Word from the Editor

“Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old,” wrote Brian Doyle in “Joyas Voladoras.” His recent death left my heart weary, in this year, this season, this month that had already delivered so much sorrow. May 2017: we mourned for Richard Collins, and then for Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Rick Best, three men murdered by white supremacists—homegrown terrorists. We memorialized wordsmiths Doyle and Denis Johnson, each gone too soon from cancer. We grieved the events in Manchester and Kabul, and remembered so many—too many—who didn’t live all of their two billion heartbeats. Doyle’s passing at the end of a particularly brutal week left me in despair. I knew him only through his words. So I turned to my community of writers with his words resonant in me: “We all churn inside.”

Reading earlier “Words from the Editor” in our archives, I revisited our responses to contentious elections, to white supremacy and terrorism in our streets, in our churches, in our institutions of higher learning. We, the collective we of Lunch Ticket, have been here for five years and eleven issues shining light into as many dark corners as we can find. Our community of forty volunteer graduate students shares a commitment to social justice, a commitment to speaking up. We grieve but we write. And here we are again, publishing art and writing in a version of the United States of America that seemed impossible before the 2016 election illuminated the depths of our darkness. Through our pain in the dawn of this 2017 reality, we came together with language to resist the call of the post-truth sirens; to bring you this issue.

Within Lunch Ticket Issue 11: Summer/Fall 2017 are seventy-seven works we are honored to share with the world. This issue’s essay section confronts the myth of a post-racial America. Featured essayist Amber Wong revisits the question she posed in Issue 10: “Are We There Yet?” Spoiler alert: we’re not. In “The Heavy Bag,” she shares her feelings of isolation and visibility as “the only minority—in a sea of white” that is Seattle. In “Ambivalence,” young writer and activist Ty Kia writes of casual racism in the Midwest: “no amount of privilege will rescue you from the stereotypes your complexion conjures in others.” And Californian Caesar Kent writes of the “correlation between Mexican men and crime—or, at least, convictions that put callused brown hands to work” in his flash essay “Weekend Work Program.”

Many of the pieces in this issue explore questions of diversity. In our Lunch Special, Lunch Ticket staff blogger Angela Bullock discusses Negroland with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Margo Jefferson. Jefferson says, “One of the many barriers for black people has always been the imposition of simplification, stereotypes, assumptions, even definitions of what the best kind of black person is or what a real black person is.” In conversation with our creative nonfiction editor and blogger Meredith Arena, writer and teacher Geeta Kothari discusses “the other” in fiction. Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña, interviewed here by YA assistant editor and blogger Kim Sabin, describes a new diversity and the importance of young people seeing themselves on the page. And in our featured interview, author and translator Katrina Dodson speaks with Gabo Prize and translation editor Lauren Kinney, lamenting the necessity of defending literature’s usefulness in this divided world: “Obviously this is important for humanity, thinking about our own interior experiences and how they bump up against other people’s interior and exterior experiences, so I always feel tired out by the weak position of literature and always having to defend it in this capitalist society, or usefulness-driven society.”

Our narratives counter American myths. From our features come explorations of identity: in both “Arroz y Dulce,” fiction by Rebecca Komathy, and “Scented Brains,” YA fiction by Scarlet Jones, two young narrators face the challenges of biracial identities. In creative nonfiction, Sossity Chiricuzio’s memoir excerpt explores growing up poor and queer in the American West. Nancy Au’s flash fiction, “She Is a Battleground,” is about an old woman finding her voice. N’kenge Feagin writes with “powerful imagery” and “subtle humor” paired with “devastating self-awareness” in her Diana Woods Memorial Award-winning essay, “Dead Daddies and White Castles.” Gabo Prize-winning translator Anne Gutt brings “alive for us the strange and magical world” found in Ukrainian poet Ganna Shevchenko’s “Quotidian Blues.”

Within these pages are voices from around the world, from writers and artists of many colors and genders and ages—from many identities—from Nigeria to El Salvador to Iraq to India, from eerily dystopian to satirical to heartbreakingly real. Our translation pieces originate in French, Spanish, Italian, Urdu, Chinese, and Farsi. The voices are urgent: torrin a. greathouse searches “for porn with bodies like mine / that are not made fetish” in their poetry; Tiffane Levick’s translation excerpt of Emmanuel Adely’s powerhouse multi-POV novel looks unflinchingly at the never-ending war in Afghanistan: “making blood run to defend the free world that is why they are here why they are hot why they are sweating why they are tense why they are concentrating why they are preparing;” visual artist Mellissa Redman’s portfolio seeks “to make the hidden external, to depict how swallowed fears and anxieties would appear if made tangible and visible.”

