New Definitions • Part 1: un/settlement
New Definitions is an ongoing series of op-eds feeling through the journey of finding home in a neocolonial homeland as el 李 spends six months in Hong Kong visiting community organizations and reconnecting with family. Traversing geography, politics, and subcultures, these articles consider the specificity of the history of Hong Kong as former British Colony and now ‘Special Economic Region,’ as well as how diasporic queer experiences are transnationally impacted.
Part 1 - un/settlement
i arrive in Hong Kong greeted by a dowsing rain with the force of a pisces full moon. Soaking through my luggage, my clothes, as though the longing and fullness of water could not help but touch every layer of myself. Over the next week, the same rain becomes the focus of my experience – washing down stone stairways built into mountain passes, cascading over my sandaled feet, the thunder booming across the small valley of the university i have begun to settle into.
i arrive immediately feeling my identities attempting to re-coagulate in a new geographical space. There is a specific texture of becoming remade through unfamiliarity – new communities of people, resource availability, social access. i begin to notice the effervescence of gazes crossing me with more ease while passing as light-skinned East-Asian; a movement from being openly hawked at, racialized and sexualized in California, to being merely an emo girl or some passable form of subcultural faggot in Hong Kong. How strange it is to feel this superficial ease when i’ve grown up embracing underground economies which react to policing with rebellion; only to wind up searching for a home in a zone of post-colonial whiteness, ambiguity, and ambivalence.
There is a palpable scarification. While the sky in this city twinkles with moving ads simulating a utopia, it can feel so sensorily deprived – because to be in a post-colony is to experience a living exegesis of how the colony continues itself. To read how history continuously erupts from our bodies. UK students-in-exchange, finance professionals, and other expatriates bask in their disgust gazing upon the two-hundred years of forced migration by revolution, famine, western war-making, forced servitude from prolonged colonial contact. If the scars still burn, so too does the trauma lace every look with the power of class domination.
But here i am, too, an exchange student funded by the West; a specie of exchange, a currency of (mis)identification, supposedly here to gain cultural access to these same institutions which have warped (into unrecognizability) the imagery of ‘East-Asian’ along with its internalized power dynamics of race and class. i feel this warp at a dinner party of primarily gay artists in Hong Kong, among those i should feel akin. i feel this warp attempting to balance the sides of their conversation, a conversation between someone recounting their hospitalization after working in a factory in China and a seemingly wealthier person pressing them to explain this trauma ad infinitum. i feel this warp in the month-long LGBT pride events co-sponsored by transnational banking groups, the exchange students volunteering in support of them, and the locals who so easily dissect my trans performance with a stare.
This warp is not a margin of my experience but the entirety of it. i feel trapped in these parentheticals, uninoculated to the colony’s warp, questioning how my attempts to unsettle from the Americas and find roots in my family’s homeland, may rather be an act merely of settling others. Am i only able to heal one generation’s pain – my mother’s, if even then – and never any more? 妈妈 would tell me when the times were hard that she wished she never would have come to the U.S. So what if i were to follow her back to our country? What if i were to unsettle? Whose pain and turmoil would i be stepping into, in such a place steeped in global economies of war and human export?
Somewhere in my notebook i wrote that i was looking to Jupiter, in her expanse, to force me back into the earth, to root me like the mountains. Maybe in those depths i’ll finally see the patterns of identity and belonging, and perhaps find where in my bones it was sown.
One day, the black ships of Commodore Perry will come and demand that I open up. When they come, things will become quite busy. That’s why I’m enjoying the peace and quiet of isolation for now.
-Yuki Toratani and Motoyuki Shitamichi, Our Everyday – Our Borders