doubt even if I wanted to. I wish every woman working in STEM had that. Maybe she wouldn’t be so transparent to me, then.

I suppose I could go on. There were a few irksome dynamics in the room, such as the way white women address the concerns of Asian immigrants in the room. I could tell I was also in a very straight crowd by the amount people talk about having supportive “boyfriends and husbands”. But I honestly feel like even those concerns go right back to the root that I was talking about earlier–none of these women want to be honest with each other. None of them wants to talk about how it is hard to speak up in a classroom of mostly men. It is hard as hell to feel confident asking questions when you’re scared of being judged and there is an overwhelming power dynamic in the room. And it is sad that women feel they need partnership with a man in order to overcome obstacles. It was obvious to me that the women who were single felt they had some kind of shortcoming–they kept talking about how they are used to being alone, comfortable even, being alone. But when someone talks about being alone a lot, to me it usually means it is something they think about a lot, and why should that take up so much of anyone’s focus? Would a man focus on it that much?

I don’t have the answers to those questions. I do think that adequate support for women in STEM fields requires a psychological component: women need to believe in their brilliance and creativity. I think people ought to be able to talk about when things are truly challenging without feeling as though admitting to mistakes will define who they are. I want for all women to be able to do that.

Remembering Antonio

hood rats

Hood rats of Holyoke

Forgive me, Jerica.

“That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. Death always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.” -Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

I have been meaning to write this for some time, though at first, I did not know what to say. Or perhaps more accurately, I did not know how to write about it. What prepares anyone for the finality of death?

Antonio Nieves Martinez was my professor. It is true that I did not know him that well. I did not talk to him as I should have, I did not spend enough time with him.

We met in my first year of graduate school, in 2014. He was a new professor in my program, and I was a new master’s student taking the hard blows of imposter syndrome for truly the first time. And I’m sure he had felt the same way years ago, yet there he was, graceful, charming. I don’t know how to say this. Antonio was not perfect. He had moments when all transparency went out the window, when I could tell he was only going through the motions, and wasn’t fully present or engaged. But there were other things he did so beautifully.

On July 13 of this year, I was nearing the end of the eighth day of my new job at Hampshire College. A friend of mine, a doc student interning in Alaska at the time, called me over Facebook messager out of the blue. She hadn’t contacted me in a while, and we were going to move in together in about a month, so I wondered if she had had some problem signing for the apartment. I wish that had been the problem. She told me instead that Antonio had committed suicide.

I’m not sure I fully understood in that moment, what she had said. I was living with another friend, and I knew I would have to tell her as well, when I got home that day. She and I were in the same cohort, and we both took Antonio’s class at the same time. In fact, at that moment, I was dimly aware that I really needed to tell all of my cohort and the one after mine, and anyone else who knew him, what had happened. Looking back now, perhaps it was not my place to have done that. But I also knew that the faculty of my program and the administrators of the College of Education would keep it quiet, and that felt wrong. Because personally, I did not care how he had died. He deserved to be remembered.

More than that, he deserved to be loved. The friend I was staying with went to New York that weekend after I told her. We were supposed to meet up with members of my cohort the Friday after that, to celebrate Antonio’s life.

I had the apartment to myself the next day. I drove to my favorite ice cream place, ordered a giant tub of blue ice cream, came home, ate it, and cried. I cried for a long time. I don’t remember when I stopped. I just remember thinking he must have been in so much pain near the end of his life, and I couldn’t bear to think of him feeling that way. Not when he had had such a colorful life, not when he probably knew so much more about living than I did. Of course I know now that he always assigns the Duncan-Andrade piece, the ones about roses that grow in concrete, because he was one himself.

I did my crying in co-counseling. And alone in my car on the way to work. I’d put on all the Spanish music I could find and it would remind me of him. And I’d cry. This man probably knew so many things that I don’t, and I never bothered to ask. I know because I’m going through life now wishing I could ask him.

After I graduated from my program in 2016, I spent a year in my hometown, Tampa. Intermittently, I would think of Antonio. I’d think maybe I should email him, and tell him what I’m up to. In May of 2017, I knew I had received the job at Hampshire, and I knew I would be moving back to New England. I didn’t know then, but Antonio and his family were moving back to Oakland. I thought I’d tell him I got this new job, eventually, perhaps once I moved back and settled in. I’d reach out to him, to the other professors, see how they were doing.

I will never tell him now. There was a gathering for him at UMass. I did not go. I could not talk to anyone besides my co-counselors about him. I remembered him by wandering around Western Massachusetts alone. I swam alone. Explored remote towns alone. Stood on the edge of large lakes alone. There was a gathering for him in Holyoke. I didn’t go to that either. His daughter will never have those important conversations with her father, like the one where she calls him at 3:00 a.m. to tell him her car has gotten towed. Again. Or the one where she tells him she finally got a job, so would he please help her move her stuff 1,000 miles away. He is never going to have those conversations with her.

My cohort gathered to remember him. However, they wouldn’t confess to past mistakes they have made. For their dishonesty, I destroyed the cohort. I scattered them to the winds. I did not go to meet them. How could they be such cowards when Antonio was dead?

Finally, my friend and I moved to Holyoke, where Antonio used to live while he was in Western Massachusetts. I know now why he chose to live here with his family. It’s a beautiful town, far too small for how much life it contains. On walks in the streets, I meet people who say “¿’ta bien?”. Little black and brown children run around barefoot in the summer. On my street, there’s an old Boricua who goes to Stop and Shop in an electric wheelchair and blares loud bachata music from two speakers that he rigged himself. I once had a little old brown woman follow me around for 10 minutes because she thought I was someone else. I didn’t really mind.

