Alyssa Ho, age 17
I wrote this poem in response to anti-Asian hate.
Half the size of my thumb,
a Buddha pendant lies
on the waves
of my shirt as it folds and wrinkles
and I pass through my days so quickly,
I can’t believe how many years
she’s been away.
The necklace belonged to my great-grandmother
who fled the Communist Revolution –
to some, the War of Liberation –
but all in all her own persecution.
She sailed all this way,
and this is the part where I could say
how this pendant has passed through generations,
that this sacred artifact of pure jade
reminds us all of the path she paved,
the American life she made.
But that is simply
not the truth.
Rather, this necklace is worth two dollars,
the jade is probably fake, and
no one seemed to care for the sacrifices she made.
So when she passed away,
my family thought keeping it would be a mistake.
They said even though she’s dead,
she will live on in our hearts instead.
But I was very young then,
didn’t understand a word that was said, who was dead.
All I can remember is
I put that necklace over my head just because
I thought it’d bring me luck.
And that’s how I’ve viewed it all this time:
just a charm to keep me from harm,
not caring about the ancestor
who wore it before
or how it carried her faith in the etchings
of Buddha’s palm.
All that changed
this past year
when I realized for the first time what it was like
to have fear.
Fear to go outside even with a mask,
my black hair and thin eyes giving away my disguise.
I was suddenly aware of everyone’s stares,
the word “Asian” in “Asian American” bolded more than ever before.
I grew up spoiled on American soil
had no trouble believing I belonged,
thinking I’d never be wronged because of my race.
But I’ve learned that that
just isn’t the case,
that even though I’ve personally been safe from hate,
I can no longer stand idle in this debate.
The pendant I wear proves my place here,
proves my great-grandmother’s faith brought us here.
And although I do not share her faith,
we share this necklace –
a reminder that my culture is not a piece of luck or worth two bucks,
but a statement
that we are not complacent about the treatment of our people.
Hate is the virus that’s been here much longer,
affected my great-grandmother before me,
so don’t you expect
that with each new crisis and bias
for me to stay silent.