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Elina Zhang photographed outside her home. At the beginning of this year, I became obsessed with foraging for vintage objects. I spent hours perusing Facebook Marketplace. I found myself impulsively buying a Le Creuset Dutch oven shaped like a tomato, delicate beaded grapes and pears, and a mid-century modern wooden cheese plate. A day after the massage parlor massacre in Atlanta of eight people, six of whom were Asian women, I saw somebody on vintage Instagram post a collection of art they owned, including an embroidered image of two Geisha women. As a teenager growing up in the Deep South, I had no idea how to model myself as somebody who was sexual or attractive or desirable.
I had heard my parents talking about her, how she played guqin, a traditional Chinese string instrument, and aspired to be a surgeon. In person, she had an ethereal quality to her — she was tall with long black hair draped down her back. She was beautiful and lovable. Tian Tian was the Chinese-American woman I aspired to be, only to utterly fail.
When Tian Tian was in high school, she had a white boyfriend and went to high school football games. All the Asian girls were interchangeable; my friend Joanna was called Elina, and I was called Joanna. It happened enough times that correcting someone was confrontational. In the pictures we took, people would pull their eyelids back, and we would too because we thought it was funny. I wanted to be seen. Given the opportunity, I would have loved to be the Asian girl the white lacrosse boy dated. Your skin tone is so exotic, men would say during sexual encounters.
I always thought Asian women exuded a special kind of beauty. It was better to be a sexual object, an imagined space for someone to project their fantasies, than to be erased. The United States passed the Act of to prohibit Chinese women from entering the country, fearing they were engaging in prostitution. When the United States invaded Asian countries in the 20th century, Western film and art began reflecting the now pervasive trope of the hypersexual yet docile Asian woman.
Is it even possible to see Asian women fully, completely? I was unable to see Tian Tian in her entirety. She, too, was someone I projected all my desires onto, as were the Asian-American women who I wanted to distance myself from. And the porousness between the Asian-American woman and the object is fraught with violent potential. Everything I know about desire and sex has emerged from my Asian-American femme identity, whether I was aware of it or not. So much of who I am already existed before I ever even arrived in this country.
I existed in the porcelain people kept on display in their cabinets; I existed in frames and on walls in museums; I existed as a figment in the white imagination. I want to own beautiful things. I want to feel at home in my things, and I want my things to say something about me. When my parents left China, they took very little with them. Inheritance is something I know many white Americans take for granted, whether it is furniture or rugs or wealth.
Instead, my parents keep bad art my brother and I have made on their walls. I want my bedazzled grapes and vintage cheese plate to ify something about me — my taste, my class, my personality. What do I owe these objects when I choose and purchase them? How do we relate to objects with more care and compassion? This week, as I continue to mourn the women murdered in Atlanta, I wonder what relationships these women left behind.
Who will be the keepers of their stories and their things? Elina Zhang is a student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is working on a memoir about sexual violence and testimonies. If you want to send a message to Elina, firstperson publicsource. Compelling personal stories told by the people living them. Comments are closed.I would like a asian woman
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Your experience dating a white guy?