To be an Autumn Leaf

The wind is invisible. But when you look outside the window towards a cloudy autumn day, I tell you — you will see the wind. It silently but madly blows confusion to the leaves. Chaos, is an understatement for the leaves and the branches. They shiver and face what’s going on with their last strength of green they hold onto.

I’ve been thinking much about what change is recently. Cliche? I know. Who else but an immature college senior during her fall semester, looking to graduate in less than a year think about such matter? Change became an exceptional reality that stands next to every corner of the streets and hides under every page of books I’ve been encountering.

My thought so far is this: change is a motion — a motion that bends and stretches. There comes tensions and conflicts; unorganized emotions; undercurrent desires; doubts; questions; unsettling answers; logical disputes; and dissatisfaction. The heart often becomes the victim for all the movement and heat. They call it “it rubs your heart in a wrong way.” I call it the growing pain. And it should hurt a little to do the right thing. So I am learning to be hurt. I choose to be one of the autumn leaves. One day I will remember them as wonderful colored leaves, dancing in the flow of the rhythm of what’s coming next. And one day, I will remember that I were one of them.


“oo” vs. “u”

I clearly remember when I had to choose between “oo” and “u.” I was four years old. I liked drawing circles. So I went with “oo.” My official Korean name, when spelt out in English is Yongjoo Kim.



It was a typical day after work in Chicago. I’ve been interning at a magazine publication. We have three editors, the main publisher, and three interns, including myself. That day in particular, it crossed my mind briefly to notice that I am the only Asian in the office. Everyone else is White.



One of my non-Asian friends challenged me from stop desensitizing my feelings. She talked to me about righteous anger and how I seem not to be righteously angry at times when I should be. She said she but understands that it’s cultural. We weren’t talking about the guy who shouted “CHINK!” at me. I told her maybe it is.



I thought I heard it wrong. But he came right next to me as I was walking out Wilson station.

“Sorry, I didn’t meant to scare you!” he said, shoving his face right in front of mine.

“Oh, you are fine. You are okay.”

I was still very confused at what was going on. I’m not sure if he was teasing me or truly apologizing to me. I was caught off guard when he came so close next to me. You are fine? It was a natural and automatic reaction I had at the moment. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about because I thought I heard it wrong. By the time I walked past him towards the outside of the station, I heard him mumbling to himself and that’s when it came a little more clear to me what just happened.

“Mmm, it’s been a while since I came to Wilson… Chinese! Chinese… China, China…”



“So, Yoong Ju?”

Nine out of ten non-Korean friends who I get to know better wants to know what my Korean name is. But no, I haven’t heard any non-Koreans properly pronounce my name. The spelling “Yongjoo Kim” doesn’t really spell it out right to begin with. So I prefer Joanne. And that’s my name too.



After work, I got on the L and found an empty seat next to a Black man. He had his leg and arm stretched out towards the empty seat. So I didn’t bother to ask if I could sit. I didn’t mind standing up. There was another White woman standing next to me too. Few stations afterwards, another Black man came and took the empty seat. The man who was already sitting put his leg and arm away. Soon after, the man who just sat down took off. I only had a couple more stops left. Even though the seat was completely empty by this point, I chose not to sit down. I rather wanted someone else take the spot. In my head, I remembered “Racism in the Elevator” video from Youtube that I watched the other day. Would this man think I am not sitting down because I am being racist?



I knew I should write about all this at one point. But I didn’t want to, nor did I know how to. I still don’t exactly know.



I heard from a far someone shout out “CHINK!” Because of the noise of the train on the track, the bell, and the people’s shoes clacking on the floor, I thought I heard it wrong. Or I thought maybe someone was shouting out a name, like “Chang.” Maybe he was shouting at me thinking I’m Chang. Maybe he was shouting out to someone else. I didn’t know and I didn’t even see who was shouting out “CHINK!” That’s when this random Black man — he wasn’t the man sitting down inside the train with his leg and arm stretched — scared me by shoving his face at me.



October is an annual Chicago’s Artists Month — countless of arts and performances everywhere. 19-year-old Asian American theater company, Stir Friday Night, took part in it and presented the new sketch comedy revue. It was titled “TURN DOWN PHO WOK.” I laughed.



There is a very nice Starbucks on Rush street I found that I like a lot. It even has a special name for it: Oak & Rush III. I’ve never seen one quite like this. It has two floors and they serve pour over coffee, truffled mac & cheese, and wine. One thing it gets me is that there are many Asian tourists who come by. I told myself I should not wear my Longchamp bag the next time I come, because that can make me look like I am a tourist.



TIME Online published “Why I Changed My Korean Name — And Why I changed It Back” recently. Something about that article, just didn’t sit well with me. I remembered the number of times people asked me why I didn’t stick with my Korean name. The writer of the article, Jae, who used to be Daphne, had a powerful story. But if the people who couldn’t really understand why my name is Joanne read her story, they would have possibly become even more aloof from trying to understand me.



“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac



My favorite line from TIME article “The Real Problem When It Comes to Diversity and Asian-Americans” was “The belief in a blanket Asian-American culture is so thick that it has resulted in confusion when Asian-Americans deviate from the model minority myth.”



Bill O’Reilly came out on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show the other night. In response to Stewart’s question about the existence of White Privilege, O’Reilly talked about Asian Privilege. Here’s how the show went in verbatim:

Stewart: “You have said, you stated this: ‘There is, I don’t believe that there’s a thing called White Privilege.'”

