Who Can Tell A Beginning From An Ending

it helps to think big
grasp, at the scale of it all
fingers slippery with vernix

flotsam & jetsam
washed up on a rocky shore
there’s some plastic crap in there

black nail varnish,
NW mag, used condoms
broken hearts

buried in black sand, past
milk-skinned shellfish, stippled
breast and belly

my legs are strong
they straddle an ocean
toes planted in soil

head up
where blue turns to black
gravity loses its grip

from here it’s all laid out
one finger
to spin that globe

blur of line, colour, shape
brownwhitebrownwhitebrown
a camouflaged collision

About the author
Rachel Smith lives and writes in the Cook Islands. Her work has been published in print and online journals in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. She was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2018, placed second in 2017 NZ National Flash Fiction Day and is script writer for a feature film due for release in 2019. Twitter @rachelmsmithnz1 Website
Banana Split

The regret of rejecting your mother tongue in your formative years;
The treacherous path through beauty standards that exclude you;
The pain of forever being seen as a foreigner in your own home.

These are vignettes of growing up second-generation Asian in a Western country.

Yellow on the outside, white on the inside

The term “banana” refers to an Asian person who has lost touch with the culture of their parents. It’s a bit of slang that I particularly hate. It’s usually used as an insult and, sometimes, as a compliment, but in both situations it implies that the person is “acting white.” It implies that you are consciously shaping your personality and beliefs to fit into another culture; that no matter what you do, you’ll always be hiding something. It implies that somehow by the mere act of existing, you are inauthentic.

Too Asian to be white, too whitewashed to be Asian

I wish it were enough to just be, without being constantly questioned and judged for not neatly conforming with a culture. After a while, you start questioning yourself: Is this really who I am? Or am I just trying to fit in? Indeed, many of us are conflicted about our Asian identity and go through a period of avoiding our Asianness in order to navigate the world. In recent years, I’ve realised that it’s possible to cherish what my parents have given me while living in a different culture. I’m sure it will be a lifelong journey (oh how I wish 10 year old me gave a single crap about Saturday Chinese school).

Yellow on the outside, guts on the inside

I hope we can one day stop measuring people by arbitrary standards based on skin colour. Cliche as it is, the similarities between us far outweigh the differences that divide us. I want to live in a world where we truly recognise that appearances are superficial and that what actually matters is on the inside—

And on the inside, we’re all just a big ol’ pile of organs.

About the author
Zoe Hu is a graphic designer born in China, raised in Auckland and now based in Melbourne. Follow her work on Instagram.
Tahanan

We commonly refer to our home as simply our house — the roof we live under. This is no surprise when looking at the possible origins of the word “home”; its root nouns emphasise its spatial and physical features. It’s no wonder that we see our home merely for its physical presence.

On the other hand, the Tagalog word for home is “tahanan”. It stems from the root “tahan”, meaning to cease, to calm down, or to pacify. If, say, you wanted to comfort a crying toddler, you would tell her: “tahan na, anak”, which means “stop [tahan] now, child.” A home is a place of “tahan” — a place of peace. Unlike its English counterpart, “tahanan” is not simply a manor nor a village. It encompasses more than just the physical attributes of a home, but relates it to a place of comfort; physical, emotional and mental.

Through these photos, I hoped to convey the idea that a home is not merely a house or a physical space. A home is a place of comfort, granting emotional and mental peace that a mere building cannot provide.  A home is complete only when filled with people and things that bring peace: Just as the polaroid photos are inserted into each frame as if to complete the rooms of our house.

My family completes my home; they are the focus of my tahanan. The photos capture them in their most raw and natural selves, revealing a little something of each of their characters. This is a taste of my home, in its purest and most authentic form.

 

 

Notes

1. The roots of the word “home” include “ham” (English, as in Nottingham, Birmingham, meaning “abode”, “estate”, or “one’s native place”), “heim” (German, meaning “homeland, native land”), “haims” (Gothic, meaning “village”), “heimr” (Old Icelandic, meaning “world”) and “hamm” (Old English, meaning “a piece of pasture land; enclosure; house). See more here: https://blog.oup.com/2015/02/home-word-origin-etymology/   

2. See more on “tahan” — the root word for tahanan — here: https://www.tagaloglang.com/tahan/

About the author
Kyra Maquiso is a third-culture kid. When she’s not drowning in exam notes and casebooks, she’s rediscovering her inner Pinay through learning OPM songs on her ukulele or jamming on the cajon with “Diwa”. Her favourite hobbies are cafe-hopping, making Spotify playlists to add to her exisiting collection of 32, and taking photos. Find her on instagram at @fsa_diwa and Tumblr at kmaquiso-photography.
Team Talk: Chatting with imugi 이무기 and Whaea & The Rumble

imugi 이무기 are a poppin’ two-piece band comprising sunkissed producer Carl Ruwhiu and smooth singer/songwriter Yery Cho. High school friends and bedroom artists, the duo released their first single in 2014. Their debut EP, Vacasian, was self-released just under a year ago. Travelling across synth-pop, R&B, funk and spoken word and embracing themes of biculturalism and empowerment, the EP is a conversation with oneself.

Whaea & The Rumble, consisting of Piripi Mackie (Whaea Ahikā), Siobhan Leilani (Bad Timing, NahBo), and Geneva Alexander-Marsters (SoccerPractise), are a performance group incorporating industrial rhythms and Te Reo Rangatira as a means to express identity and self-discovery. With a distinct indigenous and takatāpui focus, Whaea & The Rumble respond to past and present in order to build a future for a historically silenced voice.

 

“We can be visible and we can be strong, and we can also be vulnerable, and it’s not a problem. It’s going to be fabulous — and scary sometimes.”

 
       imugi (by @wingscollective)                          Whaea & The Rumble

It’s a relatively busy night at Aroy Thai, and we’re sitting down with musicians Yery Cho of imugi 이무기 and Piripi Mackie and Geneva Alexander-Marsters of Whaea & The Rumble. They’ve met before, and what we’d tentatively called an “interview” becomes a free-flowing discussion about music, culture, resistance and community.

Both bands formed casually, with friends Yery and Carl fusing their talents after discovering they had each been making music in private. Geneva, Piripi and Siobhan, meanwhile, were at a gig in The King’s Arms when they started talking to one another in the crowd. “We were like, ‘We should be in a band!’” Geneva remembers, laughing. “‘We should be in a band and we should learn more about being Māori!’ Then when I was leaving I was like, ‘Piripi, what do you want to play in this band?’ And Piripi was like, ‘Poi.’”

Even after imugi 이무기’s first song “Dizzy” enjoyed a positive reception, Yery recalls how nerve-wracking it was at first to be onstage. This was especially when performing in predominantly white spaces; spaces where, as a woman of colour new to the music scene, she felt tokenised or dismissed. She and Carl soon grew more comfortable with carving out a platform for their voices to be heard, which Yery describes now as a “power move”. “You’re onstage and if the audience is mostly white dudes you can collectively cuss everyone out and everyone’s loving it because they’re drunk!” For imugi 이무기, not being too serious is key. Whaea & The Rumble are similar, exploring ideas of culture and self-discovery against a backdrop of club-friendly beats. The three share a relaxed creative process, meeting often to write and chat even when they aren’t necessarily looking to gig. This sense of community forms the backbone of the group. As Geneva tells us: “When you’re onstage, that’s your team, so you gotta trust each other.”

