Book Reviews and Highlights

Days of Distraction

Alexandra Chang

  • Asian American
  • Fiction
  • Humorous
  • Literary
  • People think I'm smaller than I am.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 3
  • It's part of our work description: Trading information for information. Leveraging vulnerability to gain trust. Determining not only who knows what, but also how to coax those people into telling.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 5
  • Everything is, 'How can you benefit me?' I just want a fair raise and to somehow keep this job.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 9
  • "Geez, calm down. Why none of my kids care about making money? How did you become like this?"
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 9
  • Me, on the other hand, I don't have hobbies. I focus on one thing at a time. I like coffee, however it's made. What I like more is to make plans.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 11
  • "I've created a spreadsheet of all the schools you're applying to with checklists for all the documents you'll need and emails for professors to contact," I say. "And I want to rank them for likelihood, like on a scale of one to five. Will you tell me what you think?"
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 12
  • There is something unnatural about standing for hours with nowhere to go, without moving any part of one's body except one's hands and fingers to type, while the rest of the room sits. It draws too much attention. It is performative.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 13
  • How does one measure the space a person inhabits? How can one be sure of how much or how little one takes? And what is the best way to maneuver given one's perceived size and status?
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 15
  • I hear the music before I see him. A sad, slow, lonely sound. He is hunched, gray-haired, wrinkled, frighteningly thin, in a plain navy sweater and navy slacks. His fingers move like arthritic dancers. He reminds me of a grandfather I do not know, or of my father, in a too-close future.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 15
  • J and I are representative of the Sunset neighborhood's history: Irish and Chinese. Though the Irish are dwindling.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 15
  • Whenever the Irish characters are discriminated against on the show, I feel more connected to J.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 16
  • He says he wants to learn how to be a better communicator and writer. He wants to know what I'm doing, so he knows what to do the next time. I show him the edits and try to explain why I made them, why the structure and sentences now offer more clarity.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 19
  • But as J watches me continue deleting, typing, copying, pasting, I notice myself. I repeat "Let's see" under my breath over and over, as though I want to visualize some future, altered version of what's in front of me. Let's see. Let's see. Let's see.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 19
  • My job was to type and smooth out his words.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 20
  • You can't choose your family . . . but if I could, I'd still choose this one, mine.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 21
  • I am the most attached to my family, its past and its potential and its ideal forms.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 21
  • He'd bring suitcases of stuff we wanted, stuff he thought we should have: Tommy Hilfiger shoes, Calvin Klein jeans, Gap sweatshirts, Esprit T-shirts, Nintendo Game Boys, and books.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 23
  • Baby-Sitters Club. Chronicles of Narnia. Wayside School. The Boxcar Children. Dr. Seuss. Shel Silverstein. My brother, sister, and I would scoop it all up. Our American belongings reminding us of where we were from.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 23
  • "Me? I'm just happy all my kids are home for me to spoil. Now come over here and help me clean and chop."
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 25
  • He makes carnitas. He makes braised beef and onions. He makes stir-fried basil eggplant and tofu. He makes chana masala. He makes potatoes au gratin with leeks and Gruyère. He bakes shortbread cookies with little dot illustrations, indented with chopsticks: a dog, a baseball, a scorpion, smiley faces, our initials in a heart.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 25
  • Open-plan offices are conceptually cool, but they do not work cool. Everyone is visible to everyone. Just another way to breed competition, plus worry, disturbance, and procrastination.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 29
  • Then, too, there's the ever-present anxiety about somebody flying over to talk, and if they approach from behind, it's unexpected and frightening, and if they approach from ahead, you have to watch them coming across the space as your anxiety and anticipation build. What do they want?