This was your city,
child of immigrants.
In your memory, in your name,
I will do everything.

We had our own remembering party, my roommate and I. We invited some of the Latinx folks we knew from our program, a small group of 5 people. It was good. We brought things that remind us of him. There was a lot of drinking involved. And bachata. I think Antonio would be proud.

I’ve left the Hampshire job. I loved the position, but my boss sucked. I remember all the ways that Antonio tried to help make my life easier, when it felt like nothing was going right. Coincidentally, a friend of mine who works at a school in Holyoke recommended me for an open position there. I now teach ninth graders. Antonio used to teach in high school, once upon a time.

I wish you were here. I’m bewildered and inspired by these young people every day. Most days, it’s really, really fucking hard. You would have known exactly what to do. I miss your guidance, and I miss you very much.

Antonio had these moments when he could be unfathomably sweet. I remember, on our first day of class with him, he asked us if we would mind if he took a selfie with us. He said that he would like to send it to his mother. He said his mother is a Chicana immigrant who doesn’t fully understand what his job entails. He wanted to send her a picture so she could understand. We agreed to let him take the photo. Who does that? Who remembers their mom like that? Even I don’t, family girl as I am.

I remember he was there on the day I graduated. I remember he asked what I was doing next, and I told him I was going to Tampa to continue prospecting for jobs. He told me congratulations, and I think he hugged me. I hope he did. Antonio deserved a hug.

On the Lack of Compassion in Teaching Non-Native English Speakers

I feel my depression acting up again, and I think my job is definitely to blame. I know it will sound pretentious of me to claim this, but I think I suffer greatly from being a person invested in my humanity on a staff that seems hell-bent on being half-dead.

To give you all an idea of why I feel this way, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Last year, I graduated from a master’s degree program (Social Justice Education at UMass Amherst) that focuses on making educational settings less oppressive. One of the things I appreciated the most about this program is it’s focus on critical pedagogy, challenging the rampant hegemony of the education system. To give a crash course on critical pedagogy, it is the process of using teaching materials that do not center the narratives of rich, white, cis-heterosexual, English-speaking, Christian men (theorized by Paolo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970). The purpose is to allow underrepresented narratives to be heard. So I was surrounded by people who encouraged multilingualism, who celebrated it, even. I was surrounded by people who were not afraid of conflict, who were not afraid of expressing their opinions. I was surrounded by people who used music, videos, and poetry in class as teaching materials, who liked getting students out of their chairs to talk, create art, demonstrate concepts. I was informed by authors like Laura Rendon (Sentipensante, 2009), Lisa Leigh Patel (Youth Held at the Border, 2013), and bell hooks (Teaching to Transgress, 1994), who argue that both teachers and students deserve to enjoy education. It should be a life-affirming process.

In American education, it has become normalized for students to be unimaginably bored, stressed, or anxious because of the antagonistic standards and mechanical schedules of people who call themselves educators. Frankly, I think teachers themselves become mindless in this process. How can teachers maintain their humanity when they are basically asked to bulldoze students into submission?


The Library of the Dale Mabry Campus, which houses the Learning Resources Center

So if you can imagine, at my current job as a writing tutor at Hillsborough Community College, I am surrounded by either young professionals who think they need to conform to current standards for educational professionals (and thus, are slowly losing their humanity in front of my eyes), or old white people who have been teaching for so many years in an outdated manner that they have forgotten what living feels like.

Furthermore, over half of the students at this campus are students of color (HCC Factbook, 2013), and over half of them are also not native English speakers (HCC Factbook, 2013). This demographic is not reflected by the staff, who appear to be mostly white, with the exception of the rare woman of color who has been co-opted by the institution to reinforce problematic standards. Honestly, students are treated with nothing short of dehumanization on this campus. Just today, I was looking over an essay with a student, and I could tell she had a lot of anxiety around turning in this paper. It was a simple 5-paragraph narrative essay. She asked me at least 5 times throughout the session whether or not she had any punctuation errors (the answer was no. I assured her again and again that I did not see punctuation errors). She was also terrified that the teacher would take points off if she did not get her title and heading just right. (And I thought to myself, when some students have never even been to school before now, and some are learning English for the first time in their lives, what kind of person takes off points just because they don’t like the place where they put their name on the paper? Why are teachers allowed to be so anal-retentive in this manner? Is their entire day, their entire life so thrown off by something as small and insignificant as where a student puts their name on the top of a page?).

I think the last straw for me in this session was when the student told me her teacher wouldn’t read an email if it seemed too much like a “text message”. The student asked me if I could help her word an email, in which she was asking the professor whether or not he wanted their work in MLA format. Honestly, if this was Harvard or something, perhaps I would allow a comment like that from a teacher slide. But this is not Harvard, it is a community college in a predominantly Spanish-speaking, POC neighborhood. This student only sees her teacher once a week. She is expected to turn all her work in online. The teacher apparently doesn’t take much time to answer questions, and clearly exercises absolute authority over his students to the point that none of them feel comfortable approaching him. That is literally why this poor student (who clearly knows how to use a computer and writes with enough clarity that any person who is not an asshole can follow) was sitting in front of me asking me whether or not they are writing an email correctly. This professor’s comment seemed excessively ageist, xenophobic and elitist to me.


