Being an Asian American, or any person of color in the U.S., generally means being invisible and hypervisible. Those that are invisible are more easily shifted into the category of disposable. Those that are hypervisible are more easily shifted or are already in the category of Other, outlaw, criminal, invader, parasite, etc.


In her recent essay for The New York Times (April 12), poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Penguin Random House, 2020) wrote, “In my newsfeed, I began to notice a troubling increase of anti-Asian incidents, which in the beginning was happening mostly abroad: A group of teenagers attacked a young Singaporean man in London, punching and kicking him while shouting about the coronavirus; an Italian bank denied service to a Chinese woman. Then in Texas, a man stabbed and cut a Burmese-American family, including two young children, in an attack that the F.B.I. has called a hate crime.”


I wrote this poem-essay-puzzle in response to the anti-East-Asian-American racism we are experiencing during this pandemic, which apparently originated in China as a result of human encroachment on wild animal habitats and of the poaching of wild animals for human consumption. The COVID-19 pandemic is human-made, as articulated in April 13th article “The Pandemic Is Not a Natural Disaster,” by Kate Brown in The New Yorker. Racism and white supremacy is also human-made, despite the centuries-long propaganda attempting to persuade people that it’s natural, eternal, and unchangeable. At times I deeply appreciate a “game of chance” approach to language, which can illuminate the capriciousness of symbols, the superstitions of humans, and the seductive dangers of abstraction.

Anything poets and artists can do to make the status quo strange–in this case to attempt to expose human cultures of structural dominance–as constructed may help reveal how violence is often born and propagated on the seemingly “neutral” or “disembodied” premises of language. 

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Sun Yung Shin’s story is part of Pollen’s “Are You OK?” initiative, a collection of stories, art, and virtual gatherings that documents how our collective community is processing and healing during the this global health and financial crisis. Check the collection regularly to hear from our creative community as we keep up with the changes and challenges before us. 



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Sun Yung Shin
신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin is a poet, writer, artist, and independent curator. She is the author of poetry/essay collections Unbearable Splendor (Minnesota Book Award); Rough, and Savage; and Skirt Full of Black (Asian American Literary Award), the editor of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota and co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, and her bilingual (Korean/English) illustrated children’s book is Cooper’s Lesson. She is the co-director with Su Hwang of the community literary project Poetry Asylum, which recognizes poetry as a human right.