This second week of the Kundiman NorCal Regional Group’s Fireside brings a special interest from Hong Kong and the ongoing Umbrella Movement protests. Kundiman fellow Henry W. Leung writes:
Begin with the pretext of song.
All songs are love songs.
Make the text unrequited.
Kung hindi man, isn’t it?
“If you will not,” or: “If not for…”
Then make the text your name—
Consider the colonial history—
Consider the example of the blues: a rhythm of a spiritual developed from the labors of long slavery where the notes for the loss of the beloved, sliding between the minor third and flatted third, that mythic blue space non-existent on a western scale, at once affliction and libation, which isn’t really about the loss of the beloved after all but the loss of a motherland—
What is more unrequited than home—
I’m writing this as a reminder that one of the cornerstones of our community is the shared sense of unbelonging. A kind of homelessness. I’m writing this barefoot on a bedsheet on a highway in Hong Kong, at rock-throwing distance from the government offices and the PLA garrison. This [Oct 12] is night fifteen of the Umbrella Movement. The shifts—to hold the line—change as many times daily as do the news and atmosphere of civil disobedience. I’m writing to report that it is neither romantic nor cool nor comfortable to camp on black asphalt under street lighting in the wind. It is not a story to commodify. Hundreds have been here each night, holding space for thousands to gather in the day and continue protesting for genuine universal suffrage. In various iterations, signs and posters declare: “Hong Kong is my home.” This is being demonstrated on the streets as a kind of homelessness.
I’m writing this as a reminder of why you should care. You skeptics at a distance who, like me, stutter over mixed feelings and broken lines, you poets and artists and caretakers of a vast diaspora, who are never native enough in America or the other motherlands that claim you: don’t you hear the holler of a village oceanic, on these looming high roads of stone, this “borrowed place of a borrowed time,” caught between empires, calling finally for the eloquence of a home of its own?
I’m not writing to you about democracy, or justice, or morality, or solidarity, or nationalism, or revolution. I’m writing to you about the first night of every Kundiman retreat when we open the circle and look into faces matured in wounds of longing, and listen. I’m writing about what it means to be a liminal human being hungry to be understood on your own terms.
First, there wasn’t enough news. Now, there’s too much news. There’s not enough listening. Whether you say the protests are just, or irresponsible, at least say they’re important. All the clash and clamor here are the messy articulation of a voice coming into being. And—forgive me this leap—I can’t help hearing in the voice a personal challenge, the reminder of another: here is Audre Lorde, speaking in 1977:
“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself – a Black woman warrior poet doing my work – come to ask you, are you doing yours?”
I’m here, an Asian American poet outsider, doing my work. This and the following posts are a collage of words in an effort toward that work, toward understanding. Translations of poems and essays from the movement will be coming soon in APIA and social-action literary journals. The Kundiman NorCal Regional Group is putting together a related literary event in the coming weeks. Please sit with us and listen.
(Photos courtesy of Vivian Yan, who blogs here.)
Note: The umbrella came to be the symbol for the movement when protesters shielded themselves from police pepper spray on Sep 28 by turning their umbrellas inside-out. International media dubbed the movement the Umbrella Revolution, though the leadership here insists on Movement (運動) to avoid associations with recent “color revolutions” and violent uprisings. In formal written Chinese, the word for umbrella is 雨傘 (yusan), but is seldom used in Cantonese because 傘 is homophonic with 散, which means “to disperse.” So the common term for “umbrella” in Cantonese is 遮 (zhe) which also means “shield” or “shelter.”