The writing commons, where writing tutoring occurs

Sessions like this one are not unusual for me. I get students in the writing center who come to me with all manner of anxieties about things that, in my opinion, don’t even matter that much to writing. Sometimes, I feel I am more a counselor that assists students in building confidence than I am a “tutor”. Such endless rules these professors pummel their students with: no contractions, no passive voice, no first person, no second person. Again, in a context like a private college where all the students have received 1550s on their SATs, perhaps this is a reasonable standard. But this is not Harvard. It is not the University of Florida. It is a community college of predominantly people of color and immigrants. How will a student ever feel confident writing in a place where everything they do seems wrong in the eyes of their professors? How can a student approach writing with anything other than the utmost fear if they are never given any compassion in the learning process?

This is not even the half of it. Many of my staff members criticize people for mispronouncing words like “subtle” or “often” (which are pretty difficult words for a non-native English speaker, considering the number of silent letters in English words). A few times, I have observed the professors who teach non-native English speakers (the classes are referred to as EAP on this campus: English for Academic Purposes). Most of them patronize their students egregiously. For presentations, I am frequently told to “speak slowly” so students can understand (as opposed to, I don’t know, try speaking Spanish?). At least one of the professors speaks to her students as though they are small children with low intelligence. This same professor believes in teaching her students by telling them to “assimilate” to American culture, and to only speak English in her class so that they can “master English,” to the detriment of keeping their native language alive. To my knowledge, not a single one of these professors has ever learned a second language, yet they condescend to know the best way to teach students English. How can a person know anything about teaching language if they have only ever acquired one?

For perhaps the third time in a month, I am sending out an SOS to all the radical educators. What do you do about a workplace environment like this, besides leave? What power do I have to change things? How will I go about it when I feel like I am the only person who sees the need for change? Please help me. My sanity is at stake.

Works Cited

Hillsborough Community College. (2013). HCC Factbook 2013: Institutional Research. Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, FL.

The Monolith Myth


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.

My Impressions of Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam

femalemascI was a little dubious when I borrowed this book from a friend I made at work. My first exposure to gender theory was literally only two years ago when I started my master’s in education, from the perspectives of women of color, specifically Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider and bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress. These women take a rather unorthodox approach to gender theory in the first place, discussing not only both gender and race, but also dedicating significant space to eroticism and emotion, subjects that are to gender theory as mysticism is to religion. I had never read anything from the white queer canon, let alone anything on masculinity. As a feminine woman, I find it a little difficult to warm up to conversations about masculinity at all, since it seems to me that the written word in nearly every field is dominated by men.

(Admittedly, these recent posts have digressed from my comfort zone of Asian American feminism and critical race theory. I think this is actually for my own good, as I’ll explain as this post progresses. I notice I seem to parenthesize a lot in my posts as well. Clearly, I have not yet mastered this Western concept of linear thinking.)

To give you an idea of the potential of Halberstam’s work, I’ll start with a personal experience. While I was a student at UMass Amherst, I remember there was a department known as the Men and Masculinities Center. A lot of people from my program were involved with the programming in that center, so I never felt entirely comfortable critiquing it while I was at UMass. From my understanding, the center was created for men to have a space to deconstruct their masculinity away from the prying eyes of…gee, I don’t know, women? And that’s what annoyed me so much about it. Why the fuck do women’s community centers on college campuses always have to act as though men are allowed, no, invited even, into those spaces, but men are supposed to have their own “private spaces” away from the mean, nasty gaze of feminists? In fact, theirs are justified in not allowing folks of other genders in? Especially when men dominate literally every public space available? How was that fair? How were we paying tuition for that space to exist?

It should be noted, queer masculine people are rarely comfortable entering the Men and Masculinities center even now. Across the board, people I knew at UMass who identified as gay, transgender, butch, or just not as cisgender, heterosexual-passing men, did not ever go to events at the Men and Masculinities Center. I know a part of that is perhaps marketing and misunderstanding, but doesn’t it say a lot when queers actively avoid a space?

In contrast, Halberstam introduces this concept that, far from causing me disgust, actually wins my admiration. She talks about masculinity without men (1998, p. 1), a possibility that is radically simple, yet I had never conceived of it before I read this book. I still can’t say I can define masculinity, but I can commit to this much–the crusading feminine queers who go around demonizing everything that is masculine are, uh, kinda wrong. Yea, I said it. I think we have to consider the likelihood that there are many kinds of masculinity, that as a matter of fact, there are people who firmly identify as women but also identify as masculine, and that not everyone who identifies as masculine has access to the institutional benefits afforded to masculine people.

In the book, the three chapters after the introduction are admittedly rather boring for me (though I understand Halberstam is probably required to lay down this very thorough foundation in order to gain credence in the academy). I did appreciate the history, since I’m still quite new to queer studies. I’m guessing the literary subjectivities were also a necessity for Halberstam’s academic legitimacy, though if I’m being honest, I really wish the academy would do away with this requirement. With the exception of analyses based on journals, most literary analyses literally just seem to me like the author’s way of saying they read a book about this subject at some point in the past. I’m sure you’ll remember this opinion of mine reflected in my reflections on Ingratitude by erin Khue Ninh.

