Waters of Chinatown

by orangemickey

Acoustic Imaging the Muhheakunntuk (Hudson)

performed 5.11.2017 at Wing on Wo&Co’s 1st annual open mic. Wore a Stetson hat and bandana because #TexasLadiesForever (in amerikkkan time, and also #Decolonize, #endAmerikkka) white lily for Taiwan’s indigenous and first student movement.  And an Ace bandaid on my left foot because I fell down on Grand street musing on waters on the awnings.    

When was the last time you wondered about the waters of Chinatown?

I’ve weaved together the prologue of my book, xin: why we are dying, and some things I’ve sensed since coming back to my organizing home in NYC. I’m sure y’all have been aware of the atrocious acts of violence raining down with AHCA and such. And so I feel like I should greet y’all, welcome to waking up in Texas.

我是鄭伊凌 come from 林邊LinBian, 屏東Pindong, 台灣Taiwan from my father’s side and 三重SanChong, 台北Taipei, 台灣Taiwan from my mother’s side. And most recently from Houston, Texas, Mexico, Karankawa Land.

Greetings to the Lenape people, guardian spirits and land we are on, giving thanks for the “Mo-Hee-Kun—Tuck” Muhheakunntuk that our air, mornings and breath are so balanced by the great estuary that nourishes waters, wetlands, bluffs and uplands. Greetings and thanks to Mei and her family, in a way, the “土地公“ of Chinatown. As some of you may know, Water in our medicines is the ultimate Yin—passive, flexible, introspective, but also the origin of all possibilities. So greetings to the spirit suffused in this place, giving thanks for the restorative work of countless women and all who carry the feminine before her who organize and protect the people, with quiet, strength, reflection and faith. With water. Countless aunties, and grandmas, Mini Lou, Monona Yin, Kazu Iijima, Ninotchka Rosca, just to name a few.

In Mandarin/Cantonese/then English:

長大的時候,師父,老師都教我,要瞭解一個地方,就看看他們怎麼對待他們的水。

Monks and teachers raised me in the understanding that you learned everything important about a place based on how people treat their water.


I’ve only recently returned to Chinatown/Brooklyn after being in the four directions of occupied US territory/Turtle Island, and set about understanding how waters are moving here. Annoyingly, as ever, there are a bunch of Marco Polos with their cameras, gawking at Chineseness. Some friends responded to my prompt, “waters of Chinatown” with Walker street, where uncles clean the fish scales and crab guts with splashes of water. So sewage and stinky puddles.   A friend did offer, the rainy intersection at Walker and Canal as she went for breakfast. Another, “a big old dam between the older aunties and asians born here. Things are not flowing, we need dynamite to open the dam. It’s like waters downstream are missing something but don’t know what. The water upstream is stagnant, and the area flooded with the reservoir is literally rotting matter. The reservoir is unspeakable…unconscious…說不出的苦”.

A friend from Boston/Wampanoag land asked. Does Chinatown have water? We’re getting squeezed out. To Malden, to Quincy.

In Houston’s Asiatown, we’ll serve you hot tea in a plastic cup at San San Tofu and everywhere else. The water for cleaning…well, all the water is being used up by Schlumberger down the street or BP and LukOil and the 13 refineries in the Southeast. We even have Chromium 6, unregulated and deadly, running at average 0.75 ppb in our tap water. So our toxic choices are military, medical megaliths or oil refineries or tea. We’re not like y’all Yankees, death down South is so obvious that we’re honest about the violence and hospitable as a response.

In Mandarin/Cantonese/then English:

長大的時候,師父,老師都教我,要瞭解一個地方,就看看他們怎麼對待他們的水。

Monks and teachers raised me in the understanding that you learned everything important about a place based on how people treat their water.


As I wrote this book, as I sent my father home, as I sent my mother to her dreams, the ancestors rush more loudly to ask through me:

心肝寶貝,

Why does this world system kill the water bearers? All who channel the feminine, the girls and womyn and tender ones Don’t they know we are the sixth ocean?


Dear ancestors,

When we are lost, lost in the deathly indulgence of capitalism, in the inelegance of confuscianism, in the terror of white supremacy, in the convoluted crisis of modernism, we fear this ocean in us, because the feminine will extinguish the toxic fire we have scarred this mama earth with. How we do not realize how compassionately this sixth ocean has waited, and how all of us cruelly burn her. For her core, her 心has heated all of us, grown us. Water cleans us, even our deepest sins, our deepest separations.   Water is the seas, the oceans, the rivers, the rains.

Ancestors, water brought me home to you.

Please help us wake up, wise ocean.


Dear Reader,

When was the last time you sensed the pleasure and beauty of the sea? When did you last hear the rivers dance and sing of love, of living for the earth? When was the last time hope carried you home to the shores your ancestors walked on for millennia? When did you last feel alive?

What would dignity and returning to the reverence of water look like for us? What could we reclaim? What would we remember?

I am an ocean and many rivers, half a planet’s rotation away from the waters that grew my family for generations. And today, and here I still need water.

Every family, every community, every civilization has needed water, has gathered around water. Water brings many things, and there are so many things we can say. But there’s surely one thing we all feel when we take in water. Alive.

What about the waters that require us to look to each other, into each other, into our lineages? What if, instead of an identity, an indigeniety fixed in some imagined land, we humbly let water work and define ourselves by water?

I need your water to be well, friend, relative, kin.  We need each other to be watered well.

If all water moved through all our ancestors, went to the watersheds, lakes, streams, oceans and returned through the rain, could we return too, to the trusted ways our ancestors moved with water in over through under water?

Just a drop of water can kill thirst. Just a bucket of water in time can stop a fire. Water finds us in any form, and in water we find all the memories we need to move forward.

Let’s help each other wake up and honor the sixth ocean today.

In Mandarin/Cantonese/then English:

長大的時候,師父,老師都教我,要瞭解一個地方,就看看他們怎麼對待他們的水。

Monks and teachers raised me in the understanding that you learned everything important about a place based on how people treat their water.