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 29
  • Yet beneath our snark is desire. We want to find the next piece of technology that will make us better, give us purpose, fill our voids.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 30
  • We are looking for what we can show the world and say, here, this is the future, and the future is bright.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 31
  • Dressed for the office, practical shoes, with lanyards around their necks. Then coming toward us from the opposite direction is a group of thirtysomething-looking ones, rowdy and swaggering, an aged fraternity party.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 31
  • Another tech company party, another white man.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 32
  • The old-school San Franciscans resent the pressure to dress better.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 35
  • But then I remember, I laughed automatically when the editor laughed. Like a robot.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 38
  • "The main barrier is not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception of what is a real requirement or rule, of how processes like these truly work, and this is especially a problem for women."
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 40
  • The certainty is more manageable for me than the cycle of hoping/not knowing and losing and hoping/not knowing and losing. The poor man's tax, I've heard it called. Or worse, the stupid tax.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 42
  • But what the people who say that don't understand is: when in all aspects of life the odds are entirely against you, it can be worth paying for even a tiny increase in hope.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 42
  • You contact your boss and you tell them everything you've accomplished there, and everything you're doing. Make your value known. Figure out a number that you want and ask for more than that. Drive a hard bargain. That's how you negotiate business-
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 45
  • I was proud, but now I don't know of what exactly. How did it matter? The company is still thriving. He is still an overpaid executive. And here I am, sitting at the same desk, eating a free, stale bagel for lunch. Proud of my dignity and integrity? Or maybe, more likely, and only, the recognition and attention afforded by others.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 49
  • I worry that somebody else in the room is just noticing this at the same time as me, that they are looking at the few of us who are different in the same way that we are looking at ourselves in that moment, as painfully not-them, as other.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 53
  • "Stop trying to come up with excuses. The answer is: nope."
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 54
  • The longer the words remain, the more attention they get; the numbers tick upward, not like the countdown of a bomb, though we all still sense the buildup of an impending implosion.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 54
  • Why was he framing it as though he was better than everyone else? Why was he presenting himself in this way online, when in person, in that moment, he'd said, like us, nothing at all?
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 56
  • "You worry so fucking much about what they think of you," she says, "when they're not even worth it. And they don't give a fuck about you."
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 57
  • One's early experiences in a new place are the most charged. They imprint the deepest and have the most influence over how one relates to that place.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 61
  • For example, San Francisco is my city of origin, it is the beginning of everything for me. It is where we lived as a family, where I learned to speak and think. I love the city, especially our neighborhood.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 61
  • The beginning has that special power. But if weak, it can also eliminate any possibility of a future.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 61
  • What I liked from the book were the reminders to overcome internal barriers. To ask for more. I wanted to believe that the cause of asking, going for it, leaning in-whatever you wanted to name it-could lead to an effect of success.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 63
  • We don't take breaks together. We have other friends in the office for that, largely based on hierarchy and/or age.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 64
  • Sheryl Sandberg writes an email thanking me for the kind review. It is surprising that she takes the time. Does she have ulterior motives, a grand PR plan, or is she genuinely this sweet?
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 65
  • Again to the South Bay to visit a startup that's raised more than $2 million on Kickstarter for an activity monitor that does not exist.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 65
  • Shouldn't we be doing something more important, not just telling people to buy, buy, buy, fueling the capitalist machine?
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 66
  • You don't really know her. And you don't know what it's like to be in that place every day, where all these old white men sit in their fancy offices and boss everyone around, and you're so fucking underpaid and underappreciated and nobody gives a shit about you.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 68
  • Every day, I Gchat with my mom while at work. Today, she writes, What can you do? That's the job you chose.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 71
  • I start talking to other writers about how much Kevin got paid versus how much I got paid versus hey do you want to tell me what you get paid? Some of them happily do and some do not.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 71
  • "When this transit tower is complete it will have the impact of transforming the city skyline with the tallest structure west of the Mississippi," says Mayor Edwin Lee. He calls it "a place for innovation and inspiration." I hear someone in the office say, "San Francisco is going to the bros."
