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On a phone call with my parents recently, they excitedly told me that my aunt found fresh jackfruit for sale at Fresh Thyme. She bought three of the them, one for herself, one for my other aunt, and one for my parents.I saw one myself when I was at the store last week, an enormous, spiky football, being sold for $1.99 a pound. I remembered to ask my parents about it when I visited them last weekend. How was the jackfruit you got? Was it good? They both blanched. No. You should contact Fresh Thyme and tell them they picked it too early. They weren’t ripe yet. 

I remember eating canned jackfruit as a kid, from the Asian grocery store. They are mango colored, if I remember correctly, and sweet, with a rather fibrous, chewy texture. These days, a Google search reveals that white people are trying to capitalize on jackfruit as the next “super food,” right along with quinoa, chia, and açaí berries. Top recipes include several iterations of BBQ sandwiches with “pulled jackfruit” instead of pork.

My parents admitted they still ate the Fresh Thyme jackfruit, but there was no comparing it to the ones they had in Vietnam. My dad recalled fondly how ông nội, his father, had a jackfruit tree. Mom jumped in: do you know how jackfruit grows? Guess! I couldn’t guess. It grows on the trunk of the tree! Strange, isn’t it? 

Ba continued – on the day our family prepared to leave Vietnam, the night before Saigon surrendered, ông nội picked a jackfruit and brought it along. Mẹ said she was too anxious and worried to even have a taste, but Ba remembered having some of the fresh fruit, how delicious it was.

That was 43 years ago today. I’ve been meaning to ask my dad if the not-yet-ready Fresh Thyme jackfruit is the first fresh one he’s eaten since then.

 

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in bloom

image_6483441.jpgYou’re told what you can and can’t do with your own body, told who gets access to it and who doesn’t, told what kind of body is valuable and deserving of love and respect and what kind is full of sin and needs to be prayed for. This becomes more familiar to you than your own self.

So when you choose to let a tiny needle dip ink into you, again and again, it’s consent, and agency, and art, hidden permanently in a blooming watercolor on your skin.

six of vessels

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hum your favorite song from your childhood.

I took a creative writing class in high school. My favorite movie at the time was Heathers, so accordingly, I wrote short stories that I thought were dark and smart, but were probably just really melodramatic and typical of a sheltered teenager growing up in the suburbs. My writing was good enough to impress my teacher, though, and I was one of a few students chosen to attend a youth writing conference. The only thing I remember about the conference is that I produced a one page piece about my oldest friend, my cousin who is exactly three months and four days older than me. The essay was set in the summer time, and it had a lyric from the Smashing Pumpkins’ song 1979 in it. Continue reading

the book of grudges: part one

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My brother and I joke that holding grudges runs in the family. It’s woven into our genes, like our predisposition to high blood pressure and diabetes. Our photographic memories snap shut on certain experiences and narratives, and refuse to let them go.

*

At the orientation for my graduate program, I was sitting next to a tall, slim white guy. Somehow we got to talking about food. Chad told me he was on a certain kind of diet, where the guidelines encouraged people to eat the food of their ancestors to be as healthy and fit as possible. Interesting. So my parents grew up eating traditional Vietnamese food, but once they arrived in the U.S. at the end of the war, and my siblings and I were raised here, we’ve all grown taller than our parents. What does that say about our “traditional diet”? Chad was stumped.

Years later, I’m at a workshop about decolonizing sex positivity. The presenter asks, What would my culture be like if not for colonization? We can’t go back in history to find out, and a lot of our historical artifacts were destroyed. We can’t know what that culture would have been like.

I remember the conversation with Chad. Maybe my siblings and I gained a few inches in height, and we traded it for spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar that require chemicals to be contained. Continue reading

the labor it takes to forgive

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content note: war. murder. 

one. At a panel discussion I attended recently, one of the audience members asked what the panelists thought about emotional labor. The first panelist to respond, an older white woman, answered, “That’s called being a mother.” The rest of the panelists (all women of color) expend energy politely but firmly countering this statement.

two. I see a headline about how it has been 50 years since the Mỹ Lai massacre. I turn the words over in my mouth, knowing how to pronounce this place but not knowing exactly what happened there in 1958. I open the article, and a video plays automatically. A survivor tells his story in Vietnamese. Quietly, he describes what happened to his family that day. He was only a child himself. I wonder if I would understand some of the most violent details if it weren’t for the English captioning.  Further on, I read about a woman, Cao Thi Do, who was in a neighboring town when the massacre occurred, and returned to find that her two girls were murdered.

As the sorrow showed on her face, she quickly expressed a stunning sentiment repeated by many survivors: forgiveness.

