Sometimes you can be Vietnamese and still not be Vietnamese enough. But, in truth, the diaspora yields many stories, many formulations of heritage and parentage–not all of which lead back to traceable roots, or the recognizably sorrowful sentiment often associated with separation from family or cultural loss. This extra November post for Out of the Margins makes space for one of those voices. Michael Nhat is a rapper and poet, a voice rendered from a genuine periphery, a displaced of the displaced. And he speaks/sings boldly from this indeterminate diasporic space.
“I Am To Us What Blacks Are To Africa” by Michael Nhat
As ar as I’m concerned, I’m a prototype
for us in the future cause I don’t write
or know my own culture kind of like Africa
is to black Americans yeah they laugh at ya
If you go back to the – motherland
I didn’t plan an upbringing with a white man
I understand my mom didn’t want me
Women starting families don’t give away their babies
so maybe; I’m mixed (and my)
Mom got raped by Americans; with
No intent to raise me or save me
I was fucking found by a river like crazy
So if you hate me – because
I wasn’t taught what you was
Guess what it don’t matter cause your oppressors
Are mine too, I don’t receive lesser
racism than you – They see a gook
No matter what I speak or do
or consume or eat cause I’m an immigrant
And a refugee from the war you never hear us when
stories of struggle are brought up in Hollywood
They focus on slavery and Latinos cause they could
not feel sympathy cause they don’t know we suffer
They bury that with accents and yellow fever lovers
You motherfuckers don’t give us respect
So when I turn to my own they look at me like heck
he ain’t really Asian, much less Vietnamese
How do you think that makes me feel? Alone really
I’m building something for us
because I care about us
too bad you don’t feel the same
I’m an asset to the game
There was a war in Vietnam four decades ago. Hundreds of villages were bombed, leaving innocent people without homes, jobs, or food for themselves – let alone their children. Thousands of these children, many of whom were born as the result of rape by or prostitution to soldiers from the invading army, were taken in by families in other countries.
Michael Nhat is one of them. Found abandoned in a basket near the Soc Trang Aka Khanh Hung delta, he was adopted by an Iowan couple and has grown into a powerhouse of a rapper with primal, vivacious beats to accompany his raspy, world-weary voice. He’s on a warpath to put hip hop on a different bearing.
This post is part of diaCRITICS’ Vietnamese American Literary Series, OUT OF THE MARGINS, launched in 2015-16. The series curates literary work from poets, writers and artists of Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese diasporic experience. Our mission is to create an inclusive, diverse, provocative, ongoing space for voices and visions from this community, thus bringing them out of the margins. Dao Strom is the series editor and curator.
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