Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken: two poems by Rachel Rostad

To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang

When you put me in your books millions of Asian girls across America rejoiced!
Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha, or Mulan!
I mean, what’s not to love about me? I’m everybody’s favorite character!
I totally get to fight tons of death eaters and have a great sense of humor
and am full of complex emotions.

Oh wait. That’s the version of Harry Potter where I’m not fucking worthless.

First of all, you put me in Ravenclaw.
Of course the only Asian at Hogwarts would be put in the nerdy house.
Too bad you didn’t have a house that specialized in computers and math and karate, huh?

I know, you thought you were being tolerant.
Between me, Dean, and the Indian twins, Hogwarts has like…five brown people?
It doesn’t matter we’re all minor characters. Nah, you’re not racist!
Just like how you’re not homophobic, because Dumbledore’s totally gay!
Of course it’s never said in the books, but man. Hasn’t society come so far?
Now gays don’t just have to be closeted in real life—
they can even be closeted fictionally!

Ms. Rowling. Let’s talk about my name. Cho. Chang.
Cho and Chang are both last names.
They are both Korean last names.
I am supposed to be Chinese.
Me being named “Cho Chang” is like a Frenchman being named “Garcia Sanchez.”

So thank you. Thank you for giving me no heritage.
Thank you for giving me a name as generic as a ninja costume.
As chopstick hair ornaments.
Ms. Rowling, I know you’re just the latest participant
in a long tradition of turning Asian women into a tragic fetish.
Madame Butterfly. Japanese woman falls in love with a white soldier,
is abandoned, kills herself.
Miss Saigon. Vietnamese woman falls in love with a white soldier,
is abandoned, kills herself.
Memoirs Of A Geisha. Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn.
So let me cry over boys more than I speak.
Let me fulfill your diversity quota.
Just one more brown girl mourning her white hero.

No wonder Harry Potter’s got yellow fever.
We giggle behind small hands and “no speak Engrish.”
What else could a man see in me?
What else could I be but what you made me?
Subordinate. Submissive. Subplot.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m overreacting.
Ignore the fact that your books have sold 400 million copies worldwide.
I am plastered across movie screens,
a bestselling caricature.

Last summer,
I met a boy who spoke like rain against windows.
He had his father’s blue eyes.
He’d press his wrist against mine and say he was too pale.
That my skin was so much more beautiful.
To him, I was Pacific sunset,
almond milk, a porcelain cup.
When he left me, I told myself I should have seen it coming.
I wasn’t sure I was sad but I cried anyway.
Girls who look like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him.
I’d seen all the movies and read all the books.
We were just following the plot.


Names

My full name is Rachel Youngeun Rostad. This can be kind of confusing to people.
So my birth name was Youngeun. I used to think my birth mom gave it to me.
But she didn’t. It was given by the foster home, not much more than a bar-code.

Then my parents adopted me and renamed me Rachel,
and turned my birth name into my middle name. Rachel Youngeun Rostad.

Most names mean admirable traits like “strong,” “kind,” “beautiful.”
When you name your daughter, it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be.

Starting when I was seven, I spent every summer at a Korean culture camp.
There, my name was my Korean name, Youngeun.
Now, I am trained to answer to both “Rachel” and “Youngeun.”
Kind of like knowing how to use both forks and chopsticks.

I’ve never had a nickname.

According to google, there’s a Rachel Rostad who’s a fashion designer in LA.
And there’s another Rachael Rostad who apparently is the Goodhue County Dairy Princess. I’m not sure exactly what this means but there’s a picture of her
with a gold medal and a cow. Both of these other Rachel Rostads have blonde hair.

When you find, say, an injured bird in your backyard,
and you wanna to nurse it back to health and release it back into the wild,
they tell you not to name it. If you name something, it becomes a someone.
It makes it harder to give it up.

When my parents named me Rachel, it was a prayer for everything
they wanted me to be: American.

Sometimes I’m glad my first name is as apple pie and baseball as Rachel.
But also kinda not.

How your ancestors had a different name stepping off of Ellis Island
than when they stepped on.

The pros and cons of taking your husband’s last name as your own.

The pros and cons of accepting a diagnosis.

Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken.

You cannot read a speech and see the speaker.

You cannot read sheet music and hear the song.

When the very first word was written down,
something must have been lost.

When my parents renamed me “Rachel,”
something must have been lost.

Two years ago, I started the search for my birth mom.
She still hasn’t answered my letter.
The adoption agency tells me she lives in Seoul.
This is the closest to knowing her name I will get.

Let’s imagine I know her name.
If I found her Facebook profile, would this count as a reunion?

Let’s imagine she found my name in a newspaper.
Would she picture “Rachel Rostad” as a girl with blonde hair?

The name Youngeun is a barcode.
The name Rachel is a Made in America sticker slapped onto a Korean flag.

I have never had a nickname.

Either that, or I’ve only ever had nicknames.

Sometimes I wonder what my birth mom would have named me
if I hadn’t been a wild animal she’d eventually have to release.

She still hasn’t answered my letter.
I’m not waiting for a reply.
When you name your daughter,
it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be.
It makes sense, then, that she named me nothing.

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Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken: two poems by Rachel Rostad