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 73
  • I've seen Mark Zuckerberg a few times in person, but never close enough to examine the pores in his skin or the pupils of his eyes, so I'm not certain he has either.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 76
  • He has a deluded sense of his audience's relationship to his platform. Nobody loves Facebook like that. It's more of a shameful and sickening addiction, like eating scoops of jam directly from the jar.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 76
  • If there were an app that let me see the world as J sees the world, I'd pay more than two dollars for it and would give it five out of five stars.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 78
  • How augmented is his reality from mine is the question I would like answered.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 78
  • And now a senior editor is telling me that she knows the tech industry has a diversity problem and that tech publications, too, have a diversity problem.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 79
  • But what can they do when so few women apply for the jobs? Women need to try harder, just put themselves out there, do well in the interviews, not be their own biggest obstacle. Like you and me, she says. Like Sheryl-Lean In™!
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 79
  • And who will you hire if you have a bunch of diversity candidates-the woman or the minority or the gay guy? What do people want when they call for diversity? Wasn't trying to find good people in itself good enough?
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 80
  • Have I made myself this accommodating? A harmless vessel for their confusion and rage? They must see me as soft and small and unthreatening, because I have never suggested otherwise.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 80
  • "You're incredibly valuable to us as a reporter," he says, as though some supportive words are equivalent to concrete change, money, and power.
  • I. San Francisco | Page: 83
  • That word-trailing-evokes a rolling suitcase bumbling along behind somebody, its wheels getting stuck in divots, its body toppling over as it runs into bumps along the path, a deadweight that needs constant pulling, adjusting, and care.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 93
  • Don't be a bad driver, they said. Don't be a stereotypical Asian driver, and a woman!
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 96
  • First of all, there are differences between the experiences of East Asians and Southeast Asians and South Asians. As for me, East Asians have it pretty good. Being light-skinned. The model minority myth. Though used as a tool against other races, it just goes to show how East Asians have privileges. Etc., etc.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 99
  • But, I say, the Chinese in America don't typically face police brutality. And we have high rates of college attendance, low rates of incarceration, no history of enslavement.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 100
  • Between our appetizers of wings and our entrees of tall burgers and onion rings, I notice that all the other couples in the four booths lining the wall of the diner are Asian/white-Asian woman, white man.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 102
  • Then there was the eerie feeling that came with seeing a mirror couple, the questioning of how they came to be, if their lives were parallel to ours, if their experiences were similar, and whether one of us could be swapped with the other without anyone noticing a difference.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 103
  • There are so many Asian-woman-white-man couples, and it's like, why? Are all of the white men fetishizing the Asian women? Or are Asian women more prone to dating white men, and why? Or something else? Why don't we ever find ourselves in a place with all Asian-man-white-woman couples? Or Asian-woman-black-man couples? Or black-woman-white-man couples? Or Latina-woman-Asian-man couples? Or-
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 104
  • Somebody once asked me to identify the emotions that most strongly affect my life and the actions I do or don't take. I couldn't name them at the time, but now I've thought more about the question. Here is the answer I've come up with: revenge and regret and fear and guilt.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 105
  • One of my junior high teachers once said in class, Davis is full of the kind of liberals who claim they want to make the world a better place, but who will fight to the death to prevent a homeless shelter from being built in their neighborhood.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 108
  • We don't only date white men and women. But we are only dating white men and women right now.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 111
  • Why do I laugh, then? Out of discomfort. Better yet, defense. I add it to my short list of survival skills. If you make people believe you're strong and comfortable enough to laugh in the face of danger, maybe then they won't eat you alive.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 115
  • Mosquitoes hit their bodies against the tent's mesh window, waiting for breakfast to venture outside. I think about the trip my mom and I took to Yosemite two years ago, just the two of us, a mother-daughter trip. But why did we go to Yosemite? We wanted the natural elements, but we were so out of our own. The whiteness around us put me on edge, as it does now.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 117
  • I've gotten to know this car like I would a person. All its strengths, flaws, and quirks. Some people might not understand its appeal, given its size and shape (big, boxy) but it is, in fact, incredibly practical. It is sturdy, reliable, strong, and it takes us from place to place. The car, I have decided, is very much like J.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 119
  • "So guess the fuck what. There's this new unofficial minority group at work. They get drinks and commiserate about how hard it is to not be a white guy in the office. And they don't even ask me to go with them and I'm, like, one of two women of color left here. And get this. Steve is in the group. There's a fucking white guy in the fucking minority group."
