Volume Five, Issue 2

Amy Uyematsu

When All They Can See Is Our Eyes

More than 3,000 hate incidents directed at Asian Americans
nationwide have been recorded since the start of the pandemic...
             CBS News, 2/25/21

Sixty years ago I knew the danger
of walking past white kids my age
who would sneer and glare
and pull up their eyes -
still so young, I
was relieved if they didn't
also yell “Jap” or “Chink”

In World War II propaganda
Americans were told
how to differentiate
loyal Chinese citizens
from treacherous Japanese
like my California-born parents
locked up in camps

“How To Spot a Jap,”
a U.S. Army pamphlet
in comic book style,
explaininig that “C's eyes...
have a marked squint”
while “J has eyes slanted
toward his nose”

In 2020 the pandemic
brought our eyes
to the forefront again
as President Trump kept
blaming anyone Asian -
proclaiming the “Chinese flu”
or even “kung flu”

No coincidence
we soon became scapegoats
strangers yelling
“Go back to China”
when we're Korean
“Infecting and disgusting”
though Pilipino or Thai

In 2021, covid still raging,
a Sacramento teacher
lectures via Zoom -
“If your eyes go up, you're
Chinese” she gestures,
“If they go down,
they're Japanese”

As the racist bullying
now escalates to our elders
a grandmother assaulted
and robbed at an ATM
an 84-year-old fatally
smashed to the ground
by a 19-year-old

To those who insist
making “slanty” eyes
is harmless fun -
“Can't you Asians
take a joke?” -
whether Miley Cyrus
or Houston Astro
Yuli Gurriel

No such thing as
a little racism – so-called
innocent teasing
and taunts transform
in an instant to
this all-too-familiar
avalanche of hate

Where attacking us for
our Asian eyes
is as American as
“Japs Must Go” signs,
slanted vagina insults,
the Chinese Exclusion Act
way back in 1882

Don't Forget

Hockey sticks & baseball bats
Wooden planks & MAGA hats
Pocket knives, zip ties & stun guns

Bear spray & stinger whips
Smoke bombs & metal pipes
Trump flags, hanging rope & cell phones


karma / what goes around vs. how could this happen in america/ how deplorable/ unbelievable /

NO, how inevitable / white supremacists and fascists storming the capitol building / brandishing

nooses and the confederate flag / haven't we seen this before / ask any native tribal survivor / ask

the thousands whose father or mother or child was lynched / the millions who witnessed the smug

white cop pressing his foot on george floyd's neck / imagine a young black or latino mugging

for cameras with his feet on nancy pelosi's desk / we all know he'd never get the chance / no

black lives matters protestors in the mob / we saw the t-shirts proclaiming 'camp auschwitz'

and 'six million are not enough' / remember charlottesville / trump telling us there were very fine

people among those who marched with torches and nazi slogans / and now he comforts his darling

capitol terrorists / the insurrection still going on / he understands their pain and loves them /

THIS IS the america people of color have always known / the so-called democracy that forced us

into reservations, plantations, world war ii concentration camps, border detention jails / the glorious

land-of-the-free where malcolm predicted the chickens would come home to roost / THIS IS who

we are

Amy Uyematsu: “I am a third-generation Japanese American poet and teacher from Los Angeles.”

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