Category Archives: immigrant

Two Sides of the Pacific

I am from words unspoken

silence at the dinner table

I am from are you hungry?

meaning I care about you

I am from why didn’t you visit?

meaning I like seeing you


I am from dry crushed ramen

hot Cheetos from the green corner store

red dye staining our fingers

I am from free school lunches

and chili cheese fries

I am from race rumbles

cool girls in overalls and dark lip-liner


I am from the highlands of Viet Nam

Hue’s heat and delta coconuts

I am from grandmothers

who plant me guava trees

a father who grows

passion fruit in California

his dreams resisting common sense


I am from the poet in the Citadel

forever protected

forever inscribed

safe from your Offensives


I am from wedding dresses in tin boxes

far-off eyes and the spirit of freedom

I am from exploding mortars, peasant food

fine silks and world-class tailors

I am from 16-hour flights and layovers

I am from so much history and too much distance


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Filed under asian americans, culture, immigrant, Oakland, poems, viet nam


Reasons why–


1. Aunt– full of love, hugs, the power to be so different in this world that tells you not to cry. In this place that tells you that you cannot be– hide your feelings!

Aunt. There is a spirit in you that keeps me going. I honor you.


2. Water meeting land. There is so much that people think when they arrive at this place where water reaches land. They say thank you for the peace. A chance to feel themselves be small and powerless. A chance to see such power. To see what it means to bear witness to movement. Comings and goings. People see this place as a chance to take their lives. Jump from bridges, or the water pulls them in and in and under, over and over. For me, water meeting land is what holds family together. It is a place of possibility. One can combat time by crossing waters. From one shore to the other, just one leap. This place where water meets land is what connects home to home, Viet Nam to California. Just water. As thin and as vast as water.


3. There are 3 persimmon trees my father planted in front of our ancestral home. Just 3 trees. 3 trees bearing sweet fruit, ripening in monsoon winters. He chose them because of love and money. He loves his family so much– his ailing mother and generous sister– that he thought about how these plants would mature, become plump and fill their income. It reminds me that love creates and love works hard, even when it seems like it is not there.

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, love, memory, prose, third world, viet nam

Yellow Art

(After Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art”)


Yellow art!

Poems are bullshit unless they are

machete or sunshine or rice waiting

on a front stoop. Or yellow-brown men dying

of silence, leaving only after

beating their lovers into pools of beer. Fuck poems

and they are useful, they scream

in their orgasms, love themselves, and

feed those already so full. We want real

words of the deadly world real blood

and guts. Hearts and minds of a people

sparking into flames and action. We want poems

like fists fucking you up in Oakland

protests or like knives to jelly full

corporate bellies. Yellow poems like

traditional weeping songs to end the

American War, whose orange fire-bombs

lick at our cousin’s womb. Assassin poems

pointing at the Beast. Poems that wrestle

cops into alleys, kung-fu their guns out

of reach and send them back to their

suburban homes. Poems that whiiiiirrrrr, whiiiiirrrrr,

whiiiiirrrrr, like mom’s sewing machine that

fed all 7 of us into childhood and

manhood. There’s an yellow engineer sucking

on Silicon Valley’s whiteness. Go get him, poem!

Show ‘em the light! Another bad poem cracking

nunchucks at the corporate overseer

Another yellow woman staggering in her

mad world, invisible silent alone

Poem scream from napalm from leaks in the roof

from absent fathers from nail polish fumes. Poem

scream so you can light your flames

put on black berets and your righteous fists

Do that thing called justice

Let there be no vision poems written

Until we can maintain clearer sight

Truth serve us. Let yellow people know

that they are the lovers and artists

of warriors and artists

of warriors And poems & poets &

all the wonders here in the world.


We want a yellow poem. And a

Yellow World.

Let the world be a Yellow Poem

And Let All Yellow People Speak This Poem



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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, poems, race, violence

Freewrite: Part 10 response to “10 Things to Ask a Stranger”


Have you ever considered any of the answers?
Do you think that the questions themselves are what matter?
Have you considered that the questions are my attempts to fall in love with you
Do you think that the answers might reveal
The reasons I shouldn’t

(from “10 Things to Ask a Stranger” by Safia Elhillo. Full Poem here.)

A few years ago, my father asked me, “What do you want to do?”
I told a white lie and deflected, “I don’t know. What do you think?”
He said, “Ba thinks you want to write.”

Today, alone and not alone, I sit with tears in my eyes. Thinking about how and how well my father knows me. How I am barely allowed into that very knowledge of myself. How hard it is for this man to share himself with anyone, even the short list of people he would claim to love. I am even longing now after that small peak.

My ba does not know this kind of vulnerability. He knows ritual. He knows how many times to bend in prayer when remembering his own father. He knows that kind of rigid certainty. He also knows a kind of lost that I can only imagine as not being able to have what you remember most vividly. The kind of lost that makes one sleepwalk through waking hours and live in dreams.

