I picked up this book at my school’s library the other day because I liked the title. Turns out she teaches at Rutgers-Newark in the MFA program. Cool.
Anyway Minor Feelings is a memoir about life in America. Cathy Park Hong’s parents are from Korea, and she grows up watching them figure out how to make it work in the U.S. She doesn’t write much about her mother tho. She does write about not writing about her–that she can’t, yet, it feels. Which I get. What she is interested in is the process of existing. This book is basically a cultural analysis of Asianness. So much of which has to do with immigration. Chinese immigrants who died building railroads, only allowing professional types from Asian countries to come into the U.S., the Muslim ban.
And then it’s more than just what goes on in America too. She writes about her grandfather being pulled out of his home in Korea by American soldiers and just before killing him, a translator happened to be like oh wait that’s not the right guy. Like what?? And then when Hong is settling into her college dorm, her roommate’s dad hears they’re Korean and proudly says he fought in the Korean War. As if that would be a nice little anecdote. And what’s worse is that Hong didn’t understand either at the time why her dad just smiled and didn’t respond. So there is a disconnect for her too until she is able to grow up and reflect on what went on in her life.
Because the truth is that Asians (like everyone else) perpetuate racist ideas too. Her mother told her once growing up that she needed to stop hanging out with a girl because she was Mexican. Hong tells the girl that and the girl says “but I’m Puerto Rican.” Damn. What Hong says about Richard Pryor’s impact on her is also relevant to that level of honesty. Pryor had to grow out of his Cosby routine and made space for his own stage presence. That’s something Minor Feelings does–presents. Her life and the life of others, like Myung Mi Kim and Yuri Kochiyama. It’s what their lives have to do with her and what her life has to do with the world.
Best line: The problem with silence is that it can’t speak up and say why it’s silent. And so silence collects, becomes amplified, takes on a life outside our intentions, in that silence can get misread as indifference, or avoidance, or even shame, and eventually this silence passes over into forgetting. -Cathy Park Hong p 165