The Very Inside Edited by Sharon Lim-Hing
"Nobody I know can keep it up," she tells me, "you can try but it eats you up inside." I know, or at least I think I know, that Maria means passing for straight, assimilating.
But maybe she means passing, really passing. We're both hapa and have spent our adolescence with hair lighteners, perms, lots of eye-liner, she even did green colored contacts once. We're also both lesbians. When we hang out sometimes there's this automatic, unspoken sisterhood. And sometimes an automatic, unspoken pain.
"Nobody I know can keep it up — you can try to pretend but it eats you up inside."
~White Rice: Searching for Identity by Juliana Pegues/Pei Lu Fung from The Very Inside Edited by Sharon Lim-Hing
As I started this anthology, I realized it was my first time reading anything like it by authors of Asian/Pacific Islander origin. Which makes it even more important for me to spotlight here because they have voices that deserve to be heard. This particular essay was poignant, with this passage standing out in particular, for it's transparency and internal conflict that so many people face: answering the question of where do I fit in?
While some may shirk the notion of the need to belong, it is not something that we can always control, no matter how much we avoid it. But how do we influence the labels? What labels do we decide to own? In this case, the author is struggling with sexual and racial identity, trying to be herself when grappling with who she truly is.
The benefit of sharing diverse stories is that there are always common links that connect us, no matter how different we are, which can be a unifier despite social boundaries. Reading this I realize that questioning how Chinese she felt, contrasted with how people saw her. I have felt that way in different settings. Being forced to entertain if I was in fact "Black enough" but further, what that even meant.
"In rigid ideology, no trace of
Part and parcel, all better no worse
The spiritual order of my universe
No one is wasted, everyone has their gift
We encourage, inspire, empower, uplift
I'm loved and valued, honored and cherished
kissed and hugged and caressed
It's just the natural way to be
For the Ancients have said
I'm Twice Blessed"
"Having experienced life as a melange, a racial minority and a sexual minority, I continually emphasize to myself and those around me that having true knowledge of self keeps us free. Our challenge then becomes (especially as mixed race gay people), not to accept blindly what has been handed to us historically and societally. We must challenge conventions that sanction hate, fear and ignorance toward us and begin to portray our own cultural/political vision. We become, then, brothers and sisters in the name of love, hanging out with unconditional people and nuturing each other to be fulfilled."
~Solitary Bravo by Darlena Bird Jimenes from The Very Inside
This essay like the last one I discussed, explored the idea of living between two worlds culturally and in terms of sexuality. This perspective however wasn't one of shame or hiding, although she still existed in the shadows, but because others put her there. Once she became aware, she fought against it and what transpired was a person invested in being a change agent within the communities she existed, and an activist was born.
What I appreciated about this particular point of view was that it dispels the notion that everyone who doesn't fit into the "status quo", is doomed to a life of lonely despair and shameful solitude. The author didn't look at others reactions to her as a reflection of her personal identity, but rather their shortcomings rooted in ignorance and hate. Instead of letting it shrink her, she became an advocate and amplifier of voices that had been censored.
this smile is a mask
and opaque as what I peel
from my body each night
The secret is
I want to weep
when we embrace
Between our bodies
each as thick
as this wooden ale-stained table,
as my skin
not pale amber
the color of Guineas,
as the secrets
I do not tell
Brewing Secrets by Minal Hajratwala from The Very Inside Edited by Sharon Lim-Hing
In between the journal like confessionals and deeply reflective prose, are beautiful poems intermingled perfectly, as if almost to give you a break from the focused and heavy and allow you to drift off into someone else's dream. Not different from other anthologies I'm sure, but clearly emotional by design.
Overall, The Very Inside Edited by Sharon Lim-Hing is an excellent collection of literature that anyone should be able to appreciate for the sheer vulnerability that pours from the pages. If you can't find the words to express yourself, this book is a great example of that, regardless of how you racially or sexually identify. If you're a writer of many genres and perhaps feel the pull to only focus on one style, this book is an illustration of how you can effectively use varies genres of writing to express the most beautiful, sorrowful, and hopeful elements of your life.
Most importantly, this book gives a voice to the often overlooked- To those stereotyped as docile and model citizens, reduced to the one dimensional characters that are palatable to others, not allowed to be respected and embraced as the diverse beings that we all are. I appreciate this work for giving me another perspective of love from women. Yes lovelorn, yes passionate, but learning how to own it, regardless of societal views and limitations.