Lily Hoang

In the Land of Kung Flu, an essay by Lily Hoang

I SWITCH TO ENGLISH in public spaces. A place becomes public if anybody else can hear me. Even in my own house, I make sure to close all the windows and stand the furthest distance away from them, crammed into the corner, before I call my parents. My language must be a whispered lullaby.

Let this much be clear: I have never felt safe. My Asian American woman body has always marked me as vulnerable and weak, but I could demure, lower my gaze, flirt out a giggle. I could submit.

Before, I detested how I was made into an exotic fetish object. Now, I am guilty of starting a pandemic—and if not me personally, then my people—and if not my people, geographically speaking, then close enough. There is a difference between malicious desire and malice.

I wear a mask as protection, but it only pronounces the slant in my eyes. I see indictment and rage, this thirst for violence. When I see patriotism, I recognize danger.

LILY HOANG is the author of five books, including A Bestiary (PEN USA Non-Fiction Award finalist) and Changing (recipient of a PEN Open Books Award). Her novel Underneath (winner of the Red Hen Press Fiction Award) and her micro-tale collection The Mute Kids (Spuyten Duyvil Press) are both forthcoming in 2021. She is the Director of the MFA in Writing at UC San Diego.