But shit hits the proverbial fan in chapter 5, when Halberstam talks about butch/FTM border wars (p. 139). I especially liked her caustic commentary on Amy Bloom’s interviews of transsexual men. This sentence kind of sums up Halberstam’s opinion of this super-misinformed journalist, “What a relief for Bloom that she was spared interaction with those self-hating masculine women and graced instead by…men!” (1998, p. 158). Bloom didn’t seem aware of her own internalized sexism. As though people who are masculine are not worthy human beings unless they convincingly pass for men. Here, I would insert the eye-roll emoji.

But I also genuinely appreciate Halberstam’s introduction of intersectional politics in this chapter. One comment of note is when she draws attention to the one black FTM transsexual man, who admits he does not expect to be accepted just because he is convincing as a man. Halberstam states, “as in so many other identity-based activist projects, one axis of identification is a luxury most people cannot afford” (p. 159). In my experience, oppression can never be distilled to just one identity. I love that Halberstam is more complicated and experienced than many white queers who scream about pronouns all the time (or whatever the 1998 version of “pronouns” was), but rarely show support for communities of color or the poor. Halberstam has a comprehensive understanding of race and class politics. Maybe I just hung out with the wrong queers (let’s be real, New England is pretty white), but until now, I hadn’t read a whole lot of queer white theorists who were this legit.

She keeps it up, too. She calls out (hard!) people’s ability to afford transitioning, to move homes, to have no home, and even to use metaphors (p. 173). Halberstam points out that there is a reality that exists for white men–one that is highly coveted, and that anyone who can will try to access–where doors magically open to the academy, to jobs, to housing, to health care, and to a great many institutions. Other people cannot even pretend they can gain access to these things because they have to deal with the realities of survival.

The other two chapters talk about butches in film, and drag kings. While neither quite compares to chapter 5 for me, I do think the sheer amount of research Halberstam did is worth mentioning. She cites enough film and literature in her book for me to receive a whole damn education. I can’t imagine how many years it took to watch/interview/read/compile all of these sources, but it’s an incredible repertoire, and one that I definitely plan to tap into.

(Is it rude of me to state here that erin Khue Ninh should take note?)

In spite of some shortcomings, I’m genuinely impressed. While Female Masculinity does suffer at times from the density of analysis (a critique I have of all books on gender theory), I did actually learn something, which tells you there’s enough in there to keep a broad interested.

Spring 2017 Preview

For those of you who have been faithfully following, I figured I would give you something to look forward to in the New Year.

So this is the first time in 19 years that I have not been in school for fall semester, and I will not be for spring semester either. In the past, I’ve had opportunities to attend certain conferences with scholarship money from school, but I rarely took the chance because going to conferences meant I would have a shitload of work to catch up on when I got back to school.

This year, however, I have the ability to take time off from work to go to all the conferences I couldn’t attend in past years. Granted, the price I pay (no pun intended) is that I won’t get paid for the weeks that I’m gone, but it’s something I’m willing to forego for the experience.

Thus, in the coming months, I plan to do a minimum of one pre-conference post to talk about why I’m going to that particular conference and what I expect, and one post-conference post to talk about whether or not the experience met my expectations and was worth the cost. This timeline is tentative at the moment, but I hope to be attending Creating Change, The Placement Exchange, NASPA, and CLPP.

  1. Creating Change

    Philadelphia, PA

    January 18-22, 2017

    Likelihood that I will go: 100%, as the ticket is paid for and God is willing

    According to the website, the Creating Change Conference is the “pre-eminent political, leadership and skills-building conference for the LGBTQ social justice movement.” From what I can gather, there are supposed to be 3 or 4 day-long “institutes”, 8 workshop sessions, and 2 caucuses/network sessions. The website hasn’t put up the definitive workshop schedule yet, so I’m not sure what exactly I have to look forward to, but mostly, I’m just curious. I’ve never really been around queers in the professional world, so I’m interested to see what the national conversation around queer issues is about.

  2. The Placement Exchange

    San Antonio, TX

    March 8-12, 2017

    Likelihood that I will go: 50%, depends on how my wallet is doing then

    From what I have heard, this is basically a gargantuan, 4-day interview for student affairs professionals. It is literally interviews for 4 days to give new graduates or aspiring student affairs professionals a chance at placement (hence, The Placement Exchange). Honestly, this conference looks like a pain in my ass, but I figure I’ll give it a shot because why not? There’s a possibility that someone out there will like me.

  3. NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators)

    San Antonio, TX

    March 11-15

     Likelihood that I will go: 50%, looks interesting, but it’s really expensive

    You’ll notice that the dates for this conference overlap with the dates for The Placement Exchange. If TPE gets boring for me, I’ll most likely switch to this one. The first round of speakers has been announced, and they are Anderson Cooper, Bree Newsome, and Chris Mosier. So clearly, this conference is a big deal. I’m curious about the dialogue going on here, too. What are student affairs professionals doing/talking about on the national front? Currently, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll find out.

  4. CLPP (Civil Liberties and Public Policy)

    Amherst, MA

    April 7-9

    Likelihood that I will go: 30% at the moment, depends on cost and logistics

    This conference focuses on reproductive freedom. I have some personal stakes in this conference, so I’m really hoping things pan out. There is absolutely nothing up on the website yet, but I expect some radical shit to go down.


Right, so that’s my tentative plan for spring semester. I’m sure you all will continue to hear from me about books and movies, the regular stuff. I will keep you posted if plans change. Hope you are having a good December!


Content Warning: abortion, trauma

Today, I read this great piece from Black Girl Dangerous on trauma. I don’t know why, but it still chokes me up to even hear about trauma. I feel like that is an indicator that clearly, I am not yet over the traumas in my life yet.

