I wrote this piece in December of last year, in the midst of the surge of attacks on the AAPI community, attacks which have disproportionately targeted women and the elderly. Unfortunately, the violent race and gender-based murders in Atlanta were not surprising to those that have been paying attention, with many in the AAPI community begging America and the media to help before something like the Atlanta shootings could happen. The scant and gaslighting media coverage of the surge of anti-Asian attacks are a continuation of the infuriating invisibility Asians face when trying to make our voices heard. Our triangulated racial position as both white-adjacent and as perpetual foreigners is a tool that both upholds whiteness and erases the real racism we face, especially by those at the most vulnerable intersections of class and gender in the AAPI communities.
The loss of full personhood I bear because of how I look, while normally just a dull, simmering, emotional pain, feels sharper and more pronounced these days. People that look like me, my parents, my brother, my sister, or my friends have been physically attacked and even killed because they are not seen as full humans worthy of dignity. While I am proud of my AAPI community for speaking out, standing up, and supporting each other, and while I am proud of my identity as a Korean-American, those feelings are complicated by the fact that this part of my identity is ultimately a way to cope as an individual and as a community with the loss of being born almost-American, almost-human, in a white supremacist society. This is the racial melancholia that Anne Cheng writes about that frames my original essay.
I long for the day when I and other racialized people can be seen as fully human and not need to cling to an identity based on the fiction of race – an identity that completes us by reminding us of what we are missing.
This work by Crys Yin was one of the first that I unpacked after moving across the country from Brooklyn to Los Angeles a few months ago. Hanging this familiar work brought a sense of comfort, a sense of home in this new city, but also reminded me of the life I was leaving behind. Over the past year, the ghost-faced dumplings have taken on new meaning as I think about the complex relationships between food, comfort, racial identity, and sense of self.
I have been cooking primarily comfort food recently as a way to cope with the compounding sense of isolation coming from the pandemic, new parenthood, and living in a new city. For many Asian Americans, food is one of the primary ways in which we remain connected to a country that is both our home and not our home. As a child of immigrants, my racial identity was formed not by the memories of a Korea I never knew, but rather by the ghost of an idea of Korea that my parents preserved and created in their minds as they moved across the world. To be Korean-American is complicated and contradictory — simultaneously knowing that I will always be not whole, an almost-American, while at the same time identifying with that lack as a way to create a sense of self and a sense of belonging to an imagined racial group. Anne Cheng describes this circular process in “Melancholy of Race”:
The racially melancholic minority is doubly versed in the art of losing. The racially denigrated person has to forfeit the full security of his/her imaginary integrity… but then is forced to take in (rather than project that lack to another) and reidentify with that loss: a double loss.
This painting is the ghostly presence of my friend Crys and all the friends I left behind in NY. It is comfort food – a familiar, warming thing that soothes me by reminding me of what I miss and am missing. It illustrates for me the “double loss” of racial melancholia: the contradictory process of continually consuming the ghosts of our loss in order to feel whole.