Tag Archives: Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

SAPAHM Guest: Sonali Dev

Hi friends! So … my gosh. We’re basically at the end of May. How did that happen??? I’m not ready! I really love May. Not just because of APAHM, but because here it’s when weather actually starts getting nicer and you know summer is coming. Longer days, actual sun, all good things. [Sorry to our friends down under who are experiencing the opposite of that.] So … Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is drawing to a close, but you know I like to end on a bang – and of course we’ve got more fun Heritage Months to come!

As you see I have Sonali Dev here today – she’s (in my opinion) a breakout author of 2014. So many people recommended her – for me personally both Courtney Milan and Nalini Singh told me to read her debut book A Bollywood Affair. That’s some heavy hitting right there. More importantly – to me at least – is the book stood up to the hype, and it was one of my favorite reads last year. And like Cecilia Tan, she also won an award at RT this year! So without further ado, Ms. Dev! 🙂 She also says everything better than I could, so I’m leaving her ending as the end – for APAHM et al.

Acknowledging Moments of Change Toward Momentous Change

A Bollywood AffairWalking up on stage on the arm of one of those models whose job it is to escort people up on stage was something I never thought I’d do. Then again, I might have thought about it far more than is necessarily healthy. It’s one of those things that you dream of without quite knowing you’re dreaming it because it’s tucked inside another more significant, more consuming dream. 

What I’m trying to say in my overwhelmed way is that I walked up on stage to accept an award this week at the Romantic Times Booklover’s convention, and amazingly enough, my most tangible thought walking up that ramp (other than “don’t trip don’t trip don’t trip”) was “Woah! He has humongous arms” — a solid (literally) thing amid that incredibly unreal moment. I have no idea who the man was. I can’t remember his face but I will forever remember the texture of his suit and the curve of his bicep beneath my palm and his practiced, on-duty chivalry that grounded me in the moment with a tangible memory.

Because dreams are just such nebulous things with nothing to define and encompass them or clearly signal their realization. They tend to leak and expand and roll, going from being published, to being read, to being well received, to winning something, and then getting to publish more and then repeating it all. A dream doesn’t stop and consequently it’s easy to not stop and acknowledge it being fulfilled before it turns into a milestone and then a moving target.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, what with infinite potential and all that. But I spent a lot of my time at the convention talking about diversity, on panels, at lunch with my South Asian writer colleagues, in meetings with other authors who are bothered by the imbalance in publishing, and at signings with anyone who wanted to address the ‘other’ness of my book.

So in that moment, when I was surrounded by women who had fought harder, lasted eons longer and reinvented themselves over and over in this business of rolling, seemingly impossible dreams that I was only just entering, I knew that I had to take all the gratefulness I was feeling, all the insignificance I was feeling and set it aside at least long enough to acknowledge that a dream that had really insignificant odds of coming to fruition had been realized.

When I used to tell people I was writing romance with two Indian protagonists dealing with seemingly Indian problems, I had encountered everything from suggestions to change one of the protagonists to Caucasian, to nervous hope on my behalf, to resigned sighs that indicated that I was welcome to dream but I might want to manage my expectations— reactions any writer writing diverse books will recognize all too easily, reactions that continue to be daunting roadblocks for dreams everywhere. And that’s exactly the reason why I knew I had to take that moment to stop and acknowledge this serendipitous clearing of my path that may very well be a flash of fortune but is definitely a step forward. My diverse book was loved enough for me to be standing on a stage next to a bevy of stars of an overwhelmingly white genre.

The Bollywood BrideSo, as I stood there, my ears ringing, unable to hear a word being said, I tried to absorb details, the blinding light in my eyes, the scrape of sari sequins on my skin, the feel of a strange man’s brawny arm under wool. And when I returned to my seat I started to cry. As in ugly cry without help either from waterproof mascara or the foresight to bring tissues along. But it was a crying that felt precious, a privilege earned on behalf of all the writers who’ve dreamed and struggled and inched me closer. A crying that acknowledged that while we have such a long way to go before the stories on our shelves are colorblind we aren’t quite where we were such a short time ago. And I was allowed to be humbled by that and yes, to also be just a little proud and more than a little hopeful.

Again, my overwhelmed point is that faced with all the daunting resistance that bringing diversity to publishing is, it is easy to feel only the anger and to see only the distance we have left to go. But I grew up with a sum total of zero brown protagonists in my choice of literature. Today, I have a TBR pile of diverse books, as do my children. Is it a nearly high enough pile? No.

But my mother has this concept of taking stock, of measuring how far you’ve come on any path so you can gather energy for how much farther you have left to go. “You’re just starting out,” she would say or “the elephant is gone, only the tail remains.” And I found that knowing I had made progress made it easier to put my shoulder into what remained. It also made the journey a celebration instead of constant battle. And I like celebrations. I like them so much, in fact, that they make me cry.

I will say that currently the kindle version of A Bollywood Affair is only $2.99! If you haven’t already bought it, now is the perfect time!

SAPAHM Guest: Jeannie Lin

Y’all … bless Jeannie Lin because she has had the patience of a saint. Honestly – this post has been years in the making … in that Jeannie sent it in a prompt and timely manner … and I dropped all the marbles (hundreds of tiny little balls). No joke, I emailed her in January back in 2013. This was supposed to go live in 2014. It was entirely my fault it didn’t … but the point is, it’s going live now! In a really packed, awesome, APAHM 15 at ALBTALBS! So … WHOO! Good things!

From Wonder Woman to the Little Dragon Girl

The Sword DancerWhen I was nine years old, I’d fly in space ships. I’d pilot mechanical lions. I’d catch bad guys with my lasso of truth. I always wanted to save the kingdom rather than be saved.

Despite how it may sound, my imagination wasn’t very wild then. It was bounded by the shows that I’d seen and stories I’d heard. I was limited by the heroines I watched on TV. The ones I saw in my books. They defined for me what it meant to be powerful and courageous and beautiful.

