I just ate a plate of steamed white rice with salted dried fish and kim chi. That was my dinner. As I consumed the food, more for sustenance than for taste at the moment, I pondered upon how a simple meal could be delicious when hungry. I was then reminded of a memory several years ago, when an office mate had made a comment about the smell of my lunch. It was a typical “Asian” encounter that left me feeling quite different, yet again. I am reminded of my other-ness in this community, in this country.
I would have to hide my Asian-ness if I am to be considerate of the majority and blend in without offense to other’s sensitivities. I would have to remove my Asian-ness, and what would remain is just me. Just me without all the things I grew up with, void of the familiar that have been in my world up until now. But removing these things from me doesn’t remove my make-up. I am still this Asian in my heart and soul. So I become the remainder, left after all the losses that come with assimilation. Being a remainder is painful, because I am the source which reminds me of what have been lost. I cannot rid myself of me. I have to bear my own burden, day in and day out, with every cross-cultural encounter. Each decision I have to consciously or unconsciously make about disappearing while being a remainder, or sticking out like a sore thumb only to bear the hits of the hammer, I am inflicted with pain. The redundancy and endlessness of it all takes its toll. I do not know how much longer I can let myself be chipped away silently before dissipating. Yet I am the remainder so there will always be some of me left. And whenever there is some of me left, there will always be a chipping away. There is no escape.
I am not used to helplessness and I am used to helplessness both at the same time. An immigrant is a fighter, a survivor who transcends geography and peoples to better one’s life and those of one’s future generations. There is nothing helpless about this survival. Yet, being a remainder of what one lost to survive is a helpless cycle of suffering where there is no escape.
Can I choose not to be a remainder? Can I be a creator instead? What would it take? How alienating will that be?
This reflection is inspired by Dr Robert Storolow’s article “On Being a Remainder” in Psychology Today.