Online Exclusive: Poetry and Prose by Undocumented Students

Undocumented Asian American college students share their lives in poetry and prose

May 10, 2012

Illustration by Jimmy La

Read more about undocumented Asian American college students in Hyphen Issue 25.

Korean Thanksgiving
BY: Grace Lee

I remember the autumn of South Korea. Leaves that once colored mountains and streets in red and yellow would turn brown and fall softly to the ground. The air was so fresh and cool that I felt as if I were truly breathing for the first time. The cloudless sky was the color of most gorgeous blue as if God, the artist, mixed the pigments just right to paint the perfect blue sky. October, especially, was the month that I looked forward to most because of Korean Thanksgiving. We usually got an entire week off from school for Thanksgiving since it is the biggest holiday in Korea.

In the kitchen, I could hear the loud pan-frying of vegetables. I would help spoon little honey fillings into mini-dumpling-shaped rice cakes and make a cylindrical statue with them. My mother set the table with pictures of our ancestors in the middle, incense that smelled like mosquito repellent on the sides, and five-grain rice and side dishes that were meant for the spirits in the front. And the entire table would be filled with fruits and meat dishes: deep-orange-colored persimmons, ruby-red apples, pears that were as big as human heads, peeled and steamed chestnuts, meatloaf and soup made with taros of a unique texture that American-grown taros simply cannot replicate. And I would poke around the kitchen just like a little mouse, taking a nibble of everything, and stick around by my grandmother who was so happy to feed me.

All day, I would jump up and down and run around in a happy frenzy because my cousins were coming. We would have so much fun together, playing catch out in the front yard or cards in the living room until late at night. I wished that every day would be Thanksgiving, so I could eat and play more than usual and bask in the warmth of my relatives who accepted me as me, without condition or judgment.

Here in America, I feel the loneliest during Thanksgiving. My friends have big plans for their Thanksgiving vacations; they know where they will be going, whom they will see and what elaborate dishes they can expect. They have grandmothers and grandfathers who spoil them, and cousins who mentor them about college life. But my family is always at a loss on Thanksgiving. Our celebration ends with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, because turkey is not popular with my family, and my mom's salad with homemade dressing. There are no guests invited because our apartment is too small to accommodate more than four people and our relatives are miles across the Pacific Ocean. I never appreciated the small things I took for granted until they were taken from me. I didn't know how special it was to be surrounded by people who share the same blood. I miss my aunts and uncles who teased me and said, "미스코리아 왔네!" (“Miss Korea is here!”) even though I never grew taller than 5-foot-3, and my cousins who gave me little trinkets and worn toys they had grown tired of. Every Thanksgiving, I keep hoping that my relatives will come join us. Our house, now so quiet and solemn, will be filled with laughter, clanging dishes and frying vegetables again, and we will have a true Korean Thanksgiving, a celebration of reunion and kinship.
+ + +
American Monster
BY: Mario

One time I snuck into a spaceship
In 2001, I boarded a plane to America.
The mission of the trip was the stars.
All I really wanted was to come to America to pursue a better life.
I was wearing a special suit with one of those astronaut helmets.
I adjusted my headphones and buckled my seat belt. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a furry blue monster.
A well-groomed blonde man in a suit sat next to me.
To me this person represented America, and America was a monster.
He had broad shoulders and was so tall he had to cower a little in order not to hit the ceiling of the airplane, kind of like Frankenstein.
Unlike Frankenstein, this man was very alert and quick.
He skipped the flight attendant's little show on how to use the oxygen masks and went straight to his laptop.
One day, I, too, would be on the go in order to catch up with America's fast lifestyle.
I was intrigued by this man who seemed not to care about my existence.
America pretends I am invisible, but knows I am here.
Still, I find America fascinating and just want to be let in.
This man was not looking outside the window or playing with the service button like I was, but that's all right because we were both going to reach the stars in America.

+ + +
Things I Don't Want
BY: Jirayut Latthi
Age 16
Driving permit: first step to freedom   
Age 17
State ID to see 300 and Superbad
at the box office
Age 18
Birthday, midnight. First lottery scratcher from 7-Eleven
A summer job at In-n-Out Burger or Cold Stone Creamery
California driver's license with an embarrassing headshot
A second-hand car that costs more to maintain than buy
Age 19
Pell grants, Cal grants and federal grants on my financial aid award letter
The ability to accept UC Regents scholarship for exceptional high school academics
A work-study job at Moffitt or Doe: getting paid to arrange books
Age 20
Part-time internship at Bayside Medical Group
Age 22
Federal Stafford loans to pay for medical school
Every Year
A day without fear, a life without bars, visibility, status, legality, papers,
my own nine-digit
+ + +
BY: Catherine
Our first date:

Somehow, over pizza, we begin talking about immigration and you tell me your stance. You are respectful, which is enough for me to give us a chance. Relieved, I tell you earnestly, "Good … because that would have been a deal breaker for me."

We continue exchanging dimpled smiles in between bites of pizza. Before we leave that restaurant, we establish that we're "official" now, that I am yours and you are mine. We are lucky to have found each other.

Early January:

I visit your apartment in Berkeley for the first time. It is spotless with everything put neatly in its place. I am surprised to find yet another reason to like you. But your lack of furniture makes things awkward. Six chairs, but no couch. We must take turns sitting at your computer desk.

Suddenly you ask, "Did you remember to submit your FAFSA?"

The form for federal financial aid was due three days ago. It's an innocent question, but I know where it will lead to.

Hesitantly, I say no.


"I don't qualify."

With a cheeky smile, you ask, "Is your family really rich?"

Again, I say no.

"Why not?"

"I just can't. It's complicated. Please don't pressure me to tell you things. It's not that I'm hiding anything from you or that I don't trust you. I'm just not ready to talk about certain things. Besides, it's not that important. Well, actually it is. But, it's only specific or important to me. It doesn't affect our relationship. Or, at least, it shouldn't. But, I really do trust you!"

You are confused, maybe even hurt. "Let's just drop it," you say. "Let's go to dinner."

It is getting easier for me to tell people about my secret. I don't burst into tears anymore. It's not that I am ashamed or that I am afraid of what would happen if you told other people. I know you wouldn't betray me or my family. But my secret has become more than a circumstance or a label. It has become the reason for everything I do. It consumes me. Could I bear the emptiness if I gave you my reason for being and then you left? It is precisely because you mean so much to me that I can't tell you.

I am sorry that my secret sours our moods. Our evening is only just recovering when I ask you what your middle name is, just out of curiosity. I know it begins with a C, just like mine.

You answer, "I'm not going to tell you. It's complicated. I'm not ready to tell you."

It is getting late now. We exchange good nights, but neither of us wants to let go. We embrace each other in all our mysteries.


Typical of weekday evenings, you initiate a conversation with me over the Internet. Sometimes, it's awkward between us. Sometimes, I miss you terribly. Sometimes, you irritate me. But we are both honoring the promise we have made to each other to stay friends.

Minutes of silence pass after I tell you that I am preoccupied with a writing assignment. Something occurs to me and I wonder if you'll remember.

Slyly and with a smile, I break the silence. "Hey, what's your middle name?"

You reply with five uppercase letters: "NEVER."

But I know better than to say "never." After all, I never expected that I could care about someone so much. I'll be able to tell you one day. It's precisely because you mean so much to me that I want to share all of my secrets with you.


Magazine Section: 

Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.