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2.2: Trailblazer

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    Learning Objectives

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Explain how authors weave identity into their compositions.
    • Articulate how genre conventions are shaped by purpose, culture, and expectation.

    Identity Trailblazer: Cathy Park Hong

    "Sometimes you need to explain your experiences
    in order to understand them yourself."

    Figure \(2.3\) Cathy Park Hong ( cathyparkhong) writes about racism from the perspective of Asians and Asian Americans. (credit: “Racism is not an option” by GoToVan/flickr, CC BY 2.0)

    Fear: The Enemy Within

    Language Lens Icon

    Cathy Park Hong (b. 1976) is an Asian American poet, writer, and educator committed to exploring living art.

    Culture Lens Icon

    Born to Korean parents in Los Angeles, California, Hong studied at Oberlin College and at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where she earned a master of fine arts degree. She has received numerous fellowships, including a Fulbright scholarship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. Hong has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Rutgers University and served as poetry editor for the New Republic.

    In her work, Hong explores her search for identity as a first-generation Asian American, specifically her struggles with feeling alienated from Anglo-American culture. Hong’s first publication, the book of poems Translating Mo’um (2002), examines the often tenuous challenges experienced by first-generation Americans, specifically regarding language. Her second book of poems, Dance Dance Revolution: Poems (2007), won the Barnard Women Poets Prize. The work incorporates the idea of “code switching,” a technique in which people switch between languages or language forms, such as formal and colloquial.

    Hong most recently published a collection of essays titled Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (2020), a memoir that takes on the lens of cultural criticism. Writing from her personal experiences as an Asian American woman growing up and living in America, Hong delves into deeply painful and often unseen racial trauma experienced by Asians and Asian Americans. Published as anti-Asian hate crimes gained increasing national attention, Hong’s essays help readers understand the curious place that Asian Americans inhabit in American race relations, where they are viewed as caricatures of the “model minority” and face invisible racism.

    The title of Minor Feelings comes from the word han, which Koreans use to describe emotions that include anger, melancholy, envy, and shame. Hong believes these same emotions are shared by minorities in America today. She expresses difficulty in using the pronoun we in her writing because of the diversity of Asian Americans. Yet she notes that what this diverse population has in common is that even as second- and third-generation Americans, Asian Americans find they still don’t enjoy first-class status in American life in the same way that White Americans do. She proposes thinking of the label Asian Americans as “less of an identity, and more as a coalition” (Hong, “Why”) in order to seek common ground with others who share similar experiences. Hong believes that one key is cross-cultural community building among Asian communities and between Asian, Black, Latina/Latino, and Indigenous communities.

    Hong’s poetry and essays also explore the racism she has experienced in the literary world, from graduate school to literary circles. Perhaps the most maddening part of those experiences, she notes, is that her perception of racism is constantly “questioned or dismissed” (Hong, Minor 55). Although writing about racial experiences was discouraged as “anti-academic” when she was a student, Hong has made a career of sharing these experiences through poetry and prose. She hopes that her work not only helps Asian Americans feel recognized and acknowledged but also encourages readers of all ethnicities to practice self-interrogation.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Cathy Park Hong recalls not having an outlet to express the racism she experienced growing up. How has writing provided that outlet for her as an adult?
    2. Race informs Hong’s writing, though the academic circles she was a part of discouraged this. How can art and language be influenced by identity?
    3. How has Hong’s work helped her explore her own culture and provided a window for others to understand it?
    4. The myth of the model minority isolates Asian Americans from other people of color. How does Hong’s writing work to overcome this isolation?

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