Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Published by One World on February 25th, 2020
Genres: Essays, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Race
“The most damaging legacy of the West has been its power to decide who our enemies are, turning us not only against our own people, like North and South Korea, but turning me against myself.”
Near the end of 2019, I saw Minor Feelings on every single “2020 Books We’re Looking Forward to Reading” list. I’ve had it on my TBR for months, but I finally was able to get the eBook from the library.
In Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong explores the psychological condition of being Asian American. Blending memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose the truth of racialized consciousness in America, Hong’s theory of “minor feelings” tie these provocative essays together.
As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these “minor feelings” occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity. Hong traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of essays. Instead of presenting facts and figures, Hong did a wonderful job weaving her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today.
It feels especially relevant this year given recent events.
She uncovers and speaks the truth about being Asian American and actually what I appreciated the most was that she laid it all out.
She goes through with a fine tooth comb to describe the hardships that Asian Americans go through, but she’s also quick to acknowledge her own privilege even as a minority.
But anytime I was happy, the fear of an awful catastrophe would follow, so I made myself feel awful to preempt the catastrophe’s hitting.
This is a radically honest work of art that actually stopped me in my tracks at some points. I felt that she perfectly (and very eloquently) described my own feelings of helplessness and shame.
I was struck most by her commentary on her relationship to the English language, dealing with shame and depression, and how she makes art as an Asian American woman.
This collection feels so necessary as we’re starting to have more nuanced discussions about race.
Asian Americans receive such one-dimensional characterizations. We’re all quiet, we’re math geniuses, we’re crazy rich, we all have tiger parents, or even, we’re all responsible for Coronavirus.
Hong challenges these reductionist stereotypes and explores the complexity of identity through history with colonization, the intergenerational trauma that’s passed down, and the ways in which we either resist whiteness or get consumed by it.
Our feelings are overreactions because our lived experiences of structural inequity are not commensurate with their deluded reality.
If you’re looking to expand your anti-racist reading, I’d highly recommend Minor Feelings. It’s an eye-opening collection of essays that will have you question why and how Asians are consistently portrayed.
If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that it’s not enough just to say, “I’m not racist.” You have to actively go out of your way to unlearn the things that have been fed to you through school, media, and observed behaviour from those around you.
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