Author: Cathy Park Hong
Publisher: One World
First Published: February 25, 2020
Genres: Essays, Memoir
Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world.
Binding these essays together is Hong’s theory of “minor feelings.” As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these “minor feelings” occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity. Minor feelings are not small, they’re dissonant—and in their tension Hong finds the key to the questions that haunt her.
With sly humor and a poet’s searching mind, Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. This intimate and devastating book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and female friendship. A radically honest work of art, Minor Feelings forms a portrait of one Asian American psyche—and of a writer’s search to both uncover and speak the truth.
This book is quite simply incredible. It was so true to my experiences as an Asian American woman; I laughed during some parts, cried at others, felt enraged and melancholy all at once. It is a timely book to read now with the widespread hate crimes against Asians that has been raging in the United States after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hong presents a series of personal and political essays that detail the impact that racial perceptions of Asians and Asian culture have on various areas of the author’s life as a Korean American woman. I appreciated that the author was able to relate her own anxieties, her art, and the experiences that she and the people around her have gone through. The people presented in this book are flawed, multidimensional people, going beyond the popularly assumed stereotypes about Asian Americans as perfect and hard-working “model minorities.”
“We keep our heads down and work hard, believing that our diligence will reward us with our dignity, but our diligence will only make us disappear. By not speaking up, we perpetuate the myth that our shame is caused by our repressive culture and the country we fled, whereas America has given us nothing but opportunity.”
I could relate to Hong’s feelings of self-doubt, the hesitation to write about the Asian experience while also feeling the pressure to make her work “Asian” hit me hard. I too have gaslit myself into doubting the racism I have encountered in my personal and professional life. I too worry every day about feeling like I am not Asian enough but still feel like an outsider in the country that I was raised in. Hong gave words to feelings that have been bubbling up in me for decades.
The issues that are brought up had a great degree of intersectionality, from the tensions between Asians and Black Americans to the fetishization of Asian women and the silencing that occurs after sexual assault crimes come to light. The United State’s history of racism and imperialistic conquest have had a ripple effect that can still be felt by Asians today in and outside of the United States. Minor Feelings is easily one of the best books that I have read on the Asian American experience and I can’t recommend it enough, it opens up a necessary conversation about race that is long overdue.
Warnings: Drug use, racism, violence, discussions of sexual assault