For that reason, I found myself not liking my Vietnamese name. No heroines had a funny-sounding name like mine. I didn’t like how I looked. It wasn’t how heroines looked. Teela from He-man was red-haired and pale-skinned. Princess Allura from Voltron was blonde. Wonder Woman at least was dark-haired like me, but her black hair was curly so I’d spend hours with my hair in curlers only to get a wave that would only last for two minutes.

And not a single heroine was ever Asian. To be them, I just felt in my heart that I couldn’t be me.

Return of the Condor HeroesThen one day, my cousin Mary came to me. “I found the prettiest woman in the world,” she said.

“Prettier than Princess Allura?” I asked. How was that even possible?

“Yes. Way prettier,” Mary insisted.

My cousin showed me what would immediately take over my imagination.

A video store had opened up in the neighborhood that rented out films brought over from Hong Kong. These were the golden years of the HK TVB serials and Grandma had just rented the entire set of Return of the Condor Heroes. Mary’s pretty heroine was none other than Xiao Long Nu, the Little Dragon Girl played by Idy Chan opposite a very young and handsome Andy Lau.

Heaven Sword and Dragon SabreMary was right. Xiao Long Nu was beautiful. She was ethereal. She belonged to a sect of female warriors who had a feud with Wudang and retreated into a cavern to practice their martial arts in secret. And she had long straight black hair like me. She was Asian like me. I knew I was just a skinny little kid, but in my head I could conceivably grow up to become the graceful Little Dragon Girl whereas I could never be Teela from He-man.

That summer we all bought plastic swords and ran wild in my grandmother’s backyard, fighting off all the villains and scoundrels of the rivers and lakes. From that point on, I left Grayskull and Planet Voltron behind. I didn’t want to be Wonder Woman anymore. I had discovered a whole new type of heroine – the Jin Yong heroine. They were feisty and clever and seriously kicked some ass. They wore pretty clothes and fought with swords and flew through the air. Most importantly, the men who fell for them fell HARD.

Sometimes even I look at the books I write and wonder, what the heck was I thinking?!? Why set stories in such an obscure setting in imperial China? How do these books even exist?

A Dance with DangerBut then I look back to that summer. I think of running through the grass with sword in hand.

Perhaps some memories are so strong that they stay in your heart. Maybe the games you play as a child can continue to influence you long after you think you’ve forgotten about them. And some discoveries are so life-changing that you want desperately to share them, to explain to the world how happy they made you.

Maybe it wasn’t so silly that I wanted to be the Little Dragon Girl because something clicked into place when I could finally see myself in a heroine. And now I create Asian heroines just so they can be out there. Just so they can be found.

That counts for something. It counts for a lot.

Short bio: Jeannie Lin is the sometimes bestselling author of Tang Dynasty historical romances. Her Opium War steampunk series, The Gunpowder Chronicles, launched in November 2014. Find her online. She also updates FB when the mood strikes.

SAPAHM Guest: Courtney Milan Shares a “Teaser Tuesday Exclusive” Vignette of Adam Fucking Reynolds

Hi friends!!! As you see we’ve got Courtney Milan here today! Well … kinda. Instead of writing a post post … I mentioned to her today also happens to be a “Teaser Tuesday” spot … and what with the popularity of Trade Me … and Adam especially, she decided to send me this scene. Adam is the father of the hero in Trade Me – Blake Reynolds. It’s not exactly like father like son. However, for some, the father stole the show. Trade Me is the second NA book I’ve read – and 82% of it was because of the teaser Courtney posted that included Adam Reynolds. If you haven’t read Trade Me yet, you can find out more about the Cyclone series here, and Adam’s upcoming book here.

Fair warning, if the subject wasn’t enough of a clue, Adam does not care about clean language. He does not believe in the “you’re better than that” when it comes to not swearing. (And really – why would anyone? >.>) So without further ado … a little peek into a day with and working for A.F.R.

Trade Me

Adam

April, 2012

The sun spills into the cafeteria via floor-length glass windows. It’s three, and I’ve just finished the quarterly earnings call. This means I’m ravenous—there’s something about talking to analysts for an hour straight that burns through my energy stores—and also, that I’ve spent a good sixty minutes doing my level best not to say anything off-color. That takes a lot more fucking work for me than answering analysts’ shitty questions about the projected future margin of our goddamned cloud computing services.

I actually don’t intend to do a drop-in. Not at first. Not until I’m walking to the checkout with a sandwich and a salad and a liter of water, and I hear someone say, “Shut up! He’s right here.”

I look around. Cyclone’s central cafeteria is open and sunny, and someone has opened the windows to the outdoors so there’s a bit of a breeze. In theory, the open space is supposed to encourage collaboration and/or trash talking, whichever happens to be the word of the day.

Still, there are ways to hide. Behind other people, for instance, although this late in the afternoon, it’s mostly people stocking up on coffee. I let my gaze sweep over the mostly empty tables with narrowing eyes.

Strangely enough—ha!—nobody meets my eyes. There aren’t many problems with being me. Here’s one of them: everyone looks fucking guilty if I glare at them.

That’s why it takes me a mere three seconds for me to identify the guilty party—or, in this case, the guilty parties. They’re seated at a table about ten feet away, nestled among potted baby palm trees. I identify them because unlike everyone else in this place, they’re all looking at me like they have nothing to hide.

Everyone has something to hide. Anyone who pretends otherwise is a lying bastard.

I would have known it was them anyway. If someone were to put together a team of the people at Cyclone who were capable of managing Adam Fucking Reynolds, it would be these three. Them and Peter, but Peter is still stuck upstairs. He claims to be answering a few urgent emails post earnings call, but come on—this is Peter, he’s decompressing.

George, my assistant, doesn’t look one fucking bit guilty. He’s had too many years of practice, and butter would not dare undergo a phase transition in his mouth if he didn’t want it to. He adjusts his glasses and calmly meets my gaze with a look that says, Hi, Adam, nothing to see here.