At Lunch Ticket our mission includes a call to engage with issues of social, economic, and environmental justice. As we celebrate Issue 11 with you, we also prepare to launch Issue 12’s production team. We have re-committed ourselves to our mission, and will have some exciting projects to share with you soon. Our torch stays lit. When you read our journal please share in our passion—fresh literary and visual art balanced with conversations about social justice and community activism—by telling others about us.

“So much held in a heart in a lifetime,” Doyle writes. “So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment.” Take heart in your community and thank you for sharing in ours.

Katelyn Keating

Weekend Work Program

We cannot tell these Sunday drivers that we have already faced judgment, that we’ve pled no contest to our sins, that we are only lesser criminals, serving a softer version of hard time. Their looks could never be as harsh as handcuffs and a hangover on the hard benches of a holding cell. We are only faces in the windows of a silver sheriff’s bus, and they cannot see the bright orange vests, the sign of a sentence that reduces a man of words to three letters: WWP. Because words have no place here, I turn to numbers, breaking down hours into fractions and percentages on a cheap wristwatch; I am 15% through this day’s hardship, with 6.8 hours until freedom. The Spanish volleyed up and down the aisle is a reiteration of the correlation between Mexican men and crime—or, at least, convictions that put callused brown hands to work. We can tell from the scarcity of darker bodies that things could be worse, that there are preselected alternatives for those whose complexions stray too far from the color palette of tortillas or skin that scorches to the color of mild salsa—like the man in front of me who complains loudly, needing a cigarette. I’m sharing a seat with a middle-aged man with whom I’ve formed a meek fraternity, a silent friendship of smiles and nods as we shirk gathering garbage in the shade beside buildings and under bleachers at the fairgrounds until we are scrambled by a crotchety woman on a Gator who alternates between offering idle threats and cold water. At lunch, I am 50% through this day’s hardship, with four hours until freedom. Some of our colleagues gather and distribute dingy cigarette stubs they found in the dirt, light them with smuggled matches; the red-faced man from the bus is one of them. On the ride back, his fingers drum on his bouncing knee, and he grabs his head, breathing deeply. He notices my watch and asks the time: we are forty minutes from freedom, 90% through this day’s hardship. The freeway’s passenger-side jury cannot see our orange vests, but until next Sunday, at least I can take mine off.

 

Caesar is a semi-nomadic California wordsmith living around the Bay Area and dividing his time between open mic stages, dive bars, and clouds. He writes from the frontier between flash narrative and spoken-word poetry. His work has been described as “exquisite,” “pretty good,” and “zip zap.”

Photo by Jorge Sanchez

Ambivalence

Ambivalence is when you tell your friends that some guy made ching-chong noises at you in the hallway after school and their responses range from, “Ew,” to a sarcastic, “Oh, how nice,” to nothing at all. When that happens, you feel ashamed. You wish you knew why.

Maybe it’s because you have it better than others do. Let’s face it. You’re Asian, middle class. Your family is whole and, for the most part, functional. There are people who’d kill to be you, and you don’t blame them. So why speak out? Why shake the foundation of this house whose construction your birth granted you?

When you went to the mall to shop for summer clothes with your black friend, he was watched constantly by hawk-eyed clerks while you were left to roam free. When your Hispanic friend had to find a cash job at fifteen, scrubbing dishes at an Italian restaurant so she could help keep her family afloat, you were livid. Your Muslim friend tells you stories from before you met. Puberty was hard enough for you—on top of the typical issues, she had to deal with kids who she thought were her friends pulling her newly adorned hijab off her head as a joke. She had to think about what it meant when they snickered at her hair falling loose, when they plugged their ears while she tried to explain why she chose to start wearing hijab, how much it mattered to her. That was how you knew: of all the brown people you could have been born as, you came into the world the luckiest.

But no amount of privilege will rescue you from the stereotypes your complexion conjures in others.

But no amount of privilege will rescue you from the stereotypes your complexion conjures in others. If only they always took the form of something visible, like harassment. This sort of treatment isn’t always malicious—even your friends make fun of you sometimes, imitating your parents’ accents, asking if you’ll grill up your dog with an apple in its mouth when you invite them over for dinner. But that’s all right. Talking shit is what friends do, after all. Isn’t it?

