Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Tsunami

Well, I've promised irreverence and outlandishness, and this post may or may not deliver. I've noticed that relatively few bloggers have blogged in-depth about the tsunami that, at last count, has taken more than 76,000 lives, and the ones who have blogged about it have been reverent to the point of cliche. And I may be no exception here, since in my e-mails, I have been reverent way past the point of cliche, past geunine emotion, past intimacy, about the event.

But more related to the blog, we all know that sooner or later, poets will write about the tsunami. Temporarily putting aside questions of whether poets have a responsibility to write about it and whether the subject is too touchy to deal with at all, I want to point out that it will most likely NOT be any poet from the most profoundly affected regions -- Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, etc. -- or with relatives from these regions who will eventually give voice to the tragedy. Folks, I don't know about you, and maybe it's my ignorance talking here, but no names of Indonesian-American, Sri Lanka-American, Thai-American, etc. poets come to mind at the moment. The American voices of this tsunami, even the Asian-American vocies, will probably come from outside these regions, not within. And I wonder whether that will make the poetry less powerful.

But I'm making this entry glummer and more cliched again, so I'll stop...I was watching the CBS news this morning, and they had three lead stories: The SE Asia tsunami, the war in Iraq, and rain in southern California. I'm in southern CA for winter break, and I want to calm everyone down and tell you that we are fine, even if our beautiful palm trees have a couple muddied fronds. My weapon of choice has been the umbrella...Actually, the CBS segment on the tsunami annoyed me in another respect: half of it featured the corpses of faceless Sri Lankas/Indonesians, while the other half featured happy (white) Europeans/Americans who explained how lucky they were to survive the tsunami. From another angle, I suppose you can't blame CBS, since their viewership is mainly composed of non-Asian-Americans, and they have to cater to their demographics at least to a certain extent. I guess you can also argue that watching people of one's race/ethnicity in distress will make one care more, so CBS is actually doing the victims of the tsunami a favor by focusing on white Europeans/Americans by increasing donations for them.

At any rate, it is no accident that there are so few American poets from these regions, and that news coverage manages to "other" those in these regions, making it even harder to feel for the lives lost. Immigration policies have kept out Asians from poorer nations, literally making entire ethnicties poetless and voiceless in American poetry. (I'm sure that there are American poets of these ethnicities out there, but I guess my point is that, statistically, there are much fewer.) So I guess the outlandishness doesn't come from the tone of this post but elsewhere.


Blogger Paul said...

For Christians who want to donate to provide disaster relief... I have added some Christian mission relief links to:

9:19 PM  
Blogger chinadaahI said...

I'm not a poet or anything, but a friend of mine sent me this blog of yours and said you reminded her of me. Anyway, I have very similar sentiments when it comes to American media and their treatment of "others," as well as the cynicism of Asian American writers and how they come to be published, etc. Feel free to read my blog posts about the tsunami, although I do have a tendency to be long-winded about things.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hee, hee. :) I must say that I definitely see the resemblance. And I like the fact that you picked up on the irony of the commenter's using "oriental" for "asian" in the 10/27/04 post.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

And just to put on a reverent mask for the moment, please support the tsunami relief efforts!! Thanks!

12:21 PM  
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