Though my father may not let me into his world of knowledge, I do not wait for permission. I refuse to close myself off from what I know. I know the truth of my dreams and now open my own doors. And I do not wait for him to let me in. 

I think of your poem, love. Of course, I have considered all of these questions and answers by now, stanza by stanza. I have written and edited a list of what will help me fall in love with you, so why should I be afraid of the things you ask me? I want to be open. Yet like with my father, I am not waiting for you to believe my worth through these questions and my answers. I am simply believing it.

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Filed under immigrant, love, prose

Ghost House

What have you become? I remember a cool, dark house. An apartment, actually, lodged in the middle of other apartments on either side of us as well as above and below us. We were cornered on all sides by this housing system. I remember birthdays in a cherry-printed sundress. Emptiness. Loneliness. You were no longer smoke, but ghostly aberrations.

Our street was lined with skeletal trees. There were palm fronds swaying, trunks creaking in the wind, like bones keeping time. Your mind blowing up there in the fury of leaves, except you were the air. You were the invisible man, the act of staring out a window.

But absence was a pain that could not be named and maybe I preferred this instead. I guess this was what I preferred because otherwise there was anger. Nothing good enough, nothing quiet enough. There was search for family and friends in the concrete sidewalks of Oakland, puffs from cigarettes, and pots of chili pepper plants you grew on our overcrowded balcony. There was the attempt to put pressure on this wound, alleviate the pain with visits to Viet Nam, herbal remedies in the form of iced sugarcane drinks on streets in Hue and baggies of black and red pepper stowed in your luggage. There was your attempt to reconcile not just your new nationality—“American” as decided by a citizenship test taken out of necessity, not of allegiance—but also the nationality of your children. There was your need to reconcile these changes in them and worse—their cultural allegiance.

Most of all, there was our loneliness, mingling unspoken in this haunted house. Mine and yours mixing. Like father, like daughter.

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, love, memory, prose, race, viet nam

an immigrant’s separation

as i told myself this year i would stay rooted in order to hone some of my talents and skills, as i told myself that i would save money and take classes instead of working 12 hour-days this summer, i felt the desire to travel. i wanted to leave this all.

as i walked my dog beneath the solitude of a 6AM setting moon, i thought about sitting on a beach under that same moon in complete surrender to the world. i wondered if maybe being away i would be reminded about how things fit together and the intricate vessel of the universe. maybe then i wouldn’t worry so much.

i even have been thinking more about my aunt.  i thought about how i wanted to learn how to cook from her.  how i would learn from her how to cook and shop for vegan viet foods.  that i wanted to walk with her to the rural village market to shop daily for vegetables.  the last i thought about her, i thought about how she would light a fire atop a slab of stone known as the kitchen in her childhood home.  i thought about her own ambivalence, emotions which seem accustomed to a swallowed silence.  my mind meandered to the lot of tea trees my father’s family grew.  it walked between those trees, wondering whose stories i’ll never get to hear.  my heart could feel the loneliness and abandonment of the land.

“i’m an immigrant man, with immigrant hands,”* i heard my music rap back to me.  but i’m an immigrant woman, with an immigrant heart, and hands lucky enough to swell with a writer’s bump from holding pencils instead of holding knives in kitchens sweating for some ungrateful husband.  an immigrant heart that is only beginning to realize how early it had been broken and how early it learned of separation.

i have been thinking of travel because i fear soon there will be nothing to go back to.

*lyrics from power struggle’s “mr. sagittarius.”

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, memory, prose, viet nam

inspiration: (anti)war songs

Huế, Sài Gòn, Hà Nội, quê hương ơi sao vẫn còn xa

(Hue, Sai Gon, Ha Noi, my homeland why are you still so distant)

Huế, Sài Gòn, Hà Nội, bao nhiêu năm sao vẫn thờ ơ

(Hue, Sai Gon, Ha Noi, how many more years shall you still be indifferent)

Việt Nam ơi, còn bao lâu,

(Viet Nam, how much longer)

những con người ngồi nhớ thương nhau

(will people sit remembering/missing, loving one another)

* * *

My translation of the song, obviously titled “Hue, Sai Gon, Ha Noi,” signifying the unity of the central, southern, and northern regions.  Khanh Ly, considered one of the best singers from Viet Nam, sang the lyrics of Trinh Cong Son, considered one of the best songwriters.  Joan Baez called Son the “Bob Dylan” of Viet Nam.  His anti-war songs were censored by the South.  In Son, my friends and I find one of our few Vietnamese artistic inspirations.  Khanh and Son have been appealing to me at the end of bad bad days.  And I like to sit and look for the lyrics, struggle to bridge the difference between the sentiments and the words of Vietnamese and English.

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, inspiration, race, viet nam, violence