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 120
  • Why is it bothering you now? One, you have the time. Two, traveling into unknown parts of the country is giving you raw skin and fresh eyes. Like a newborn with sensory overload, but what you're overloading on is this sense of race, the colors that stand out against an increasingly white background. And all you can feel and see is this difference, wary and on edge of what could happen wherever you go. And here beside you is somebody who does not understand.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 121
  • Looking at all married couples in 2010, regardless of when they married, the share of intermarriages reached an all-time high of 8.4%. In 1980, that share was just 3.2%.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 124
  • White/Asian newlyweds of 2008 through 2010 have significantly higher median combined annual earnings ($70,952) than do any other pairing, including both white/white ($60,000) and Asian/Asian ($62,000).
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 124
  • Which is to say, the data bodes well for us. But from where does the data originate? Who agreed to answer the survey? And who are these people who think it's been better for our society? Like, how?
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 125
  • I want the destination. I want to start this new life. None of this journey stuff, the experience, the unknown. I stare out the window, fall asleep, dream of nothing.
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 128
  • How many improbable moves did it take for us to reach each other? How many miles? How many decisions made by those before us, to carry themselves from one place to another, from the familiar to the new?
  • II. Road Trip | Page: 130
  • They all think I'm weak now. All the effort to hold it inside, wasted. I don't want to work with people who think I'm weak.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 136
  • Just as white male desire for black women operated as an undercurrent to race relations during the pre–Civil War period, white male desire for Asian women helped change attitudes about interracial marriage.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 138
  • In the case of white-Asian relations, attitudes began to change because enough of those in power wanted to facilitate access.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 138
  • Peggy Pascoe argues that legislation following World War II adapted to suit the desires of returning U.S. soldiers who wanted to marry women that they met while serving in Japan, Korea, and other Asian nations.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 138
  • It is a well-known fact that the Chinese male population of this country far outnumbers the Chinese female population and that the Chinese male resident here, desiring to marry, must in most cases go to China to seek a wife of his own race, the number of Chinese female residents here being too restricted to supply the demand.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 139
  • The only solution of the problem, the immigration act remaining unamended, would be the marriage of the Chinese-American citizen resident here to a woman not of his own race, and this is not only undesirable and inadvisable from the viewpoint of both white and Chinese, but contrary to the laws of persons of the Mongolian race being prohibited in the States of Arizona, California, Idaho, Missouri, Utah, Wyoming, Mississippi, Oregon, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 139
  • The face of a Chinaman is matter-of-fact and stolid. There is no flash of fancy nor gleam of imagination. But there is intelligence; curiosity and ingenuity are seen in every feature. -L. T. Townsend, The Chinese Problem, 1876
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 139
  • I had the idea, for example, from my father that a crisis is not only a danger but also an opportunity and that there is a positive and negative in everything.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 142
  • It is difficult to parse which parts of me come from my family, from being Chinese, from being Asian American, from being American, from being a woman, from being of a certain generation, and from, simply, being.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 142
  • It was the German Nietzsche who originally wrote, "Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger."
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 143
  • But even he could not have been the first to have had that philosophy. It is as possible that the idea originated with the ancient Chinese.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 143
  • For each grain of rice you leave in your bowl, your future partner will have a freckle or mole on their face. ("But doesn't that mean you both didn't finish your rice, because you have so many? Why is it bad?""Just finish your rice.")
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 143
  • Did you know that interracial marriage was banned in California up until 1948? That's a year before my dad was born. That's not long ago! And in the western states it was more a fear of Asian men stealing white women.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 144
  • Fear of the "half-breed" seems to have deep roots in human psychology, and to be connected with atavistic concerns with "impurity" and the "unnatural" that continue to resonate . . .'
