Art Culture

(Chinatown) Many Migrations

A poem on ancestry, invisible labor, and the stories we can never forget.

in the early days of

new york’s chinatown

women coalesced into

a garment district

a labor movement

fast yellow hands forming

shapes that became metaphor

darting needle, dancing thread

the easier sewn bundles

sih yauh gai,

could earn you more—

steam-press a dress

a young woman can wear

while falling in love

my parents came to america

later that century

master’s degrees tucked into crisp shirts alongside

white colleagues—

my mother wove capacitors and diodes into green schematics

so that electricity speaks to itself

in the palm of your hand

our chinglish stitches

hyphenate space

between powerpoints

and pork feet at the super 88

i learned to sew,

after four years of family-paid

private arts education

writing english poetry about

how fast bamboo grows—

a childhood memory so foreign to me

i am a tourist within it

i only know how swiftly

luxury condos materialize—

entire groves, several feet a day

a force to be reckoned with

a magnet for trust-fund whites and

crazy rich chinese

as trade war makes headlines

fabric taught me namelessness

the ways some people are artists

and others workers

needle taught me how two sides holding together with tension

can almost create the shape of a story

no one is surprised to see

slanted eyes in corporate america

yellowness weaves

convenient allegiance across lines—

professionals with macbooks extract capital from silicon pockets,

are also the adopted daughter

of a manhattan shopkeeper

placing her hand on my shoulder—

a touch that feels familiar

ni de lao jia zai naer?

“my mom is from anhui—”

extra bag is free, she insists

we are kin now, and in chinese

“home” and “family”

are the same sound

over and under—

yi shang yi xia—

hide stitch, cut thread

remembering a thousand migrations

that aren’t one’s own

Kathy Wu is a second generation Chinese-American tech worker who makes art, design, and sometimes poems. Currently thinking about class, mass production, softness, and invisible labor.

Ying Bonny Cai is a designer and researcher studying traditional garment engineering, experimenting with innovative materials, as well as collecting precious narratives. She is passionate about sharing histories and culture through a contemporary design spirit that pays homage to our earth and can reach people’s hearts. She breathes blossoms and blue skies and loves her friends indefinitely.