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Gibberish Guest Editor Interview

Editor Interview: Ailun Shi

Can you share an experience when your culture was lost in translation? How did that shape your worldview? And what are you hoping this stirs up in writers?

In elementary school, my teachers would put on Chinese New Year celebrations and activities. Every year, my teachers taught us how to say gong hei fat choy and a myriad of some other words. But those other words were Mandarin, while gong hei fat choy was Cantonese. As a Mandarin speaker, for a while, I was confused by the existence of seemingly commonplace words that didn’t exist in my vocabulary—but that was because my teachers either didn’t know or didn’t explain that “Chinese” isn’t just one language.

Cultural ignorance has improved since my elementary school years; most of the people I talk to who aren’t from my culture are aware that Chinese and many other Asian languages have tones, that Mandarin and Cantonese are only the two most common languages spoken in China of hundreds. I’ve also encountered countless people who ask me, on their own accord, how my name is actually pronounced in Mandarin, something that no one would’ve asked (and that I would never have even offered up) as a kid. But there’s still a lot of headway to be made, especially for more niche languages and cultures. I hope writers are encouraged to dig into their past, be proud of the languages and cultures they came from, and share those bits of history with us.

What do you hope writers get out of submitting to Gibberish? 

I hope they’re able to take a look back and really dive into the cultures and experiences that they came from and maybe even get more comfortable with expressing those identities. It took many formative years for me to get comfortable with sharing who I am and where I came from, and today, there are still pieces of my identity that I’m more hesitant about sharing. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people. I hope we can all get just a little closer to being comfortable with who we are with Gibberish.

Describe your editing philosophy. What makes a piece hard to pass up?

With Gibberish—honestly, anything that makes me travel back, be at home, and feel nostalgic. I don’t need to be from the culture in the piece or speak the language that’s referenced, maybe I’ve never even heard of the culture or the language! But the feelings associated with the roots we come from are universal.

Who’s a poet, essayist, artist, etc. that you can’t stop reading/following?

I read “Sex Tape, B-side” from Iva Ticic on Tint Journal a few months ago. That turned into my favorite poem. And then an artist (well, singer) that I’ve been listening to since before she even released her first EP is Sara Kays.

Why is destigmatizing foreign words, ethnic names, and ‘otherness’ important?

It’s so easy to resort to labels and categories. When we destigmatize and normalize foreign words and ethnic names, it’s harder to resort to labeling those things as “other” and for people to discriminate against that “otherness.”

Share a fun fact about yourself.

I’ve been learning to ballroom dance! Favorite dances are waltz and samba.

Ailun, pronounced like Allen, is a lover of books, calligraphy, and writing.⁣⁣ She has worked with Empire & Great Jones Little Press, Helen: a literary magazine, and Beard Full of Butterflies. Learn more about here: https://ailunshi.wordpress.com

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