Slam poetry can articulate and weave together so many of our deepest truths, anxieties, and memories. Listen to Nicole Masangkay and Erika Bleyl, two Seattle-based slam poets, speak their truths about being Asian American in this poem, “Double Consciousness.”
ERIKA BLEYL is a mixed queer spoken word poet from Yokohama, Japan. She is a graduate of the University of Washington, and went to the Collegiate National Poetry Slam Invitational 3 years consecutively – twice on the team, and once as coach.
**This transcript was taken directly from the video, so apologies for any errors in line breaks/wording.
[Two people stand on a stage. They recite animatedly into microphones.]
Sometimes identity feels like an open wound,
unmatched skins with jagged seams,
halves of partitions not easily brought together.
To just stand separately,
side by side,
is not healing.
Scars in union form in the shape of hyphens–
two parts that seem to add to a whole,
as if a single identity comes before another,
as if one thing plus another tie seamlessly together
What do you taste when you swallow your pride?
Authenticity, legacy, history, translation…
Translation is inevitably betrayal.
Does it all go down easy?
There are so many things I haven’t fully digested.
I lost words when I was growing up because I thought I wasn’t meant to learn them.
Growing up in Japan, passing as white,
I was only talked to in broken, accented English.
English is a language of privilege.
There is a history I fail to speak.
Am I American or lost at sea?
Who am I responsible for?
Who am I guilty for?
My parents are proud to never let work bruise my fingertips,
never fully letting the language of their work scripted tip of my American tongue.
My parents say hard work will lead to success,
education will make them proud but
the A’s on my report card spell like
There are days I feel whiter than the pages I write poetry on
or as pale as my high school diploma,
but they wanted me to as white as success,
so success means choosing one priority.
I took French instead of continuing my Japanese.
I thought it would be more “useful.”
my parents are funding my rebellion.
Every time my father pays my tuition
his signature droops on check lines,
his cursive name warping from holding his work of half a century,
and I dare to major in English,
and it’s been poetry that is all I hear
in a western tongue
that never birthed me.
Culture is not an accomplishment
for which you can receive a diploma or a career.
No one congratulates you on remembering where you come from.
However, there are phrases that were me,
cradled at the braided base of my vocal chords,
quenching like a gulp behind the tongue–
I love you.
–because I know what it’s like to choke on my own voice,
so tell me everything you taste when you swallow your pride.
There are legacies never meant to be digested
because identity is not a wound.
Identity is the parting of lips,
open, productive, speaking out.
Two parts seamed together to create that glorious gap
we call mouth,
a hollow cavern of history.
It is written on the wingspan of open composition books.
It is the spaces we occupy in-between.
It is connection.
It is community.
It is a thank you.
It is love
for who I am,
for who we are.
[End of poem. Applause from audience.]