Sai, the head of programming, gives me a diffident wave. Anyone who glanced at her might initially think she was shy, perhaps even timid. She’s short, just over five feet tall, and she looks around her with sharp, crisp movements that are almost birdlike in nature. As I raise one eyebrow in her direction, she reaches up and adjusts her colorful headscarf.

Looks are deceiving. She’s been with Cyclone for over almost as long as George has, and there is nothing remotely fucking shy about her.

Martin, the head of our PR department, wouldn’t know how to look guilty if his wife caught him with two whores and a hard-on.

Yu is the only one who almost-winces when I turn to them. Underneath the table, not exactly hidden from my view, I see Sai shoving a sharp elbow in his side. Poor motherfucker.

I scan my card for the sandwich and carry my lunch over to them. There is no chair free at their table, but I appropriate one from nearby—the other table seems surprisingly grateful that I only want to steal their chair—and sit down.

Drop in time,” I say. “What the fuck is going on?”

There is an exchange of glances.

Why, nothing,” Martin says jovially. “Honestly.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Martin, but as a PR person, his natural instincts run completely counter to mine. He hasn’t met a simple, declarative statement that he doesn’t itch to weasel out of. Also, I make his life hell—and if you’re wondering why, maybe I should mention that during today’s earnings call, where I was questioned by a slew of important analysts and major Cyclone investors, I only dropped two fucks. That made it a good earnings call for me.

Martin and I see each other as necessary evils, except sometimes I’m not sure he thinks I’m necessary.

Here’s the fucking thing, Martin.” I lean forward. “If you use the word ‘honestly’ to mean ‘I’m telling you lies at this very moment,’ you can’t complain that I never believe you.”

Martin sighs. “I didn’t mean that it was literally nothing. You’re a busy man. We all just want to respect your time.”

Which you do by not answering a goddamned question when it’s put to you?”

Oh, don’t bother.” Sai interrupts. She has a hint of an accent, one that at this point is more a matter of inflection and tone than pronunciation. “Do you really think you’re going to put him off? That he’s going to say, ‘Oh, well, never mind then,’ and walk away?”

It worked that one time,” Yu puts in. “When… Ah… Um.”

I look at him and shake my head. “You think you’re going to distract me that easily? Let’s start this conversation from the fucking beginning. What’s going on?”

I’m not a complete idiot,” Martin says to Sai a little stiffly, completely ignoring me. “I was buying time to think of a good explanation.”

By explanation, Martin means falsehood. Typical fucking public relations jackassery.

It’s all over the internet,” Sai says. “What were we going to do, keep him from getting online the rest of the day?”

George looks suddenly—strangely—innocent. I make a mental note not to trust George for the next five hours.

But the truth is, if this were actually serious, whatever this is, they would have told me right away. My people don’t fuck around about serious shit. Whatever has knotted their collective panties into a rope is probably not urgent. It’s also something, judging from their expressions, that will make me flip my lid.

I uncap my water. “On a scale of one to fucking shark attack, this qualifies as…?”

It’s a three,” Martin says placatingly. “A gentle three.” Slowly, he slides a tablet toward me. “It’s a parental setting application that someone has made for the tablet. It went live in the store three days ago. Now kids can surf the web without encountering…er, dangerous material. It has led to some, um, very spirited discussion online and in the tech sphere, much of it centered on amusing and unintended applications of the filter.”

I now understand the source of their wariness. I just spent the last hour trying not to think the word fuck, and public appearances are about the only times I make an effort to practice self-censorship. My views on swearing—or, rather, on not fucking swearing—are legendary. Legendary enough that my nickname among Cyclone employees is AFR—standing for Adam Fucking Reynolds. It’s seeped out into the wild, a fact that gives Martin heartburn. My views on swearing are so legendary, in fact, that two of the motherfuckers sitting at this table maintain the documentation on it.

You mean,” I say, “it’s a fucking censor-bot.”

Er… Yes. It costs $2.99.” He adds the last as if that price point somehow makes it better.

We’re selling a fucking censor-bot in our goddamned store, so that we can indulge shittacularly stupid parents who think their kids can be saved from hell and fucking damnation for $2.99?”

Martin swallows. “That is one way to put it. I actually don’t think that it’s so terrible—”

Cheap,” I say scornfully. “Eternal salvation should not cost less than a fucking cup of coffee.”

There is a long pause.

You know,” I say thoughtfully. “That gives me an idea. We should write an app that sells indulgences.”

Yu looks at me.

Come on, Yu,” I say. “You and I can throw it together in our spare time. It won’t take much. We just need a Deposit Cash Here button. We’ll cut Martin in—he can write the copy. We’ll split it three ways, and we’ll all get rich.”

Adam,” Sai says thoughtfully, “what did I tell you about making fun of other people’s religions?”

To be fair,” Yu says, “that’s offensive only to sixteenth century Catholic priests, and they’re a very small demographic for Cyclone. As a general rule, if you ever ask me to go into business with you, I’m there. But this one…” He shakes his head.

What, were you a fucking Catholic priest in your prior sixteenth century life?”

No,” Yu says.

You can’t do it anyway,” Martin points out. “I’m pretty sure that stealing key Cyclone employees for a new business is a breach of your fiduciary duties. So, since we’re done here…” He reaches for his tablet.

Right. The censor-bot. I set my hand on top of the device. “I haven’t forgotten, Martin. Eternal salvation. $2.99.”

He tilts his head.

Well? Show me how it works. Search for porn.”

Sai picks up a piece of broccoli and throws it at me. I don’t even have a chance to react, and her aim is remarkable. The vegetable bounces off my forehead in a splat of brown sauce. I frown at her and reach for my napkin.

You are a terrible person,” she tells me. “Nobody else here wants to look at what Martin thinks of as porn, and he doesn’t understand that you’re joking. Let the poor man alone, or I’m telling Peter.”

I wince. It’s a fucking effective threat, because I actually care what Peter thinks.

