Panax Ginseng: The Shallow Underworld of This History

Panax Ginseng is a monthly column by Henry W. Leung exploring the transgressions of linguistic and geographic borders in Asian American literature, especially those which result in hybrid genres, forms, vernaculars, and visions. The column title suggests the congenital borrowings of the English language, deriving from the Greek panax, meaning “all-heal,” and the Cantonese jansam, meaning “man-root.” The troubling image of one’s roots as a panacea will inform the column’s readings of new texts.


Literasians Panel (Photo credit Elezanbee Vue)


For APIA Heritage Month, the SOMArts Gallery in San Francisco ran an exhibit from May 3-25 curated by Jennifer Banta: “The Future Is NOW: Asian America On Its Own Terms.” I parsed the exhibit’s title as a reconception of time (“future,” “now”) through geopolitical space (“Asian America”) and voice (“its own terms”). There were two art installments in the exhibit which I regarded as conceptual centerpieces. The first was “Are we there yet?” by Truong Tran: a small, woven boat suspended over a blue panel with “Are we there yet?” repeated across it in a splash of font sizes. The woven boat here is a ruralized image of the refugee immigrant (i.e. “boat people”) juxtaposed to the refrain of the suburban child in a car’s backseat—two generations of passengers condensed into one locus of space and voice. Across from this piece was another, “Red Lips” by Su-Chen Hung: a pool of water gurgling from a covered and endless source, rippling outward from beneath red tasseled “lips.” In this post, I’d like to show the engagement with “now” to be a convergence of past, present, and future all at once by looking at a literary panel held in the gallery space, and by considering the work of two poets recently featured on the LR blog, Garrett Hongo and Andre Yang.

The panel was titled Literasians and took place on May 24th. Kartika Review editor-at-large Christine Lee Zilka moderated a discussion between Sandra Park, Aimee Phan, Lysley Tenorio, and Andre Yang. Though the art fixtures were not commented upon directly, they were very present as the event’s backdrop. The panel’s description, “writers converging on the APIA literary continuum,” was in line with the thematic use of spatialized time, with “continuum” referring at once to a linear series and a dimensional whole. The panelists spoke on one end of the gallery while the water bubbled from “Red Lips” on the other end. Lined up behind the writers was “Most Wanted” by Taraneh Hemami, a series of face portraits elevated and blurred. And even farther back was a timeline chronicling APIA art exhibits shown at this site since 2002. All this contributed to making the space one of historical synchronicity.

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Process Profile: Andre Yang Discusses “Why I Feel the Way I Do About SB 1070”

Andre Yang | Photo by Mary Yang

Andre Yang is a Hmong American poet from Fresno, California. He is a founding member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle (HAWC), where he actively conducts and participates in public writing workshops. He completed the Creative Writing (Poetry) MFA program at California State University, Fresno, where he was a Philip Levine Scholar, recipient of the Academy of American Poets-sponsored Ernesto Trejo Prize, and the Graduate Dean’s Medalist of the College of Arts and Humanities.  Andre is a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellow, and has attended the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and recently completed an artist residency at the Ucross Foundation.  He co-edited How Do I Begin – A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011), and his poetry has appeared in Paj Ntaub Voice, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and the chapbook anthology ‘Here is a Pen’ (Achiote Press).

For APIA Heritage Month 2012, we are revisiting our Process Profile series, in which contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. This year, we’ve asked several Lantern Review contributors to discuss their process for composing a poem that we’ve published. In this installment, Andre Yang discusses his poem “Why I Feel the Way I Do About SB 1070,” which appeared in Issue 3 of Lantern Review.

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In a way, I have been writing this poem all my life, and considering all the things I discuss in the poem, it really does span my life.  The poem was written to express my feelings about the inception and implementation Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, though I also wanted it to capture my thoughts on the interconnectedness of humanity.

I might not have written “Why I Feel The Way I Do About SB 1070” had I not met Francisco Xavier Alarcón at his Ce Uno One book launch in Sacramento, California.   I overheard Francisco saying he was attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference later that year in Washington D.C. (2011), and since I too was planning to attend the conference, I used that as a conversation starter and approached him.  He mentioned that while in D.C., he would be organizing two off-site Floricanto readings based on his Facebook page, “Poets Responding to SB 1070,” and that well-established poets like Martín Espada would be taking part in the reading.  Five minutes into the conversation, he asked, to my complete surprise, if I wanted to participate in the readings. I said I’d be honored, and told him I’d contact him when I felt I had a poem worthy of the purpose.

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Review: How Do I Begin?

How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology | Heyday 2011 | $16.95

The NY Times began the new year with a piece about the Hmong American Writers’ Circle and the cultural context in which it operates. And our most recent issue of the Lantern Review put a spotlight on HAWC in Community Voices. This is only the beginning of much-deserved attention for this unique generation of new writers.

How Do I Begin is an apt title for an anthology of writers whose ethnic identity is doubly marginalized: though the Hmong roots are in southwest China, most emigrated/fled to the US from places like Laos or Vietnam after the Vietnam-American War. Burlee Vang, in his introduction to the book, describes himself as “born into a people whose written language has long been substituted by an oral tradition.” The written language of the Hmong was lost after assimilation in Imperial China long ago; this is not to mention assimilation into Thai and Lao culture, where most Hmong are provided an education only in their host countries’ official languages. The Hmong language has remnants in traditional embroidery but they have become indecipherable. Writers identifying as Hmong American today, therefore, have the tremendous task not only of writing themselves into history and literature, but also of gathering their names and identities from the pieces available. English is their adopted language, and so these writers must weave a warp and woof through multiple traditions.

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