MIDWEST MONKEY: A Call for Action & Education


Jasmine An shares her notes from the field in her monthly column Midwest Monkey.

I was going to write a blog post about a tokay (a type of lizard that everyone here in Thailand seems to be afraid will bite them) that camped out in my housemate’s bedroom and resulted in him into sleeping elsewhere, and then somehow connect the tokay to with that Facebook meme that was circulating a couple weeks ago that can be very roughly paraphrased as, “Stop trying to live things how they should be and accept things how they are.”

I think I was going to write something about accepting the tokay in the house and being a flexible international traveler, but instead, the police killed Anton Sterling and Philando Castile within a day of one another, to add to a death-filled couple of weeks where I was still trying to process the news of 250 plus people killed in a bombing in Baghdad during Ramadan, still trying to process the Pulse shooting in Orlando, still trying to process so many other tragedies, and the news of yet more death hit hard. I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and though I’m currently in Thailand, far from the US and for once knowing the feeling of living where nearly everyone looks like me, I think that makes it especially urgent that now I am neither accepting nor silent.

Being overseas and far from my usual social networks, I’m heartsore in a particularly helpless and distant kind of way. But these resources encourage me and make me thankful for the many active and engaged folks committed to anti-racism. Thank you to my social media networks for bringing these resources to my attention (note: this is in no way comprehensive; there are many more helpful articles and resources that can be found online):

Finally, as a poet and lover of words, I want to center the voices of black artists, acknowledge their grief, and also their celebration, joy, and survival. In his keynote speech at the Voices of the Middle West literary festival last spring, Ross Gay said:

“Sometimes it seems to me that a black person becomes more legible in this particular American ground the closer they are to being dead… that is the ground that they would like us to believe in. They would like us to believe that our natural state, our natural condition, our ground is pain… yes, let’s call that an American imaginative ground… and then let me say that I don’t believe in it as a ground… I just believe that it’s a persistent and abhorrent disruption to the actual ground. What’s the ground? Our necessary lives, or, our lives, necessary.”

Check out episode 14 of the Citizen Lit podcast to listen to the rest of Gay’s keynote about Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude, his “book about flowers” that was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry. 

For a powerful collection of performances, poems, and essays, check out Poetry As Church curated by Alexis Smithers at Words Dance Publishing. It includes links to the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut and so many other vital works. 

Listen. Read. Educate yourself. Write. I will be doing the same.

Jasmine An is a queer Chinese-American who hails from the Midwest. A 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo College, she has also lived in New York City and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and she studied poetry, urban development, and blacksmithing. Her chapbook Naming the No-Name Woman was selected as the winner of the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in HEArt Online, Stirring, Heavy Feather Review, and Southern Humanities Review. Her soulmate and forever muse is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. As of 2016, she can be found in Chiang Mai continuing her study of the Thai language.

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