Welcome to the Transpacific Literary Project, a new initiative of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop that will present urgent, exciting work from across East and Southeast Asia.
The theme of our inaugural portfolio is particularly apposite as our very mission is a sort of “remittance.” We believe literature should travel across languages, communities, and borders, and that all readers benefit from encountering the unfamiliar and remote. It is vital for all of us to read beyond our comfort zones and at a time when walls – literal and metaphorical – seem to be springing up everywhere, these conversations are more important than ever.
Remittance, here, is interpreted broadly, making use of the full range of possibilities that language affords us. A new piece from this portfolio will be released weekly over the next six weeks. You’ll read about migrant workers remitting their wages home, the idea of burning hell money as a remittance between the living and dead, and the remittance of culture itself, as call center employees in Asia are urged to absorb Americanness in order to make their customers feel more comfortable.
To start us off, the Myanmarese poet ko ko thett explores the transmission of skin and voice.
My skin was born in the Year of the Pig. My accent, much later, and
it’d rather be a Capricorn. I seduce women with my accent. I subdue
them with my skin.
You will still hear my skin whinge even after maggots dwell and die in
My skin is my landscape, my accent my fresh air. My skin is too thin
for bad weather. My accent, incredibly thick it will whistle under water.
I am not one of those who are sentenced to solitary confinement for life
in their own skin. I can get under your skin once I walk out of my
People judge me by my skin. My skin’s purpose in life is to prove them
wrong. Once I open my mouth my accent will prove them right. I keep
my mouth shut, my skin open.
Which is truer, my skin or my accent? When it comes to swinishness
they are on the same page.
In places where I am considered white, my yellow accent always holds
me back. Since whatever out of my mouth is unpasteurized lie, I will
always have a yellow accent.
As for my skin ––
it will be blues when it fancies blues;
it will be jazz when it fancies jazz.