Category Archives: viet nam

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

Freewrite: Part 6 response to “10 Things to Ask a Stranger”


Would you open an umbrella if it rained
Or do you relish the ablution
Open your mouth and invite all the thunder in
And let raindrops string themselves along your eyelashes-
Has water ever taken anything from you?
Have you forgiven it?

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

Slews of floodwater rushing in. The clay dirt mixing with it to form a milky coffee brown. I doubt they could find something so deadly beautiful, especially as it rushed so quickly into the low-lying countryside. It left marks of its destruction in its chalky outline left 7ft high in their home.

But this was Viet Nam. There was a fullness in things—in the water, in the way it floods, in the air and the heat itself that hangs in your lungs.

Here I am in a drought, in the middle of California winter and no rain. There is nothing. No more water.

There is no umbrella for all that is happening.

A man told me to grieve. Reminded me that our bodies have a time to stay still, a natural rhythm it observes. Enjoy the sun, but remember there is a lost in it. With rest in the cave of hibernation comes wholeness. With water comes fullness. And in its absence, it continues to take.

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Filed under environment, prose, viet nam

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

Inspiration: dao strom and the origin tale

i remember being in the OC for an organizing training a few months ago, though it feels like years have passed now.  we stopped at a gallery opening where most of our crew was captivated by a visual and written piece called origin tale.  the writer and performer sang at the opening and the room didn’t stop for a second to acknowledge her.  it bothered me.  the men and women dressed in lavish silks, eating grapes and cheese, these people who supposedly cared so much about vietnamese-american art, these men and women– and their children– did not stop to pay their respects to the artists themselves.  unfortunately, i think the event spoke to the current state of art, especially grassroots art, in the vietnamese-american community.  i couldn’t leave though without making sure i jot down my favorite passage into my notebook.  this is an excerpt from dao strom‘s re-telling of a vietnamese creation folktale.

– – – – –

<You will feel sometimes acutely tired, but you will also find it difficult to rest.>

<You will feel lonely very likely often.> <You will at times feel that you miss someone or thing you cannot remember.> <You will come to places where sometimes the trees, the lay of the land, the music in the movement of the water, the way the light strikes things, these simple forms of witness, will almost remind you of who or how it was.>

<You will love– deeply– just a few times.  This will become your best vehicle for remembering.>

<Love <<this particular kind>> will snap you out of it– your father’s world– at those times when you most need it.>

<And then you will know.> <Daughter.>

<Our ideas are real.>

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Filed under asian americans, inspiration, viet nam