Francesca Hodges 
27 October 2021

Jade is generally cold. Good, quality jade, that is. My mum whispered this to me, her eyes cast down and fixated on the green pendant placed in her palm, her wrist lightly oscillating as she assessed its weight.

We sat, my mum and I, at our round dining room table, silent for the most part as we sifted through her late mother’s jewelry that had donned the necks, wrists, and ears of my Chinese familial side.

I gazed at the donut-shaped stone and saw an entryway into a culture somewhat unbeknownst to me. Pieces like these give permission, like a ticket of admittance, to a space where I tread as a self-proclaimed trespasser.  

But the signs that refuse access have been planted by my own hand, pushed into the earth by my own uncertainty. Space is a thing hard to claim, especially when separated by depth of distance that produces what can only be described as racial melancholia. I long for the knowledge of what feels like another, but is actually myself.  

The space that I exist in floats between my two parts, towing the liminal line in a biracial binary — not adhering to one side or the other. I rarely feel my two sides working in tandem to produce a harmonious identity, especially when I find myself in social and academic environments that favor my whiteness and bestow privileges accordingly.

Rarely am I included in Chinese spaces in university settings, which loosens my hold on that side of my internal binary. However, I still am fiercely protective of my mixed-race identity, as I step into white spaces with a mentality already primed for defense. Internal tension arises, perhaps from what potential questions will be raised about my authenticity and right to claim a culture where my line of connection wears thin. With every question about language, or my personal lack thereof, doubt sneaks into my mind and takes harbor — its residence causes me to question my claim to my own identity.

For the queer, mixed-race, Asian-American identity I grasp at is rhetorically and intrinsically hyphenated, and filled with categorical ambiguity. My biracial binary provokes questions about cultural narratives that are so far gone from familial history due to constant migration, that the narratives I am left with are filled with controlling images and representational renditions of what Chinese women ought to be.

In screen stills of rainy alleyways of bustling bodies that haunt my memory from childhood, images of slender, reserved, stony Asian women seep into the wisps of smoke that rise up to meet a streetlight in the films. Ice cold dragon ladies who excel at kung fu and sword fighting, their strength shining through without letting the slightest emotion escape. Their pale faces always glow in stolen moonlit moments that open up time for them to reflect their turbulent surroundings while maintaining stillness over emotion.

Media renders Asian women into an exoticized phantasm, tucked away in the Orient’s mountain towns or sprawling urban night markets, so entrenched with their surrounding environment that they become one with the fluorescent lights and motorcycle exhaust fumes. When they do step, or are likely forced, into the spotlight, their constructed cold character confirms erroneous beliefs that Asian women are incapable of love, of warmth.

But I have always felt a kind of love that resonates from a hearth fueled with the complicated fire of equal parts spite and care. The maternal Chinese figures who hold screentime scenes in my own narrative use their heat to prepare and dish out a type of tough love that mirrors my own defensive tendencies. Compliments are rarely given for free, without an accompanying scolding. One must work for familial acceptance.  

To be on the defensive is to harbor a history where space has been taken away. To have fists ready is to have a constant threat to your personhood. For Asian women, this backstory holds true, as whiteness warps bodies and claims access to a constructed Orient that holds Asian women with a firm grasp strengthened by an imperial history and Eurocentric gaze. The construction of the category of what it means to be an Asian woman is an amalgamation of desire and destruction.

My defense of my identity is when I have felt the closest to my Chinese side, in such a time where my fists have joined the ranks of many raised arms, fists curled up tight around a claim to space, to existence. The exhaustion I have felt since the Atlanta shootings of March 16, in addition to the general fatigue from viewing violent hate crimes against AAPI community members, inundates the days until I am saturated with sadness and experiencing the anguish of anger towards not just one person, but an ideology of white supremacy.

Since March, the heat of pure hatred and coldness of melancholia fluctuated until the two emotions could not be distinguished. My laptop keys became familiar with my tears, as I stared at stories about the victims lives, full, complete, and cut short lives, and attended vigils where wails met the wind and created a swansong of loss.

At one such vigil, I sat alone on a patch of grass that overlooked an altar in an Oakland Chinatown square, overflowing with flowers and strongly perfumed with burning incense, which stuck haphazardly out of rice-filled vases. As a circle of black-clad figures pounded their fists against the faces of janggu drums, each musician lent their heads back and wailed into the early evening wind. The traditional Korean funeral ceremony summed up the crowd’s collective sadness: a combination of crisis and comfort. I became entrenched in the vulnerability of strangers who were honest in the volatility of their emotions. In that space, I was not a hyphenated self, but a fully fledged member of a community brought together by grief. I sat amongst and met many other members of a variegated crowd, dotted with jade throughout.

My jade, as I still bear the pendant my mum held on to so close, and its coldness contrasts the natural heat of the chest that bears it, to the gold chain that it hangs on, which itself grows warm with wear. It’s with this that I am attempting to grasp at my Chinese side, and pull it closer, so that no more space exists between my chest and the culture I seek to immerse myself in fully.

I desire to soak up what I am distanced from until I am almost leaking from excess. But this exact wish is to create a phantasm of my own design — imagining the final point of knowledge I may access, instead of hoping for the process of learning about one side of myself. For no amount of dishes I may learn, words I may speak, or pieces of jade I may don, will rid my mind of a racial imposter syndrome spoon-fed to me by my location, knowledge, and composition.

So I must slowly grant myself the permission to enter into a space that I already inhabit, growing more comfortable with each tender step of learning. I will try to unfurl my fists, if they are raised against my own self-doubt, and exist in a liminal space that I may fully lay claim to.