Cathy Park Hong

American writer

Cathy Park Hong (born August 7, 1976) is an American poet, writer, and professor who has published three volumes of poetry. Much of her work includes mixed language and serialized narrative. She was named on the 2021 Time 100 list for her writings and advocacy for Asian American women.

Cathy Park Hong in 2015


  • minor feelings — that feeling of being targeted and ashamed, but not knowing why and not having it be explained to you.
  • Americans still don’t know how to live together, and unfortunately, we don’t have a language to work through interracial violence. That was the case during the LA riots; I think it’s the case now, too.
  • What Black and Asian and brown people know about each other is what white people have said about us, and this is why the real problem is still white supremacy, even if the perpetrators aren’t white.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (2020)

  • Patiently educating a clueless white person about race is draining. It takes all your powers of persuasion. Because it’s more than a chat about race. It’s ontological. It’s like explaining to a person why you exist, or why you feel pain, or why your reality is distinct from their reality. Except it’s even trickier than that. Because the person has all of Western history, politics, literature, and mass culture on their side, proving that you don’t exist.
  • When I hear the phrase “Asians are next in line to be white,” I replace the word “white” with “disappear.” Asians are next in line to disappear.
  • Innocence is both a privilege and a cognitive handicap, a sheltered unknowingness that, once protracted into adulthood, hardens into entitlement.
  • Asian Americans inhabit a purgatorial status: neither white enough nor black enough, unmentioned in most conversations about racial identity. In the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals. But in reality, this is the most economically divided group in the country, a tenuous alliance of people with roots from South Asia to East Asia to the Pacific Islands, from tech millionaires to service industry laborers. How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition—if such a thing exists?
  • The most damaging legacy of the West has been its power to decide who our enemies are, turning us not only against our own people, like North and South Korea, but turning me against myself.
  • My term “minor feelings” is deeply indebted to theorist Sianne Ngai, who wrote extensively on the affective qualities of ugly feelings, negative emotions—like envy, irritation, and boredom—symptomatic of today’s late-capitalist gig economy.
  • In many Asian American novels, writers set trauma in a distant mother country or within an insular Asian family to ensure that their pain is not a reproof against American imperial geopolitics or domestic racism; the outlying forces that cause their pain—Asian Patriarchal Fathers, White People Back Then—are remote enough to allow everyone, including the reader, off the hook.
  • I’d rather be indebted than be the kind of white man who thinks the world owes him, because to live an ethical life is to be held accountable to history.
  • Racial self-hatred is seeing yourself the way the whites see you, which turns you into your own worst
  • The problem with silence is that it can’t speak up and say why it’s silent. And so silence collects, becomes amplified, takes on a life outside our intentions, in that silence can get misread as indifference, or avoidance, or even shame, and eventually this silence passes over into forgetting.
  • To other English is to make audible the imperial power sewn into the language, to slit English open so its dark histories slide out.
  • Ever since I started writing poetry seriously, I have used English inappropriately.
  • As a poet, I have always treated English as a weapon in a power struggle, wielding it against those who are more powerful than me. But I falter when using English as an expression of love.
  • Nothing gets dated faster than a joke.
  • minor feelings: the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed.

"The End of White Innocence"

  • The flip side of innocence is shame.
  • Because I didn't learn the language until I started school, I associated English with everything hard: the chalkboard with diagrammed sentences, the syllables in my mouth like hard slippery marbles. English was not an expression of me but a language that was out to get me, threaded with invisible trip wires that could expose me at the slightest misstep.
  • One characteristic of racism is that children are treated like adults and adults are treated like children. Watching a parent being debased like a child is the deepest shame. I cannot count the number of times I have seen my parents condescended to or mocked by white adults. This was so customary that when my mother had any encounter with a white adult, I was always hypervigilant, ready to mediate or pull her away. To grow up Asian in America is to witness the humiliation of authority figures like your parents and to learn not to depend on them: they cannot protect you.
  • The indignity of being Asian in this country has been underreported. We have been cowed by the lie that we have it good. We keep our heads down and work hard, believing that our diligence will reward us with our dignity, but our diligence will only make us disappear. By not speaking up, we perpetuate the myth that our shame is caused by our repressive culture and the country we fled, whereas America has given us nothing but opportunity. The lie that Asians have it good is so insidious that even now as I write, I'm shadowed by doubt that I didn't have it bad compared to others. But racial trauma is not a competitive sport. The problem is not that my childhood was exceptionally traumatic but that it was in fact rather typical.
  • Most white Americans can only understand racial trauma as a spectacle.
  • Childhood is a state of mind, whether it's a nostalgic return to innocence or a sudden flashback to unease and dread. If the innocence of childhood is being protected and comforted, the precarity of childhood is when one feels the least protected and comfortable.
  • Two thousand and sixteen was the year of white tears...And white tears are why 63 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women elected a malignant man-child as their leader. For to be aware of history, they would be forced to be held accountable, and rather than face that shame, they'd rather, by any means necessary, maintain their innocence.
  • Whether our families come from Guatemala, Afghanistan, or South Korea, the immigrants since 1965 have shared histories that extend beyond this nation, to our countries of origin, where our lineage has been decimated by Western imperialism, war, and dictatorships orchestrated or supported by the United States. In our efforts to belong in America, we act grateful, as if we've been given a second chance at life. But our shared root is not the opportunity this nation has given us but how the capitalist accumulation of white supremacy has enriched itself off the blood of our countries. We cannot forget this.
  • I have to address whiteness because Asian Americans have yet to truly reckon with where we stand in the capitalist white supremacist hierarchy of this country.

