The Masters Review Blog

Jul 10

New Voices: “The Reflecting Pool” by Karina Cheah

Today, we welcome Karina Cheah to our New Voices archive with her essay, “The Reflecting Pool”! Cheah’s essay, set against the backdrop of a concert performance of Come From Away on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the 20th anniversary of September 11, explores what it means to be Asian-American in the nation’s capital, incorporating a history of the capital’s conception and design, as well as Cheah’s own history growing up in and around the city.

I call DC a planned disaster and slander its design, but I am proud of having learned to drive through it, and I love knowing how to navigate the area. It’s full of deceptions; it’s more than the glass offices and government buildings and terrible streets.

Perhaps I am a deceiver, too: with my friends, I feel Asian-American, but with my family in Thailand and Malaysia, I just feel American.

The Lincoln Memorial is recognizable, even from the side. My mind fills in the columns, the imposing statue of his seated figure as I cross Constitution Avenue to Henry Bacon Street. Most of the evening crowd around me flows in the same direction—toward the National Mall, where the memorial stands. As I jaywalk across Henry Bacon Street, I glimpse the crush of people already around the Reflecting Pool, faces turned expectantly to the stage in front of the Lincoln’s steps. I wonder, as I always do, how many of them are Asian—if any of the faces that will surround me will look like mine. I always expect to be one brown face among many white ones, but perhaps today, when I sit down, it will be different.

It’s September 10, 2021. Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, is presenting a free, one-night-only concert performance of the musical Come From Away on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in full view of the 2,030-foot Reflecting Pool that stretches in front of it. The musical follows the stories of the townspeople of Gander, Newfoundland (Canada) and some of the 7,000 “plane people” whose flights were diverted when the Twin Towers collapsed and American airspace closed on September 11, 2001. I’d seen the show in the Schoenfeld Theatre amidst the gritty, glamorous skyscrapers of New York City, but I’d take any opportunity to see it again. Especially for free. The prospect of hearing Come From Away’s Celtic-inspired, folk rock tunes outdoors is especially exciting; it’ll liven up the stiff, humid DC air. If only I didn’t have to trek all the way downtown—on the Metro, an hour’s journey from my house—to see it.

As a local, I should have known to come earlier. A free event commemorating the anniversary of September 11, in the nation’s capital, and after work hours was sure to draw a crowd. Especially, I realize, because the Lincoln Memorial is only a few blocks from where many of the people in this crowd spent their day working. Still, I’d thought arriving a half-hour early would be enough time to find a good vantage point—not right next to the Reflecting Pool, necessarily, but close enough that I would still be able to see the stage. The grass between the pool and the National Mall’s white gravel path are already crammed with people in camp chairs and picnic blankets. I will have to find a place on the path’s other side.

For a moment, I’m indignant—how could this many other people have had the same idea as me, to spend their Friday night here? How early did they have to get here for such good spots? But these thoughts quickly fizzle away. Come From Away was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2017, and I’m always complaining about how rising ticket prices make Broadway shows increasingly inaccessible. People could, and should, flock out en masse for a free performance, especially on this night, in this city, in this allegedly great nation.

To continue reading “The Reflecting Pool” click here.

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