Coincidentally, I’m in a weird place right now with my hair. For those of you who don’t know, I chopped all my hair off after I got an abortion in December. In those first few weeks afterwards, I couldn’t stand having my hair any more. I couldn’t stand all the memories stored in it. I couldn’t stand all the feelings I had associated with it. So I symbolically pressed the restart button on my life and chopped off about 20 inches. I went from having around 2 feet of thick, black hair to having a really close pixie cut.

I trimmed it regularly, so it would be longer now if I had just let it grow. I decided to stop trimming in May, around the time that I graduated. It hasn’t grown too much, but the length is starting to show. The hair has grown over my ears, and I have to clip the back frequently so that I don’t have a mullet. It’s a weird, shaggy phase. My hair has not been this length since I was around 4 years old.

And this dissatisfaction with my hair is also symbolic. I literally cut it off as a marker of a trauma, as a reminder to myself of how long it takes to heal. Now I wish I had my long hair back. It’s almost as though my brain would like to convince my body of something it knows is not true. I am almost my normal self again. Almost. I am very convincing to other people, and that is so dangerous because then I start to believe the lie. I say hi to all my friends. I correspond with employers. I help out around the house without complaining. I did the therapy, I dealt with the emotions, I did all the reconnecting with my inner self stuff for four months. My brain insists, shouldn’t I be done with this by now? Haven’t I done everything I was supposed to do?

It is frustrating that it takes so long, but I know in my heart that I am not yet over it.

I know because–and that’s just it–I am still not normal for me. I still don’t like being out in public. It causes numerous, inexplicable anxieties. That is not normal for me. I feel satisfied sleeping all day. I feel satisfied staying in the house all day. I have barely done any physical activity all summer, when I’m usually so active. That is not normal for me.

I suddenly realized, my reaction to scrutiny has also gotten worse, which is probably the biggest indicator that I am not back to normal yet, even now.

First off, I should name that I have never been comfortable with scrutiny. I cannot remember how long I have felt that way, but if I had an RC community to go to where I am, that would probably be an area I need to work on. I think scrutiny can go under the general category of surveillance, something that many people with marginalized identities experience. Surveillance happens in a number of ways: policing of clothes, behavior and speech; storing information without indication for use later as blackmail (or other purposes); expecting people to behave a certain way even when no one is watching; the list goes on.

It should be noted, in my opinion, any person who puts another person under surveillance of any kind is being abusive and manipulative.

I use the word “scrutiny” very intentionally, though. The word “scrutiny” comes from the Latin word “scrutari” which literally means “to search.” Thus, my both founded and unfounded fear is that people who scrutinize me are searching for my weaknesses, searching for ways to exploit my vulnerability.

I think the founded fear comes from generally existing as a woman of color, especially in interactions with men. As soon as a creepy man starts asking me too many questions (and this has happened so many countless times), I start lying. While this is great for keeping me safe from creepy men who walk up to me in the street, it may not be so helpful when, say, my supervisor asks me why I have changed my hours. Or when my parents ask me what I’m doing next week on Tuesday. Or when people who care about me ask reasonable questions because they are concerned with my safety, and I lie to them because deep down, I am terrified that some unknown entity will hunt me down.

Then, the fear becomes unfounded.

I was thinking today, the best thing in the world is freedom. I don’t mean in that silly patriotic sense. I mean specifically, I wish I was free from scrutiny. I wish I had the money for my own living space and a car so that I could do whatever I want and go wherever I want without people wondering what I am doing. I wish I could run my house however I wanted without having to deal with other people’s rules about how clean or dirty it is. I wish I didn’t have to answer to someone else about how I am using my money, what I spend my time doing, what my body looks like, what I’m wearing, who I’m talking to, or where I’m going all the time. These are all things that different people have all kept track of at different times in my life. I think that is such a huge distinguishing factor between having dominant identiti(es) and having marginalized one(s). I doubt a white man experiences the kind of scrutiny that I do walking down the street. At the same time, I probably experience less scrutiny than say, a homeless person.

Simultaneously, I would also love to be free from the fear I have of scrutiny. I wish I could trust people and their intentions enough to not go into full fight-or-flight mode every time someone asks me a question. It is a trauma reaction, so the fear comes from an incapacity I have at the moment: an inability to trust people, and a fundamental lack of faith in the world. That’s really sad for a person who used to be an ENFP at one point. Personally, I don’t believe it is a natural state for human beings to lack trust, to lack faith in humanity. So it’s a sad thing for me to admit I have neither. It makes me even more sad that we live in a world where gaining both back may take the same amount of time as it does for 20 inches of hair to sprout from my head. Trust does not disappear without a good reason.




Oh Lord, I crave him. This summer has brought a lot, a bit too much perhaps. Now I am crazy in addition to everything else.

People say that time is not linear, and slowly, I begin to understand why. Feelings I thought I had long forgotten suddenly come back to haunt me. I felt this way about him before the abortion. That fall semester was when I felt this way about him. I had forgotten those feelings, and they were not something I was willing to revisit, not after the other feeling, that I had killed my own child.

Attraction is hard to go back to. I did not feel attraction for some time. It eluded me for all of spring semester. Granted, that didn’t stop me from having sex, but it was that sordid, corporeal kind that makes you feel emptier than you did when you began. It took me only a matter of weeks to see my then-lover for who he really was: a needy, sanctimonious person who would use me to hold his emotions, but took every chance he got to quash my own. Admittedly, abortion-trance was a convenient antidote to my former guilelessness; it was the shortest amount of time it had ever taken for me to come to my senses and leave a man.