Trust and support may be particularly important for bands like imugi 이무기 and Whaea, whose members belong to marginalised groups. Their emphasis on elevating immigrant, indigenous and takatāpui (Māori and LGBT+) perspectives stem partly from personal experiences of alienation. Growing up with a name that teachers routinely mispronounced, Piripi simply went by “P” at high school before embracing the name in its full form. “Then I guess I kind of … came out as Māori?”

Yery also reflects on the internalised racism she and many friends grappled with in adolescence, when they wished to be white. Geneva is regularly asked where she’s from, requiring her to explain that she’s Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa and has had a Māori education. “But the whole point of being Māori is being connected to your iwi and I’m not. I am, and I’m not. So it’s like I’m actually not from Auckland but I am from Auckland. I call that the grey space. People don’t expect you to have dual cultures and they think that you’re just one thing or another thing.” It’s not just culture that contributes to a complex and often misunderstood identity. Siobhan and Piripi are both takatāpui, which Piripi feels strongly about incorporating into Whaea’s music. “We’re definitely underrepresented people, but we’re trying to do our bit for our people.”

But doing your bit can be draining. 2018 saw a heightened level of social progress on one hand and backlash on the other. Personal struggles became political, stirring anger from people on all ends of the spectrum on issues from the Me Too Movement to immigration. But one thing is clear: Minority groups are speaking back louder than ever, despite how much society might prefer they didn’t. As Yery points out, many in more privileged circles claim that “fighting fire with fire” won’t make change for the oppressed. The implication is that minorities should fight for their rights in a way less threatening to social structures, ensuring a certain “compliance” — which, according to Geneva, means “allowing this shit to just keep coming in waves”. “We’re not going to move forward if we’re all this quiet and complacent and in the corner,” says Piripi. Marginalised communities must strive for meaningful change, which involves not accepting the commodified portrayals of “diversity” promoted by large companies. After several corporate sponsors pulled out of the Auckland Pride Parade following its ban on uniformed officers, supporters turned to crowdfunding: Power to the people, our interviewees agree. We need to keep resisting.

Music is the perfect medium for that resistance. After all, art is political, and musicians have always rallied people against the norm. For Yery, it’s partly about rebelling against stereotypes of East Asian women as “cute” and subservient. “People read you as this small, passive thing. You take these internalised things that people project onto you as you’re growing up and then you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m not that’ and your higher self steps up.” It took a while to be that free, she says, but it’s ultimately such a powerful source of confidence.

Confidence is key to resistance — sometimes just being visible is resistance enough. Whaea & The Rumble recognise this, presenting themselves as an indigenous group and celebrating that through lyrics entirely in Te Reo. This is the celebration that’s often lacking in discussions about indigeneity. On a trip to Australia, Geneva wondered about the line speakers often began with when talking about the land. “They’re like, ‘We acknowledge the people of [this land]…’ It’s this kind of welcome, this performative line where only a handful of people mean it or do their own twist on it, and maybe even mention the actual people of that land,” she says. “There’s no celebration of the present like, ‘Yes! They’re still here. They’re here in this room, they’re in the river, they’re walking around, isn’t it awesome?’”

In the end, the theme that emerges and re-emerges throughout our conversation is community. Yery is grateful for the support imugi 이무기 has received from A Label Called Success, as well as musicians like Dbldbl, COOL TAN, and other creatives she’s lucky to associate with. “You don’t feel like you’re doing it by yourself anymore because you’re watching all these other people who are just thriving. It’s inspiring because we all just feed off each other’s positivity.”

We discuss the fact that there aren’t enough spaces for community to just be. Safe yet stimulating spaces for artists from marginalised groups to heal, express themselves authentically and grow together. Spaces for creativity and empathy where the focus is on positive shared interests. Whether it’s due to the impact of consumerism or the divided socio-political climate, so much of how we form our identity hinges on what we don’t love. What we hate, what we are not about, what we stand against — we advertise these things in order to find like-minded people, with the result that conversations grow relentlessly negative, circular, exhausting. We need more spaces that encourage creating something anew, daring to be positive in a world intent on tearing you down. “Spaces where no one’s talking over each other but you’re all together and you’re all listening.”

Luckily, there are a number of organisations aiming to create those spaces. Yery tells of how volunteering with Shakti — a refuge for migrant and refugee women of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern descent — encouraged her to put in practice the feminist theory she learned from social media. “You know all the discourse but you don’t know how to utilise that in real life, take all this theory that you’ve read and contribute to bringing other people up. Shakti Youth has been so good about that. We’ll have workshops encouraging young women of colour to be fearless and put themselves in leadership positions, and giving them opportunities.”

Similarly, Geneva has been a mentor at Girls Rock Camp, a holiday programme empowering youth through music. It focuses on building confidence in female, transgender and intersex youth between 12 and 17 years old, who meet, form bands, and perform an original song for friends and family. “It’s insane what they come up with. There’s a bunch of us who have kind of come up in our way and we’re like, ‘Man, I wish that we had this.’” As a mentor, though, she’s happy just to watch these teenagers come out of their shell. On the first day at the camp this year, the band Geneva was mentoring started talking about anarchy and fuck the patriarchy. “I was just writing it on the board like, ‘Does anyone know what anarchy is?’ and the drummer’s like, ‘I don’t know what anarchy is!’ and then they explained it to her and she was like, ‘Well… I don’t know about anarchy, but I do think we should save the world.’”

***

What world-saving plans do imugi 이무기 and Whaea & The Rumble have for the new year? Imugi 이무기 have been working with A Label Called Success. They’ve got two projects in the works and a music video on the way, along with their debut Laneway performance in January 2019. Whaea & The Rumble are currently writing an album and are about to start producing it.

 

Interview by Anuja Mitra and Janna Tay

Find imugi 이무기 on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp.

Find Whaea & The Rumble on Facebook and Instagram.

Creating Myself

I was born in a land of shifting sands, but at the age of five I moved to the antithesis of Arabia: the land of the long white cloud. I did not know a word of English but I learned quickly and was absorbed into the fold of words. Transported to the land of the boy who lived, the boy who touched the dragon egg, the girl who talked to spiders. Lands where anything is possible. You see, I did not want to go to school then. Desperate in my loneliness, I dreamed of making these words my world, then I knew who I was.

At the age of fifteen, things became murkier. I still loved the boy who lived but now Owen and Swift too. Newton and Mohammad. Now I wanted to go to that forbidden sleepover. Now I wanted to hold that boy’s hand. Now I wanted to belong in the world of the pale-faced strangers despite faces that whispered: you are not like us. Despite my parent’s mantra: we are not like them. Still then, I thought I knew who I was.

At the age of eighteen, my body was starving. Hours upon hours of movement and little nourishment had made my bones visible, my bleeding halt, and my hair wither. I no longer wanted to hold that boy’s hand—I didn’t even care. I no longer filled my life with quests and adventures but the words of religious scholars who preached a way of life that was rigid and unyielding, for I like them had forgotten to be like the very sands I was birthed on. Soft, malleable, flowing with the wind. Now my life was consumed with piety and discipline, mind and body and soul. But discipline brought with it judgment, of myself, of others. Certainly, then I thought I knew who I was.

