Neither of Us Foreign

This poem was recently born out of an 808 Cure Women’s Healing Writing Circle titled “All My Sisters” that I co-facilitated with my longtime friend and poet colleague, Dr. Adrienne Danyelle Oliver, who is its founder.

As National Poetry Month came to a close in April, it was Dr. Oliver’s idea to host a special healing writing circle that would include all BIPOC women, in particular, to show solidarity with Asian American sisters who have been recent targets of racist and misogynist violence. As Dr. Oliver stated, the anti-Asian violence “may not be exactly the same as what we as Black women face but it has the same roots—white supremacy.” Her virtual healing writing circles usually provide a healing writing space for Black Women, and so “All My Sisters” was her first for all women of color, where we held space against the horrendous violence faced by AAPI women and women of color worldwide, as well as the continued targeting of life faced by Black Women. Each session is initiated with guided meditation and a short check-in followed by a special allotted twenty-minute writing time. During that writing time, I felt it imperative to highlight that as all communities of color come together, that it not simply be a transactional relationship of “You show up for us so we show up for you,” but that we come together intersectionally and honor the historical and current struggles and joy of each community’s experiences, never to say that one is better or worse than the other—as that has been the goal of white supremacy in pitting us against each other with harmful stereotypes—but that we truly unite to dismantle white supremacy together.

As founder of the 808 Cure Women’s Healing Writing Circle as well as a celebrated professor who focuses on Critical Race Theory, Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy, and the Sociology of Hip Hop, Dr. Oliver named her healing writing circle the “808” paying homage to the nickname for the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, an electronic drum machine from the 1980s popular in hip-hop music. It’s important to note that the 808 was born out of the coordinated efforts of Don Lewis (an African American vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and electronic engineer) and Ikutaro Kakehashi (a Japanese engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur). Together, they designed the iconic Roland TR-808 that eventually revolutionized the sound of hip-hop and rap as we know today. Out of both men’s love and passion for music, Lewis and Kakehashi became lifelong friends and collaborators for nearly 50 years and were each other’s inspiration in the music industry until Kakehashi’s death in 2017. Simple proof that when Black and Asian genius come together, magic happens.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the 808, and the dear sisters whom I met and inspired me at Dr. Oliver’s “All My Sisters” healing writing circle, here is the poem born of that circle, “Neither of Us Foreign.”

Vocals and poem by Elsa Valmidiano 

for Adrienne, Sonnie, Jen, Jannette, and Andy

Kung Flu, China virus, it would trickle down
to us—our perceived otherness always
buried in our bones—when we are—I am—not Chinese,
but that isn’t even the issue where we’ve
already been othered by the former leader of
this country, and even centuries before that.

This is not a tit for tat contest, but
I’ve—we’ve—been made to feel this
way, where this is not a contest either of
us will ever win as a white referee blows
his whistle on one of us, hoping one of us
will lose when we all lose
and the white gatekeepers do not.

How big would our vocabulary be if
our struggles were not divided by race, where
we would not be drowned by a tsunami of
hurt under a system that claims itself
the absence of color, as if pure, as if
their hands are washed of any dirt, and washed
of any of our blood,

as Ma’Khia Bryant triggered me to remember
all of the foster teen girls, tough as nails,
whom I used to spend time with and teach yoga to.
None of us are washed of her blood and life and
what should’ve been.

I wonder if second-guessing oneself would
even be a thing, would even be a word,
where we’d follow our gut instinct without
fear. Where would fear be, except maybe
stuck in tales of floating ghosts but not
human hands that pierce into our skins,
hurt resting inside muscle, making oceans
from the salty tears of our bodies.

We’d have a big vocabulary where neither
of us is foreign, neither of us is other, but
centered together, and it would make
sense, and yes, you and I would know
what      and how much     each other means.


Articles of Interest and References:

TR808 The Down Beat of Innovationby Susan Hayes, The Ballad of Don Lewis, January 10, 2019

The history of tensions — and solidarity — between Black and Asian American communities, explained: How white supremacy tried to divide Black and Asian Americans — and how communities worked to find common groundby Jerusalem Demsas and Rachel Ramirez, Vox, March 16, 2021

11 Moments From Asian American History That You Should Knowby Paulina Cachero and Olivia B. Waxman, TIME, April 30, 2021

Please visit Dr. Adrienne Danyelle Oliver’s Instagram page @dr.adriennedanyelle for more information on joining her upcoming BIPOC 808 Cure Women’s Healing Writing Circle and writer events. 

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