He deserved to be left as well, though, the one from fall. That is what I tell myself. Not left entirely—left by me. For making me hope that I could be his, for even the second that I believed it, even when he knew there was not a chance in hell that it would last. I blame him because surely, he must have known. He had to have known how it would end, and he let it play out anyway because he had to have me just that much, had to have my hand in his, have my kisses, my endless hair, the way secrets poured from my lips without him ever needing to ask.

See, he already had a partner. And at that point, I still had the pre-abortion-trance guilelessness, so I believed him when he made me feel like I was safe, made me think his partner was sane, made me think nothing would ever go wrong. Maybe that is my own fault for being so guileless.

If you all ever hope for a love story, I wish you one like this (though with perhaps a happier ending). We were co-teachers, he and I. I don’t think either of us much heeded how obviously illicit our affections were. He was endearing—he embodied that word entirely—for me there could not exist a more-perfect Achilles heel. Look how even now I wax dramatic for him.

See, he was an artist. Not on the surface, but I suspect that is what he is deep down. I don’t know how else he would get me to say such ridiculous things to him, things I have never said to anyone else, that he turns me on so hard, that I want to push him over onto a bed, that I would like to kiss him until he is limp in my arms. I flirted with him like I did with no one else. We would sit together in the study of my apartment, dimly lit by just desk lamps in poor-graduate-student fashion, to put our lesson plans together. His eyes, which caught the light so easily, would glow a lovely amber color. He would always ask me if there was anything else I wanted to talk about (I might be forgetting the wording at this point, I always just wanted to look at his face). I never did, but his eyes always lingered just a little longer than what was reasonable, holding my gaze, even in the days before I started flirting with him.

And after I made my feelings apparent to him, it could not be helped. We were like children in middle school, embracing each other in empty classrooms and holding hands when we thought no one was looking, except we were the teachers and middle schoolers are half our age.

These are all memories that I thought I had forgotten, that I have not had access to in seven months. They come back now with shocking clarity. I did not think I could feel like this again, ever.

I remember the first time I kissed him, and all the kisses that came after the first. I would say that the most romantic experiences I have ever had never involved sex. It was certainly true of this relationship. Admittedly, that first kiss was slightly naughty of me. We had just finished our last class of the semester. I had only just asked him how he liked to be kissed, and he had only just finished answering, but I couldn’t bear not being able to give that to him for even a second longer, so I kissed him. I could sense his hesitation and I thought that perhaps I had taken things too far, but then he kissed me back so softly, so demurely. He used to love the way I would moan.

This is unexpected. Now I am crying. All the websites I went to after my abortion said I might cry for no reason from time to time. For the life of me, I can’t understand why I am crying. Maybe, I suspect, I want my child’s father to be like him. So cute. So silly and well-intentioned. Maybe I would forgive someone like him for all his flaws because he would care so unfathomably.

See, he is already a father. He was a father long before I came into his life, and he will be long after I have left. We’re not so different, he and I. At almost the same point in our lives, we both found out we could become parents. Except I didn’t become one and he did.

I wake up like I’m waiting for infinity these days. Day stretches long and worthless, night comes mercilessly too soon. In those moments when I feel that crazed consciousness that has stayed with me since I was pregnant, I know she will come back to me one day. I wait for her eagerly, my future child.

The End-of-July Emotional Follow-Up

On the 12th of July, I created this post on my internal state at the time. I think the word that could best sum up the sentiments then is “despair.” I told myself that I would come back to my emotional state in a week, and as it is now the end of July, I am well past my own deadline for that evaluation.

At this point, I think I have transitioned into a state of hope. While that may seem like a better place to be, I am always slightly wary when I feel hopeful. It could mean that I have, yet again, set my sights on something impossible.

In fact, I’m not sure if hope is what you can reasonably call this feeling. Perhaps this is just what it feels like to be motivated. I read an email yesterday that really pissed me off and has changed my opinion of the sender. The two of us both happen to be looking for jobs at the moment. I have vowed from this point on to unequivocally do better than them. I will be better than they are at all the interviews we go to together. I will get a job before they do. In the height of my anger last night, I swore I would get a job by the end of August. I suppose you will see a post in another month about that.

On a different note, I am simultaneously scared and somewhat happier that I am gradually making peace with living in my parents’ home. The fear comes from how easy it is for me to become complacent. While adjustment to any new situation usually takes me a long time (especially since I haven’t lived at home in 6 years!), once I’m done adjusting, I can be quite reluctant to move again.

Then I wondered, what is here in Tampa that was never there in Northampton? Bhangra! Garba! Durga Puja! Diwali! All my favorite dance teams! All my favorite holidays, celebrated in full splendor! If I am here, I will not watch from afar in October while other people dance, while other people light the lamps, while other people set off fireworks!

If I am here.

The other possibility is that I will spend October adjusting to a city I do not yet know. I will try to make new friends. I hope I will live alone. It might be a quiet month, if there is not a large Indian community in the city I go to. Who knows what I will and will not have access to?

I’ll leave on this thought. There is something wrong with a system in which I can so thoroughly relate to this sentiment:


Adam Ellis Comics

I generally feel worthless in school for not measuring up, and worthless right now for not “contributing to society” (quotes used here to question what kinds of labor are considered “contributions”, and in what ways they are measured). Ah well. Critical consciousness is such consolation.