Now at the age of twenty-two, I have nourished this body, released myself from judgement and rigid, suffocating discipline. Now I read the work of Mohammad, yes, but also Jesus, Brown, Angelou, and Rumi. Now I have returned back to the boy who lived, to the complete and utter magic of words. Now I have loved a man, foolishly, yes. But love him I did, with every crevice of my soul no matter the outcome because sometimes there is only love. My path is tangled, and obstacles, one after the other, lie in my way—you see, much is out of my control. But this path is also mine.

What I don’t know will always dwarf what I do, but I do know this. Now, I am certain I have no idea who I am, that perhaps only as a child I ever had a glimpse. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe encapsulating my humanity in a sentence, in a verse, even in a poem, is not just near impossible—it is doomed. Maybe you don’t find yourself. Maybe you create yourself. I will—out of all the big, small, good, bad, all the pain and love, all the experiences of my world, all the pieces that make her, that make me.

About the author
Yasmeen Musa is a twenty-two year old Optometrist with a love of words. Born in Amman, Jordan she has lived in New Zealand since the age of five. She is a lover of fantasy and fiction. Poetry is her preferred medium, but she also dabbles in spoken word and opinion pieces.
red

四 (2012)
Gouache on newspaper

 

the worn plush of a cinema chair
the smooth pen strokes of a bad grade
red sunsets
red strobe lights
lipstick and chipped nail polish

chinese new year
firecrackers and red envelopes
a flag with yellow stars
weddings and the family unit
filial piety and good fortune
a dream of red mansions

roof tiles placed on a house
a red suzuki swift parked on the lawn
a red feature wall, redwood deck chairs, a brick chimney
strawberry jam and some cordial

red angst and love hearts
she has red shoes and warm lips
flushed cheeks and bloodshot eyes
she is shared wine and a number three billiard ball
the cherry on top
youtube and netflix
silk pyjamas and a maroon duvet
the city link bus, beach pohutukawas, the new zealand symphony orchestra and the auckland art gallery

I write with a red pen
words gush out from thin slit wounds

wolves can smell red
blood and fear
the scent of hidden secrets
sweaty palms, fermented grapes and a blood moon
like unearthing a body
uprooting a family tree
there is a gasp
the sound of pages turning  
and silence after the howl

it starts softly
why are you like this
is it a broken family
bad parenting
1B8s in an all girls’ school
too many red liquorice sleepovers
it is disobedience
it is disrespect
it’s because I hate my culture
another lost daughter
it’s because I talk back
and she sees red

red is the colour I spit when lips are split
when fist meets braces
when wrists are twisted
it’s tough love
a bruised apple and a broken plate
a wallet with a single hundred dollar note
a bed against the door, a cabinet against the window
a red hot poker in hand guarantees safety
get out, gun dan

if you slice me open
you will find lots of red
I bleed love
roses and candy hearts
red string and red guts

a piñata is made to break
a human is made to heal
from fresh crimson to a deep burgundy   
cuts stitch, hearts mend
and a red dawn heralds a new day

 

***

Author’s Note: Who am I? Narrating my life in terms of trauma is relatable, an immediate call to empathy. I am not my trauma, but now that I have your attention, I am a queer Chinese New Zealander trying to navigate traditional family values in a gay boat. I’m getting better at sailing. Kia kaha to all you queer people of colour out there. It’s not easy but it gets better!

About the author
Angela Zhang is a geotechnical engineer. When she's not looking at foundations, groundwater and retaining walls, Angela is looking at the spaces between people. She is interested in telling and hearing stories, and is slowly collecting more through coffee dates and late night phone calls.
Navigating the In-Between: An Interview with Cindy Jang

Cindy Jang identifies as a 1.5 generation Korean. She is mainly in the dance scene, creating with new artists and bringing together diverse communities. Cindy is also the artistic director/choreographer for Jang Huddle, an experimental collective focusing on topics in the NZ Asian community and inviting audience interaction through an element of play. Anuja and Janna sat down with her one Tuesday night to talk dance, community, identity, and authenticity.

 

Iron Eyes (by Isabel Su)

 

How did you get into dance?

I went to a studio on the Shore for ten years. My mum put me in so many things — you know Asian mums — like Jazz, Tap, Contemporary, and I really enjoyed it as well, so that’s why I kept going. I really loved it in high school, that’s probably where I grew the most choreographically, and then I just really wanted to pursue it more. I did a Bachelor of Dance and then Honours as well. Unitec’s a bit more practical, but University of Auckland I’d recommend to anyone who’s doing dance because I’ve learned so much not only choreographically but also how to teach in a school, how to teach communities with elderly people, people with special needs, about the body even, about different cultures.

How have you found dance as a medium to approach other cultures? Because people may not really think about that in terms of the bodily aspect.

I guess it’s a way of communication, a way of bringing people together. I did a lot of dance activities in Thailand for two months through my Summer Research Scholarship. I taught a few girls there, and even though we had a language barrier they still understood the point of doing certain activities. I don’t know if they fully understood, but at the end of the day does that really matter? Isn’t it more about them being able to do something creatively and learn more about themselves through it?

Teaching has that interactive element, and you have a lot of interaction with the audience in your dance shows. Is that where it comes from?

It’s definitely all connected in the sense that community and inclusive practices are really important to me. I really like to include each of the people that I’m working with on a show, so I try to get their opinions as much as possible, I try and hear them out. It’s not just my way — I have the ideas but I want them to help me fulfill those. And that kind of translates to the product as well, where the audience gets to be involved in getting to know the story. People are used to being the passive audience, where they’re sitting and being fed all this information and being a consumer. But I definitely think that to show a message, you have to involve the audience physically. Get them doing tasks, get them to move around in the space rather than just sit around and watch.

Do you find you prefer pieces that you perform with the audience?  Does the piece take on a different purpose when you leave the audience alone?

Well, how do I put it: It’s not because I really want to involve the audience sometimes, because it’s actually really challenging getting them off their feet — especially in Kiwi culture where it’s like “don’t look at me, why are you pointing me out?” I really like working with that culture because it’s like, why don’t you get out of your comfort zone a little bit? You have to really get them moving and create an environment where it’s okay to do that. So I guess by choice you definitely just want to dance, get offstage and go home. But if you know there’s a purpose to it, you keep going, if that makes sense.

Does that come from any of your own culture, especially the more communal aspect?

Yeah, actually! I’m involved in a lot of church communities, and when I was growing up in New Zealand as a migrant we’d all stick together. We’d always have meals together, we’d always group together. Because I’m a bit of an extrovert, I love community; I love the idea of doing something together. So I guess my culture stems not only from being Korean or Kiwi but from the church itself — people gathering together to talk about their weeks or study something, but also just having time to bond with one another.

How have you found that that affects the way that you mediate Kiwi and Korean culture? As in, is it a way to bring them together? Where do you figure your identity between that?

To be honest, I’m very absent from the Korean community. It’s only recently that I’ve actually started talking about my culture and being a 1.5 generation migrant, and understanding what that means. I think that’s how I found my identity, being like, “Oh, I can form myself without Korean culture”. That’s probably how I became less confused because I kept trying to be part of Korean culture and I was like, “Why am I not a part of that? why do I not act like these girls? why am I not friends with these people?” And it’s like, you don’t have to be friends in order to relate to being Korean! I guess I realised that on the other side as well, like “why don’t I relate to these Kiwi people?”

