Many Asian Americans experience a cultural conflict in America. Some feel the need to forego their cultural heritage, in order to “conform” to American culture. For some this leads to feelings such as self hate.
Cathy Hong Park’s ‘Minor Feelings’, her latest book of essays, touches upon this very subject.
My shame is not cultural but political,” she writes. She is ashamed of the conflicted position of Asian-Americans in the racial and capital hierarchy—the way that subjugation mingles with promise. “If the indebted Asian immigrant thinks they owe their life to America, the child thinks they owe their livelihood to their parents for their suffering,” Hong writes.
Minor feelings are “the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic.” One such minor feeling: the deadening sensation of seeing an Asian face on a movie screen and bracing for the ching-chong joke. Another: eating lunch with white schoolmates and perceiving the social tableaux as a frieze in which “everyone else was a relief, while I felt recessed, the declivity that gave everyone else shape.” Minor feelings involve a sense of lack, the knowledge that this lack is a social construction, and resentment of those who constructed it.
Early in the formidable new essay collection “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning,” the poet Cathy Park Hong delivers a fatalistic state-of-the-race survey. “In the popular imagination,” she writes, “Asian Americans inhabit a vague purgatorial status . . . distrusted by African Americans, ignored by whites, unless we’re being used by whites to keep the black man down.” Asians, she observes, are perceived to be emotionless functionaries, and yet she is always “frantically paddling my feet underwater, always overcompensating to hide my devouring feelings of inadequacy.” Not enough has been said, Hong thinks, about the self-hatred that Asian-Americans experience. It becomes “a comfort,” she writes, “to peck yourself to death. You don’t like how you look, how you sound. You think your Asian features are undefined, like God started pinching out your features and then abandoned you. You hate that there are so many Asians in the room. Who let in all the Asians? you rant in your head.”