Sometimes it comes from the adults in your life, this well-intentioned maiming of the spirit. Teachers laugh and make that face they always do when reaching your name on the class attendance list. They inevitably give up in the middle of mispronouncing it; if they even try to pronounce it at all, that is. They mistake you for the Filipino boy in the period before yours. They ask if you and your underclassman sister are related, explaining themselves with, “Sorry, I didn’t want to assume. You all tend to blend together for me sometimes.”

But you don’t say anything when this happens. Why would you? What have you done to deserve having your relations known? What marvelous feat of strength or courage did you perform, to expect your name to grace the lips of one who professes knowledge?

You have done nothing.

You lie in bed at night thinking about it. As much as you would hate to admit it. You dream of how sweet it would sound to hear your name spoken by an unrelated other. Someone not of your blood, yet recognizing your lineage. Proving that your name does, in fact, exist outside of your family’s little corner of the world. Maybe you’re afraid it doesn’t.

You realize a painful truth on these nights, but only when it’s late enough so you safely know you won’t remember it in the morning. It’s a truth that pierces farther into your soul than any insult ever has; one you would rather endure a thousand years of prejudice than admit. It disorients you—discombobulates you—fills you to the brim with guilt. The truth is that the most ambivalent person you know is you. You who aren’t marginalized, just in between the lines.

 

Ty KiaTy Kia is a Thai-American high schooler and student activist growing up in the heart of the Midwest. Fascinated by the concept of entropy, he seeks to dedicate his life to studying the cultural implications of it. He has had poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction published in Rambutan Literary, L’Éphèmére Review, Rising Phoenix Review, and others. He is a reader for Glass Kite Anthology and Ellis Review and was a founding member of the latter. He is honored to be featured by Lunch Ticket.

The Heavy Bag

Downtown street trees glowed with Christmas lights as music from the holiday carousel wafted over from Seattle’s Westlake Park. “How cute is that!” chirped my sister-in-law as we stepped around a line of families waiting to take Santa pictures. Prattling over our 2016 gift lists, we came to a stop behind a pack of shoppers waiting at the crosswalk for the light to change. Suddenly there was a shout.

“Hey you! Chinese lady! You! Get out!”

Reflex kicked in, and I ducked. “Chink!” clanged in my head.

The rant continued but didn’t draw closer. I peeked through the crowd. I’d barely noticed the street performer as he balanced, circus-elephant style, on a large rubber ball at the corner of Third and Pike. Relieved—and slightly embarrassed—I straightened up and pretended not to hear. Eh, just another ignorant jerk. That chickenshit strategy might have gone unnoticed if my sister-in-law hadn’t grabbed my arm and urgently said, “I didn’t hear him! What did he say?”

I was still so tense I almost burst out laughing—I was busy trying not to listen to what she was keenly trying to hear. I tried to wave her off—we’ll talk later. But then, lips taut, I quickly replied, “He’s saying something about the Chinese so I’m not listening.” Her blue eyes widened as she recoiled in surprise.

Just then, a twenty-something white man to my left stepped out of the crowd and turned to address the guy atop the ball. His voice, surprisingly neutral, rose above the din. “What about the Chinese?” I didn’t dare look. But that moment made him my hero.

“The Chinese are taking away our jobs!” the guy on the ball yelled.

As the light changed and our pack of pedestrians surged forward, my hero’s tone turned to one of disgust. He pointed to the performer’s hat lying open on the sidewalk. “How can you be so hateful when you’re begging us for money? Thanks for showing your true colors!”

When I searched for him moments later, he was gone.

*     *     *

Back in 1964, when I was eight and didn’t know any better, I walked home from school alone. No one told me that in the lily-white California suburbs, my straight black hair clearly marked me as “other.” One afternoon, three bike-riding boys overtook me and blocked my path. I looked around; nowhere to run. They pressed their fingers to the corners of their eyes and lifted, chanting, “Ching Chong Chinaman, Ching Chong Chinaman,” before laughing and riding off. It happened in a blur; when they left, all I felt was relief.

But when I told Dad, his jaw tightened. Was I wrong to tell him? Was I overreacting? What I now realize is that anger, simmering since his own childhood, was set to boil by a new feeling of impotence: he was helpless to protect me. Out in the white world, I was visible. Small. Vulnerable.

“Remember, we have a proud history. Chinese civilization has been around a long time. We had gunpowder when they only had stones.”

