When I was a kid, I stopped speaking Chinese and only spoke English once I became fluent. I spent summer afternoons pinching my nose into a point. I avoided inviting friends to my house because I did not want them to see the Chinese calligraphy scrolls on the wall. I avoided a friendship with Robin, the Japanese student in my Second-grade class, so we didn’t get “othered” together. I dated white boys
instead of Asian boys, believing in the power of one group and the prejudices of another. I was many things in life— jogger, baker, student, artist—but I avoided the label of Asian. For most of my life, being Asian didn’t identify me; it separated me.
My family moved to Walnut Creek just after Kindergarten. In that mostly white, affluent suburb of San Francisco I experienced racism for the first time: a young boy slanted his eyes at me. I stayed quiet then and I have stayed quiet in the decades after that. As I got older the racist words became directed to my sex and I internalized that trauma.
“The Most Asian Part of Me" is to help me confront these words, and these people, from my past. This is also a way to confront my own white supremacy - the ways I have upheld white narrative. By being silent during these moments, by accepting their narrative as an acceptable narrative, I was upholding white supremacy. This project allowed me to process the default narrative, reject it, and reclaim my own identity.
It was important to include aspects of the person’s identity to see these words are said not from nebulous strangers but also from people within my close circles. These photos are Polaroids, and the physicality of a printed object makes me confront the words, and these people, from my past in a tactile way that digital photos don’t allow. I lifted the emulsions from the Polaroids and dried them on watercolor paper, where I could force myself and the viewer to consider those painful moments with a picture that reflects who I was at the time. The torn images reflect the ways racism affects us - it rips at us bit by bit. The emulsions feel like skin between my fingers, delicate and vulnerable. We are somewhat recognizable of the original self after these moments but never the same. I signed each piece in red with my Chinese name stamp, a traditional way for Chinese artists to sign their work.
I hope to foster connection and a sense of humanity with these images. As my kids grow, they will undoubtedly face words like these. My hope is to give them something I did not have – an understanding of how to dismantle these words combined with the armor of a strong sense of identity, both things that escape many minorities. In the end, I hope they never have to question who they are for the sake of belonging.