Is that what prompted you to explore the Korean side recently?

Yeah, I guess it’s like opening up stories. When I started opening up about my questions, more and more people started responding. I’d never met so many people in the arts who are migrants as well, and people of colour, women of colour. It was really awesome. When you open up about something, more people want to grow with you and share in those stories.

We’ve found that with Oscen: People have all these experiences, and then suddenly they’re articulating them. You’re telling these stories that resonate.

Tell us a bit more about your show Iron Eyes — the process that led you to using that story, and the part that audience interaction played in it.

That was my first show in the Basement Theatre in April this year. It was about the social and political conflict between North and South Korea, and how I as a 1.5 generation migrant related to that story and that trauma. How that kind of control and power still goes on in society. Why do we do the things that we do? Why do people tell us to do things and why do we follow that?

There was an interactive aspect where we used a lot of props — we used an egg which represented the breaking of the shell, or how the yolk and the egg whites separate, symbolising being ‘in between’ two things. A pump was used and it was likened to a weapon as well as something very different. There was just element after element that we layered on as we developed it. It was definitely a challenge because we didn’t have an audience to practice with. When you’re practicing in the studio with your dancers you’re like, “And now we move the audience this way!” But our first night was packed to the brim, and when we tested it out for the first time it took forever!

It was really based on my grandma’s story, as she was born in North Korea and then escaped to South Korea as soon as the war started. That’s such a common story that lots of people don’t really share, like my family is from North Korea and that was sort of not a big deal because Korea was Korea. But now the two sides are so different and yet so similar, because it’s about power and control. It’s more prevalent on the Communist side, but the Capitalist side is still about power and control. It was just a big topic, so I think the only way I could minimise it was to bring myself into it. The audience definitely left with more questions than answers.

Is that your aim — to make people aware, even if they aren’t left with a resolution?

That’s definitely for the Kiwi community, but [the aim] for the Korean community or other Asian communities is for them to relate to it. So there’s an element of empathising and relating, but also having those discussions and making those conversations happen.

For something that’s so huge and conflicted, did you feel afraid to tell your story? That you could be judged or that someone could take it the wrong way?

I was actually really scared before the show, because I was like, “Who the heck am I to talk about North and South Korea?” I’m just one person who did a dance degree and is trying ideas out. So I definitely had a lot of fear and that’s why I didn’t even talk to anyone who was Korean about my show! Then the Korea Post people found out and interviewed me because the Herald had posted about my show. Through that, Korean people who were really interested came forward. There was more encouragement than discouragement.

That’s really good.

Yeah. Some people hated it — some people were like “I don’t ever want to go to your show again” but like, that’s fine!

They hated the interaction aspect?

I think so. But, I don’t know, they hated the topic too.

I suppose there is an element of wanting people to be confronted in a show like this. So if they didn’t like it, it means you made a point, right? You wanted to touch on something outside of their comfort zone, to get them in a space they wouldn’t normally be in.

Yeah, this show was definitely more about confronting and singling out. We had this segment where the dancers kept saying “if only I had this, if I only I had that”, and it was about consumerism and parallel worlds, and went from “if only I had the latest iPhone” to “if only I had food”. We directed it to the audience and handed the pump to an audience member, like handing the power over. And then we criticised a funny thing: “If only you wore socks with your shoes” or “if only you didn’t have holes in your jeans”. Something really minuscule, with that element of playing.

That’s really cool to think about in dance, especially compared to something like writing. When you move into a different medium your tools and the way in which you translate your story change.

I’m kind of all for blurring the lines between practices. I was hesitant to talk about my show as a “contemporary dance show”, because it involves so much theatre as well as dance as well as audience interaction and words and poems and all sorts of things, so I said “we’ll just call it physical theatre for now”. I get inspiration from texts, poems, images. I don’t think anyone can create out of one medium. Everyone gets inspired by different things and so why don’t we add all of those and actually show them in the finished piece?

My hope for the future — I’ve been talking to Yery [of imugi 이무기] about this — is to create a show for people of colour, women of colour, that has music, visual arts, dance…it’s like a performance night. We’d love for it to be a long term thing, a gallery space that’s open and has visual art displayed as well as gigs at night. Something that’s interactive but where people can come and go.

The curator that we talked to at St Paul’s Street Gallery [Balamohan Shingade] wanted to do something similar: You have an exhibition that shows the rhythm of the artist. Rather than having something static that stays on the walls, it’s something that comes and goes, something living.

Yeah, I was at a workshop earlier this year and it’s really interesting to see someone make something — but then after that person has made something and they’ve left, and you come into the space, you’re kind of like “wow, what happened here?” How did these things happen for this to be made?

It’s like the space has changed, and then you change the space by entering and putting your own ideas onto it.

Yeah, it’s really interesting. You’re creating your own world. That’s what I love about dance, you create your own world where you make your rules.

How does that relate to identity? There’s the freedom to create a version of yourself for people to see, but do you feel that you’re also constrained because it’s a fiction? Or do you feel like you are making yourself into something that you want to be?

I think there are definitely characters you play. I try to be my authentic self, but it’s funny because after [Iron Eyes] some people wrote feedback like, I did not know this side to Cindy, I thought she was so happy and nice but she’s actually really scary sometimes. “Cindy is scary sometimes” was my favourite piece of feedback! I think trying to show my authentic self is really important, but at the same time I love to be someone who can slip in and out of characters. I want to be able to portray stories that are not just about myself — I don’t want to be some narcissistic artist that’s only talking about themselves until they don’t have any more stories.

How do you approach telling other people’s stories? Because it’s a responsibility as well.

I think I’m trying to figure that out. Currently I’m talking about 1.5 generation Koreans, so I guess it’s just finding brackets where I can include myself but I’m not talking about myself. I am in that group, but it’s not about me, it’s about that group.

How are you finding solo work as compared to your group work?

It’s hard because you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. This show [tonight] is just me talking about my raw self as much as I can. Usually I don’t really like talking about my mental health and myself as an artist because there’s always people you know in the crowd—family and friends, and you can’t talk about personal issues that have really stirred you up.

In the piece tonight there are actually segments of my voice messages where I’m talking a friend and telling her how hard it’s been, how I’m finding it really difficult to control my emotions and be this happy person. And I think I’m able to do this performance because I know the people in the crowd won’t really know my story as well as those close to me. I find it really hard sometimes to express who I am, for example, through things like nudity or wearing skimpy outfits for shows. I think that’s beautiful in art but it’s so contrasting to your beliefs and how you should be represented in the community. But I’m quite liberal in that aspect, like “well, this is how I want to portray myself today.”

Cindy Jang

That’s really brave! There’s always that thing—it’s easier to tell your secrets to strangers than the people close to you.

Definitely. I think there’s a safety net too and people really need that. You don’t have to share your work all the time to the people that are close to you, because I feel like … I don’t know, there are things that you do for yourself.

It’s interesting, because you think that when you are with your close friends and family you’re sort of suppressing some part of yourself — but then when you talk about working with people and bouncing ideas off of them, there’s an aspect of yourself that’s formed that way as well. Is one any more authentic than the other?

