Circus Business


Yeo boh say yo?

I say into the phone,

Quickly and quietly

But still the room grows silent

and I wonder

How many eyes have me in a glass case propped up for display.

I end the call after 3 “yeah”s and 1 “no” and 1 sentence that felt would never end until the

friends started laughing and adults started asking and the “how do you say” requests and


I start wishing I wasn’t Korean.

White peers see bilingual as a gift

But do not confuse this as our talent show,

When in reality we are captured in a circus act

And we

Are the brown and yellow animals laboring for your entertainment,

Today, yesterday, for the past few centuries.

Our various languages feel pain by different

sang cheo deul,  kizu no, shan kou

But you condense us into one chunk to grind into humor

To have our difficulties peppered into your jokes.

Have our distinct language histories be forgotten

So you can compare our unique names

To silverware tumbling down the stairs

The stairs in which we then throw our names

Down like white flags to surrender to new, “prettier” ones

Meanings that were held in each syllable replaced with empty Latin letters

Easily written but always seem to st um b le

And come out like unaccustomed animal groans-trying to mimic the sound of human words

We hear you laugh at our attempts to fit in

As we start our small businesses from scratch

But you only seem to see them as balls balanced on our noses

We work our asses      off

Only for people to just walk out and say

“That Asian lady’s accent was so bad”

followed by a gross imitation of her speech

or “Ugh those cheap asians totally ripped  us off”

As If America Didn’t Rip Us Off

With their banner printed “All men are created equal”

under “Land of the Free”

But with our limited English

What we didn’t notice was the small print at the bottom

Letting us enter the tent, but seating us in chains.

Inviting our words, our food, our culture,

But not



People want Asian writing

Decorating their houses, tattooed on their arms

Because it “is beautiful” or “really cool”

But once we read it they jump to the sounds of “ching” and “chong”

Much like author J.K Rowling

Who thought Cho Chang was an appropriate name to give to the only Asian girl in the story,

If you stop and actually start to appreciate Asian culture

Instead of Asian mimicry

You’ll know that Cho and Chang are last names of two different nationalities

But don’t mind that she just needed a name for a character, it’s no different from Elizabeth

Smith or Emily Johnson


Breakfast at Tiffany’s

A great classic with Audrey Hepburn, pearls and black dress,

But Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, the always-angry-homeowner.

Hear the fake Japanese accent like factories whirring,

Look at his face artificially crafted like those on Mount Rushmore

Wipe that off, show white skin underneath

If Only I Could ‘PRETEND’ To Be Asian

Wear a temporary yellowface mask

put it on in the morning when everything about it looks fine in all directions

take it off at night before snuggling in white sheets of privilege

take it off when some kid makes a dog-eating joke

when my house is pervaded by the smell of kimchi

when some girl makes a joke about nail salon workers,

when  i’m with my parents in public


When that one day in a car ride back from school my mom asked,

“Are you ashamed?

That I speak in an accent,   My English is broken?

Are you ashamed that you come from my womb

Birthed in Korea,    raised by these hands,

Yet are you ashamed because I sound stupid?”

I give no answers, I can’t

find words in either language to respond

Because Ashamed is another one of the A-words I was.

Going along with internet Asian jokes, learning them, repeating them myself

Forgetting who I was

I propped up the entirety of my origin as a prop,

My vision distorted by stage lights

My feet stepping to the rhythm of the circus master’s whip.

The spotlight does not glorify me.


I now see the bars,

inside the tent,

people wandering

And the gift shop selling miniature imitations for cheap

Customer throws one at me, starts screaming that I didn’t catch it

“Why can’t you take a fucking joke”

These bars don’t give me space to laugh


This poem is about: 
My family
My community


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