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Before the Rice Plant Becomes

This poem is about personal experiences with colourism and cultural alterity as a Southeast Asian-Canadian. It is apart of a series called rice plants don't belong in a land of prairies; a series which highlights the social issues within the diaspora.

Huynh, Lenora. before the rice plant becomes, 2019. Film.

There is an undeniable parallel between the history of rice and skin colour. It reminds us that darkness equates to filth, and this is stems from classism. Brown rice had a history of being cheap pig food. Evidently, it became unfathomable for humans to consider eating something meant for a farm animal.

White rice symbolizes wealth. 

Fair skin symbolizes wealth.

It implies that the woman has never had to work hard. An outdated perspective of course, but the notion that fair skin is desirable, is still nevertheless alive and well. 

As a Southeast Asian, I have been told many times, that women should have fair skin in order to be beautiful. When I tanned during the summer, I would often get snarky remarks from aunties. Although, whenever I had lighter skin, I received discomforting compliments from East Asians... of praise and surprise.

"You're lucky that you look East Asian" is something they usually say. 

It breaks my heart to think that the colour of my skin determines my value. At the end of the day, I'm a just Southeast Asian woman with melanin in my skin, and that will never change.

before the rice plant becomes
the rice we eat,
has natural and brown skin.
we might as well consider ourselves
germaphobic.
the skin it was born with,
is stripped to purity.
we believe it is more delicious,
but is it any more nutritious?
yet i have been told many times,
that it does not matter.
consuming brown rice is a sign:
poverty
is not prosperity;
the colour white is this entity.
and that will never be
the epitome of me.

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