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 144
  • It also helps to explain why the first successful post-Reconstruction challenge to the laws did not come until 1948, when the Supreme Court of California, in a case called Perez v. Sharp-a suit by a black man and Mexican American woman (classified as white) who had been refused a marriage license-invalidated the state's anti-miscegenation law.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 145
  • By then the eugenics movement had faded, and the political grounds for the anti-miscegenation laws of the southern states did not exist in California, so the court could invalidate the law without worrying about too great a backlash.'
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 145
  • "Well, that is the basis of modern science. That mice are model humans."
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 145
  • New York Times, "The Chinese Question," August 11, 1869
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 151
  • These railroads, however, employ all the skilled white labor they can get, and only use the Chinese for the hardest kind of drudgery such as white Americans no longer care to undertake.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 151
  • The laws of political economy are such that cheap labor will always command the market while it is procurable.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 151
  • In a nominally free country, where no man has the least right to abuse his neighbor or to threaten him for employing whatever labor element he chooses, it is impossible to prevent the Chinese from interfering with white labor so long as they are suffered to come here. -Daily Record-Union (Sacramento), Saturday, May 13, 1887
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 151
  • Excerpt one: Pit minority races against one another to benefit white supremacy. The creation of the model minority.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 151
  • Excerpt two, eighteen years later: This model minority no longer benefits white supremacy. Therefore, no more allowed in this country.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 152
  • There are typically two paths available to the child of an unhappy marriage: unknowingly repeat the same offenses as your parents or deliberately go far off in the other direction to prove you will not be them.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 153
  • "When you have the idea for what you want, you obsess and just do that without listen to anybody," my mom says. "That's you."
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 153
  • Salvador was Filipino American and Marjorie white, British American, and California's anti-miscegenation statute had been in place since 1850. Originally, it banned marriages between "negroes and mulattoes" and "whites," but in 1880, the state revised the statute to include "Mongolians," in response to the influx of Chinese immigrants.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 153
  • One week later California revised its statutes to include "Malays" as another race banned from marrying whites.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 154
  • The reason we have been subjected to all kinds of harassment by the white people is that many of our Chinese newcomers are taking jobs away from them. And yet, if we take a look at the wages of the Chinese workers in the various trades, we can see that they are shrinking day by day.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 161
  • The first Chinese woman to arrive in the United States. As spectacle.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 167
  • I do not want to be the suitcase that he must drag behind him.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 168
  • Nobody supports me at the expense of his own adventure.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 169
  • Even now China wraps double binds around my feet. -Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 169
  • That same labmate shared with me his theory that the world will end due to increasing levels of stress. People will compete and never relax and always try to innovate and achieve until they are so high-strung that the world collapses. A place like this-he pointed down at the lab's shining linoleum floors. This breeds stress. Take care of your boyfriend. Then he walked off.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 180
  • Perhaps it is fitting, too, that a woman should talk to the peace delegates, because it is woman who has kept man from becoming altogether a brute. -Yamei Kin to Peace Congress in New York City, October 1904
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 180
  • I close out the app. Yes, I should unfollow them all. I should not spend so much time on other people's lives. Instead, I spend the afternoon looking up journalism job listings in New York City. Just to look, I say to myself.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 184
  • The tea bag says: The purpose of life is to know yourself, to love yourself, to trust yourself, to be yourself. By when is one meant to achieve this purpose?
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 184
  • "You must make your own plans and carry your scheme to success."-Altoona Mirror, 1911
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 186
  • What greater loneliness and longing is there than living with someone you once knew so well, and who is now hardly around?