You are terrible,” Sai repeats. “Say you’re sorry.” Her fingers twitch in the direction of another piece of broccoli.

As I said: There is nothing shy or diffident about Sai.

I’m sorry,” I say to Martin in flat tones. “I am a terrible person.”

You see?” She shrugs. “He’s like a dog. Terrible manners, but he’ll pretend to behave if you say no firmly enough and keep a close eye on him.”

This characterization would be offensive, except it is also entirely accurate. I decide not to call attention to it by disputing it. I unwrap my sandwich instead.

Here,” Sai continues. “You want to see how it works? I’ll show you. Controls are enabled, yes?”

Martin nods.

Good. Let’s pull up a copy of the Fuck Me to English Dictionary.”

This is what I mean: It’s Sai, for God’s sake. For the last seven years, Sai and George have been the keepers of the Fuck Me to English Dictionary. They not-so-secretly pass on copies to Cyclone employees who are likely to encounter me. I’ve been told that the dictionary is hilarious, although if it’s funny, it’s only because I’m funny.

At this point, the file has grown to a multi-hundred-something page searchable document written in our help file mark-up language. One of these days, someone is going to accidentally—or not so accidentally—ship it with a product release, and Cyclone is going to have some explaining to do.

And that explains why we all need Martin.

The guide comes up on the screen.

**** ME

TO

ENGLISH

v. 5.4

A DICTIONARY GUIDE TO ADAM ******* REYNOLDS

The automatic versioning software has helpfully added the contact information of the guilty parties.

Keepers 1995-2003: pg, gwalsh

Keepers 2003-2005: gwalsh, blake

Keepers 2005-2006: gwalsh, blake, saint

Keepers 2006–present: gwalsh, saint

That’s how this piece of shit censors?” I say. “The stars?”

Yes,” Sai says.

That’s fucking original.” I roll my eyes. “Are they charging $2.99 for a basic swap algorithm?”

Probably.”

Nice work if you can get it.” I shrug and scroll on.

AARDVARK, ***********, the first entry reads.

*********** AARDVARK is a phrase that can have dual meaning (see Appendix 2.1) and must be determined from context. The expression “*********** aardvarks!” used as an interjection is an indication of frustration with excess bureaucracy, and often specifically with SEC regulations regarding forward-looking statements. When directed at a person however, as in the phrase “Aren’t you just a *********** aardvark?” it has positive connotations, praising the person’s adroitness in evading bureaucratic headaches.

Shit,” I say, “that’s crap censorship. Anyone can tell from the context that it’s supposed to be a cocksucking aardvark.”

Of course,” Sai says. “The point of censorship has never been to obscure what is being said, but to make sure everyone knows that you’re too righteous to think it.”

Martin stirs uncomfortably beside her.

AARDVARK, *************, starts the second entry.

Only one person has been designated a ************* AARDVARK: Former SEC Commissioner William H. Donaldson. If you are called a ************* aardvark, then you are William H. Donaldson, and we all really want to know why you’re reading this. No, actually, we don’t. Go away, William H. Donaldson.

I sigh. “Ah. Now I see the problem. This is a fucking pisser. Cyclone employees won’t be able to decode my fucking intent if they put parental controls on their devices.”

I slide the tablet across the table.

New Cyclone policy: No parental controls on employee devices. There. Problem solved.”

Martin’s mouth drops open. Yu frowns at me like I’ve turned into a motherfucking crocodile at the table. Even Sai seems surprised. George, however, is nodding his head as if he knew better. And he probably did; he’s spent more time with me than the rest of them combined.

What?” I say. “Am I supposed to go on a rampage because some fucking idiots out there think their children’s eardrums are made of 14 carat marshmallows? A stupid find and replace isn’t going to stop the kids from discovering the internet. It might, though, make their parents feel safe enough to let the kids read shit without further fucked-up supervision. Win/win.”

The search and replace is not entirely stupid,” Sai says. “It gets all the usual variants and some unusual ones. We have been testing.”

So kids have to get creative in response,” I said. “I have no fucking problem with an app that encourages creativity. It won’t stop anyone. I bet I could come up with three statements in the next three minutes that would belong in the Fuck Me to English Dictionary and would also get through the filter.”

George takes out his wallet and slams a dollar bill on the table. “I take that bet.”

I look at my assistant and put a hand over my heart in a stabbing motion. “Et tu, Walsh? After all these years? Fuck me. You, of all people, should have more faith than that.”

George looks hurt. “Adam. Adam. Nobody on this planet could have more faith in your foul mouth than me. It’s just worth a dollar to hear you do it.”

Martin sighs and looks up.

I grin. “You’re on. First—”

Wait.” Sai holds up a hand. “Let me bring up a separate document. We have to make sure that these get past the filter… Okay. Start the clock, George.”

First,” I say. “French-kiss a donkey’s cloaca.”

Martin winces.

Donkey’s cloaca,” Sai says, typing. “That one got through. One for Adam.”

Fucking fantastic.” I steeple my fingers. “Second. Make a five-course meal from Grandma’s menstrual blood.”

Jesus, Adam.” Martin looks away.

Hey,” I say. “I’m just running through the standard social taboos here. It’s not like this is fucking hard or anything.”

Martin just shakes his head.

I grin. “More taboos… Hm.” There aren’t all that many taboos, honestly. Fewer and fewer every day. “Son of a syphilitic rattlesnake.”

Son of a…” Sai shakes her head. “No good. ‘Syphilitic’ stars out.”

Are you fucking kidding me? How are kids supposed to get on WebMD to find out which STDs they’ve acquired? What a piece of shit.”

I think the parents are hoping their children don’t get STDs in the first place.”

Denial.” I snort. “The least effective form of birth control.”

Thirty seconds left, Adam,” George warns.

Fuck. If they’re censoring syphilis, they’ve probably got necrophilia covered. Corpse…intimacy…shit, not dirty enough. Let’s just go with the tried and true. Choke on my semen.”

