Watch the poem here!
Jade Cho grew up scouring the libraries and schools of Oakland, California, looking for narratives that reflected her own: a third-generation, Chinese-American female desperate, but unable, to communicate with her ancestry. Years later, Cho credits this desire to honor her grandparents as one of the major influences behind her pursuit of poetry and her first book “In the Tongue of Ghosts,” which is scheduled to be available in August.
“I wanted to find myself in the books I was reading,” Cho told NBC News. “The majority of what I saw in Asian-American literature was older writers reflecting on their experiences as immigrants or the children of immigrants, navigating assimilation. I think these stories are necessary and important, but they didn’t reflect me or how I grew up — monolingual and already assimilated, with a deep sense of wanting to be able to speak Toisan. I had the privilege of living in an upper middle class white community, but as a result also felt alienated from both my white classmates and majority 1st/2nd generation, working class Asian-American classmates.”
Cho first became involved in the Bay Area’s poetry scene after attending a Youth Speaks open mic in high school. “It was the first time I’d seen a space where there were young people my age who were also folks of color, young women, queer and trans folks, working class folks talking about their experiences growing up in the Bay Area,” Cho said. While at the time Cho was too shy to perform or even share her writing with friends, she continued returning to the space, and later joined Cal Slam — the University of California, Berkeley’s spoken word club — while attending the school for her undergraduate studies. It was then that Cho’s lifelong desire to articulate her own story won out, and for the first time, she began sharing her poetry publicly.