Osmanthus Wine

Those memories I have of you are sweet, sweet like the osmanthus honey you used to make me, petals hand picked from your cobblestone patio back in China. You left only a few jars before you went back to Nanjing seven years ago, but I still remember their taste. They were rich and floral and tasted so much of home. I thought that of our memories too: thick and comforting, but they were clumped as well, honey riddled with dry chunks of misunderstanding and silence.

It’s been so long since you were last in America, but every time someone grabs my wrist, I’m reminded of you. And though your hands are much rougher, crinkled like parchment paper, the gesture always sends my mind tumbling through our memories together, most of which we made when I was twelve years old, and when you lived with my family in America. That’s how you’d often lead me, whether we were gardening together or taking a walk while you did morning exercises, you would always hurry me along, one hand wrapped tightly around my wrist. You gripped me firmly, and as a child, it reminded me of just how strong you were, despite your age. …

Between Barbed Wire: A Visual Analysis of TIME’s Welcome to America

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A series of rafts float closer to shore, near the Rio Grande on United States territory. The riders’ faces are beaten and their hair mangled and sweaty. Most, if not all of them, are women and children. Driving out, photojournalist John Moore sees more than a dozen asylum seekers. Among them, a pair of figures stands out: A mother clutches her daughter closely to her chest, waiting to be searched. The border patrol agent asks the mother to set her child down, and immediately, the child begins to scream.

Many of us only caught glimpses of the debates over immigration policy under the Trump administration, never being able to step into the horror of family separation. In the midst of an undeniably turbulent point in our country’s history, TIME magazine released a July 2018 issue with a provoking and heart-wrenching cover, Welcome to America, that speaks for the many asylum seekers separated at the border.

Every parent has a pet peeve. My mother’s is dishonesty. In her house, even the little white lies never went unnoticed. Sometimes she would pounce and catch me in the midst of telling a grandiose fabrication. But other times, she would catch a lie on her tongue, roll it around in her mouth, and chew on it for a few days before spitting it back in a heated argument years later. The woman was a lioness. She preyed on the truth and tore apart lies with just a single whiff of suspicion.

Mother grew up in a family of three, and she, of course, was the sandwich child. She never got much attention in the household, and if she did, it was when grandmother beat her with that bamboo cane. When she was in high school, her parents and siblings moved to Germany for a whole year and decided to leave her at home to take care of the house and finish school. Alone, with no family, she failed her exams and went to a second-tier university. But she never says her childhood was a mistake. It was just a really long lesson. And when she first gave birth, she swore to never neglect me the way her parents did. She’s been honest to that promise. …

I sometimes look back at an acrylic piece I painted a few years ago. “The Pool,” which I creatively named in the haste of submitting the painting to an art show, features a girl swimming in a crystal-clear pool somewhere on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. A boy in a red shirt stands over the pool, watching the girl as she completes her laps. In this painting, there is a single dark red wrinkle on the boy’s shirt that has a different shade from the other wrinkles. …

The needle is a fine strand of hair plucked from an aging scalp.

It is intentional in physiology:

Designed to be invincible, it pushes through flesh and muscle with ease.

It is good-willed in nature:

Dimpled at the end of a steel body, it permits quick removal.

Yet, as breakable as it seems at first puncture,

The metal point sends quicksilver through my veins, which

In its wake paves a path for the flow of vitality.

I lay with what seems like thousands of needles, and

I focus on the inkling of a feeling:

Each prick is a reminder of ancient history.

Each prick is the nature of traditional practice.

Each prick is a bookmark: the memory of a needle in time.

Walking through streets of Nanjing

Lanterns speckled by the carbon dust and debris,

I inhale.

Sweet, like the honey Nai Nai keeps

Soaked in osmanthus petals.

The vendor blows molten sugar,

Curling it into thousands of fine strands

Which cling to the next like blades of wet grass

Trying to fumigate the air

As the vendor shapes the sugar in his hands

The blades take the form of bars

And bars to birds, and

Birds to wings that cannot fly

And I see

A sugared prison bird

An imprisoned mind

Stuck in the sick, viscous honey of memory,

Sliding through white and grey…

Open source still has a long way to go before software, and software development alike, becomes more equitable. Open source has proved useful in building a community of developers and creating high-quality products, but it is also reveals some of the worst parts of humanity. Discrimination is embedded in small parts of open source practices and licenses, and it is important to shed light on these issues in order to make the open source community more diverse and inclusive.

Github’s mission is to “support a community where 27 million people learn, share, and work together to build software.” However, it is also a place where code contains extremely “racist, sexist, and homophobic language.” The developer community is intended to be self-policing, but how can we ensure that open source maintains its freedom while, at the same time, placing restrictions on abusers of open source platforms? Analogous to political leaders, open source leaders must set good examples and promote inclusivity in open source projects. Former president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), Russ Nelson, did just the opposite. Nelson was removed from his position a mere month after taking office for racist posts. Though he claimed that the mission of the OSI was extremely important to him and that he hoped “the community could continue its focus on working together to advance the integration of open source software into the wider society,” his personal blog included one post that read, “blacks are lazy.” While some immediately brought attention to his racist remarks, others in the open source community claimed that this was simply an “unfortunate circumstance” for Nelson to be in. …


Jocelyn Shen

MIT ’21 / tech & society / creative writing / poetry / art

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