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How to be Asian: A Manual

Kyla-Yen Giffin

How to be Asian: A Manual
a poem by Kyla-Yen Giffin

This is the manual we all received

When we were born


Step 1: Look the part.

You know what I mean.

Pale skin.

Thin almond eyes.

Slick black hair.

Skinny and short.

Tiny feet.

You’re a white man’s wet dream.

Until you don’t want him.

Then you’re ugly—

Then it’s

Dirty yellow skin.

Slanty, beady eyes.

Dull hair.

Big ugly teeth.

The face of a rat.

And the kids on the playground

Will stretch out their eyes

Everytime you pass by.

And you will hate the face

Your mother gave you.

Step 2: Talk the part.

You say, “Ching chong.”

That’s how white people talk to you, too.

You tell the white man, “Me love you long time.”

You talk funny

Because you can’t speak English well,

So for that you are deliciously exotic.

But you’re also stupid.

So you need him.

He’s your only voice.

Step 3: Act the part.

You have a tiger mom

Who won’t get off your back.

And boy, isn’t she awful?

Your mother

Who gave everything for you?

Who learned to live in a new, cruel world

And would do anything for you

To survive it?

You have to hate her.

But you also have to do what you’re told.

Because you’re submissive.

And weak.

And that’s how the white man likes you.

And the food you like to eat is gross,

So you’ll have to learn to eat something else

Besides bats and dogs,

Or else the kids in the cafeteria

Will laugh at you

And plug their noses

When you unpack the lunch

That your mom woke up early to make you,

And you’ll have to shamefully pack it back up

And make up an excuse for later

When you have to tell your mom

Why you didn’t eat today

As you avoid her gaze

Because you know her eyes look worried,

So you lock your eyes

On her pained hands instead.

And your clothes,

Like those rice hats

And chopsticks in your hair,

Or strange robes and dresses—

They’re too weird.

Wear something normal.

But when white people wear those things,

It’s okay.

Don’t roll your eyes at them.

You should be honored

That they would even deign

To want to look like you.

Step 4: Never. Ever. Step over white people.

You’re better than other people of color

Because you’re smarter

And you work hard

To be as white as possible.

But you’re still like a pet

To the white man.

You’re only smart

So you can do tricks for him,

So you can protect him

From your own people.

But he will never be there for you.

That’s not his job.

One wrong bite,

And it’s back to where you came from.

If you followed these instructions,

You should have accomplished your goal.

So congratulations!

You aren’t Asian anymore—

But remember,

You’ll never be white.


You must be so happy.

This is what you wanted all along.


This is the manual we all received

When we were born


And we tried to follow it to a T,

But it didn’t work,

Did it?

Because we’re still Asian.

And how could we

Have not wanted to be,

When it’s such a beautiful thing?

So what if that manual looked different?

What if we had been taught

To love our Asianess?

What if we still can be?

And what if we can teach others?

Then I propose

We write a new manual.

Right here and now.



This is the manual we should have received

When we were born


Step 1: Your Asianess is your beauty.

We are a rainbow

Of color and flavor and light

And Asia is the crystal prism

That we unfold from.

We are the yellow lotuses in the pond

And the star anise in the sky.

We are the soft brightness

Of the turmeric and ginger.

We are the depth of darkness

Of the eggplant and cloves.

We are the strong bamboo and bonsai,

The sweet cherry blossom and lemongrass.

We are color.

We are flavor.

We are light.

We are beautiful.

We are Asian.

Step 2: Your tongue is a wonder of the world.

Our languages are recipe books,

Making words and dishes,

Sounds and meanings,

Tastes and scents,

Others never dreamed of making.

Our accents are spices

Of only the freshest and most fragrant kind,

Sending shocks through their systems,

Hitting hidden tastebuds.

And if they make fun of your spice,

Just remember that

White people

Don’t know how to season their food.

And even if you cannot speak

Or read and write

In your mother tongue,

The voice that your tongue tastes

As it leaves your lips

Is still the voice

Of your ancestors.

Step 3: Your rituals are your power.

Our parents

Are the souls of birds, fairies, and warriors,

And we

Are the reincarnations

Of dragons,

So everything we do

Is magic.

The way we move

Is elemental.

The food we eat

Is the nectar of gods.

We dress in silk

Made from the sky and the fields,

And jewelry crafted from sea foam.

We are strength.

We are delicacy.

We are the channels of spirits,

The weavers of magic.

And our rituals,

They keep us empowered.

They keep us alive.

Step 4: You rise above.

Do not listen when they tell you

You are less than.

You are a force to be reckoned with

And a deity to worship.

Being Asian is your superpower,

Not your weakness,

And no one

Can ever take it from you.

These are not instructions.

These are truths.

You do not need to learn

How to be Asian.

You already are.

- Kyla-Yen

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