“Just ignore them,” he growled in a tone so primal it scared me. Jabbing his finger in the air, he continued, “Don’t ever give them the satisfaction of knowing they got to you.” Ignoring bullies, he said, would weaken them in the long run. But now I was terrified. Did threats lurk around every corner? Could I ever let down my guard? As my eyes filled with tears, Dad’s tone softened. “Remember, we have a proud history. Chinese civilization has been around a long time. We had gunpowder when they only had stones.” His esoteric jabs at the relative coarseness of white civilization fell flat. Finally he looked me in the eye and leaned in close, bestowing on me the family mantra that has emboldened each generation. “Remember,” he whispered, “you’re not just as good as they are. You’re better.”

*     *     *

In the cinnamon warmth of the department store, against a festive backdrop of reindeer and sleighs, my sister-in-law grabbed my arm again. Although the verbal barrage was safely behind us, she looked stricken. “I’m so sorry,” she began. “How could that man yell at you like that? I had no idea!” Her admission, and our deeper discussion that night over dinner, gave my story new purpose. What I would have dismissed as just another shameful incident became my next week’s talking point.

When I told my brother about the guy on the ball, he scoffed, “So what? Don’t be so sensitive.” Then he chuckled. “Know what I’d do? Hit him where it hurts. Take a twenty and hold it over his hat. Then go, ‘What’d you say? Oh, I guess I can’t give this to you then,’ and make a show of putting it back in your wallet. That’ll show him!”

When I told my relatives and Asian friends, there was a collective shrug. Why should I expect things to be different?

Some white acquaintances totally missed the point. “How did he know you’re Chinese? Just pretend you’re Vietnamese!” Or, “Were there other Chinese around? Maybe he wasn’t yelling at you.”

My white friends, however, reacted with genuine outrage. “What, to you? Here in Seattle? That’s horrible!” Some hesitated before asking, “Is it okay if I tell others what happened to you?” Of course I said yes. Assimilation, with all its negative baggage, can work in my favor; so deeply am I woven into the fabric of our community that an assault on me felt like an assault on everyone. One friend erupted with an uncharacteristic outburst, shouting, “I want to knock him off his stupid ball!” Amused, I nodded, thinking, nice metaphor! She pinched her lips and swung her arm, backhanding the air with deliberate force. “No, I mean that literally! Don’t you?”

*     *     *

Across the broad bowl of Seattle’s CenturyLink stadium, fans streamed into rows, lime-green beanies bobbing in a field of navy. Protected under the stadium overhang from December’s icy chill, I shimmied with excitement. The 2016 Seahawks still had a shot for the playoffs.

I couldn’t believe my good luck. The night before, Elizabeth, my rowing partner, texted me: Just picked up tickets for the Seahawks-Panthers game tomorrow… Want to go? These seats were even better than the ones she’d scored for the Falcons game in October. From our perch high above the thirty-yard line, I had a clear view of both scoreboards, the tunnel to the Seahawks locker room, and the platform where they’d raise the American flag. Perfect.

Bundled in Seahawks gear, I settled into my seat. As the Seahawks and Panthers warmed up on opposite sides of the field, the rows around us started to fill. Men in Avril and Wilson jerseys, whooping and slapping one another’s backs with an easy “season ticket holder” familiarity, landed in front of us. To my left, a man in a navy-blue Seahawks jacket gave me a cursory nod as he took his seat. The teenage girl with him pulled up her hood and continued tapping her cell phone.

I frowned; that’s not how it was supposed to be. Long ago my parents had held season tickets for the Oakland Raiders. Usually they took their friends, so I was thrilled whenever I got to go. Sun-drenched Sunday afternoons at Oakland Coliseum—shelling peanuts and cheering for Lamonica and Biletnikoff—taught me to love football. During commercial breaks Dad patiently answered questions I’d stored up—Why is clipping such a big penalty? Why is everyone bunched together for an on-side kick? I’d made up questions just to get his attention.

Suddenly, amidst the sold-out CenturyLink throng, I felt alone. I leaned forward, glanced down our row, and pivoted a complete 360. As I shrank back into my seat, I confirmed it: I was the solitary yellow face—the only minority—in a sea of white. I tugged my coat close, trapping the warmth of my breath. Still I shivered.

Had all these white guys voted for Trump?

Had all these white guys voted for Trump?

I shook my head and groaned. Shut up! I berated myself. Don’t go there! I could almost hear my sons laughing, “Mom, don’t be so paranoid!”

I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Why should I be afraid? I was born here. I belong here. White men don’t scare me; I’m an engineer. For thirty years I worked with, and supervised, scores of white men. I played on volleyball teams with white men; now I row with dozens more. I married one, and before him, another. I live in Seattle, one of the most progressive cities in America. In this very stadium back in October I wouldn’t have thought to fear.

