When my mother has words for my restlessness, I like to remind her that it’s all her doing. Before my first birthday, she carried me on my first big adventure to a refugee camp in the Philippines. The colonizer blood that subjected her to vile hate and bullying her entire life will now set her free. Wrapping me in her hopes and dreams for a happier life, we left our motherland and its shrapnel behind for a better tomorrow. It took another six months before reaching our new homeland in North Carolina, where my parents arrived with nothing but one stained outfit change.
They worked hard to move my sister and me into the suburbs when I was in second grade. They worked even harder to maintain that life and ensure my sisters and I never wanted for anything. But all I ever wanted was to be free.
I left home at 17 for uni and didn’t stop running for the next decade. I ran up the coast to New York City, across the country to Denver, then across the sea to Melbourne. I ran as far as I could to the other side of the world only to find myself on the opposite end of a circle with a lone path returning me home.
When my mother has words for my stubbornness, I like to remind her that it’s all her doing. Before her mind could even conceive of me, her body was already imprinting all her life lessons into her seeds. Coded into my DNA are the experiences of a baby born into a society that othered her because of her GI sperm donor, and still, she prospered. I am the physical embodiment of the instincts that kept alive a young child of war and wreckage. My body knows the fearlessness of a teen’s adventures train-hopping across borders and flipping art for tapestries to help support her family.
My spirit is wired for survival at any cost and I thank her deeply, for it takes a strong will for your soul to stay alive in a world designed to kill it from birth. In a world that overwhelmingly tells you the only way to exist is to exploit or be exploited, my unwavering faith in my soul’s will to survive beyond my body is how I refused their game and learned to play.
When my mother has words for my convictions, I like to remind her that it’s all her doing. She was always one of the firsts to visit every new Vietnamese immigrant family with her car filled with pantry staples she knew would bring them the immediate comfort of the home they just left. I watched as she gave money to the obviously tweaking unhoused man off the interstate on our monthly journeys to the closest Asian grocery store in the next city over, and telling me no one wants to be on the streets. You can’t imagine people’s circumstances that led to their current situations so it is not your place to judge. She clothed countless orphans in Việt Nam, a life she could have easily lived along with the unknown number of abandoned children from American soldiers during the two-decades-long war.
She taught me money is meant to be spent because you can’t take it with you when you die. Who better to spend on than your fellow neighbors down the street struggling to survive with basic dignity and righting the systemic injustices that create those unnecessary conditions in the first place.
When my mother has words for me, I like to remind her that it’s all because of her 🙏💗✨