I feel like I always live in two parallel worlds, like you’re a different self wherever you go. You can’t really be your full self wherever you are. I know people say that you can, but I find it challenging because in each different circumstance you’re a different you in a way. Which is all you, but I think the most authentic you is when you’re with yourself or when you’re with certain people — for me, it’s my mum. But even with her I’m like, I can’t open up to you about everything because you don’t understand everything. I think it’s learning to know that with your art, your mental health, your lifestyle, people won’t always understand where you’re coming from. People won’t empathise with you because they’ve never been there or that world is very foreign to them. That was a huge learning thing for me this year. I really wanted people to understand where I was coming from in my shows, but if they don’t get it, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with them.

It’s enough that they got to see it and be like, “Oh, people feel like this”. To think about it, to be aware of it.

Exactly. It’s hard just telling people, “I do dance”, and they’d be like, “Do you just teach, or…?” Those are the only boxes that they know, and you can’t broaden those boxes immediately by one conversation. It’s okay if they don’t get it! I was so involved with people who understood what I was doing but then you go out to a party and they’re like, “What are you doing with your life?” and then you tell them you dance and they’re like, “Oh, so is your main aim to go to New York?” I avoid these people but I need to try better to befriend them or not avoid them.

It’s so hard because you don’t want to expend free emotional labour trying to educate the whole world, especially when the topics are so heavy. Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or obsessions?

I try and prove myself to a lot of people that I am an established person who can make art. People keep describing me as, what’s that word, an “up and coming choreographer”, like not an established choreographer.

It’s quite artificial, because when do you actually become an “established choreographer”?

Exactly. If that becomes my main income, does that make me an established choreographer? Is it the quantity? The amount of awards? I learned this year that even if the topics are heavy, you have to simplify things. Ideas are ideas, but you have to strip them down — people add their own interpretations to it anyway. You can refine something again and again, but then there’s a point where it’s like “this is enough for right now and this is how I want to show it.” It’s hard because everyone’s their worst critics, but you have to let go of that.

Where are you at with that letting-go process?

Oh man, it’s been really challenging in the sense that saying no to things is really hard. I want to get better at understanding when a job is stressful, but before breaking point. I feel like you need to get to know yourself a bit better to know when to pull back.

It’s hard, because as women of colour we need to work twice as hard to get to the starting point of someone who’s, you know, within the accepted demographic.

It sucks, it really does. Even in jobs like hospitality — for me to be able to get a cafe job I have to work my ass off at so many other different kitchen hand jobs. Kitchen jobs are lower than being a waitress, and it’s the fact that when you’re a waitress at the front you’re able to be seen by other people.

How do you find balancing work with your art?

I’m still trying to figure that out. Next year, I’m thinking of doing my graduate diploma in teaching so that I’d be able to get some kind of stable income in the future. I’m never going to be able to find — it sounds so pessimistic or cynical, but it’s the reality —  I can’t find work where I can do my creative work and get funded full time. So do I find work that is open to me doing shows, taking time off to work on creative projects, or do I put that on hold and do something that will feed the family?

Even in creating the art itself, do you ever find that you have to compromise yourself for commercial purposes or to appeal to a certain audience?

Yeah, definitely. I’m trying to find a niche of audience members that really do appreciate my work and experimental things. But I’m not really for artwork, contemporary dance for example, that is just so abstract you’re kind of sitting there like “what am I watching?” I want to steer away from that as well.

You do want some level of connection with the audience.

Yeah! Whether it’s as simple as some products that they’ve seen. The other day in a piece we were showing we covered everything in white and made supermarket aisles, representing the international aisle at Countdown with items like nori, ramen, things like that, and how ridiculous that is because everything is international, like pasta. But yeah, just showing something like that or throwing out some words that the audience can grab onto is really important. But sometimes in dance, you do just have to suck it up and do it for commercial purposes because it gives you money.

In the arts you can often can see the same kinds of styles emerging and think, do I have to create something like that to receive recognition, even though that’s not really me? It can also be hard if you are in a niche space among others who create similar art to you, because when you change style for commercial purposes do you become a ‘sell out’?

Yeah. Even the marketing side of a show — it’s so fake. I did it so much for Iron Eyes that I just didn’t want to see another Facebook like button! I had to be fake in order to get people to come to watch an authentic piece. My producer was such a great help, but I did a lot of marketing on my own as well which was really hard because it was my own piece.

Do you have anything in the works at the moment?

Probably the 1.5 generation show, the international food aisle one. I just had a studio showing for it. It was really just the beginnings of it but people came and gave me feedback. I’d love to have more of those showings where it’s an open process and people get to see the piece in a skeletal way. So that’s in the works, and I’m also just organising more dance events.

One final wrap-up question: Where are you at with navigating your own identity?

I guess I’m just trying to find more people that relate to being in between two cultures. I’m still trying to navigate myself in the Korean community as well as the Kiwi community. I have like two, three Korean friends that are pretty much Kiwis as well so it’s whether I want to involve myself more in the Korean community and get them involved in dance, or stick to my own safety net. I’m seeing where I can involve the Korean community in the Kiwi community, whether it’s through Kpop, whether it’s through community dances for elderly Korean women. There are so many different ways to do that which cross over, not only crossing over practices but generations as well. So yeah, I’m finding myself within those different groups.

Cindy Jang (by Yery Cho)

***

Find Cindy and Jang Huddle on Facebook and Instagram.

I Am a Forest/Fire

On Mitski & being mixed-race

 

1

wild women don’t get the blues, but
lately I’ve been crying
like a tall child

The first song by Mitski that I ever heard was “First Love / Late Spring”. I was sitting at my desk in my dorm room in Shanghai. It was the summer of 2016, early June, the sky a pale, polluted blue. My air conditioning unit was so powerful that when I used it, condensation formed on the outside of my window. I switched it off and began to listen. I felt the air grow heavy and still in my arms.

I noticed a swelling in my chest and in my stomach like something about to burst. I noticed how her voice lingers on every word. Something sweet / a peach tree.

I’d been scrolling through the tracklist and was intrigued by the forward dash within the song title. In my own writing, I’d begun using ( / ) everywhere, both in poems and prose, to express something essential about myself that I didn’t fully understand yet. Something like an attempt to punctuate myself into existing in two places at once. Also, a way of denoting a line break when setting poetry within a line of prose. A breath, a pause, a sharp shift.

 

2

I don’t think I could stand to be
where you don’t see me

In the dark cinema, I grow more acutely aware of the distance between your skin and mine. Out of the corner of my eye I see your face lit up by silver light.

You are half-Chinese, too, but unlike me, you speak fluent Mandarin and Shanghainese. Unlike me, you talk too much when you’re nervous. Unlike me, you are a man, and as such you are accustomed to taking up space—physical, conversational.

At unexpected intervals you offer me small, deliberate touches. A brush of my wrist, a moment-too-long touch of my shoulder. The possibility of this physical contact keeps me alert, slow-burning along my spine like a live wire.

I notice you seem to loathe Asian women who have white boyfriends. Those girls wouldn’t go near an Asian guy. When you eventually start to ignore my WeChat messages, I entertain the possibility that I’m not Chinese enough for you.

 

3

my body’s made of crushed little stars
and I’m not doing anything

Once, in a stationery shop in Beijing, the woman behind the counter reached out to touch my hair and said, breathless, “混血?” I was buying a gift for my mum. “你是不是混血?” She smiled, her eyes bright. I nodded. I felt pleased to be noticed this way, to be seen. But I wished she had asked whether she could touch my hair.