Interview with The Guardian (2020)

  • Anti-Asian racism has come roaring back with the coronavirus scare,” says Korean American writer Cathy Park Hong. “People don’t think Asians face racism, but it’s always lurking under the surface.
  • Asians are hyper invisible. We’re not even included in racial breakdowns in polls. We’re always listed as ‘other’, if we’re listed at all...It almost feels like we’re not publicly participating in this country.
  • The way Richard Pryor talked about race was so brutally honest and funny and unvarnished. It made me think that I had never encountered Asian identity being written in that way.
  • It’s one of the best benefits of growing up bilingual, right? You realise that meaning is slippery.
  • Maybe what I’m responding to is how white America has flattened our experience to a single story, how they perceive us as one kind. The book is an attempt to overthrow that.

Interview with Jewish Currents (2020)

  • you have to write toward your discomfort.
  • Shame can make you more aware. Shame can make you more empathetic, too. What’s important, of course, is not staying in that shame, not wallowing in shame. If there are any political uses of shame, it’s that it allows you to see outside yourself. And to move, and to do something with that.
  • I’m a poet, so I look at prose differently than a journalist would. I’m not trying to make a singular argument. I want to document my thought process. And that thought process is never linear. It involves different subjects.
  • Racism is never new. It just changes, it adapts. I think people are louder. But when I hear Asians being called “chink” on the street, that’s not really different from what I experienced as a kid. It’s all part of a historical continuum. The issue is that people forget. My book is not offering new ideas exactly, it’s just a reminder. It’s a reminder of the history of Asian Americans in this white supremacist capitalist nation. I think sometimes we get lulled because we forget. Being a person of color, you’re either invisible or hypervisible. And when you’re hypervisible, your hypervisibility—when there’s a target on your back—is dependent entirely on what’s happening economically in this nation, or what’s happening with foreign policy. One year it’s Muslims, another year it’s undocumented Latinx people, and this year it’s East Asians. It’s like musical chairs.
  • A lot of us come from countries—if you’re South Asian or Southeast Asian—that have been colonized by Western powers. But that’s never talked about. It’s almost as if in immigrant stories we’re supposed to forget our past once our family comes over here. Or there is a kind of writing about the past, but it’s divorced from US foreign policy. It comes from immigrant parents as well. They say, “Oh, you’re here, it’s a rich land, and there are so many opportunities here, you should be grateful,” without actually acknowledging why we ended up here in the first place. I wanted to show how it was all interrelated.
  • The Western is now a global fantasy. It’s hard to pin down what the myth means because the frontier is now so abstract. To dream of the frontier is to dream of progress. But there’s also the fantasy of the frontier as being lawless. There are no regulations that hamper the body; there is no superego in the frontier.
  • In certain ways, the Western ideals of the frontier, of escaping regulation, are still alive today, but now they are carried on in the life of corporations rather than individuals.
  • The frontier is always the border of something, virgin territory where we can build new worlds, remake ourselves; always there’s this obsession with remaking ourselves. So to dream of the frontier is also to desire immortality. But there is no such thing as new territory. There are always previous civilizations, societies, families, and cultures. So when we build new worlds, there will be violence.
  • I don’t create redemption for my characters. The narrative of redemption is a false and lazy conceit in art. Redemption through the act of violence is avoiding culpability.

Quotes about Cathy Park Hong

  • Her vision and execution are so breathtaking.
    • Kiese Laymon blurb for Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (2020)
  • She brings acute intelligence, scholarly knowledge, and recognizable vulnerability to the formation of a new school of thought she names minor feelings.
    • Claudia Rankine blurb for Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (2020)
  • When I read Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, it felt like I was being shaken awake to something I had convinced myself wasn’t real. The subtle ways Asian Americans are dismissed; how Asian American women feel the need to apologize when taking up any sort of space. I was also floored by how she described the ripple effect of the Chinese Exclusion Act: how that fear of not wanting to stick out has been passed down through generations, and how this survival tactic limits us and can cause self-hate. And at the same time, Cathy shares stories that feel so personal, so fresh and so specific, nobody else could’ve written them. I had never read a depiction of three contemporary, young Asian American women that was so complicated, interesting or full of both love and conflict. Her writing is beautiful, funny, sharp and—most importantly to a working mother of two who has few brain cells left at the end of the day—easy to read. I annotated the hell out of Minor Feelings—it’s the kind of book you want to dog-ear and underline. Reading it was such a crazy feeling: I felt so seen that I couldn’t believe that this book existed. And it’s become even more painfully relevant in a year in which anti-Asian violence, which has always existed in America, has spiked so aggressively, putting our communities on high alert and searching for solidarity. This is the book to read when you ask me, “How can I be an ally?” This is the book to read if you want to educate yourself. This is the book to read if you want to be more in touch with your humanity.
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