Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hidden Youth, Hidden Histories, and Names

And I'm in it!

Lim Jia was raised by the local monks, and has the ability to see the spirits of the departed. Jia joins the Chinese Commission to Cuba as a clerk to search for a long-lost brother, and finds many others long lost in the process.


Editors Mikki Kendall and Chesya Burke accepted my short story "A Name To Ashes" for the long-awaited sequel anthology to Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

Hidden Youth: Speculative Stories of Marginalized Children uses the same basic concept--spec fic inspired by lesser-known histories across the world--to tell stories of youth under the age of eighteen.

The publisher, Crossed Genres, has produced some really great anthologies in the past which I've thoroughly enjoyed--especially Fat Girl In A Strange Land--and uses Kickstarter basically as a pre-ordering system. They are also the publisher of Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias, an incredible novel about border control, Chicana magic, alliances, and devastating truths. 

My story, "A Name To Ashes," is set during the Chen Lanpin Commission sent by the Qing Emperor in 1873 to investigate the coolie trade in Cuba. I never knew of this history until I took an undergrad class (as a PhD student; you get to do that if it's relevant to your research) on the history of racism and white supremacy in the States; one of the required texts was The Coolie Speaks by Lisa Yun (H-net review here). By some luck, I also got The Cuba Commission Report: A Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba. The Original English-Language Text of 1876 (which is hideously priced on Amazon) as a gift from a professor, which has some of the primary texts that Yun draws on. 

Reading The Cuba Commission Report was very, very emotionally taxing. The Cuba coolie trade was lucrative, because Chinese coolie labour was the replacement for African slave labour when the British ended the slave trade. The coolies, many tricked into signing contracts they didn't understand, some even kidnapped, were abused and dehumanized. The Cuba Commission Report is filled with testimony after testimony after testimony of their names and how they came to Cuba and how badly they were treated.

At some point, it becomes a catalog of death, and witnessing of death. It was painful to read. I was horrified and yet unsurprised that I didn't know. (One cannot account for the greatness of the world's grief.) I'm not Cuban-Chinese, and these stories are not the stories of my ancestors. But I am part of the Chinese diaspora; it wasn't long ago that my own great-grandfather left his province in search of a better life, like many of the Southern Chinese who became part of the coolie trade.

At the Thien Hau Temple in Los Angeles, there is a small altar outside the side door. The door opens into a small side hall (I think this temple is a combined temple for both a folk tradition whose main patron deity is the sea goddess Mazu and a Chan Buddhist crowd) with a wall full of shelves and name tablets. The tablets are names of ancestors, with their own altar and decorations. 

The small altar outside is for unclaimed souls. No names, no one to pray to them as family, who knew them, probably no descendants. This was a condition forced on many Chinese migrants due to systems of racism. It is a form of violence; even more painfully, it is a violence that continues into death. People pray to these unclaimed souls to offer succor. 

The Cuba Commission Report is riddled with names. The testifiers wanted the commissioners to know and record those names, if not to bring back news to their families, then at least for posterity, to not be forgotten, perhaps to be avenged, perhaps to be given justice in death. Perhaps, there will be none of that.

My story has a few, just a few, of those names. It has a few of their stories, a few of their testimonies, a few of their petitions. Not enough, in other words. But I hope it is a good little tribute. I hope I remembered them right. And I hope you will think of them, too, alongside all the minor histories that the anthology gives you.

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