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Writing (MA)

Aquina Dicha

Aquina is an Asian American Illustrator and Writer whose work explores her own internal conflicts and tries to balance the relationship between the different sides of her Taiwanese-Indonesian American cultural identity. 

Sorting through complicated personal relationships with friends and family, as well as making sense of the tension between both ethnic identities, her final project Hiding From Silence was written as a result of trying to detangle the complex web that is her personal identity crisis and shift her own perception of herself. From using other people's understanding of her as a definitive view of who she is, to developing a perspective that is purely independent from external opinions and really getting to know who and where it is that she comes from and why she is the way she is today.

Image of a store in Tokyo

Fragmented pieces of myself scatter all over the world, where different versions of me simultaneously exist in different cities.

Image of the abstract for Hiding From Silence

Excerpt from Hiding From Silence (Minor Feelings and The Self-Hating Asian)

For quite some time, it would rub me the wrong way whenever my Asian classmates would produce work that was either centered on or was heavily inspired by their cultural background. I didn’t understand why I felt that way, and I often felt guilty for feeling that way. Especially since those feelings I harbored were at times targeted toward artists who I had considered to be good personal friends of mine. But when my own feelings of confusion and frustration toward my cultural identity started to bleed into my own work, I started to realize, deep down, the truth was that I envied these people for having a better connection to their culture than I did. I envied the Chinese students who had a firmer grasp on Mandarin, I envied the Indonesian students who never had to question where home was, and I envied both sides for having so much pride in their cultures. Above all, I envied the people who had a firm grasp of their sense of identity, while I struggled with it my entire life. Without even realizing, I was projecting my own insecurities onto others.

In Minor Feelings, Hong touches on the subject of the self-hating Asian, explaining that, “Racial self-hatred is seeing yourself the way the whites see you, which turns you into your own worst enemy. Your only defense is to be hard on yourself, which becomes compulsive, and therefore a comfort, to peck yourself to death. You don’t like how you look, how you sound. You think your Asian features are undefined, like God started pinching out your features and then abandoned you. You hate that there are so many Asians in the room. Who let in all the Asians? you rant in your head. Instead of solidarity, you feel that you are less than around other Asians, the boundaries of yourself no longer distinct but congealed into a horde.”

Excerpt from Hiding From Silence (Small Bodies of Water and The Water Radical)

Discussing the water radical 水 (shuǐ) in her book Small Bodies of Water, Nina Mingya Powles writes in depth about the characters that make up the word 外婆 (wàipó), a Chinese word used to refer to one’s maternal grandmother. She calls her grandmother 婆婆, and points out that the character 婆 consists of both the Chinese character for woman (女) and wave (波). She goes on to say that when she writes this character, she sees she has drawn a woman beneath a wave—a woman in the waves.

In a conversation with my mother, I bring up Powles’ anecdote about the woman and the wave that lives within the character 婆, and how I never noticed it, despite the fact that my grandmother’s contact name in my phone is 外婆. I went on to tell her about how after realizing this and reflecting back on the series of events that made up our lives—my grandmother’s included—the women in our family were not only tied to island nations, but live like moving islands ourselves. We’re destined to live a distance away from our loved ones, never really having a clear answer as to where we could consider home.

Excerpt from Hiding From Silence (Sugar Nutmeg and The Indonesian Look)

On Sugar Nutmeg’s 2021 Special Holiday Episode, hosts Ruth and Alex discuss with Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao about the translation process of Norman’s book, Cerita-cerita Bahagia, Hampir Seluruhnya (Happy Stories, Mostly). Midway through the podcast, Alex asks Norman about a particular line he wrote, “I was once like you, I was once an Indonesian.” Norman goes on to explain that he wrote this passage to revolve around the phrase, “looks can be deceiving,” believing that there is no such thing as an “Indonesian look.”

“Let’s just be real about it,” he says. “And maybe there’s no such thing as an ‘Asian look,’ but Western culture has forced a definition on us somehow… But when it comes to real life, there is no such thing. Indonesians can look like someone who’s Taiwanese, and a Taiwanese person can look like an Indonesian. A Bataknese person can look like a Javanese person. It shouldn’t matter, but it does become a big deal when we see it through a Westernized lens. Especially when you speak to a white person. There has to be a certain kind of look for them, but looks can be deceiving. You might not think that I’m Indonesian, but I am.”

