Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Puddles: Tears, butterflies, and the shootings in Atlanta

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Sabrina Imbler writes in Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club:

This past week, I have been trying to figure out if a puddle is a body of water.

According to Wikipedia, a body of water is defined as a significant accumulation of water, such as an ocean, a sea, or a lake. When geographers map out bodies of water, they include oceans and lakes, perhaps even ponds, but not puddles. A puddle is defined by a small accumulation of water on a surface. I have to wonder, is “small” significant? What about “very small”? How much water must you hold to be considered a body of water?

As a mixed Asian American person, I have spent a lifetime trying to understand how small something like an experience can be and still be considered significant. How small I can be and still be significant.

I have been thinking about puddles because they are the only bodies of water I see nowadays. In Brooklyn, where I live, puddles accumulate by sidewalks and surround intersections, meaning you have to look down to know where to step. Sometimes, after rainfall but before the murk and trash sets in, you can see a glimmer of yourself, or how you are seen.

Last spring, amid a first wave of lockdowns—after my mom sent me an email cautioning me, an Asian asthmatic, not to cough in public—a man spit at me, maybe. I wasn’t sure. He was standing on a corner and I had just walked past him on the otherwise empty street. His spit landed on my shoe, and I faltered for a second but kept walking. When I looked back, I saw him watching me. When he didn’t say anything, I figured I was assuming too much, that I had been the one to intrude in his pre-planned spitting, that it was ingloriously vain of me to assume that he meant to spit on me. A few blocks away, surrounded by brownstones and shuttered shops—no storefront glass in sight—I looked at myself in a puddle as if this could answer my question. I saw a face mask and a beanie and then the only part of my face that was exposed: my eyes. I returned from my destination—a Japanese restaurant converted into a grocery store—and passed by a mailbox with a directive in Sharpie: Go back to China! As I walked home, I wondered, was this significant?

I have been thinking about puddles this past week because I have been crying, in fits and bursts, leaking enough tears and mucus that I could form a very small, probably insignificant, puddle. I did not cry when I learned about the shooting at the spas in Atlanta—where a white man shot eight people, six of whom were Asian women—but I cried later that night, while I was brushing my teeth. I am not a woman, but I am reminded constantly by strangers that I am seen as a woman, objectified as an Asian woman. I thought about the images I’d seen in past months of Asian elders shovedassaulted, and slashed, many of whom lived in towns near where my own grandparents live. My grandpa, a 98-year-old man who wears flat caps and speaks mostly in Mandarin these days, walks around his neighborhood for an hour each day. I wondered, should I ask him to stop?

I do not mean to equate my Asian American experience with the experience of the women killed in Atlanta. Asian massage workers face violence, racism, and sexism every day, Elene Lam, the executive director of Butterfly, a support network for Asian and migrant sex workers in Toronto, told The Cut. Their work is stigmatized, precarious, criminalized, and overpoliced, regardless of whether they are sex workers. They may lack legal protections or be excluded from other jobs due to their immigration status or language barriers. “Those women were assumed to be sex workers & therefore not worthy of safety,” tweeted the writer and social worker Kai Cheng Thom in a thread about the shootings. I felt frustrated at the futility of my tears; they were not helping the victims or the families left to grieve the losses of their daughters, mothers, grandmothers.

When I was in high school, I learned that puddles, bereft of flow, could become vectors of disease. Standing water is dangerous because it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that spread diseases such as malaria and dengue. I did not learn until much later that when Chinese women began immigrating to California in the 19th century, white health professionals and legislators cast these women as a threat to American morality and a contagion to public health. The president of the American Medical Association warned of a (completely fictitious) sexually transmitted disease that was only carried by Chinese women, Mari Uyehara writes in The Nation. In 1875, the US passed the Page Act, which effectively banned Chinese women from immigrating.

Puddles may not be significant to geographers, but they are significant to wildlife, particularly butterflies. Adult butterflies can only consume liquids, which they imbibe through their spiraling proboscises. They subsist almost entirely on a diet of leaves and nectar, foods rich in sugar but devoid of sodium. Butterflies must seek out sodium elsewhere in liquid form. So they resort to what’s known as puddling, seeking out minerals in water and damp substrates. Shallow puddles are safer havens for such small creatures than the surging currents of rivers or depths of a pond. Butterflies in Sulawesi, . . .

Continue reading. The conclusion is powerful.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 11:35 am

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