Teju Cole

What we see is an apparently uncomplicated scene of urban leisure on a Thursday afternoon, but all of this is happening in a historical context, and in the shadow of economic uncertainty… Some of the people are here because they’re out of work. You could say to yourself: New York City is an astonishingly diverse place, but we see around us all kinds of evidence of segregation: white students from NYU, and black women of a certain age working as nannies for white babies. We are looking at the American reality under an overlay of innocence…

This city, like many others, is a space that has been pre-inhabited, that contains the stories of people who are gone, who are vanished. We look at their inscriptions and we engage with their monuments, and we walk along their paths: every time you walk down Broadway, you’re walking along an ancient cattle path that was put down by Native Americans who then had an appalling encounter with European invaders and were more or less wiped out. But we still walk down their roads. And those roads themselves, and many of those buildings, were built by slave labor in this city, by people not only whose lives have been erased from the record, but whose deaths, in a way, have been erased from the record. Only recently was the burial grounds of the slaves rediscovered. And even then, most of that burial ground is covered with office buildings now. There’s this essential mystery of life in the city: it contains others who are not us in the present time — I’m not you and you’re not me, maybe we don’t live in the same neighborhood — but it also contains others who are not us, in the sense that so much of it was made by those others.

Teju Cole with Chris Lydon in Washington Square Park, New York City, May 12, 2011.



one reason

why i hate the “Asian women are so beautiful” pseudo-compliment.  We are no more or less beautiful than women of any race, age or biological sex.   I always wonder why people, esp. men, say this.  Is it because you watched porn w/ an Asian woman last night?  Is it because your father/grandfather/uncle fought in a war in an Asian country and brought home an army wife?  Sexualized media portrayals of Asian women and emasculated portrayals of Asian men still need to be worked out of the American bloodstream. 

“Sexual assault in the Asian American community is far more pervasive than might be assumed,” said Larry Lee, NYAWC’s Executive Director.  “A recent report indicates that 19% of Asian women compared to 11% non-Asian women are sexually abused in America’s colleges.  A pernicious Western sexual stereotype of Asian women leads to Asian women being exploited on 60% of violent pornography websites and at least half of the women trafficked into the U.S. for commercial sexual exploitation being Asian.  This grant will enable NYAWC to start to address the many forms of sexual assault of Asian women and to develop effective preventive, outreach and treatment models.” – New York Non-Profit Press 

Arrested by complexity

1) What Are Young Chinese People Thinking About?

This is what moves me.  The individual stories, the particular and crystalline truths.  Watching 9/11 memorials on TV Sunday morning I was annoyed by the heart-tugging music that was supposed to tell you/describe how to feel.  I believe in letting people speak for themselves.  If you ask the right questions, the truth wants to come out, as people experience it.

2) Boy with his mother on the subway this morning, reading an I Spy type book.  After finishing the book, mother gives the boy a Transformer toy.  He holds it up by his face and smiling, peeks over it at the woman sitting across the aisle who smiles back.

Boy: Mama, I’m shy. 
Mom: What?
Boy (loudly, still looking at the woman): I’m SHY!  I’m really shy. (Woman laughs.  I’m cracking up)
Mom: Come on shy boy, we’re getting off now.
Boy (asking the woman across the aisle who has also gotten up): Where are you going?!?

3) Sometimes people who hate or can’t stand each other are held together by mutual love of something else.  Something greater.

4) Old folks: respect the wisdom of the young.  Young folks: respect the wisdom of the old.  There is grace and dignity in any and every age.