When they Ask, “What Are You?” By Elizabeth Hsieh


When they Ask, “What Are You?”

I grew up as a split down the middle,
a curtain torn. A house
with sorry cacti and sodden marigolds
flinching whenever someone knocked,
I am a game of who is enough,
a series of half-bitten confections.
Lately, I’ve been opening
windows in slow motion and letting shaojiu flow
in up to my neck.
A boy says he likes
Asian girls so I guess he only
likes me half as much. I could be
a shoddy participation trophy for an awards show
for local expats. With his handful of brown girls
and boxes full of incense and meditation books,
even to a white man
I am not enough. The marigolds on the porch
flinch again and suddenly I am twelve again,
feeling like my Algebra teacher’s
mispronunciation of my last name. Wearing a quiet
“thank you, thank you” like a badge when he corrects
himself. I do not remember the last time my grandmother
cooked a glazed ham, she buys only tamales now.
The last one to feel worthy is a rotten egg! A thousand year
old egg!
If I am not a glazed ham, but a casserole.
If i am not white, but off-white,
If my eyes are not almond enough to be milk,
If I am not telenovelas, but pinatas at birthday parties,
If I am not the weight of badmouthed slurs,
but the clang of train metal that
connects the country together,
How do I squash this
like an over ripe tomato?
I am leaking with apologies like tres leches cake
on my 13th birthday.
When my abuela asks “ya comiste” or
when people ask if I speak Mandarin,
I fold my courage into new year wonton wrappers
and crush down myself like carne por la empanadas—
apologetic for claiming something i do not fully understand.
How can I exist with a quadruple identity with
no tethers to any post,
with a home that does not feel like a home
and the overladen impulse for floundering?
I bite my lip till its tender,
and I save the rest for later.

By Elizabeth Hsieh


Elizabeth Hsieh is a UCLA graduate residing in East Los Angeles. She is currently obsessed with the written word, poets like Adrienne Rich and Frank O’Hara, being enraged at modern American politics, and her rowdy rock band Girl Friday. She hopes that one day it is socially acceptable to carry her puppies to work with her.

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