I don’t know.” Sai is typing. “That’s a pretty bold move on your part… no, you’re right. Semen goes through. Semen, but not syphilis? Who wrote this?”

Doesn’t matter,” I say. “If semen didn’t work, I had enough time to switch to a synonym. Like ejaculate. This piece of shit can’t distinguish between ejaculate, the verb meaning to exclaim, and ejaculate, the noun meaning jizz. If they were smart enough to detect context and parts of speech, they wouldn’t be wasting their time with fucking censorship. They’d be data-mining with the best of them.”

Okay. You have your three,” Sai says. “Time?”

George glances down. “He got it with fifteen seconds.”

I pick up George’s dollar and take out my wallet. “Eat shit and die, George,” I say. “I hope it was fucking worth it.”

Adam,” says a voice behind me. “What are you doing?”

I don’t turn. I don’t have to. I know precisely who is talking to me—and I know precisely why he has that note of warning in his voice.

What does it look like I’m doing?” I say. Now it’s my turn to pretend innocence. “I’m swearing up a shitstorm and taking money from Cyclone’s most loyal employees. That’s fucking obvious, asshole.”

Peter Georgiacodis pulls up a chair next to me and sets his soup on the table. “I answer three lousy emails,” he says with an aggrieved shake of his head. “It takes me ten minutes, and this is what I find? I can’t leave you alone.”

I look over at Peter. Someone who didn’t know him as well as I did would think that he was mad. He’s tapping his spoon against his bowl, shaking his head, and giving me a severe look. I, however, have seen him fucking angry, and when he’s enraged, his skin turns pale—well, paler—and he gets really quiet.

Right now, Peter is amused.

He’s been CFO at Cyclone for… well, not as long as George has been my assistant, but it’s up there. Along with Sai and George, he’s one of the few people at Cyclone who will actually tell me when I’m full of shit. He’s the only one I always listen to. If I’m the necessary evil at Cyclone, he’s the necessary good.

Aw, Georgiacodis,” I say with pretend sheepishness. “I know I’m not supposed to swear at Cyclone employees, but in my defense, I spent all afternoon on the earnings call and also in my defense, it was Sai and George and Yu. They hardly count.”

Your excuse is pitiful,” he says. “I got asked more questions on the earnings call than you did, and you didn’t have to answer that annoying guy from Deutsche Bank who wanted me to project currency issues over the next years. You don’t get to complain. As to the other, Martin is here, and he counts twice.”

Thank you,” Martin says.

I ignore this.

Besides,” I say in conciliatory tones, “I wasn’t really swearing at them. I was swearing with them. You know that’s a crucial distinction.”

The corner of his mouth tilts up, but he catches himself before he actually smiles. “Not good enough. Try again.”

And,” I say, playing my trump card, “I wasn’t even swearing. That was the whole fucking point. I was explicitly saying things that would pass through a family-friendly child-safe filter.”

Peter finally laughs. “Adam, nothing you say could ever be child-safe.”

It’s true,” Sai says, holding up the tablet. “I only had to throw food at him once. George bet Adam that he could come up with three Fuck Me to English entries in three minutes. They had to get past the child filter.”

Peter takes the tablet from Sai and reads through my efforts, shaking his head sadly.

He’s not sad, whatever fake mournful shit he’s putting on. He’s on the verge of cracking up.

He gets to the end and then looks up at us. “Are your three minutes up?”

Long ago,” George says, checking his phone.

Peter sets the tablet down. “You lose, Adam.”

What? No fucking way! There are three statements there. They got past the child filter. They could go in the Fuck Me to English dictionary.”

No, they couldn’t.”

Fuck me,” I say. “Do you think those aren’t dirty enough?”

Oh, they’re bad. But they’re not all you.”

What?”

You might tell someone to french a donkey’s cloaca, but you would never tell someone to choke on your semen. I invented the Fuck Me to English Dictionary. And you know what? It’s the Fuck Me to English Dictionary, not the Fuck You to English Dictionary. You say a lot of terrible crap, but you’ve never—once—said anything with that level of aggressive nonconsensual sexuality. Your filthiness has standards. Well, one of them, anyway.”

George slaps the table. “You’re right. You’re motherfucking right.”

I consider this for a long moment. “Fuck me,” I finally say. “That’s what I get. I let the clock get to me. I should have worked the necrophilia angle.”

Sai gets out her phone. “Overheard at Cyclone,” she narrates. “Adam Reynolds: ‘I should have worked the necrophilia angle.’ And… Tweeted.”

She didn’t actually tweet that. I think. I ignore her, and then I hand George back his dollar and fish in my wallet for a one.

But when I take it out, Peter shakes his head. “Are you kidding? George bet against you on a matter of dirty language, and you’re giving him one-to-one odds? That’s cheap, and you know it.”

He didn’t negotiate for better.”

He didn’t have to. Properly-calculated odds are the default in any bet.”

Fucking accountant.” But I take a twenty from my wallet and hand it over.

Peter picks up his spoon. “Speak to me with the respect I deserve. That’s motherfucking accountant to you.”

And it is. It’s even in the Fuck Me to English Dictionary.

ACCOUNTANT, MOTHERFUCKING. An expression of annoyance after being corrected on mathematical matters, directed at the person who is doing the correction so long as that person is Peter Georgiacodis.

It’s the only definition in the entire thing that I wrote myself. It’s also the only one that is dead wrong.

But that is another story entirely.

So what’d you think? 😀 I LOVED IT. Of course. If you haven’t read Trade Me yet have you been enticed into giving it a try? 😉 Remember – Adam is a secondary character in Trade Me. Book one is about Blake and Tina. Blake just happens to be Adam’s son – an interesting, and great relationship.

If you want more of Adam, Courtney wrote another short where Adam time travels and meets Frederica Marshall-Clark.

