Dirty Asian

by: Shiwon Oh
New York


I’ve been in quarantine since March 16, as the school that I teach at decided to close a week earlier than DOE schools.

A little before COVID19 struck New York, I was out to watch a Broadway play with my partner. We were strolling and talking about mindless things to kill time when a man near us casually noted, “Dirty asians.”

By now, I’m fairly desensitized to racial remarks, as most of us (unfortunately) are. But with the endless barrage of hate crimes rising around the world, I couldn’t help feeling defeated.

This poem is my response, three months later.


you think back to when a man mutters it under his breath like a prayer in a quiet sanctuary: “dirty asian.” he means to remind you that you are not like him, bleached and blameless. but you are proud of your colors. they are victory painted on your skin. you do not want to rid yourself of them.

am anything
but clean

my hands
by ancestor blood

their fight
to reclaim
a homeland
by imperialism—
worse than death

do not want
to be clean

my body
carries history
and more eternal
than your


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