I wanted to share my own perspective as someone who is a child of militarized refugees, and these poems are actually a compilation of thoughts I have had over the past few years of my “political awakening.” My unpacking, and unlearning, to relearning. All of it has been a process for me to reckon with my identity, my strange identity of being Vietnamese, and American, a child of refugees. I wanted to explore the emotions of loss, grief, fear, nostalgia and including my mother’s voice, as our response to militarization. Much of what I understand of myself, and of my own cultural history, has been mostly through my mother. She was (and continues to be) the head of household in my family.
Over the years, I began to learn about my mom’s physical and mental health effects. It created a lot of distance between us, because there was so much lost in translation between us, so I have written over the years, to properly understand why and how we got here. The only experience I had with Vietnamese history, up to when I was maybe twenty-two years old, was in a short paragraph in an old history textbook, and an extremely triggering Vietnam War documentary my highschool teacher had shown to us. My class was primarily made up of Vietnamese students. We were not given the space to explain what was going within us. Many of us cried. Many of us were confused, and many of us also felt this knowing that day.
In America, my family and I got to experience firsthand the existence of state violence, as I saw it through recruitment of vulnerable Vietnamese youth into the military, from broken families. I saw it through them harassing Vietnamese elders who could not speak English. I saw it through politicians who would take advantage of our people, and pretend that they were helping us. Meanwhile, I was also growing up during a time in which mass shootings are normal. It’s almost as if my ancestors and I have not been able to flee violence, for it seems to always be near.
In past II, the boat part explains how much of the ocean is a symbol for my family. My mom is from Da Nang, a fishing village, and we grew up in Southern California, by the beaches. Vietnam and California share the same ocean water, yet many elders will never return. I have heard many Vietnamese elders always talk about returning to Vietnam, but ultimately accept that their life will mostly be filled with working, working, until possibly the day they die, especially under capitalism. That is why I added the line of my poem about how my mom constantly works, as capitalism convinces her to do, that ultimately her hard work will pay off for her to afford her own home.
This art project ultimately exemplifies the complexities of being a child of war refugees, and the continuing pain it is to exist under the U.S military. The struggles of divesting from capitalism, and reimagining what thriving after so many years of surviving could look like in our present lives as Vietnamese peoples.
Featured image: I’ve been thinking a lot about the obstacles my mom and I have gone through, from us never really getting along to us, to now where I can genuinely feel how much unconditional love she has for me. She’s resilient in so many ways, which is why she’s depicted as this powerful being, with gold + red as they are seen as prosperous colors. I am shown as a fetus in the womb, protected by gold dragons (in viet culture you get a gold bracelet as a symbol of protection, and peace) and the crows picking at my mom represents how predatory western culture is. It can break us apart, but with love, it cannot.