SAPAHM Guest: Amara Royce on George Takei

Hi friends! Gosh I can’t believe we’re nearing the end of May. Where has this month gone?!?! I’ve been really sick for most of this month, so I apologize for not being more “on it.” That’s not the important thing though. What is important, is that we have Amara Royce visiting with us today! Yes, another wonderful APAHM participant! May has been an embarrassment of riches, just like February and March! <3 Without further ado, Amara!

It’s an honor and a pleasure to be among the wonderful guests celebrating APAHM with Limecello and with all of you fine people!

As a writer of historical romance, I’m fascinated by history and, in particular, the intersections of different cultures in history. But today I’m not going to talk about my own writing. Instead, in what might win me the “Has Been Living under a Rock” award, I want to talk to you about the biopic To Be Takei and why you absolutely must see it! I know, I know. You probably all know about it already, and I’m behind the times. But just in case…

To Be Takei is a fascinating documentary about the life and career of actor/activist George Takei, who is most known for his role as Lt. Sulu in the original Star Trek series and films. In case you’re not already familiar with Star Trek, the series was ground-breaking in terms of diversity on the small screen. Considering the fact that it’s still rare to see Asian men in regular series roles, the fact that Star Trek included an Asian male pilot and an African American female communications officer is remarkable, and I’m sure seeing that diverse crew, one that acted as if diversity was normal—because it is or at least it should be—made a huge impact on me during my formative years.

Never Too LateBut the documentary isn’t just about Takei’s work as an actor on the show. In fact, that’s only one small facet of the film, which ranges from Takei’s childhood memories of living in a Japanese internment camp in Arkansas to his struggles with Hollywood typecasting of Asian actors to his marriage to husband Brad Altman. So many vivid and touching and sometimes deeply frustrating moments as we witness what he had his family (and, by extension, so many others in similar situations) went through! (There’s also now a musical based on Takei’s experience entitled Allegiance; it will be coming to Broadway in fall 2015.

The film moves swiftly, almost jumpily, and I suspect that’s because there’s just so much cover. Thoughtful, amusing, sweet, and sometimes heartbreaking, To Be Takei is, I think, a wonderful way to celebrate APAHM and to remind ourselves of the living history around us. Takei himself appears effervescent and indomitable and inspiring.

Coincidentally, this month Takei was awarded the 2015 JANM Distinguished Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement and Public Service by the Japanese American National Museum.

If you haven’t seen To Be Takei, go now!

Always a StrangerIt’s available on DVD and also on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon instant video, YouTube (rental or purchase), and other platforms!

If you have already seen it, well, it couldn’t hurt to watch it again!

So here’s a question for you: What TV shows or movies or books have you found particularly groundbreaking and why?

Amara is giving away a $10 gift card (Amazon or Barnes and Noble) to one lucky commenter!

About Amara: Amara Royce writes historical romances that combine her passion for 19th-century literature and history with her addiction to Happily Ever Afters. She teaches English literature and composition at a community college in Pennsylvania. When she isn’t writing, she’s either grading papers or reveling in her own happily ever after with her remarkably patient family. Website. Twitter. Facebook. Kensington Page.

Remember to answer Amara’s question – inquiring minds want to know – remember, groundbreaking things! Yay!

SAPAHM Guest: Grace Wen

Hi friends! Today we have Grace Wen visiting with us today! I don’t think we’ve ever had a post like this before, and I think it’s really cool. Grace is also part of the Smithsonian Heritage Month series, specifically, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! I think it’s really cool how food and culture is so intertwined – and how Asians especially seem to be touching on the subject this month. 😉 Hey – with so much good food, why not, right? Anyway I think Grace leaves the best closing here possible, so I’ll just leave her – and you all to it! Michigan cuisine ahoy! [And you’ll see I’m on my best behavior for SAPAHM because I didn’t even make any snarky comments about that state up north! … >.> I mean…] *angelface* 😉

Asian Americans in MichiganDuring the first few years of my career, I wrote articles for food magazines and book proposals for local chefs. Although I write mostly fiction now, I have an essay in the book Asian-Americans In Michigan where I share my experience as an ABC (American Born Chinese) who rarely cooks or eats Chinese food.

I credit my parents for my eclectic tastes. My childhood family meals could contain Campbell’s soup or Kentucky Fried Chicken one day, stir-fried vegetables or rice porridge with dried fish and pickles the next. My earliest cooking memories with my mom include making everything from potstickers to Little House On The Prairie cookbook dishes to classic Quaker Oats oatmeal raisin cookies. We even have a family baklava recipe, which was given to us by a Lebanese friend thirty-five years ago. I may be Chinese, but my food habits reflect America’s delicious diversity. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I found two other Asian-American authors who write about their connections with food and Michigan:

Coney Detroit by Katherine Yung and Joe Grimm

Katherine Yung and co-author Joe Grimm deep-dive into one of the signature foods of Michigan, and Detroit in particular–coney dogs. Coneys are natural casing hot dogs cradled in a steamed bun and topped with beanless chili, mustard, and chopped onions. It takes practice to eat it one-handed without dripping sauce on your clothes, but it’s yummy, worthwhile practice. In southeastern Michigan, you can often find a coney island restaurant nearly every mile. Some, like the legendary Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island in downtown Detroit, are next door to each other. I live within walking distance to three coney islands myself.

Yung writes that her husband inspired her love for coneys. That love shines through as she explores the history of coney islands and coney culture, visits the local manufacturers that supply the Detroit area’s many coney islands, discovers food spinoffs (coney pizza, anyone?), and even interviews a Michigan artist who creates coney-themed art.

Stealing Buddha's Dinner

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

Bich Minh Nguyen writes poignantly about her tumultuous childhood as a Vietnamese immigrant in 80s-era Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her grandmother cooked traditional specialties such as spring rolls, beef satay, shrimp chips, and red bean cakes, and her Latina stepmother introduced her to tamales, arroz con pollo, and empanadas, but Nguyen longed to have what other kids had: Cheetos, Bundt cakes, candy bars, Spaghetti-Os, Little Debbie snack cakes. To her, those foods represented what it meant to be a “real” American.

