RITES OF AN OLD WAR | Sophia E. Terazawa

Imagine the struggle for interracial love as a series of group discussions, nothing more. Nobody shrieks and flies for the throat.

Plates, unbroken.

Ground rules.

“Safe” space.

Imagine that the interpersonal work against racism is at a round table, in a concert hall, within a forum. Nothing more.




To my mother, Angelina Jolie is a demi-god, and anyone beyond three shades darker is a little scary.

As a means to claim sanity in the daily chaos of terrorized and murdered people of color, such mass gatherings are at first imperative for our physical, spiritual, and emotional survival. During my second year at Ithaca College, I send photos home to my mother after news of another suicide at Cornell. Rumor, she writes in a panic,

that suicides is Asian.

Bad luck.

Come home.

She wants to know if I will be Asian and Fine on a campus that I had described in the previous year as “so white, I cannot deal with it.” “Look Ma,” I write back, “here are photos of me with friends. I am happy. I am Fine.” She does not respond for an entire week, and when I ask my little sister on the phone about our mother’s mental health, she quotes the devastation in heavy line breaks:

Ma says “why

my daughter

with so many Blacks?”

Her internalized racism is the anxiety of many Vietnamese immigrants, uprooted and bombed by the same country that welcomed yellow and brown orphans with open, charitable arms. To my mother, Angelina Jolie is a demi-god, and anyone beyond three shades darker is a little scary. This is the concession she had to make. Do not complain. Be forever grateful. And for the love of America, believe everything on television. For that reason, television is my mother’s poetry:

But so many Blacks

not safe like Asian.

Cannot deal together.

There are other ways to “deal” with the violence of our times—denial, separation, neutrality, the blind hard work of a Model Minority ethic that says anything the white man does I can do better—but for now, fighting toward equality as a collective feels so much better than simply “dealing” with inequality through isolation.

I write for the necessity of Afro-Asian solidarity.

People are dying at the sound of American gunfire, within and outside the empire’s borders; and I must try to understand that the refugee’s fear of Blacks in America stems solely from the paranoia that if she does not side vehemently and unconditionally with a gun-toting white man, he may very well turn his gun on her. History continues to load the same weapon. Mass incarceration is the same weapon. Foreign policy is the same weapon. My mother’s absent Vietnamese is a reminder of the bullet holes.

I write for the joy of Afro-Asian solidarity.

Within the institutional bubble of college life, while being non-white on a predominantly white campus, I find comrades in the struggle. We giggle and cackle. We cook food together. We go everywhere together. And when someone needs to check out, that is okay, too. We bring soup later. Amid a devastatingly bleached landscape of a police state named Amerikkka, we recognize each other, and to some extent, we attempt to heal what we have not been able to heal alone.

My skin is yellow. Is yellow. And all I see is my venom against white people consuming me whole.

It is a Friday night, and we are crammed, all 21 of us, in a living room on campus. We roll our eyes at Facebook whites that are “down” for the struggle but leave the discussion when it gets uncomfortable. We talk about patriarchy and the violence of racial fetishism and Kochiyama and Jigglypuff’s performance angst and fucking, giving zero fucks about being “too angry,” “too sensitive,” “too righteous.” And yes, it is still a “safe” space.

Imagine the struggle as this, only this. Nobody punches a hole in the wall. Nobody cries foul. Nobody hurts anybody. And if a person of color happens to fall in love with The White Man, we hope, dear god, that they will make it to the other side. In the name of Decolonizing Touch, toward Port Liberation we vow to sail (with zero flying fucks) above a trail of our Master’s bitter tears. There is a wedding party every month, and High Priestess Audre Lorde bears witness to the union of Comrade and Comrade. In sickness. And in mental health. In love alone, we trust. Amen.


But I hate to sing of ordinary love at a time like this.

There are so many other things to write about: the pedophilia of Yellow Fever, Jennifer Laude, a brown tide cometh to harvest, partition, a “parking dispute” in North Carolina, forced sterilization, gentrification. Instead, I have essentially memorized the rhymes of another place where the bees don’t crack. Spit them back at the sun. Rain comes forth, washes the color out.

What I am trying to say is that it hurts. Loving a white man hurts. There is literature about interracial relationships that do not “see” race, and there is literature about the bone-shattering kind, the kind that splits a spine in three places in the back of a squad car, the kind that jeers at caricatures of North Koreans, the kind that shoots on sight, the kind that humiliates my father in public, the kind that humiliates my father in private, and worst of all, the kind that denies any of this really happens at all.

What I am trying to say is that it hurts. Loving a white man hurts.

I carry the sacrificial rites of an old war. In place of sanity, I conjure the murdered ghosts of my mother’s family. I survive on incantations, choke, and lose the ability to speak of incoherent horrors. I sever ties to white America because I can no longer perform assimilation or wide-eyed gratitude without erasing my humanity. I write poetry in English and sacrifice everything else. This is what really happens in an Asian America that chooses Black Power. It is a freedom that demands reparations for the internment camps, while calling Japanese Americans to action for Ferguson. It fights for the labor rights of nail salon workers, while organizing Vietnamese communities against the increase of U.S. weapons technology to terrorize Black youth here, Mexican youth at the border, and Afghan youth, Somali youth, all yellow and brown youth around the world.

Meanwhile, I keep the personal unwritten struggle—of a cross-racial, cross-class, cross-sexed marriage—private in an empty tin box. To write heartbreak, to give it words and transport its force from one person to a third person, family to professor to neighbor to audience… No, I cannot do this. I should not expose it all. I must not share something so domestic, so small, so ugly, with the collective people, even though we have shared so much more.

There is no round table, no concert hall. It is just rage and text on a computer screen. A young white man has just killed nine Black people in a house of worship, and in the next room, another young white man closes his eyes. This is the man I love, and his name is Dylan, too.

I write this now to give testimony of our will, our sheer will to be with each other despite the wounds.


Curate this.

Claim this.






What happens to the “safe” space when a second bomb drops?

You are in color, and the rage is thick. It hangs from the corners of your eyes like molasses. It comes with a swamp.

My body, the Pacific. My body, the fractures. My skin is yellow. Is yellow. And all I see is my venom against white people consuming me whole. I attempt to make poetry out of my face looking at smiling white faces.



It would be a lie to write about anything else right now.

It would be a lie to end with a positive message, neutered for capitalism, neutered in the name of postcolonial theory, neutered for textbook solidarity, neutered for a speech called, “I have a dream that one day we can all love each other (and nothing else will matter).”

Neutered for hope.

And I do have a dream.

It is crawling. It crawls. I dream of you, crawling. Your hair is thick, tangled, and black with monsoon. You are in color, and the rage is thick. It hangs from the corners of your eyes like molasses. It comes with a swamp. It whispers with demands upon your body, demands made for you because you are a woman who is not white.

Because you were always meant to die in the movies. Because you were always the backdrop. The quick love scene or massage. The yellow punch line. The sidekick. The one who was ALWAYS supposed to take it with a choppy, infantile accent. The one who had permission to love a white man for the time being in the appropriate jungle setting. The one who was supposed to step graciously to the side when he leaves. The Madame Butterfly. The one who should not make a fuss. The one who should not “make it about race.”

And now you are crawling on your stomach. The tunnel of your devastation is slick and long. It writhes. It gasps and screams. It screams, oh, it screams.


Sophia E. Terazawa lives in Kolkata, India. She is the daughter of a Vietnamese refugee but inherited her father’s short temper. www.sophiaterazawa.com

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.