“I still think always about what happened, but I forgive them,” she said. “I have to do it for the future. If I keep the hatred, then my children will keep it, and their children. I’m still very sad, but I have to forgive.”

Continue reading

about persimmons & pilots

What are the odds of your existence?
How many generations did it take to make you?
How many plagues, wars and massacres conspired
To uproot your family tree and salt the earth around it
How many ancestors carried your fire?

– excerpt from A Pragmatist’s Guide to Faith, by Guante*

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We were sitting around the dining room table, eating, which is a main activity whenever we stop by my parents’ house. There were some guests visiting, and my mom had arranged plates full of pears, pineapple, and bright orange persimmons in front of them. My family explained what persimmons are – bright orange, kind of soft but firm at the same time, tropical-tasting. Aren’t they deep-fried sometimes, like tempura? I asked. Oh wait, no, that’s sweet potatoes. Haha, never mind. My sister mentioned she likes to cut persimmons in slices, so you can see the pretty insides. Our guests didn’t seem to mind that these were cut into neat chunks; to my mom’s delight, they ate their share of fruit and bowls of hearty homemade ragout, too.

We talked about plans for the holidays. Someone mentioned that a family member was a pilot, and my sister joked that her kid should become a pilot when he grows up, so that the family could go on inexpensive vacations.

My dad, from his chair at the head of the table, had been listening to the conversation. Is he a commercial airline pilot? he asked. He leaned back in his chair, the conversation having jogged a memory. When I was in Vietnam, I signed up to become a pilot, with eleven other men. I was the only one who failed the test, because I’m colorblind. The other men went on, and none of them came back.

It was bad luck, but good luck too, my mom responded from the kitchen. She brought another plate to the table, this one full of persimmons cut in thin slices, so you could see the star shape inside, where the core is. Ohhh, everyone breathed. That is beautiful.

 

 

 

*Disclosure: Guante is my husband/partner/bff. Once a young person asked if I was “Mrs. Guante,” which still makes me chuckle to this day.

It’s not about whose lives matter “more”

The outrage that ensued has been important. At least one vigil was held in [Charleena Lyles’] honor and covered by local media, hundreds chanted “Say her name!” while marching for her, countless articles have been written about her, and a GoFundMe set up for her children has raised over $100,000… When it comes to focusing our attention on those who are killed by police officers, do Black lives matter more than Asian lives?… I have strongly supported and defended the Black Lives Matter movement. But now I’m wondering: Do Vietnamese lives matter? Do Asian lives matter? Where is the outrage and empathy?”

– Excerpt from “Do Asian Lives Matter? Contemplating Disparate Coverage of Charleena Lyles’s and Tommy Le’s Deaths” by Alyssa W. Christensen

In response to the piece excerpted above, I’d like to start by providing some context. The national outrage for Charleena Lyles is the result of immense organizing and emotional labor by black folks. Black Lives Matter was co-created by three black queer women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors. The call to “say her name” comes from efforts to bring attention to violence against Black women in the United States. Specifically, the African American Policy Forum put out a brief titled “Say Her Name,” which is intended to “serve as a resource for the media, organizers, researchers, policy makers, and other stakeholders to better understand and address Black women’s experiences of profiling and policing.” In the words of Kimberle Crenshaw, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and co-author of the report: “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.”

Continue reading

On ‘difficult names’

“give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” ― Warsan Shire

18359108_10106743218512927_1042242656479510728_oMy parents didn’t plan on having me, their sixth and youngest child, but they did choose my name carefully: UyênThi. This name is special for a lot of reasons. For one, the letters in it echo the spellings of my five older siblings’ names. Its abbreviation, út, means baby of the family. Hidden in my name is my mother (turn the symbol on the “e” upside-down and you get a “v,” which is hugging the “en” of my name. Ven: my mother’s name). My dad is reflected in my name as well. He wanted it to be one word, no space: UyênThi, not Uyên Thi. Since Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language, this tends to confuse Vietnamese people outside my family. They want to shorten my name and call me Uyên or Thi. Continue reading

Black April, Snapshots, and Spacetime

Note: Thank you to Julia over at Project Yellow Dress for the motivation to write this piece!

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In the picture, it’s winter, sometime in the mid-eighties. I’m wearing a white blouse with a holiday-ish green velvet dress over it. The dress has a small embroidered snowman patch on the front. I think maybe we are in the living room at my grandparents’ house, probably for a Christmas party with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents on my dad’s side. The dining room table would be weighed down with dishes and dishes of traditional Vietnamese food, each one prepared by a different aunt and carefully transported over to share, potluck-style. In one corner of the dining room there are also plenty of two liter bottles of pop like RC or Schweppes ginger ale for the kids, and a few bags of Doritos, too. Continue reading