In China I am always foreign, even though more people recognise that I’m 混血, hùnxuè, mixed blood.

In China, my hair is the most foreign part of my body. It’s thick, wavy, a shade of chestnut brown that gets lighter in the summertime.

 

4

you’re an all-American boy
I guess I couldn’t help trying to be
your best American girl

I mourned, but in an adolescent kind of way. I was not mourning the loss of a person but the loss of a fantasy. I went for long walks through campus at night listening to Mitski’s Puberty 2. I became more deeply invested in my aloneness. Aloneness, not loneliness.

When I realised that Mitski is half Japanese, I listened again to “Your American Girl” and heard it properly for the first time. In the song, Mitski or maybe a dream-version of Mitski sings to her all-American boy, her doomed love, “Your mother may not approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I think I do.” Her voice starts out strong and whole, then quietens, faltering but intact. After the second chorus the same line repeats but with a different ending: “But I do, I finally do.”

In one of my favourite pieces of writing on the Internet, poet and fiction writer Jenny Zhang writes about why “Your Best American Girl” is so important to her:

Growing up in America, I experienced two puberties. The first opened me up to the possibilities of adulthood. The second reinforced that for someone like me—an immigrant, a minority, an Asian-American—there were limits.

Mitski’s second coming-of-age belongs to her alone, as does Zhang’s. But I wonder whether there are any places where ours might have overlapped—the same questions asked of ourselves, the same feelings of rootlessness and in-betweenness.

For most of my life, though, I have benefited from the privilege of passing as white, or mostly white. Most white people don’t register my otherness straight away until I explicitly reveal it, which I always do—but crucially, in white spaces, my Chineseness is not always on display. While people of colour can often tell straight away that I’m mixed, white people seem less able to detect any racial difference in me, or are perhaps less willing.

 

5

你的妈妈肯定很漂亮. Your mother must be very beautiful.

I smiled and said nothing. In my head I said She is. My mother has shoulder-length black hair that she has always had curled in a loose perm. I have never seen it straight.

Outside the shop window, snow laced with toxic particles fell from pale clouds.

 

6

your mother may not approve
of how my mother raised me
but I do, I think I do

In Shanghai, I often went to the movies by myself. I could buy tickets straight away on WeChat for half the price of tickets back home. I went to see the latest X-Men even though I’d never seen any X-Men movies before. The only thing I remember is Olivia Munn’s body taking up the entire frame, her hair long and thick like mine but with streaks of violet. She is a mutant who can shoot lethal rays of purple light out of her hands. She carries a samurai sword.

Munn’s mother is Vietnamese-Chinese and her father is American. She spoke both Vietnamese and Chinese until she was five, but in an interview in 2014 she said, “my mom was always worried I wasn’t going to fit in, so she didn’t push it on me after a while.”

I cycle home in the dark down the path that cuts through campus. There are fallen gingko leaves everywhere and giant moths fly at the streetlights. I can feel that I am full of purple light, spreading outwards from the middle of me.

 

7

and I’ve been a forest fire
I am a forest fire

So I began to trace for myself a new poetic lineage, one that looked more like my own, made up of multiple languages and art forms, containing several oceans.

In her response to an interview question about the word “half-caste”, mixed-race Māori poet Tayi Tibble said: “When I think of that word [half-caste], I get an image in my head of being split and split again to the point where you just shimmer like glitter.”

Some people want to talk in terms of fractions: one-quarter, one-eighth, one-sixteenth. These people are usually white. Can’t you feel the pieces of yourself getting smaller and smaller? How will you carry them all?

In his book-length essay Mixed-Race Superman, British-Indonesian poet Will Harris writes that “with too many heritages or too few, too white or not white enough, the mixed-race person grows up to see the self as something strange and shifting … shaped around a lack.” When I was on the cusp of teenagehood, I made myself forget how to speak Chinese. I pretended I didn’t have a middle name at all, just a blank space where the word once was.

 

8

Artist and curator Talia Smith, who is of Pacific Island and NZ European descent, documented her experience of returning to the Cook Islands in a series of photos, videos and poem-like texts titled The heart is the strongest muscle in the body. One image is of a pastel-pink sunset with blue clouds visible in faint reflections on the ocean’s surface. The sea is a metallic plane of colour. On the horizon you can see a shape that looks like part of a distant island, but it’s not clear. In the deep blue space between sea and sky there’s a thin tear in the photographic paper, splitting everything almost in half. Next to the image, Smith writes:

I wonder if I got my curly hair from my ancestors whose bones are buried on this island.
[…]
Do bloodlines run that deep and long?

Smith’s work is dreamlike and filmic, like watching a string of snapshots from your dreams and sun-bleached memories with subtitles running underneath. There is an underlying sense of loss, and also tenderness. Re-making memories is an act of tenderness, of connecting with the past.

I want to make a map of my grandparents’ back garden in Kota Kinabalu. I don’t know when I will next see it. I don’t know how much longer it will exist. On my last visit almost a year ago, when Po Po was still alive, there were bedsheets and tea towels hanging from the clothesline: candy pink and blue gingham, unmoving in the heat. Through them and through the gaps between them I could see vines clinging to the neighbour’s metal fence. A green lizard, two dragonflies, a hornet, and in the distance, a white egret.

I point to a crumbling pile of tree roots. “Is this where the mango tree was?” I ask Gung Gung, who speaks with me in English. “Yes, no more now. Look, the egret.”

A white egret. Two tall coconut palms, thick vines, a yellow flame tree. I want to lie down in the spot where the mango tree stood, where my mum and her brother used to gather the hard little fruits with dark skin and suck their sourness. There would be an imprint in the long grasses, a gap in the shape of my body.

 

9

“It’s like I was inventing punk music in front of them,” Mitski said in an interview with Kristen Yoonsoo Kim for Billboard, talking about the young fans who saw her open for Lorde in 2018.

When I saw Mitski play in London, a pair of teenage girls stood close to me in the crowd. It was like Mitski was playing for them and them alone. And to them, in that moment, in their reality, she was. I watched them scream and cry and dance holding each other and I could tell there was only the sound, her voice, their voices, the pink and gold lights, their bodies, their arms, themselves. One of the girls took out her phone at the beginning of each song not to take pictures but to note down the setlist. I watched while Mitski invented punk and indie rock and love and loss for them before their eyes over and over and I knew that if I’d found Mitski when I was sixteen, I’d be just the same.

I was experiencing something holy and intimate, too. But for me it was different. I feel a sense of closeness with Mitski’s music—I sometimes feel it existing in close proximity to my own work—but I couldn’t claim to know or understand her as a person. I deeply admire Mitski, but she’s not my idol. Maybe it’s because we’re close in age or maybe it’s because I’ve read about how realistic she is in terms of her career, about making it sustainable, about surviving long-term as an artist. We are both trying to exist in the world, making our art, making it work.

 

10

your mother may not approve
of how my mother raised me
but I do, I finally do

Mitski’s band shares the stage with her for all but two songs, but I almost don’t notice them. It looks like she is in her own world, moving inside her own halo of bluish light.

When she begins to play “Your Best American Girl”, an emotional reaction takes place first in my body, somewhere deep at the base of my spine, then in my stomach, then in my hands and wrists which begin to shake. I try not to cry; I just want to watch Mitski’s performance; I wish my throat didn’t feel so tight.

