Questions to Grow Up On

Edited by Julia Rios

September 2019

Listen to this story, narrated by C. S. E. Cooney:

you call yourself caribbean?
your skin’s too light, your name
too asian
you did not know the island life
you do not know our lands
what do you share with us, of the pains
of our ancestors
of the slavery that built our island
you know our food but not our culture
not our language
how can you talk of the islands when
you were born in the land
of ice and snow
what asian are you?
can you call yourself chinese
when your tongue has forgotten the
language of your ancestors, faded
into the barest of phrases in
a dialect spoken only in a
tiny village unchanged
for centuries
until the world came to it
and stepped on its grounds
tore down the old homes
and built the same suburban house
like any other colonial house
that’s all you know
that’s all you’ve ever known
your black blood got lost so long ago
that you only look Less Pure and
unrecognizable to your chinese brethren
the tongues of your ancestors squashed by
the standard chinese that’s
foreign to you, unrecognizable
you abandoned the name
that marks your island heritage
you chose a name in that tongue
not spoken by your people
to be accepted into a group
that sees you as an other
how do you reclaim a name you never used?
memorized like lines of a drawing
in unpracticed scrawl
and an untrained tongue
they call your parents practically white
because their English is good and unaccented
but you’re too foreign to be white
too white to be asian
too asian to be black
“Are you an Asian? You’re basically white –
can barely pronounce your own goddamn
name.”
“Nah, you can’t be Jamaican. You ain’t
Black.”
© 2019 Ashley Deng

About the author

Ashley Deng is a Canadian-born Chinese-Jamaican writer with a love of fantasy and all things Gothic. Currently working through a degree in biochemistry, she spends her spare time overthinking genre fiction and writing.

Support Fireside

Subscribe to Fireside Quarterly, the beautiful new print edition of Fireside.