A review of an Asian Feminisms class and Ingratitude, an Analysis


ingratitudeI recently finished Ingratitude, by erin Khue Ninh, a book that, for me, provokes some surprisingly potent emotions in spite of being such a small tome.

Before I embark on this review, allow me to explain the context in which I was introduced to it. This past spring semester, I took an Asian American Feminisms course at UMass Amherst. It was the first women’s studies course I had ever taken in my life. It was a class of only 12 students, of whom 8 were women of Asian descent, 10 were undergraduate students, and 2 were graduate students (including me). On the whole, I found the course to be very instructive in a number of topics I had not previously explored. I really appreciated most of the readings for laying bare many experiences of Asian women that I had not previously encountered in academia. Some of the topics discussed in the class included Orientalism, legacies of war and colonization, racialized femininity and masculinity, and transnational feminism.

The professor, who I will not name, was also a great instructor, centering student learning by allowing students to take up most of the class time with discussion. However, I did at times find her to lean more towards “academic intellectual” than “pragmatic facilitator”. She had very little ability to hold space for emotions, and as a model with whom many of the students could identify, I think she effectively suppressed a lot of the emotional responses that students could have brought forth. On one memorable occasion, during the class where we discussed the legacies of war, one of the readings was about Korean comfort women, and how their position in society was determined both by the Japanese invasion of Korea as well as by American soldiers in the Korean War. I asserted that this seizure and capitalization of women’s bodies was “a thinly veiled form of terrorism”. There was a brief pause in the class after that, at which point the only response the professor chose to give was to move on to the next topic.

On another notable occasion, I had gone to her office hours one afternoon to talk about my final project, and she asked me how the class was going for me. In my naïve manner, I assumed she actually wanted an honest answer from me, so I shared an observation with her that I thought should be addressed. I said that I noticed the students in the class only ever responded to her questions and statements in the class, but they never interacted or responded directly with one another. I brought that to her attention hoping perhaps she would encourage those interactions. After all, it’s not a true discussion if it’s only between the teacher and the student.

Her response was very strange. She chose to tell me that, while we were on the topic of giving feedback, “some” of the students (a number was not given to me) were “disgruntled” by how frequently I laughed in the class. Specifically, she commented on my “facial expressions and noises” that I made in the class. I was very surprised. This did not feel like feedback as much as it did a way for her to undermine my power and affirm her own authority. The colorism of that interaction cannot be ignored either—this professor is light-skinned and of Korean descent, and I am South Asian. At the time, I thanked her for “bringing the comments to my attention,” though in the back of my mind, I thought whichever student it was that had complained was a coward for not voicing their complaints to my face. The logical response of the professor, at least to me, would have been to tell whoever complained to respect that people have different emotional capacities. My opinion of this professor diminished slightly after that point.

After being treated thus, it is no surprise to me that such a person thinks that Ingratitude is useful for instructive purposes. During the course, each week a student would start the class with a brief presentation on the main points from the week’s readings. Model student that I am, I had not read Ingratitude the week it was assigned, during the topic of Asian American Literary Subjectivities. I think I saved myself some indignation, though I also probably kept the class from being able to learn from my rather contemptuous point of view.

To my knowledge, the eight women in the class adored the book. The presentation that week was given by an English major studying at Mount Holyoke, a native of Cupertino, a stone’s throw from San Francisco, California. This is a person who is able to travel to Taiwan every year, whose parents are probably paying for her education. Her presentation, which was significantly lacking in criticality, historical context, and even a basic analysis of capitalism, enthusiastically affirmed the words of an author who predictably faulted parents for everything that sucked about Asian women’s lives. The room reeked of hypocrisy.

I had stated in previous classes that I unabashedly defend Asian parents. When I said in class that day that I had not read the book, but I could fathom by conjecture that I probably would not agree with most of erin Khue Ninh’s analysis, the professor’s response was to say, “Well, you’ve stated your views in the past, Leonie.”

This is nothing compared to the complaints I have with the book itself, now that I have read it. Ninh’s book is an analysis of how immigrant families trap women of Asian descent in a role as an obedient, high-achieving daughter based on—not historical archives, not an analysis of Asian women’s labor, not even qualitative research with actual Asian women—literature by women of Asian descent. Yes, you read that correctly, literature as in fictional novels. She uses fictional novels to build a highly complex patriarchal, racial, and economic analysis of the family structure. From where do my doubts spring? I can’t imagine.

Furthermore, in the entirety of a novel about how oppressed Asian American women are in the role of daughter, Ninh never once includes internalized racism or sexism as causes for this oppression in her analysis. This is curious because Ninh literally describes internalized racism, though she doesn’t refer to it as such, within the first few pages of the novel as a reason why Asian people might act the way they do.

It is a central tenet of the model minority thesis that the model minority identity is a myth…That may be a disingenuous case to make…The heart of the issue is not whether an Asian immigrant family currently meets the socioeconomic or professional measures of the model minority. Rather, the issue is whether it aspires to do so, whether it applies those metrics: not resentful of the racializing discourse of Asian success as violence, but implementing that discourse, with ingenuity, alacrity, and pride, from within. (Ninh, 2011, p.9, emphasis from original text)

This is quite literally a description of internalized racism. I define internalized racism as the process of subconsciously incorporating the messages one receives about their own racial group into one’s own identity as though they are fact. Would that not also be a reason why Asian parents treat their children the way they do? In fact, could it be the sole reason? Could the sole reason be that Asian Americans have internalized the belief that they must be high-achieving, a belief which white America industriously circulates? Ninh didn’t seem to think so.

