Rigorous
Volume Four, Issue 2



Amy Uyematsu


So Are We Becoming More Visible
- January, 2019

Say what? – a Korean woman co-hosting
last week's Golden Globes before a main
floor table of gorgeous and formerly ignored
actresses from “Crazy Rich Asians”

Anyone under 20 knows about K-pop's
BTS, pretty-boy band to-the-max, bringing
a uniquely South Korean pop/hiphop sound
to screaming girls at New York's Citi Field

Or Steve Aoki, coolest DJ who's not only
Japanese American and over 40
but can still rock dance floors and stadiums
as he jumps non-stop with adoring fans

Now I'm J-A too and could argue
we've always been visible -
120,000 of us getting locked up
in World War II concentration camps

But that was 7 decades ago
and in the meantime we were pretty
much invisible and blocked from
the film and music scene

Asian actors from America
were mostly ignored -
“Sulu” George Takei and
Bruce Lee, notable exceptions

When I was twenty I found refuge
in the little known Toho La Brea Theater,
a sansei swooning over Toshiro Mifune,
yearning to see an all-Asian cast

While Hollywood still perpetuates
what we've experienced all out lives -
getting asked where we come from,
mixed up in one “Oriental” stew

Aging baby-boomers like me
still demand yellow power for American-born
actors, uncertain about our seeming
growing presence on screen

Today I can find Asian faces like mine
on primetime TV, from Korean soaps
to “Fresh Off the Boat” to fellow sansei
Carrie Inaba on “Dancing with the Stars”

Who can say how much social media
has made things easier
Psy's “Gangnam Style” getting
one billion views on YouTube

Or on Facebook, I just saw The Hu Band -
bad-ass motorcycle-riding Mongolians
playing horsehead fiddle and tovshuur guitar
throat singing about Genghis Khan

Any given night, I can spot at least one
to many nameless Asian Americans
in TV ads, perhaps the ultimate dollar-flashing
sign of our newfound screen visibility

And who knew that TV coverage
of figure skating would be crowded
with record-breaking jumpers like Nathan Chen
or youngster newcomer Alysa Liu

But call me stuck in the 60s, I always
cheer loudest for our own homegrown
stars – from James Shigeta to Mako,
Anna May Wong, Margaret Cho

And no band comes close to the inimitable
sansei soul of LA's Hiroshima, blending
koto with electric keyboard, taiko with sax,
our feet gratefully tapping to a “J-Town Beat”




Pandemic Postscript: Or Are We Too Visible Again
- April, 2020

This season Asian Americans are the targets
Washington points its finger at China
but it doesn't matter if we're Chinese,
Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong -

Because to a country whose history
is ingrained in slavery and genocide
we get the dubious and ever-changing
honor of being invisible, a model minority,

Or “Yellow Peril” scapegoats -
“It's your fault!” “Go back to China!”
Calling Covid-19 the Chinese virus
is enough to incite the mob.

We are warning each other
to take extra precautions
when riding the subway
or going to the market -

Don't be surprised if a non-Asian
curses, pushes you, spits in your face -
one woman taking her trash out
had acid thrown on her back,

Actor John Cho reminds us
we belong here “conditionally” -
the masks worn for this pandemic
not nearly enough to protect us.




To Tell the Truth

“President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims over 1,055 days”
December 10, 2019 headline, Washington Post

Since when is evidence and proof no longer required?
Whether the massacre of children at Sandy Hook
being called a hoax, a rising chorus of denial
about six million Jews exterminated in death camps,
or concrete footage of families separated in border jails
discounted as “fake news.” Alarming how normal
it's become to hear gutless politicians defend
the latest tweet storm of presidential lies.

This isn't shocking – people of color have long been
victims to the falsehoods of American racism -
from Columbus' so-called “discovery” to Wounded Knee,
from Jim Crow and lynchings to the trumped up detention
and deportation of Latino immigrants. How well my family
knows FDR's Executive 9066, which wrongly condemned
120,000 Japanese, including my parents and grandparents,
locking us behind barbed wire and armed guards.

But something bigger is taking hold, a fertile soil
via the internet, Facebook, Fox news, and more
for conspiracy theories, reckless claims dismissing
climate change and labeling journalists “the enemy.”
All around us we watch fellow citizens bloated on mis-
information, a growing lynch mob whose blindness
and fear is giving way to tyrants and oligarchs -
truth, an ever more risky and lonely proposition.



Amy Uyematsu: "I am a third-generation Japanese-American poet and teacher from Los Angeles. My most recent book is Basic Vocabulary (2016). I teach a writing workshop in Little Tokyo at the Far East Lounge."




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