It Begins Here

February 5, 2016

I used to be an apathetic Asian American. For most of my 20s and early 30s, the chase for "success" dominated my life. Like many first-generation immigrants, I thought that attaining the trappings of mainstream status — the top-tier school degree, the corporate job, the connections, the car, the starter condo etc. — would somehow guarantee happiness and fulfillment.

So I kept my head down and studied my ass off to go to law school for the sake of the six-figure salary. Chasing “the dream,” I was cut off from my own history and community  — I couldn't have told you anything about Vincent Chin, Grace Lee Boggs or Yuri Kochiyama. Discussions about political issues like affirmative action and immigration made me roll my eyes and sent me walking briskly in the other direction. Why would anyone dream of working at a nonprofit, I thought.

But then, after a semester of law school, I found myself miserable and pathetic. I dropped out and went into full crisis mode.

Left with shattered ambitions and nothing else to lose, I returned to my first love, literature, and immersed myself in the works of Asian American authors and poets I had missed out on in college. I soon became inspired to follow in their footsteps, to render my own experiences and thoughts in fiction and verse. But here's the thing: I quickly discovered that there weren't very many channels out there for my voice and my stories. I was made to feel that immigrant narratives were passé, experiences of marginalization and subjection to oppressive, racist and sexist expectations of the dominant culture were tiring and Tagalog and other foreign words were too "distracting." Anything deemed "too ethnic" was thought to alienate audiences. When I submitted to publications, I was often told by editors to change elements that I found integral to my pieces.

But I was determined. Do you think I was going to listen to "The Man" again after being led astray by him for so many years? Hell, no. This time around, I would call the shots and assert my self-determination. I decided to revolutionize my life and my direction.

My refusal to compromise is what led me to Hyphen — it was the only space where I could fully explore my ideas and find boundless encouragement from like-minded supporters. And here, at our humble magazine, we still work mighty hard to keep avenues for Asian American voices and stories wide open and free from compromise.  Our perspectives often begin at the peripheries, in spaces commonly overlooked by mainstream media. In "Cyberhate Is Real Hate" (p. 12), managing editor Michele Carlson takes stock of rampant cyber hate-mongering and calls for more vigilant accountability. In "Indian Magic" (p. 27), writer Liuan Chen Huska describes an academic-magician's re-adaptation of the art's conventions in order to devastate historically-constructed assumptions. In "Cambodian Film Version 1.5" (p. 58), writer Sokunthary Svay casts the autogenocide narrative in a more ambivalent light and challenges the notion of closure provided by the widespread, linear narrative of escape from war to resettlement in a new Western land.  

Other features, such as the article on the reformation of Japanese internment camp sites into markets that celebrate a community's resourcefulness (p. 15) and the re-envisioning of food preparation as an act of historical and cultural reclamation (p. 8), also inspire fresh conceptualizations of grassroots movements that serve as the foundation of revolutions big and small. For added inspiration, we also include quotes at several margins of the magazine from members of the community about what “revolution” means to them.

My own evolution and path to Hyphen is one I’m sure that is repeated each time our magazine gains a new reader or reaches those peripheries from which we shed light on the variegated experiences of being Asian American. And it is my hope, as individual evolutions occur, that Hyphen will continue to raise the rallying cry for our communities to unite and tell our stories, enriching and empowering each other along the way toward a new revolution.

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Abigail Licad


Abigail Licad is one big FOB and damn proud of it. She grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to San Leandro, CA at age 13.  She has a BA from University of California, Berkeley and a master's degree in literature from Oxford University. Her poetry and book reviews have appeared in Calyx, Borderlands, The Critical Flame, and the LA Times, among othersShe has formerly served as Hyphen's editor in chief.

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