Minor Feelings | Cathy Park Hong

Summary of: Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
By: Cathy Park Hong


Dive into the intriguing world of ‘Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning’ by Cathy Park Hong, where the complexities of identity, race, and belonging are dissected through the author’s personal experiences and observations. Uncover the challenges faced by Asian Americans, often caught in a purgatorial state between black and white identities, and experiences that are often ignored or dismissed. Through reflections on moments from her life and the examination of the stories of other Asian Americans, Hong’s engaging narrative unravels the contradictions and complexities that encompass what it means to exist as an Asian American in the United States.

The Complexity of Being Asian in the United States

Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings”

In her book, Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong delves into the complexities of being Asian in America through her personal experiences. During a poetry reading in Wyoming, Hong realizes that Asians are often ignored, regarded as neither Black nor white. They are simply in a purgatorial state where their identity is poorly defined. Hong’s encounter with a therapist who dismissed her after just one session further emphasizes the feeling of being unseen and unheard.

Hong balances her personal experiences with broader cultural events, like David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese American being forcefully removed from a plane. Dao had fled Saigon in 1975, yet the media chose to portray him as an everyman with his Asianness deemed irrelevant. This perpetuates the idea that Asians are not considered a minority in the same vein as Black people.

The book stresses that despite having dissimilar family backgrounds and varying levels of privilege, Asians in America still share self-hate and shame. Assimilation may be seen as a solution to this complex issue, but it begs the question, what happens to their identity if they quietly disappear into American society?

Minor Feelings offers a profound and thought-provoking exploration of the difficulties Asians experience in America. Cathy Park Hong sheds light on what it means to exist as neither Black nor white, feeling ignored and misunderstood.

Richard Pryor’s Impact on the Author’s Battle with Depression and Race

The book describes the author’s experience battling depression and race issues, which Richard Pryor’s comedy helped her overcome. The author explains how Pryor’s stand-up routines brought light to how race affects a person’s life. She shares a concern for “minor feelings,” manifested as negative thoughts toward oneself due to race. Though she admires Pryor, she notes that his binary view of race excludes Asian people. The book also touches on the LA race riots of 1992 and how they affected Korean immigrants. The author suggests that writing about race is both polemical and lyrical, filled with complexities and contradictions, but there’s no denying that race has a significant impact.

The Complexities of Growing Up in an Asian Immigrant Family

The Catcher in the Rye is a classic novel that portrays Holden Caulfield’s obsession with his lost childhood. However, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko author, Catharine Hong, suggests that childhood is connected with innocence and an Anglo-American thing. She explains that growing up in an Asian immigrant family is a complicated experience that contrasts with Holden’s idealized childhood. Hong’s father grew up in poverty in Korea, eating sparrows he caught himself. He eventually found success as a businessman in LA, but the harshness of his journey remained hidden. Similarly, Hong’s grandmother escaped North Korea with a child on her back to move to the US years later to help her daughter with childcare. Hong’s memories of her childhood often evoke feelings of fear and shame, unlike the idealized innocence portrayed in The Catcher in the Rye. Therefore, the key message is that the Asian immigrant experience is a complex journey of its own.

Finding Her Voice

Poet Cathy Park Hong shares her journey of finding her artistic identity through her relationship with the English language and her female artistic friendships.

Cathy Park Hong, a poet, found her literary identity through her adversarial relationship with the English language. She experienced difficulty in learning English at first due to being surrounded by bad English as a child, which eventually became part of her literary identity. Hong relishes bad English and even includes it in her poetry to challenge how we hear the language. She uses it as a tool to “other” English by eating it before it eats her. Hong collects pictures of badly translated Asian signs and menus that advertise “roasted husband.”

Hong found her artistic identity through her female artistic friendships while studying art at Oberlin. She and her friends, Erin and Helen, created fascinating and imaginative art together, which helped them find each other’s voices. Though Hong initially chose art over poetry, she ultimately chose the latter. She returned to her fraught relationship with the English language and played ruthlessly with tone to “other” the language.

Hong’s story is not unique to Asian American poets. She shares the tragic story of a predecessor who also experimented with language in a similar fashion. However, what sets Hong apart is her complex relationship with Helen, who was hugely talented but mentally troubled. Despite the rift caused by Helen’s use of Hong’s poetry without permission, Hong remembers the confidence and arrogance they shared in their artistic endeavors, a feeling she has never been able to recapture in adult life.

In her artistic journey, Hong shows us that art is a process of constantly finding and shaping one’s identity. It involves embracing the good and the bad, including our adversarial relationships with language.

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