Although I’ve only read about half of it, Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a poetic memoir about his queer, Asian experience from his childhood and onward.
The Legend of Auntie Poe reminded me of this narrative. When Mei says, “This is Bee’s story. Bee will go to university, and marry a man” (Khor 37), the author not only addresses Mei’s queer experience, but also, the distance that comes with one minority identity layered upon another. Mei is conscious of how being a Chinese American places her in a marginalized position, and at the beginning of the book, she views herself as a sidebar to Bee’s story.
However, as Mei builds the myth and the role model of Auntie Poe, her perspective on her own life shifts. Role models, like Auntie Poe for Mei, and like Vuong’s mother in his memoir, are key pieces of childhood and support for these queer characters.
In Ocean Vuong’s memoir, his Vietnamese identity and relationship with his mother is at the core of the book. Vuong structures his book as a letter to his mother, who can’t read. He intermixes retellings of his childhood with wishes about seeing queer representation around him and contemplating his queerness in relation to his Asian culture.
This parallels Mei’s position at the end of the novel where she is confidently able to say, “I’m going to have my very own story now” (Khor 282), meaning that, Mei sees herself as a main character in her own story. Although Mei needed Auntie Poe as a catalyst to take initiative, at the end Auntie Poe leaves because Mei now has the power to create her own myths. In a similar vein, the driving force of Vuong’s memoir is providing a narrative to represent untold stories. Vuong looks to similar figures that Mei does, independent women like his mother that have shaped his identity. With these figures Vuong and Khor’s characters are able to harness power and make myths their own.
Texts like Khor’s and Vuong’s are essential to understanding the multiplicity that lies in queer people of color’s identities. Just like Mei’s story proves, queer people should not and cannot be reduced to just their romantic relationships, because there is so much more context surrounding their lives. To be a queer person of color is to exist on multiple planes simultaneously. Without representation like this, queer media risks falls flat which can be detrimental to the understanding of queer representation. Both texts demonstrate how race and class intermingle with queerness, and when these themes can be shown to children through the form of graphic novels like Auntie Poe, children can find the pride and representation that they may lack in their lives.