I think of my own writing and how sometimes making a poem means making something exist outside of my own brain, my own skin. The poem contains parts of me and I still contain parts of it, but it’s also separate from myself, distinct, new.

 

11

“Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left in my life to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?” musician Michelle Zauner asks in her essay “Crying in H Mart”, published in the New Yorker. Zauner is half Korean and goes by the alias Japanese Breakfast. As with Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl”, ever since I first read this essay, I’ve been carrying pieces of it somewhere inside me. Like Zauner, I’m not fluent in the language of my mother’s side of the family. When I was growing up, our language was also one of food.

My mother’s love is practical, physical. Are you warm enough? Have you had enough to eat? Did you sleep well? We are clumsy when we try to put our love into words, but we know how to enact it: folding down the edges of curry puffs about to go into the oven, untwisting the purple wrappers from salted dried plums.

When my grandmother died I couldn’t fly to Malaysia for her funeral. I wanted to know where she would be buried, but I didn’t ask. I still don’t know the answer to this question, but sometimes when I speak to my mum on WeChat video call, I almost say it. I see the question shooting across the atmosphere over to where she is now, in a different city on a different continent. I watch the words settle in the air around her, falling in slow-motion in layers of glittering dust.

 

12

In London I signed up for evening Mandarin classes. Since leaving Shanghai a year ago, I could feel the language slipping further away from me each day. I am left with scraps and pieces. At unexpected moments the words are on my tongue, ready to spill out of my mouth: 中秋节, mid-autumn festival. 经济发展, economic development. 华侨, overseas-born Chinese. 你吃了吗?, a text from my mum.

That morning, I practiced writing my Chinese name so that when the teacher asked me to write it for her, I’d be ready. If I don’t practice, there are always one or two strokes in the second character of my name, 雅, that I’ll forget.

明雅. Bright elegance. I split the word in half, then each character in half again.

Bright 明 / Elegant 雅.

A sun 日 next to a moon 月, a tooth 牙 next to a bird 隹.

In Whereas, Native-American poet Layli Long Soldier writes of the burden (and gift) of beginning to teach her young daughter the Lakota language:

What did I know about being Lakota? […] What did I know of our language but pieces?
Would I teach her to be pieces.

 

13

Chinese names can sound poetic and literary when translated into English, but all these layers of meaning aren’t registered when someone uses your name in everyday conversation. But as a newcomer to the written script, trying to find my way home through a language that’s never actually been my home, all the composite pieces are there in plain sight.

The way I taught myself how to write it was by writing it piece by piece. Sun, moon, tooth, bird. Sun, moon, tooth, bird.

What is a name? At the sound of your name you stop, you look up, you run, you call back. It is a sound your body knows instinctively how to move towards.

In Shanghai, from at least eight in the morning until two in the afternoon most days, I was not Nina but Mingya. Before then, my middle name had only ever been a middle name, a word I hardly ever heard spoken aloud or said aloud myself. Now my teachers used it all the time, calling it out in class and greeting me with it in the corridors. I began to turn my head instantly at the sound. In it, I no longer heard just pieces.

At the evening class in an office building in London, no one asked for my Chinese name.

 

14

In 2015 Sarah Howe won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry. Loop of Jade charts her journeys to and from Hong Kong, where she was born. Her mother is Chinese and her father is British. In “Crossing from Guangdong”, she writes:

Something sets us looking for a place.
For many minutes every day we lose
ourselves to somewhere else.

When I first read this poem I was about to leave one home in search of another.

If I could, I would ask Mitski where home is, though for me it’s a question with an impossible number of answers and for her it might be, too. I think of my parents’ garden by the sea where a kōwhai tree grows next to a lemon tree, both filling my hands with yellow. I think of a window in Shanghai full of pink light.

 

15

I can’t breathe
please don’t say you love me
胸がはち切れそうで

In an interview with The Line of Best Fit, the white male interviewer asks Mitski “if she’s writing her explicitly personal songs from an Asian American perspective.” He paraphrases his own question without quoting it in full. I try to imagine what I would say if a white male interviewer asked me, “are you writing from a mixed-race Chinese New Zealand perspective?” As if I could consciously separate out all these parts of myself. Mitksi’s answer has the feel of someone who’s tired of having to explain herself.

[…] when I’m writing songs I’m not conscious about my position as an Asian person. I’m not writing politically about being an Asian person. I write personal stories about relationships, and living in this world and being a human being … but I happen to live in a world which views me as an Asian American.

Not everything I create has to be about my identity or my politics. My existence as a mixed-race writer does not always have to be fraught or complicated. Mitski makes work that comes from within herself but also reaches far beyond, channeling imaginary personas and dream-versions of her real life, often surreal and strange.

Mitski briefly sings in Japanese in “First Love / Late Spring”. Even though it’s been one of my favourite songs for years I realise I’ve never known what the words mean. Not trusting the translation Google has given me, I send a Twitter message to the writer Nina Li Coomes, who is half Japanese half American, whose work I’ve been following for a long time. I ask her if she can tell me the meaning of the line. A few hours later she replies with this translation:

胸がはち切れそうで
my chest is close to bursting / will burst / may burst

When I ask her whether she has any particular attachment to this song, she responds, “My sister and I like to scream this at the top of our lungs […] It reminds me of all the times I’ve been in moments of emotion, where my internal monologue is something like this chorus, a series of Japanese and English phrases strung together.” Mune ga hachikire-sōde. My chest is close to bursting.

 

16

I am the fire and I am the forest
and I am the witness watching it

New Zealand-Japanese artist Jem Yoshioka’s online comic Visits recounts her first ever trip to Japan as a teenager, then returning as an adult. In Japan she “feels more and less at home than ever.” She illustrates the little objects she’s collected along the way, physical proof that another home exists: a pair of green lace-up boots, a red scarf, a keyring. Her story reminds me of travelling back and forth between New Zealand, China and Malaysia all my life, each time feeling both more and less at home. Back in New Zealand she experiences “a deep feeling of homesickness for somewhere that has never been home.”

The cover of Visits is a line-drawing of the artist’s face and upper body. Her outline is filled in with layers of patterned origami paper in sky blue, forest green, pink and gold. The patterns reminds me of a piece of Japanese cloth inside a perspex case that I saw at the V&A Museum—navy blue silk threaded with a flock of gold-embroidered egrets in mid-flight, wings overlaid with wings.

What do I know but pieces? All at once. Half sun, half moon. Half tooth, half bird. A blue lantern, a jade heart, a peach-pink melamine bowl.

The shadowy space in me shimmers like glitter. I feel its burn and glow. It is a kōwhai forest in a southern-hemisphere summer. It is bloodlines, it is threads, it is pieces of cotton hanging up to dry under a coconut palm, sheets of white and pink and blue.