Nguyen uses food to illustrate the vast differences between her and her neighbors. Her best friend rejected the Vietnamese food Nguyen’s grandmother made, and lunchtime was fraught with anxiety as students compared the contents of each other’s lunch bags. In one chapter, Nguyen devotes ten pages to food descriptions in books, recognizing that the white protagonists in the stories she loved, such as Laura Ingalls, Jo March, and Harriet the Spy, represented girls she wished she could be. In the end, as she made spring rolls with her grandmother, she embraced the multiple cultures in her life instead of rejecting them, accepting that she can never become like her blonde friends no matter how much “real” American food and culture she ingested.

Gastronome Jean-Antheme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” Readers, how does food reflect who you are, where you’re from, and where you live now? Has it changed over time?

SAPAHM: Vicki Essex

Hi friends!! So we have Vicki Essex visiting with us today! She’s also participating in SAPAHM, and this year Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is welcome to all! (Also Canada is part of North America, so that counts right?) 😉 I love these posts about identity and experience, and I hope you’re enjoying them too – and maybe learning something?

The Futility of Cultural Self-Identity When No One Believes You By Vicki Essex

A Recipe for ReunionWhat are you?”

While I will usually answer this racially loaded question with a raised eyebrow, I generally don’t appreciate the follow up I sometimes get:

Are you sure?”

Or “Really? I thought you were _______.”

Or “Funny, I don’t even think of you as ______. I think of you as _______. ”

At one point in my life, when I got this response, I’d felt as though I’d disappointed someone with my answers. Only recently did I realize the complex mix of frustration, bafflement and sometimes anger was cluing me into the fact that I’ve long suffered from a cultural self-identity crisis.

Had I been unconsciously trying to meet others’ perceived cultural expectations? Conversely, what if my identity had been swinging from one end of a spectrum to the other in some attempt to counter those expectations?

[Ok, so I just have to add this here… all me, so hopefully Vicki finds it entertaining too…]

Preface: I was born, raised and have lived all my life in downtown Toronto, Canada’s largest and most diverse city. I attended inner-city schools whose populations at the time consisted of over 60 per cent Asian students, mostly of Cantonese-speaking Chinese descent. Almost all of my close friends were Chinese. My school provided concurrent Cantonese language classes, and my parents spoke Cantonese to me at home. I lived in Chinatown, and I was never lacking for world-class Chinese cuisine. I have always been proud of my heritage. I celebrate traditional holidays with family, adhere to some of the stranger customs and superstitions and generally respect the cultural teachings and beliefs my family instilled in me.

And yet, despite this immersion, I was never quite “Chinese enough.” Not to my friends, not to people I’d known for years, not to my family, and apparently, not to complete strangers, who tend to remark on my “perfect English,” or more accurately, my complete lack of Chinese language skills.

It’s true, I don’t speak Cantonese very well. I can barely understand one out of four words, and can only piece together what people are saying based on context. Forget about reading and writing Chinese—despite all those years in concurrent, after-school and Saturday classes, I could never retain the learn-by-rote grammarless, alphabetless language.

In Her CornerThis unfortunate deficiency has long been a sore point for me. Electing to leave Cantonese classes in grade six represented a complete and utter failure and final surrender on my part. I’d always been studious, earning top marks in all my classes; discouraged by failing marks in Chinese class, my confidence waned. What most people assumed should’ve been second nature by dint of genetics and exposure completely eluded my comprehension.

Giving up made me feel worthless, like I was running away from something important. I was incapable and unworthy of “preserving my heritage,” and no one could ever trust me to be a representative of it. By stopping my Cantonese classes, I was diving straight into the insidious Western melting pot. I was supposed to be part of the big, colorful Canadian cultural mosaic; instead, I was sinking into the grout between the jagged seams.

I knew my parents were disappointed. I knew my friends were baffled—after all, how could someone who got such high marks in everything else fail to learn “my own language”?

The thing was, my own language was English. I watched Canadian and American TV and films exclusively. My sisters and I had never taken any interest in the chapter movies coming out of Hong Kong that were so popular among my friends. I listened to oldies and classic rock radio stations, preferring the Beach Boys and the Beatles and David Bowie over the Cantopop my friends loved to sing at karaoke. I read only English books.

And so, I grew up slightly apart from my more fluent friends. I mastered the smile and nod with my Chinese-speaking elders, or else floundered through a simple request.

It wasn’t until I was in university that I realized I was actually part of a racial minority. It was a bit of culture shock—I could count the visible minorities in my journalism program on two hands, and the Asian students on one. Out of habit, I tried to befriend those few familiar faces, but I soon found I had as little in common with them as anyone else. “What they were” didn’t factor into any part in our relationships, or lack thereof.

Back to the Good Fortune DinerI saw little of my high school friends during university. We’d all drifted apart, gathering only occasionally for big events and holidays. I did see other high school acquaintances, ones I hadn’t spent a lot of time in school with. It was at an open mic night event that I had this out-of-the-blue epiphany:

Oh, my God,” I exclaimed to my friend in a whisper, “I’m the only Asian person in this whole room.”

My friend turned to me. “Oh. Weird, I don’t even think of you that way.”

Suddenly self-conscious, I assumed “that way” meant “as an outsider.” Was it because I was a part of the scenery? A fixture as a regular attendee at the weekly event? Or maybe my friend meant he didn’t think of me as Asian. Was I really so “Canadian” that my identity as a hyphenated citizen had been nullified?

Regardless of whether I blended in or not, something inside me rebelled at the idea that I was not who I thought I was. I’ve dwelled on it often over the years. I’d self-identified with the tongue-in-cheek pejorative terms “banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), “whitewashed,” and “jook sing” (Cantonese for “hollow bamboo”) to indicate to others I was CBC (Canadian Born Chinese) and lacked the language skills they expected from me. But now those terms held a little more weight. Ostensibly, I was neither here nor there, an alien among my own people, adoptable by the “others” but not completely. After all, I couldn’t change my skin tone or eye shape. No matter what situation I found myself in, I would forever be asked the question “What are you?”