Alex then goes on to add that when she was workshopping a screenplay she wrote about Indonesians, she included a diverse cast of Indonesians consisting of an Arab-Indonesian, a Chinese-Indonesian, and a Javanese-Indonesian. Alex had workshopped the screenplay with a group of people from the US, many of whom asked, “If these are different kinds of Indonesians, how do I know? How do I tell them apart based on their look?”

“Why can’t you look at the conflict of this story instead of the looks, the looks, the looks!” Alex rants in her podcast.

I felt like I had to constantly have some sort of tangible proof on me whenever someone asks anything about my ethnic heritage, just because my face didn’t represent someone’s assumption of what a person who was ethnically both Native Indonesian and Han Chinese would look like. Not to mention the fact that Indonesia consists of so many different ethnic cultures, with the term “Native Indonesian” or Pribumi acting as an umbrella term for all of these different native identities. Indonesia is such a melting pot of different ethnicities, it has become difficult to definitively pinpoint what “traditionally” Indonesian features would look like. It’s also one of the reasons why asking for a person’s ethnicity has become such a normalized question in Indonesia.

Additional Notes

The title, Hiding From Silence, comes from the hesitance that one’s family has when it comes to discussing taboo topics, preferring to sit in silence and pretend like the problem does not exist, instead of having an open discussion in order to better understand the situation and solve the problem at hand. With silence comes comfort, and throughout writing this essay, I am bitterly reminded that I cannot push someone outside of their comfort zone unwillingly, no matter how much I want to better our relationship with one another (including my own relationship with myself).


It’s an odd feeling,

to be the only one with dark features

in a line full of bright eyes, light skin, and pointed noses

It’s an odd feeling,

being able to fly through immigration

while my grandparents are asked a million and one questions

It’s an odd feeling,

to be told welcome home

and watch the change in the immigration officer’s demeanor

as they berate my grandparents for the purpose of their visit

It’s an odd feeling to witness this at 23

and a thousand times weirder,

to be sitting at the airport immigration office for hours at 5,

not knowing if they’re going to let my grandma leave with me

or send her back to a country that’s not even her home

Image of page three, second section of airports part 2 soekarno hatta international airport
Image of page four, second section of airports part 2 soekarno hatta international airport
Image of page five, second section of airports part 2 soekarno hatta international airport

A Punchline to a Sick Joke

the joke being my own people romanticizing

living as a minority in a western country

the joke being my own people buying into

the idea of the “American Dream”

the joke being my own people marrying a white person

as a solution to their problems

the joke being my own people fetishizing

the same people that fetishizes them

the reality being my family stuck in survival mode

struggling to learn the motherland’s language

the reality being worrying for my mother’s safety

because she is to a white man who fetishizes her

the reality being my own father forgetting

my mother and i carry different cultures within us

the reality being men thinking i’m pretentious

and a major bitch for having “foreign” values

the punchline being my very existence 

where as an Asian American, i am never enough

to be considered one or the other 

because the where and how of my upbringing

makes me lack in ways that other people do not

Image of page 1 of A Review on Ali dan Ratu Ratu Queens
Image of page 2 of A Review on Ali dan Ratu Ratu Queens
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Image of porcelain cup and jade statue

Excerpt from Porcelain Woman

Now, what do you think she would say if porcelain could speak?

What stories would she tell? Stories passed down from the fingertips of her creator, and embedded into her body. Stories that carry the history of a whole civilization and their spiritual beliefs.

Do you think porcelain would complain about the ways in which it has spent years being overlooked, due to its foreign origins once it enters another land? Or would it revel in itself for being important enough to make its mark in a whole other culture’s art history?

I think about the way in which each piece of porcelain carries a story, told through the beautiful blue ink that contrasts heavily against the pure white. I think about the way in which these pieces were created by those who come from another land, only for these pieces to be sent out elsewhere, left to be under-appreciated and overlooked.




4 Minutes 34 Seconds
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Excerpt from Exquisite Phrasis

the last time this happened i left a stain on the carpet

the last time this happened he left me to bleed out

a pool of angry red beneath my feet

an ugly reminder of something i’m desperate to forget

why don’t i ever say what i mean

or mean what i say?

i want you out of my life

you make me feel safe

i’m using you as a placeholder for someone else

i’m absolutely terrified of looking like an idiot

you’re so fucking frustrating to be around

you’re so easy to open up to 

you’re nothing but another name on a mile long list

you’re someone i wouldn’t mind falling into

i absolutely hate the power you have over me

i absolutely hate the power you have over me

never believe the things that come out of my mouth

because if you do you might get the wrong idea