OUR BODIES & OTHER FINE MACHINES by Natalie Wee
Natalie Wee published the poem “Yellow Fever” in The Puritan Issue 34, poetry edited by Sonnet L’Abbé. As part of our ongoing Author Note series, Natalie Wee talks about the influences that inspired the poem.
The idea for my piece came after I read Franny Choi’s “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ at Me on the Street,” which deals with the fetishization of Asian women and how they are often constructed as objects for white male consumption.
When I first read the poem, it struck me as not only painfully honest, but also very representative of my own experiences. Personally, I’ve been harassed by white men idling in Toronto’s Chinatown, who would simply stand around to shout things at me like, “where do they grow girls like you?” But when I watched from the windows of a café the next week, I watched the same men harassing not one but multiple Asian women in the same way. Asian women are often considered replaceable not because we have the same sexual appeal or any other racist diatribe, but simply because we are denied the personhood that whiteness affords. While engaging with racists chanting “‘blue lives’ matter” on the Internet, I’ve also been reminded both in comments and personal messages that white men believe Asian women are a porn category and that we have always been just another toy for their satisfaction. Even as a Master’s degree candidate and teaching assistant at a reputable university, I am often reduced to another faceless “sexy geisha” on the street, vis-à-vis similar messages Asian women often face on online dating websites.
It was this coalescence of experiences that led me to identify very strongly with the anger in Choi’s poem. Furthermore, I felt a huge likeness to her, how her poem elucidated the ubiquity of the treatment women like us have often been made to face.
Personally, I’ve been harassed by white men idling in Toronto’s Chinatown, who would simply stand around to shout things at me like, ‘where do they grow girls like you?’
Emboldened by her writing, I wrote my poem after hers to further the discussion about the dehumanization of Asian bodies. Specifically, I wanted to raise awareness of the implicit imperialism that is present in both the economic colonization of many Asian territories and the ongoing colonization of Asian bodies.
This poem, I feel, leaves something unsaid, but who can fully speak of an experience that continually dehumanizes the self? I stumbled upon Choi’s poem when I was looking up Asian poets, a search which was in fact prompted by a message I had received where someone thanked me for being an Asian poet because it made her feel less alone. This is the same way that Franny Choi, Ocean Vuong, Wendy Xu, Chen Chen, and many others have allowed me to feel. I hope that by adding my experiences at the intersection of queer Asian femininity to these voices I will be able to incite courage and alleviate loneliness for others like us as well.
Natalie Wee is the author of OUR BODIES & OTHER FINE MACHINES (Words Dance Publishing, 2016) and ONCE IN A BLUE MOON (BookThug, 2018). She is the Associate Fiction Editor at Broken Pencil Magazine. Her first book is now available on her website.