As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Diana Lin—Poetry

Foreign shrines

My brother and I did not grow up with the shrines of our ancestors,
Or with the thick smell of incense, the smell of history.
Instead we went to Church, a foreign tradition in a foreign land, but with familiar faces, yellow like us.
We bowed to someone else’s ancestors, someone else’s history.

It all started when I was little, maybe seven or eight,
I would kneel beside the bed at night, hands clasped, eyes skyward,

I think I saw it on TV.

Like writing letters to Santa Claus, who didn’t know to come to our Chinese house,
I thought it would make me like the other kids,
Like camouflage.

My parents, who abide in Church now, retell this story all the time.
They say,
Seeee? You were the first of us.
Jesus called you first.
The same picture
me kneeling beside the bed, hands clasped, eyes skyward, searching


One picture, two beliefs,

Oceans apart

I am from…

I am from an ancient culture
with deep roots, long and tangled
a culture of tradition, invention, violence, and harmony
a culture of philosophers, warriors, philosopher-warriors.
happy Buddhas, prankster monkeys, inscrutable masters.

Granddaughter of poverty, of the fear of not having enough
The fear that leads to careful counting, hawkeye-watching
Great-granddaughter of war, generations of war
an immune response to those who would carve up the land
cut at the ancient roots with the lure of the poppy the lure of the stock option


They tell me that I’m lucky—a bridge between two worlds
From my standpoint I can see farther,
See more.


That’s nice of them to say

Something given for something taken.

What’s in My Name

In grade school

Anxiously waiting that first day
… roll call.
Instant indictment : You don’t belong here.

Teacher pause       say: Um…Chun…?

I flinch.

Teacher marks present by my face, my dark hair.
In high school, every period, another judgment.

I remember

That night my brother and I received our English names
I was four, he was two.
We sat on the ground because our new home in America was bare
Baba in the only chair, a pleather recliner, shiny brown and black
My parents got it from Salvation Army

Jun dai, your English name is Diana, for the sound of dai.
Jun ru, your English name is Luke, for the sound of ru.

My mother’s English name is Angela, chosen by her Jesuit English teacher years ago in Taiwan
after the angels.
Do the Chinese have angels?
My father’s English name is Eric, but I don’t know why.

After 9/11,

My name gave me trouble
Every airport I was stopped and searched
“Miss, your name is on the FBI terrorist watch list.”
“Miss, thank you for your patience, this will be the last time.”
Again and again.

Once I waited in a brightly-lit room,
Buzzing fluorescent tubes, slightly blue,
White plastic chairs nailed to the floor.
Judges sat at a high counter shuffling their papers.
One hour, two hours.
Is this what the naturalization test was like for my parents?
They memorized the preamble

In order to form a more perfect union

Others, in their shawls and their burkas, waited quietly also
One man, white,
William Johnson, spoke out, angry and loud.
“You have no reason to stop me! You’re wasting my time!”
Everyone silently watched him in front of the high judges.
Three hours, four hours.

After that, I waited in a room with a cot.
They told me I could take a nap.

Only recently

Have I learned to present my name without a ready explanation
A quick rebuttal, a correction.

It comes out smooth now, no haltering, no stutter.
I can let it sit on those calls with the bank and the insurance company
I can let it sit at the doctor’s office at the registrar’s office
I feel nothing at their uncertainty
I notice they avoid saying my name but don’t offer up an easy out
I don’t need to save them

My name given to me by my grandfather,
the name that places me with my family, with the brothers and sisters of my generation

Lin.  Two trees side by side, forest clan.


Jun, beizi jun. One who walks the straight path with honor, respect, li.  


Dai.  Ethereal beauty, intuitive poet of legend. Weeping for the flowers.


My other name, Diana

Maiden goddess of the hunt and the moon
Midwife, fierce hunter
Mountain dweller, forest dweller

Diana Chun Dai Lin, having immigrated as a young child, is a part of the “1.5 generation” from Taiwan. Diana’s paternal grandparents are Han Chinese who had been in Taiwan for several generations and whose ancestors traveled from Fujian Province in China to the Beautiful Isle. Her maternal grandfather left China for Taiwan with the Nationalist Army after their loss during the Chinese Communist Revolution, and her maternal grandmother is from the ethnic group Hakka. Diana immigrated with her family when she was three to Gaithersburg, Maryland, but grew up largely in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina. Since leaving North Carolina, Diana has wandered around Taiwan, China, Southeast Asia, Washington, D.C., Southern Utah, and Denver, Colorado- which she now considers home. She is currently pursuing her Master of Social Work at the University of Denver and holds a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These poems belong to a body of work created for Dr. Beltran’s indigenous arts-based research class and are part of the dialogue in that class around issues of identity, power, intersectionality, marginalization, and centering different forms of knowledge-making and sharing.

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Issue 3February 14, 2014
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