O’Reilly: “There is not.”

S: “See now, now there is a conversation we can have.”

O: “Okay, look. If there’s White Privilege then there has to be Asian Privilege, because Asians make more money than Whites.”

S: “What?”

O: “Oh, you didn’t know any of this, huh?”

S: “What kind of Asians?”

O: “Asian Americans.”

S: “Depends on where they are from.”

O: “They are from Asia. They are Asian Americans.”

S: “I understand that –“

O: “Okay, they make more money, high education, more affluent. So it’s Asian Privilege, not White Privilege.”

S: “You’re missing the point.”

O: “Well, sorry to confuse you with facts.”

S: “You’re not… It’s not that… Okay, here we go. The Asian experience in America, the Asian immigrant experience, is very different from the Black experience. So it’s really, they are not equivilant. And either way, the White people, males set the system. So that’s what privilege is. Is that the White people set the system that yes, maybe the Asian immigrants wants immigration policy to be liberalized have done better over the past 30 to 40 years. But there’s been a systemic, sytemic, systemize subjugation of the Black community. Would you not agree with that?”

And that was the last time Asian was mentioned in their conversation.



I went to the fancy Starbucks with a different bag the other day. I paid my Cappuccino with my debit card that says Yongjoo Kim. I sat down at the balcony and I read and read more. I tried to write a little, but I just couldn’t.







I come from a family of five. My mother’s grocery shopping always ended in multiple stern cotton bags filled with colors of produces inside. Her two hands gripped strong onto the bags with no room for more. As a kid, I begged “Can I help? Please?” looking up at her, asking for attention, once standing left, twice after roaming around to her right, along the skirt of grocery bags on her waist and down. The green onion always stuck out high and tall in one of the bags with arrogance, like it knew why my mom won’t let me help her carry the stuff up.

A few days a go, I went grocery shopping. I don’t have a family of five here. I only need to feed myself. Though like I am my mother, I couldn’t help but to keep filling in the cart with more and more colors. It felt counter-intuitive, unsatisfying and frustrating almost, to let my cart only carry few shades of what I needed at the moment. I grabbed one ripen and smooth pomegranate and smelt its redness. I put it inside a plastic bag, tied up the bag, and gently placed the fruit on top of my much filled cart. “Go big or go home” — I’ve been keep telling myself that phrase this fall whenever I know and feel that I am making a mistake. The insurmountable grocery shopping I did that afternoon was just one of those occasions.

There are five of us girls in early 20s living together here. On a tired Thursday night after work, three of us set on a bed and I was holding the pomegranate in my hands. With my sore arms, I twisted and broke the pomegranate into pieces. Red shiny pearls rolled out. They were just about right to let our lips dye red and sweet. We watched a TV show on a laptop screen to end our long day. Tomorrow is Monday again — another day we live out our first few pages of womanhood.

POMEGRANATE                          By D. H. Lawrence

You tell me I am wrong.
Who are you, who is anybody to tell me I am wrong?
I am not wrong.

In Syracuse, rock left bare by the viciousness of Greek
No doubt you have forgotten the pomegranate-trees in
Oh so red, and such a lot of them.

Whereas at Venice
Abhorrent, green, slippery city
Whose Doges were old, and had ancient eyes.
In the dense foliage of the inner garden
Pomegranates like bright green stone,
And barbed, barbed with a crown.
Oh, crown of spiked green metal
Actually growing!

Now in Tuscany,
Pomegranates to warm, your hands at;
And crowns, kingly, generous, tilting crowns
Over the left eyebrow.

And, if you dare, the fissure!

Do you mean to tell me you will see no fissure?
Do you prefer to look on the plain side?

For all that, the setting suns are open.
The end cracks open with the beginning:
Rosy, tender, glittering within the fissure.

Do you mean to tell me there should be no fissure?
No glittering, compact drops of dawn?
Do you mean it is wrong, the gold-filmed skin, integument,
shown ruptured?

For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken.
It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.

From “Birds, Beasts, And Flowers: Poems By D. H. Lawrence.”

October 1

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I look down while I walk — listening carefully to my shoes clacking against the grey asphalt floor, burying my head to the scarf. I contemplate over the wounded thoughts, questions, and nostalgias. I am immersed and away from the surrounding noises. There really isn’t anything I should be complaining about. But there are small emotions inside me that I haven’t reconciled with, feelings of melancholy and disappointments that trigger me to feel weak. I notice the sun feels more poised than usual, like it is trying to get my attention to look up. So I look up and squint my eyes to try resisting from the brightness shining down upon me. The shadows keep hanging low behind my clacking shoes. The light. I am seen. I feel parts of my wrapped up feelings losing to resist, getting exposed by the warmth of the sun.

October 1. It’s taken a while to get to this point of the year. Doubts, uncertainties, and failures behind, two months seem too short of a time to bring a period to an unfinished paragraph. I unlock the door and let myself into the apartment. I take a deep breath as I lean myself against the closed door. I take off my tired shoes and walk over to the couch chair. I sit sideways, putting my arms around my knees. The sun is still looking down on me through the wooden windows of the living room. I reach out my hand to touch it. I turn my hand slowly as my fingers twirl in the sunshine.

It is not easy to feel enough or to forgive yourself. It is difficult to give yourself grace. Though on October 1, I try. In the stretch of time, I pull a string of golden ribbon from the sun and wrap it around my unspoken irresolutions.