Activism Poetry

We Eat Chicken Feet and We Are Not Dead

We eat chicken feet and we are not dead

Our bowls are rimmed with bats and fire flies

Our feet pedal sewing machines making blue denim jeans

We march in Chinatown protesting discrimination

Corona virus has no yellow skin nor brown eyes

We are delivery workers, doctors, dancers, actors

Our ancestors memorized the number of doors and windows in the

home village, whether our fathers had more than one wife

Our foremothers sold their bodies to feed their children

Ah Bing cultivated wild and sweet cherries in Oregon,

disappeared in China

We make masks and we don’t hide

We fight for Asian American Studies

Agitating for inclusion is a political act

We strike for higher wages, rest periods for our aching backs

We are immigrants at home all over the world

We are natives, born in Eureka, Augusta, Oakland, Phoenix, Flushing

We dispense herbs, make soup to heal our bodies

Harvest chrysanthemums, grapes, pea shoots, taro

Oh yeah, we yakety yack, we jitterbug and jive, play flutes and drums

We dream and we braise and steam and we write

We eat chicken feet and we are not dead.

Nellie Wong

© 2020 Nellie Wong

This poem is included in Voices of Resilience: Fighting Fear Through Poetry, an online exhibition celebrating Angel Island Immigration Station’s historic poetry and poems submitted by the public.

Voices of Resilience celebrates the 50th anniversary of the re-discovery of over 200 Chinese poems carved into the walls of the detention barracks at the U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island. This triggered a set of efforts to preserve the building, ultimately resulting in the designation of the site as a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1997.

The exhibition features a total of 55 poems including 22 historical poems and 33 contemporary poems selected from online submissions from the general public. The contemporary poems include contributions from former Angel Island detainees, their descendants, fourth grade students at Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, and an anthology by the Sato/Bukowski/ Haechler Family.

“At a time when there are significantly increased reports of anti-Asian harassment and assaults related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it felt important to AIISF’s Board and Staff to continue to ensure that the histories and stories related to the immigrant detention at Angel Island are not forgotten. Our hope is that Voices of Resilience serves as a reminder of the empathy, connection, and resiliency that is important especially in times like this.” stated AIISF Executive Director Edward Tepporn.

Exhibition: Voices of Resilience
Dates: May 1 through June 30, 2020