 

 

Songs & Source Texts
(by section)

1. “First Love / Late Spring”, Mitski, Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014)
2. “Francis Forever”, Mitski, Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014)
3. “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”, Mitski, Puberty 2, (2016)
4. “Your Best American Girl”, Mitski, Puberty 2 (2016)
Jenny Zhang on “Your Best American Girl” from the series “25 Songs that Tell Us Where Music is Going”, New York Times Magazine, 9 Mar 2017
6. “Biracial Celebrities on Being Mixed: Olivia Munn”, mixedremixed.org
7. “A Burning Hill”, Mitski, Puberty 2 (2016)
“Tayi Tibble on Poukahangatus and Decolonising the Mind”, digital-serum.com, 13 Sept 2017
Will Harris, Mixed Race Superman (Peninsula Press, 2018)
8. Talia Smith, “The heart is the strongest muscle in the body”, windowgallery.co.nz, Oct 2018
9. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim, “Mitski on How Growing Up and Dreams of Settling Down Inspired New Album ‘Be the Cowboy’”, Billboard, 3 Aug 2018.
11. Michelle Zauner, “Crying in H Mart”, The New Yorker, 20 Aug 2018
12. Layli Long Soldier, WHEREAS (Graywolf Press, 2017)
14. Sarah Howe, Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus, 2015)
15. Andrew Hannah, “Tall Child” (Mitski Interview), thelineofbestfit.com, 11 Jan 2016
16. Jem Yoshioka, Visits, jemshed.com/comics/visits, 2017

About the author
Nina Mingya Powles is a writer and poet from Wellington, New Zealand, of mixed Malaysian-Chinese descent. She is the author of field notes on a downpour (If A Leaf Falls Press, 2018), Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017) and a collection of short essays on food forthcoming in 2019. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University, and in 2018 was one of three winners of the inaugural Women Poets' Prize.
Incomplete

I am two halves
and not quite whole

I am stolen land
cloud formations and patterned stars
oceans navigated
taro plantations
and coconut trees grown for each child born

I am farmed land
reared for profit
wood and brick glued together
by wrinkled palms
to make tablecloth homes

I am the answer
when the tall man with coconut skin
and sunset honey eyes
searches for his blood

I am the question mark stare
by the lady with her hands full of persimmons
by the man in the sea of suits
by the teacher who thinks I am Samoan/Māori/aren’t they all the same
when I call the woman with the book paper skin and crushed tomato hair, mum

I am story carved into minds
and breathed into life
by my ancestors
then passed down in the flesh of a coconut

I am story told to people who wander around the clay town
the words are woven together with sheep’s wool
repeated to other townspeople who sound the same
against the backdrop of golden grass
and air that doesn’t move

I am villages
and islands
connected by the sea
the giver of life

I am towns
and cities
connected by stretches of concrete and grey skies
the taker of lives

I am front-page news
people with my skin and hair
their knuckles bruised
foreheads bloody
categorised as either crime or sport

I am in the margin of the newspaper
printed in white ink
breathing in the blank space

I am New Zealand and Tonga
but I am not from here
or there
and certainly not from the woman with the crushed tomato hair.

About the author
Rhegan Tu’akoi identifies as a Tongan Kiwi and recently completed a BA in English and Anthropology. Words have always danced around her mind, but she only ever meant to write for a password-protected document.
Editors’ Pages

A year ago, we were just talk. We had our first few meetings just to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. Eight months ago, we were agonising over our name and design, our reason for being. And now, eleven months later, we have a website and URL, a more fully-formed kaupapa, and the beginnings of a community. All of this we hoped for; none of it we expected.

It rolls off the tongue now. “What’s it called?” Oscen. “What’s it about?” Uplifting marginalised voices. But to distill this from the noise of three young women of colour in a room itching to jumpstart some kind of change was far from straightforward. To create a space for the voices of those who were historically denied one was what ultimately came to the fore. Our experience within the writing sphere drove us to the same questions throughout all media: Where are the people of colour? Where is the LGBT+ community? Where are the intersectional identities? And this has become so much more than letting individuals speak in isolation. For whenever people gather, some sort of community will form.

We wanted to address issues that kept arising in our discussions but in a more cohesive way than just having separate contributions. We decided to have the magazine unfold in a novelistic way, allowing readers to progress through several “chapters” or stages of a journey. The journey we embarked on this year was “Authenticity”. It’s a nebulous word, but one that continues to be used in a world that many see as increasingly “inauthentic”. Each month, writers and artists responded to a question relating to authenticity: Who Made You? What Are You Made Of? Where Are You? What Do You Look To? and Who Do You Want To Be? — culminating in the final inquiry: Who Are You? Just as a musical piece will often conclude in a coda that revisits themes that have appeared before, this issue in our sixth month acts as the thematic close by re-exploring everything that has come before. It raises themes evident in our past five months, such as culture, belonging, confusion, marginalisation, resistance.

In particular, this collection of poetry, art, essays, and interviews touches on in-betweenness, self-discovery, and community. In-betweenness in relation to navigating different cultures is beautifully expressed in Nina Powles’s “I Am A Forest/Fire” and articulated in our interview with dancer Cindy Jang. “I am two halves / and not quite whole,” writes Rhegan Tu’akoi, and Zoe Hu’s video “Banana Split” speaks to the fragmentation that in-betweenness can cause — she interrogates the slang “banana”, which refers to an Asian person considered to be out of touch with their culture and inauthentically “acting white”. Angela Zhang also alludes to fragmentation by breaking down “red” and everything it means to her, though all of those oppositions coalesce in the image of a red dawn; a new day.

The question Who Are You? also brings up concepts of journeying and self-discovery, which Yasmeen Musa’s “Creating Myself” and, to an extent, Rachel Smith’s “Who Can Tell a Beginning From an Ending” respond to. Can we ever achieve an “authentic” self, or are we constantly engaged in a process of self-creation? Yasmeen suggests that the latter is true, as does curator Balamohan Shingade. “If my sense of who I am in the world is constantly changing,” he tells us, “the authentic self is that which has to do with paying very close attention to how I am being augmented, modulated by the world.”

Another theme running through Balamohan’s interview is how we can live together as a community. In Kyra Maquiso’s photography, home and family are the centre of community, the place she circles back to. The importance of community for marginalised people especially is highlighted in our talk with musicians from imugi 이무기 and Whaea & The Rumble. We spoke about the need for positive spaces fostering empathy, creativity, and the drive for change: spaces to share and listen to stories.

For this is Oscen’s core. Community has been vital from the start, and we want to express our gratitude for the encouragement we’ve received from the literary community. Two of our greatest supporters have been Francis Cooke and Louise Wallace, editors-in-chief of Starling Magazine. We have, in Louise’s words, functioned on “the kindness of strangers”, from contributors, online cheerleaders who have gotten behind our vision, and friends who have given up their time and effort. We’ve grown our team and have had new content each month, which has been no small feat for a fledgling platform. Special shout-out too to Zoe Hu, an old friend and graphic designer who is the genius behind our website and social media design.

And so it turns out that the desire to be recognised and heard is part of the larger desire to belong. That can only be found in community. Who knew, right? It seems so obvious and yet something we have so lacked that it was only a secondary aim to begin with. Have we resolved authenticity? No, and it’s unlikely that we or anyone ever will. But something is gained, something is bridged, when we find others who wrestle with the same questions we do.

We’re so grateful for the people who have rallied around us. With big plans for 2019, including a launch event, a fresh theme, and new online features and forms, we want to reach further and bring a greater community into our fold. Twelve months from now when we look back, we hope that we can again say that everything we hoped for came our way and beyond. And that, once more, it is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

Warmest,

Janna and Anuja, on behalf of the Oscen team Nadya, Bianca, and Radi