But December jolted me with a new truth. Bombarded by a daily chronicle of local hate crimes—swastikas sprayed in a Bellevue park, Muslim women harassed on the University of Washington campus—my fight-or-flight reaction kicked into overdrive. The night some fool on a ball bullied me in downtown Seattle, I reeled from his assault. November’s election, and the associated knowledge that 63% of white men voted for Trump, hurt like a deep jab to the heart. Did two of every three men pressed around me also ascribe to his misogynistic, bigoted, xenophobic beliefs? My rational side said, “Don’t stereotype!” while my emotional side cringed, whispering, “I shouldn’t be afraid, but I am.” Wildly seesawing between control and chaos, I felt sick. Battered. Exhausted.

From a distance I heard the referee’s whistle, sensed a sharp elbow in my side. “Hey, it’s opening kickoff!” Elizabeth shouted. We jumped up. Bursting with relief at the welcome distraction, I joined the deafening chants, yelling so loud my throat hurt. As we took our seats, I accidentally brushed against my neighbor. “Sorry,” I mumbled, instinctively pulling in my elbows. But my self-imposed distancing dissolved when the Seahawks made a huge play, intercepting the ball and landing on the Panther’s seven-yard line. CenturyLink stadium erupted in one loud roar. Clapping and cheering, we leapt up. The Avril-shirted guy in front of me yelled, “Go Hawks!” and started high-fiving everyone in his row. The noise was eardrum bending.

Suddenly he turned around, palm aloft in clear high-fiving position. Awash in a typical “bro” this-is-fucking-AWESOME adrenaline rush, his entire face became one goofy exuberant grin. He saw me. Palm up, he hesitated.

Did he see my eyes widen in panic? I never touch people at football games. Or in his football frenzy, did he zero in on my Seahawks jacket—not my yellow face—and judge me American enough to come through and not leave him hanging? Or would he quickly drop his hand with a barely audible, “Oops”?

I couldn’t let that happen. Against every instinct, if this white guy was welcoming me into his Seahawks tribe, literally reaching out to me, I had to seal the deal. So I swung out hard, a perfect volleyball spike. Even though we barely caught each other’s pinkies, when he beamed and turned to Elizabeth, I knew I’d made the right call.

Did they see me as “other?” Would they keep their elbows tucked too? But as our high-fives got better, I breathed easier.

Throughout the 40-7 blowout, there were many more high-fives—with that guy, with the guy next to me, back to that guy again. When I first thought these guys might have voted for Trump, I felt like a bone had caught in my throat. Did they see me as “other?” Would they keep their elbows tucked too? But as our high-fives got better, I breathed easier. High-fives signaled unanimity, a pact that the only colors that mattered to them were navy and green. And if not—if a celebratory high-five didn’t vindicate them from being forces of oppression outside of the stadium—at least I felt safe sitting with them for a few more hours.

*     *     *

At thirteen I topped out at 5’5,” tall for a Chinese girl. One night after dinner, Dad waved me to the garage. His workout bag—his heavy bag—hung from the ceiling by a thick reinforced chain. He positioned me in front of it.

“Close your fist like this.” He wrapped my fingers tight, tucked my thumb below my knuckles. “Never put your thumb on top. You’ll sprain it that way.” He stepped behind the heavy bag and held it still. “Now punch.”

I drew back my arm and swung at the bag. The chain barely jingled, but he didn’t laugh. “No, not a roundhouse. And don’t pull your fist back like a boxer. That wastes time. Keep your wrist straight. The back of your hand lines up with your arm.” He tilted my hand forward. “See? Now your fist is flat. Now lean in. That’s right. Now harder.”

After a few weeks of punching practice, Dad waved me to the garage again. His crooked grin, almost conspiratorial, showed he was pleased with my progress. He stood behind the bag. “Now kick,” he said, bracing himself. “Kick the bag.”

 

Amber Wong is an environmental engineer who enjoys life’s ironies, like being an engineer who writes. A fifth-generation American, she explores how the statics of culture—ethnicity, gender, even one’s profession—bend the dynamics of modern-day America. Winner of The Writer’s Connection essay contest, she has also published work in Slippery Elm, Metaphorical Fruit, We Came to Say: A Collection of Memoir (2011), We Came Back to Say—An Anthology of Memoir (2014), and The Seattle Times. Amber earned an MFA from Lesley University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Stanford University.

Photo by Lynette Huffman Johnson