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 189
  • Chinese are imbued with the consciousness that each of us is only a link in a long life chain. The important thing is the family. What does it matter that one link shines more brightly than another? -Anna May Wong, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, 1934
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 192
  • When she returned to San Francisco Da Silva met her and asked her to live with him again, but she declined on the ground that she had lecture engagements to fill in the East.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 194
  • But this much is clear: She wearied of him. He was not up to date. She declared herself a new woman and left him. She had better things to do than to live with him.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 194
  • What do they do for work? I tell her my dad is retired and my mom is an accountant. She nods. I guess they just weren't really Chinese parents, then, she says. I almost say to her, You mean, they weren't your Chinese parents? They weren't stereotypical Chinese parents? But instead I cough and say, calmly, lightly, jokingly, Well, they are Chinese and they are my parents, so they are Chinese parents. She laughs. You know what I mean, she says, with what I think is a touch of condescension.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 205
  • The tea bag: Act, don't react.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 206
  • "You speak of the yellow peril, we speak of the white disaster," said Yamei Kin to a New York audience in 1904.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 211
  • I just don't want to be some walking form of proof that she's a good white person. She's the kind who would see me and make little comments about how she helped get me there, as if I should be forever grateful to her.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 212
  • From infancy to young manhood I had lived in an atmosphere poisoned with the bitterest racial prejudices and antagonism. . . . As a result, like all my kind, I suffered from the twin diseases that are ineradicable from Chinatown, pathological race consciousness and what I call "Americanitis," a condition in which all of one's traditional heritage becomes anathema and all that pertains to the western world seems perfect.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 214
  • Being of a proud nature, I did not wish my fiancée to rush blindly into a mixed marriage without a true picture of the situation. To forewarn her, I implored her to read all the books obtainable on the subject of interracial marriage. She did and found the trials and tribulations of such unions numberless; their joys, few. Yet, undismayed, sure of herself, she refused to turn back.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 215
  • Why are we with white men? Is it because we've been taught all of these years from all of this white American media that whiteness is the epitome of attractiveness? And even though we are aware of it, have we internalized it so deeply that it can't be rooted out?
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 218
  • "But I always think mixed-race white and Asian people look more Asian," I say. "The Asian genes are so dominant. In that way, we can't be erased!"
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 219
  • The notion that interracial relationships with white people could solve the problems of racism-that, we don't even consider.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 220
  • On May 4, 1983, Thong Hy Huynh, a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese refugee, was stabbed and killed on the science quad of the Davis Senior High School campus, in between class periods, in front of an audience of around one hundred students.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 221
  • The school put up a plaque, which is still there today, in the science quad among perennials. I have seen it. We walked by the plaque nearly every day in high school, but most of us never noticed or paid much attention.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 222
  • Another outcome of the murder: Friendship Day. It was-and still is-a monthly event meant to bring high school students closer, to break down social barriers, and to build, as the name calls for, friendship. And yet, the day itself was, like Davis, so white.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 222
  • Here is my philosophy: a natural response to chaos is the desire for control.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 228
  • To soothe my stomach, the ginger tea bag advises: You don't need love, you are love.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 229
  • He makes a disgusting warbling sound that is some diseased form of laughter.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 230
  • No matter how long we stay in this country, and no matter how "accent-free" our children learn to speak English, we are still regarded as foreigners, and as "foreigners" we are suspect as an enemy from overseas. -Helen Zia, 1984
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 233
  • But on the other hand, back in San Francisco, I felt invisible to the editors, invisible in a way that suggested it did not matter how much I tried to stand out, I would not get their attention. Invisibility as harm, that of being overlooked and ignored.
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 234
  • "Have you read the articles about race I sent you?" He looks away guiltily. "I started, but then I got busy. They're pretty dense. I'm going to finish, though, I swear."
  • III. Ithaca | Page: 244
  • "Do I look like somebody who has answers?""It could be. Or they think you look approachable. Maybe they think you're friendly and nice, and somebody who will help them. You don't look intimidating, like I do."
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 254
  • What that was, that wasn't conflict. That was just a speck of dust or pollen, it floats above our heads, it's there, then it's gone. You can't even see it anymore. You and me, there's never conflict.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 272
  • "No, love is too basic. Love is tossed around for all sorts of people. It's meaningless."
