I know that maybe it is easy to dismiss Trillin's poem as satire. He's not making fun of Chinese people, he's making fun of white people who don't know as much as he knows about Chinese food. However, reading it as an Asian American, it gave me a familiar sense of feeling sick. The feeling I got in elementary school when friends would make comments about the smell of my packed lunch, the feeling of hearing those same friends talk about how much they loved Korean Barbecue a few years later. What I mean is, the poem wants to talk about Chinese food, without any Chinese people. Ultimately, being a satire on racism does not protect the poem from itself being racist. Perhaps even, it would be easy to dismiss Jack Bartholet's behavior: after all, it's just student government, what does that matter? But I would say it matters a lot. We're spending our formative college years here. This is our only chance to elect someone who will have some power at Hopkins, no matter how seemingly small or unimportant that power may be. It's frustrating to see someone who wasn't even elected into the position of executive president, use that power to shut down a fellow student who was trying to bring up an important issue that has been consistently ignored.
I am angry with Calvin Trillin. I am angry with Jack Bartholet. But mostly, I am angry at The New Yorker, I am angry at Hopkins. While these incidents have revealed the ignorance of these particular white men, they are ultimately reminders of how these institutions aggressively refuse to acknowledge or even consider people of color. When Trillin's poem was published in the New Yorker--the magazine where every aspiring poet dreams of seeing their work published, when Jack Bartholet rolls around in his swivel chair and tells a black student that we don't have time for a question about diversity, I hear: You are not welcome here. You are not worth our time, our space. You are not one of us. I'm an Asian American poet, I'm a student of color at Hopkins, and this week, my existence felt like one big joke. How foolish am I for dreaming of being published in The New Yorker, when their editors can approve and publish a poem like Trillin's without thinking twice? For that matter, how can the Michener Center still be my "top choice" MFA program, when Dean Young's latest poem saying "I wish I was an ancient Chinese poet" gives me that same sick feeling from before? How could I think for one second that Hopkins, as an institution, is here for me, when my own student government isn't?
This is the importance of having minorities in editorial roles, in student government roles, the exclusion and erasure of people of color happens at a structural level. To quote Wo's post, "this is why we need organizations like Kundiman, and AAWW, and Kaya Press, and the AALR," this is why we need to vote in our student government elections. So, donate to these organizations, and read poems by actual Asian poets, like Lee Young Lee's Persimmons, or Tarfia Faizullah's 1971, or Fatimah Asghar's america, or Wo Chan's Such As, or Franny Choi's Choi Jeong Min, or Ocean Vuong's Aubade with Burning City, just to name a few that have been giving me life this week.
In class, we've been reading excerpts from Poet's Choice. I am thinking of Hirsch's introduction, in which he says that "[t]he words are marks against erasure" (xv), and I hope reading this work and helping these organizations, will be steps towards dismantling the hegemony. All I know is that I don't want there to be room for the ignorances of another Calvin Trillin, or Michael Derrick Hudson, or Vanessa Place, or Ezra Pound, or Jack Bartholet, and these organizations and poems are the things give me hope that there won't be.
Hirsch, Edward. "Introduction." Poet's Choice. N.p.: Mariner, 2007. Xii-Xv. Print.