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Week 3/29/21

PUBLISHED: April 3, 2021

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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Just before eight in the morning on December 1st of last year, Ada Monzón was at the Guaynabo studios of WAPA, a television station in Puerto Rico, preparing to give a weather update, when she got a text from a friend. Jonathan Friedman, an aeronomer who lives near the Arecibo Observatory, about an hour and a half from San Juan, had sent her a photo, taken from his sister-in-law’s back yard, of the brilliant blue Caribbean sky and the green, heavily forested limestone hills. In the picture, a thin cloud of dust hovered just above the tree line; the image was notable not for what it showed but for what was missing. On a normal day—on any day before that one, in fact—a shot from that back yard would have captured Arecibo’s nine-hundred-ton radio-telescope platform, with its massive Gregorian dome, floating improbably over the valley, suspended from cables five hundred feet above the ground. Accompanying the photo was Friedman’s message, which read, simply, “Se cayó”—“It fell.”

Art Director Jenn Boggs
“The Collapse of Puerto Rico’s Iconic Telescope”, by Daniel Alarcón, in the New Yorker


But when I became a published poet, I couldn’t suspend my Asian female identity no matter what I wrote. Even in the absence of my body, my spectral authorial identity hampered the magnitude and range in which my voice reached readers. How naïve to think that my invisibility meant I could play God! If Whitman’s I contained multitudes, my I contained 5.6 percent of this country. Readers, teachers, and editors told me in so many words that I should write whatever felt true to my heart but that since I was Asian, I might as well stick to the subject of Asians, even though no one cared about Asians, but what choice did I have since if I wrote about, say, nature, no one would care because I was an Asian person writing about nature?

I suspected that if a reader read my poem and then saw my name, the fuse of the poem would blow out, leading the reader to think, I thought I liked the poem but on second thought, I can’t relate to it. But what proof did I have of this? How did I know it wasn’t simply because I had no talent? The problem was that I didn’t know. Either way, I couldn’t shake off this stuckness. I always thought my physical identity was the problem, but writing made me realize that even without myself present, I still couldn’t rise above myself, which pitched me into a kind of despair.

Executive Editor Allison Wright
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong


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