"It’s the new year — year of the rat — and the streets are empty"
Year of the Rat is a poignant poem that explores the anti-Asian racism that has risen due to the emergence of COVID-19.
i. dark side of the new year moon
chrysanthemum tea goes cold in the kitchen
and the TV screen flickers blue on my skin
rice and tofu and dumplings sit heavy in my hands
like the weight of a human heart.
it’s the new year — year of the rat
and the streets are empty.
disease cuts through us like a scythe through stalks of wheat
yellow bodies sprawled out
arms stretched like bat wings
our voices rattle in our homes
locked in by mousetraps of disease
and no one seems to hear us.
ii. “ it comes from China”
president trump calls it the ‘china virus’
crosses out the corona in his speech and substitutes it for the color of my skin
it chases me like a stray dog;
saliva dripping from a foaming mouth
nails scraping against rough asphalt
the stray dog curls around the heels of
a girl in my film class.
she says “chinese people are disgusting.”
says we will eat just about anything.
calls us dirty dog eaters and pathogen carriers
we have worn these names like
cotton masks that cover our mouths and muffle our words
as if we aren’t used to being silenced by white already
as if we are presumed to be diseased before we can speak
the 年 monster takes its vengeance outside our apartment window
names itself pandemic
and revels in chaos.
its crimson claws and serrated teeth peel flesh from bone
stealing voice boxes and oxygen from warm corpses
the 年 monster takes its vengeance inside my school
names itself after a girl in my biology class
who thinks she knows everything
she claims it started when “some genius decided to eat bat soup”
cites her sources from instagram stories and clickbait articles
this year, the 年 monster isn’t a lion or a dragon or even a monster,
it hides in between our breaths, our touch,
and eats and eats and eats.
our porcelain skin shatters
the blue of our veins leak red
we become funeral shrouds and ghosts
as the disease strips our skin away
turns our kisses into cotton barriers
punctuates our sentences with a series of coughs
a silent war ravages in us
they label us as statistic because our names sit uncomfortable
in the white reporter’s mouth.
they investigate our markets
our black hair, our black eyes, our yellow skin
and deem each breath we take as tainted.
our voices rattle in our own homes
no one seems to hear us.
Young author, Alissa Xiao, joins the Read to Heal Podcast to passionately discuss her poem “Year of the Rat.” Alissa, Madi, and Harnoor lead courageous conversations on racial scapegoating and the effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on increased anti-Asian racism. Join us as our Youth Ambassador hosts dive into this remarkable poem. You can access this novel in Novelly’s digital library full of stories written by young writers from our Rising Voices Collective.
Novelly intern and high school student Aiden Tam reflects on “Year of the Rat” on the blog:
According to Act to Change, among the 3785+ reported cases of COVID-related bullying, 60% involved being bullied by an adult and 41% involved youth-on-youth bullying. Years and years of civil rights and social justice were torn apart as America turned on its Asian compatriots in their own country, spewing racial stereotypes and derogatory terms that they had spent decades combating. As documented by the FBI, hate crimes against Asians skyrocketed, shooting up 77% in just one year after the COVID outbreak.
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