My identity swung back toward a greater “Chinese-ness” when I started dating my husband, John, who is white. I knew pursuing a long-term relationship with him would mean some compromise on both our parts, but it also brought me closer to my heritage. Never was I more aware of the differences between Western and Chinese culture than I was navigating our separate cultural social protocols.

Her Son's HeroI had to teach him all the niceties I took for granted—the little things like tapping the table to thank someone when they poured tea for him, or never jamming your chopsticks straight up in your food (it makes it look like burning incense for the dead). I never took for granted, though, the challenges John faced. He spent a whole week eating Asian cuisine at the food court just so he could learn how to use chopsticks and not embarrass himself at my parents’ dinner table. Now my relatives can’t pass a meal without commenting on how good his form is.

John and I have been married for nearly five years now. We still encounter the odd person who can’t help but point out how somehow I’m the “different one” in our relationship. Questioning my cultural identity—or even simply pointing it out to me—irks me now more than ever. Part of me wants to believe people are just curious. But I know when people aren’t asking out of curiosity and are simply pointing it out, as if they’re unmasking me with a triumphant “Aha!”

For the record, I do not like it when people do that. It’s not that I don’t want them to ask—I just don’t need them to tell me I’m somehow wrong, as if I’ve disappointed them. I’m not here validate or negate anyone’s preconceived notions of who I am or what they believe me to represent. I have enough neuroses without having to deal with them telling me I don’t know myself. And I certainly don’t need someone holding a mirror up to me and pointing it out, as if I don’t know what I am.

But what are you really?”

The real question is, does it really matter?

So … confess. Have you ever committed this faux pas? I think it also matters if you know a person or don’t. I mean, if you’ve already established a relationship of sorts with a person before you delve into their background/ethnicity. Also it’s just different if the person is a [minority]. If you’re not Asian Pacific American, do you have friends who are? Have you ever heard them lament this type of treatment? One commenter will win a copy of A Recipe for Reunion.

 

SAPAHM Guest: Suleikha Snyder

Hi friends! As you see, today we have Suleikha Snyder visiting with us! I want to just take a minute and personally thank Suleikha for “coming back” – she was supposed to also have been a guest last year … but if you’ve been around for a bit you know last year just … didn’t work. And I didn’t really manage with the communication, so I really appreciate her not holding that against me (and the blog). Thanks, Suleikha! So let’s see what she has to say, shall we? 🙂

Throw This Bengali Tigress a Bone…
By Suleikha Snyder

Spice and Secrets“Wow. She speaks Bengali so well,” the woman, not much older than me, confides to my mother as if I’m not sitting just a few seats away. “I’ve been speaking it all my life,” I interject, dryly, as I have done so often over the years — even to my own father, who always marveled when I dropped a Sylheti word into a phone conversation or groused about an unwelcome meddler being “kebab mein haddi,” a bone in the kebab. (That’s not even Bengali…but I digress.)

“You speak English so well!” is what many first- and second-generation immigrants hear on a daily basis, and when you speak two mother tongues, when you have a foot in two different canoes, you get it from both sides.

I grew up in the American Midwest, where—in the 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s— assimilation was the name of the game. There weren’t huge pockets of South Asians to band together and build temples or mosques and open restaurants and groceries. You had to drive to the opposite end of your state—or even other states—to hang out with friends from “back home.” (As a result, I spent a lot of time in Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia as a child.) And if you spoke a different language at home, you strived to leave it there once you set foot outside. Very few of the Bengali-American kids of my generation have Indian or Bangladeshi accents. Many of them understand their parents’ tongue but don’t speak beyond a few words. Most of them now regret that.

Still, as our communities grew, so did the cultural pride. I remember the folk festivals and mela celebrations held at city convention centers, going up to a puja in Cleveland, and the birth of a tiny $7000-budget Tri-State Durga Puja that’s now a five-figure nonprofit. I remember being dressed up in saris and handmade ghagras and performing classic Bengali dance dramas and folk dances. I learned to play the harmonium (badly), learned to sing (badly) and even took South Indian classical dance lessons and really sucked at that. That is all stuff I was doing before I hit my teens. And, along the way, the Bengali language took root. I went through mutinous periods of not speaking it—mostly in a desperate attempt to be more like my white schoolmates—but by the time I hit my teens, I had a fever for languages. I was taking Spanish in high school, why wouldn’t Bengali hold its own appeal? Especially when I learned to wield it sharply and wryly against my older cousins back in Kolkata!

And then I honed it. Listening. Practicing. Picking up colloquialisms like a verbal Swiffer. Moving to New York has helped me keep fluent because even if I don’t speak it all the time, I certainly hear it everywhere. As much as everyone jokes about Bangladeshi cabbies, the profusion means I can choose to have a conversation in Bengali whenever I hail a taxi. How cool is that? How comforting is that?

Bollywood and the Beast“Wow. She speaks Bengali so well.” I do. Because it’s a beautiful language. Because the swear words are handy, too. And because I am as Indian as I am American. Sometimes it surprises me as much as it surprises everybody else.

Bio: Editor, writer, American desi and lifelong geek, Suleikha Snyder published her first romantic short in 2011, going on to multiple releases in recent years — including three Bollywood romances from Samhain Publishing, Spice and Smoke, Spice and Secrets and Bollywood and the Beast, and a short in Cleis Press’ Suite Encounters anthology. These days, she’s hard at work on more South Asian-themed romance and erotic romance.

Suleikha lives in New York City, finding inspiration in Bollywood films, daytime and primetime soaps and anything that involves chocolate or bacon. Follow her on Twitter @suleikhasnyder.

Did you have a similar experience growing up? Friends that did? How about languages? Do you speak a second, third, or more? Any affinity for them? Inquiring minds wish to know. 😀