Another point of contention I have with the novel is the hilariously far-fetched logic Ninh frequently uses to draw her conclusions. Here is an example:

Ideally, then, parental sacrifices enable the next generation to live lives unfettered by the practices and psychology of close bookkeeping. In actuality, however, as Su-ling Wong points out, “the code of Necessity creates its own enslavement: one sacrifice calls for another” [33, full citation included in Notes]. Whereas in theory, Necessity works itself out of existence—immigrants work hard so that with success they and theirs will no longer have to work hard—in practice, Necessity reproduces itself, perpetuating its mindset and demands onto the next generation, even after the conditions of material adversity have come to an end. (Ninh, 2011, p. 33)

In other words, why is oppression perpetuated? A logical individual might look at historical and economic context and the ways in which Asian immigrants first came to be in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as plantation workers, indentured servants, sailors, in other words, slaves in everything but name. (Lee, 2015, p. 42). People in these lowest strata of economic class frequently do not have access to the kinds of structures that help people accumulate wealth (ability to take out loans, own a house, build credit, pay for an education, save money in bank accounts, etc.) because they live in tenement buildings in the inner city or on farms, their citizenship hangs by a thread, and their money goes into paying off the indenture. Thus, subsequent generations frequently inherit debt, much in the same way that the descendants of Africa living in America have had historic difficulty accumulating wealth because they were brought to America as slaves.

Is this the logic that Ninh uses? No, no it is not. Ninh says that parents ought to be able to pay off their debts, debts that, when they were incurred in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, sometimes had to be paid off one literal cent at a time for debts of hundreds of dollars (Lee, 2015, p.42). That way, children can be free. Oh wait, but debts can’t be paid off because they’re not real. They’re just some magic thing parents made up called “Necessity”. Hence, children are oppressed because parents made up the fact that they are in need. Why would parents lie about being in need? Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.

Even putting Ninh’s analysis in a modern context makes no sense. If parents in Asian American families are paying off their debts because they are able to, where is this Necessity that drives them to abuse and oppress their children? And if they are not, does that not bring us back to the argument that Asian families in the working class cannot accumulate wealth in traditional ways?

The most maddening of Ninh’s many nonsensical analyses is her assertion that Asian American’s romanticizing of the Third World reveals an underlying desire to assimilate to capitalism (if I’m even reading this text correctly. Ninh’s tendency toward a confusing verbosity is equally annoying).

Both Chao and Wong’s pieces betray a desire, in fact, to fossilize Evelyn’s parents as forever the opposite of white capitalist America (as if having been a materially deprived Chinese native makes a subject automatically and henceforth politically subversive), and to color themselves “bad” by association. But to paraphrase Kingston, one’s family is not necessarily the Third World poor to be championed; in a confusing state of affairs, any of these purportedly bad capitalist subjects might well have found themselves prosecuted as owning class by agents whose motivations were themselves suspect. (Ninh, 2011, p. 121)

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure here, but I think Ninh just defended the bourgeoisie against the “attack” of the working class under Communism in China because, you know, Ninh knows how much they would suffer if the working class ever rose up.

What completely blows my mind about this book is how individual-minded and second-wave Ninh’s thinking is. She never once asserts the ways in which feminine people and the Feminine are powerful, choosing instead to focus on the Catch-22 of not being able to pay off parents’ debts and how rebelling against parents is still a way of “settling debt” (Ninh, 2011, p.155). In other words, she portrays Asian daughters as having a lack of agency over their own lives. She never entertains the radical possibilities of being part of a collective, which is not surprising given her lack of historical analysis. She never considers how feelings of abandonment can be mitigated by the feeling of being tied to bodies of people who share a history, an ancestry, and a story. She only ever looks at the individual woman, how she is antagonized by the family, and how breaking filial piety is futile.

The one statement Ninh makes that I perhaps partially agree with is that filial piety could and should change for Asian children. However, where Ninh puts the burden of accountability on parents, I think the process needs to be a deeper and better-articulated dialogue among two generations. I particularly believe the consequences of immigration, colonization, racism, sexism, and capitalism must be included in an analysis of family roles if it is to be accurate.

All things considered, Ninh worked really hard on what I consider to be little more than the vengeful rantings of a spoiled brat. Ninh is a tenured professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Go figure.

Furthermore, for me, the goal of raising critical consciousness is to achieve liberation. At its core, this work requires love—a powerful, fierce love. I think this is a critical component missing in Ingratitude, one that is mentioned but is hardly featured prominently. To paraphrase Darkmatter, if the Revolution happened tomorrow, I would not want to survive it if my parents could not stand right there beside me in the end. I do not plan to abandon them, even in the times when I feel they are being unfair. Before I accuse them of their adultism, of their classism, of their ableism, love is the ability to admit that I have unfathomable privilege as a person who was born in the United States, who went through the American system of education, and for whom English is my native language, things that are not true for my parents. Love allows us to peer into the power dynamics between two generations without ignoring what power is present on both sides.

Works Cited

Lee, E. (2015). The making of Asian America: A history. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Ninh, e.K. (2011). Ingratitude: The debt-bound daughter in Asian American literature. New York, NY: NYU Press.


At first, I referred to Ingratitude as a novel. Actually, it’s an account of the relations between Asian American children and their parents through literary analysis.