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 272
  • But my grandmother said the same thing as Moses: Let my people go! And then soon after, me and my brother got our exit visas to escape the Cultural Revolution in China and go to Macau.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 282
  • Without the black community we'd have no civil rights movement. Asians in America followed their lead. I've said it before and I'll say it again. We wouldn't have what we have today without the black movements. We owe a lot to them. Remember that.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 285
  • "So many Chinese and other Asians in America today don't even know history. They just want money. Money, money, money."
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 285
  • A lot of groups got together and started organizing a big march to city hall. They were protesting police brutality against Asian Americans in New York. This was around the same time that lots of Asians were getting together and calling themselves Asian American, instead of Chinese or Vietnamese or Japanese. You've heard of Vincent Chin?
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 285
  • The cops that beat up on the guy got indicted for assault. It made a difference back then. All these Chinese today, they don't know. They live in their bubbles. They don't know history. You need to know your history.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 286
  • "I've lived through a lot. I have more experience. I've lived this long, haven't I? I worked hard. I wanted to be American. Remember, you're American first."
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 286
  • "This restaurant is called Fat, Ugly Auntie's House," says my dad. "Named after that woman over there.""That can't be right. She's not either.""It's not about what she is or isn't," he says. "It's her nickname."
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 295
  • "Remember when I got upset in Hong Kong?""When? When you were always grumpy and hungry? When you complained about walking? When you didn't want to go out and stayed in the hotel and I had to go walk to the noodle shop by myself, even though I'm an old man and you're young?"
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 295
  • What I wanted were answers and all I'm getting is food commentary.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 296
  • "You have to be able to reflect each other's hearts."
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 298
  • "It's my saying, a Chinese saying, ha ha! I heard something like it when I was a kid, but this is the way I put it. Heart to heart. That's the most important. Without that, there isn't a real, true relationship. Am I right?"
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 298
  • The last days in Zhuhai are tense. Our frustrations can't be hidden or buried any longer, and we flare up into several arguments. So much for no conflict. If I had to chart our relationship, it would look like tall skinny mountains dropping into deep gorges, over and over. Am I replicating this pattern in my relationship? I confirm my suspicions as I scroll through hundreds of photos of J, swinging between high and low emotional states.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 300
  • "He says, 'The Chinese smile at their duties, even if their duties make them suffer,'" my dad says.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 302
  • My suffering is regular and small, and I want to suffer stoically and quietly, which perhaps then is the most Chinese quality about me.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 303
  • At first it seems we are pretending and performing for our hosts, but then, since we are so practiced, we forget we are pretending, and as the night goes on, it becomes real through the action, the living.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 303
  • It is the nature of relationships that they are impossible to fully understand from the outside, their inner workings built both from memories and habits and histories made up from the exterior world, and from those known only between the two involved, that exist only through them and are lost when they are lost to each other.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 303
  • A relationship is particular in the way people are particular. Whatever lessons one can glean from other people's relationships can only be taken in pieces, assembled into bare, minimal instructions.
  • IV. A Father Without a Home | Page: 303
  • He drove through snow for five hours to the airport. It was dark, just around midnight, that jarring juncture stuck between the days. Then he turned around and drove us another five hours back into the dark.
  • V. Return | Page: 309
  • "It's okay," he said. "You can sleep while I drive."
  • V. Return | Page: 309
  • I thought about the many aspects in this life that I could not control or understand, despite how much I wanted to or tried, how my father's life, my mother's life, the lives around me and the figures from the past, they were not mine to determine, not mine to map out, no matter how much they shaped what I had become, however much we were connected, I could only help in small ways, I could listen and piece together and recount, but what was truly mine was only a little, no, a minuscule speck of it all, and while this was a sort of devastation to me, one I knew it would take some time to fully accept, it felt nice, at least, to be on the way, in spite of not knowing exactly how far I had come nor how far I had left to go.
  • V. Return | Page: 310