The Permanence of Memory

They call me a dirty chink and a gook, using the tips of their forefingers to slant their eyes upward while speaking to me in the tones of an Asian language. Ching chong choooww, and they laugh and laugh. One wants to spit on me, and I can see the saliva forming in his smooth, white cheeks as he puckers his lips to deliver the blow. He decides against it and spats on the ground instead. “Go back to China or wherever you’re from, chink.”

“Get back on the boat,” they yell from the end of the cul-de-sac, their chins lifted in defiance, middle fingers raised up at me despite being with other friends. “Go back where you come from. You don’t belong here.”

Not one incident. So many. I’ve lost count. On school busses, on playgrounds, walking down the street, in stores. People don’t want me here, and I know that. I knew that every year since I was old enough to know that those names, those phrases, were meant to draw lines in the sand. You come to realize that the border always exists—imagined or real—the dividing line between outside and inside a constant threshold to belonging you will never cross. We have no place, really, in any country. We are refugees and immigrants—people of color—constantly negotiating our place in a nation that needs us and hates us all at once. We are visitors, interlopers, outsiders. I’ve lived here nearly 46 years, became naturalized at age 3, earned 4 degrees, pay taxes, and I’m still not always welcome in a place that defined itself by taking over sovereign nations—they themselves immigrants. It’s been a long while since someone sang to me the song made popular by “Lady and the Tramp” or imitated Jerry Lewis’s Asian caricature in front of me on the playground. Still, I’m hyper aware. Sometimes a look is all that’s needed—a loaded silence hanging over me while pumping gas in the wrong part of town, the confederate flag stickered proudly on the back of a truck, the news of the day bringing in stories of more people inhumanely detained. The line is always there. It’s not just my imagination. Go back where you come from still chases me down streets and slides and memories.        

Vizzini Academics: Kneeling? Inconceivable!

One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Princess Bride.” There’s not much to NOT love about the movie, especially with its witty lines and characters. One of my favorite characters is Inigo Montoya, played by the talented Mandy Patinkin. His most famous line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” has infiltrated the memories of 80s youth everywhere. Similarly, I love the moment when he’s looking at Vizzini who keeps saying “Inconceivable!” and he finally says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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When Difference Matters

First published on The Adoption Exchange Blog: https://www.adoptex.org/the-adoption-journey/blog/

Over the course of my life, people have been curious about my adoption story. It is a story that begins in the Vietnam War. At the time, adopting from Vietnam was as much a humanitarian movement as it was an opportunity for couples hoping to establish or expand a family. As such, questions about my adoption were numerous and while many people were supportive of my parents’ transracial, international adoption, it was still a tenuous time and the choice was not devoid of criticism by others. Adopting a child was one thing; adopting a child from an unpopular American war was quite another. Even so, my parents fielded the positive and negative comments with dignity and managed to pass on to me a healthy sense of love and belonging in a society that would not always afford me the same.

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Get Back on the Boat

When I think of school I am caught off guard by the multitude of racialized experiences that sent me daily preparing for battle.  I remember the kid that pushed me down in a bus and called me a nigger, stepping on my head as he walked over me and out the swinging doors.  I saw kids in seats all around me, oblivious to the behaviors of others because, back then, a push and a shove were common experiences for kids riding to and from home in yellow busses.  No one classified such incidences as bullying and frankly, no one really cared.  I knew that when I caught the eye of the bus driver as I was getting up.  He had seen the incident and did nothing.  Said nothing.  But he watched me as I got back up, gathered my things, and made my way out the door.  On the bus I knew I was on my own.

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Things I Remember Living in Hanoi, 1996

  1. Dirt road to and from the airport.
  2. Large numbers of policeman with AK47s.
  3. Not going to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.
  4. Bun Cha Nem.
  5. Hoa Sua and chocolate croissants.
  6. Drinking cafe sua non on the balcony of a hostel in Sapa before the fog rolled out of the valley.
  7. Hiking to Fansipan with an Excalibur-like moment that included a horse riding off into the fog.
  8. 306-no home.
  9. Cyclos that were actually necessary transportation.
  10. Amoebas.
  11. Being the wrong color.
  12. The squealing of a pig on a motorbike.
  13. The squeak of tennis shoes on a makeshift badminton court.
  14. Civilians lining up for military exercises at 5:30 AM in the field across from where I lived.
  15. The woman selling her food at 5:00 AM in a sing-song voice.
  16. The day a dog got stolen from the neighbor.
  17. The day a dog got run over by a motorbike.
  18. Learning nothing.
  19. Learning everything.
Photo: Sapa, 1996