In this excerpt of this is for mẹ, this is for mẹ editor, Jess Boyd, reflects on the passing of Mother’s Day with a letter to her mother, writing to her across oceans. She reflects on how her search for individuality has ultimately led her back to her first home, her mother.
Inspired by Ocean’s Vuong’s letter to his mother in the New York Times, this is for mẹ lives online as a borderless mailbox for Asian identified people to share stories rooted in mothers, motherhood, motherlands, mother-tongues and family.
I watched a home video that you made where I was a toddler, and you and I were in the garden after a fresh blanket of snow had been laid down.
I am bundled up in a puffy one piece, mittens, boots, a hat and a scarf. As a mother myself, I reflect on that outfit you dressed me in – the colours, the matching hat, gloves and scarf, the sweet Wellington boots – and I am overwhelmed by how I never realised how much love and intention could go into dressing your child. Thinking of you bundling me up for that snowy exploration is enough to fill my eyes with tears. Thank you for wrapping me up in your love.
As I slowly stomp, stomp, stomp my feet in the fresh snow, crunching sounds are audible in the video. My little feet tentatively test out this new substance, whilst my big, anxious eyes look at you questioningly for safety. You speak to me in Vietnamese and encourage me to stamp my feet and walk towards you. Are you scared? You ask me. Come on, it’s okay, Ma is here. Ma is here. Thank you for always being there. Hearing you hold me in your mother tongue, speaking words that you carried with you from Vietnam, words that you tried so hard to give to me, I feel held and embraced, even though the voice soothing me is speaking to me through a grainy video recording, saved in time more than twenty years ago.
Today, more than two decades have passed since that snowy afternoon. It’s an evening in May, in a future I could have never imagined. I sit down after a long and beautiful day of taking care of my daughter. I’m crossed legged, in front of the television, cutting up a grapefruit with a small knife that you can only buy from the Asian supermarkets. These knives are the secret kitchen tools of all Asian families.
I cut the grapefruit in half, and then cut each segment away from the pith. Once this marathon slicing task is complete, I grab a teaspoon and eat each segment, revelling in my hard work. And then I realise it. I am you. Growing up, I would watch you do this at least once every two weeks. You’d burrow into the corner of the sofa, put a cushion on your lap, and get to work on some sort of high maintenance fruit.
I never realised how sacred these seemingly insignificant moments were, until I moved to a different country, began missing you everyday, and became a mother myself.
In a youthful naivety and misguided searching for individuality, I always thought that I didn’t want to be like you. I wanted to be “unique”, an “individual”. It turns out I was running towards you the whole time. As I searched for myself and grew into my skin, I was growing towards you, my sun, the whole time. My growth was only made possible because of you. As I mature, planting roots and blossoming, I am honoured to grow in your likeness and light.
Jess is a Vietnamese Jewish Londoner who moved to Seattle to build family and invest in the diasporic community. She is passionate about words, languages, and the stories left untold.
Jess’ mother is a Vietnamese refugee who was granted political asylum in London at the age of 11, and her father is the son of working class Jewish refugees who changed their last name for fear of the anti-semitism surrounding World War II. Jess grew up in London, grew into herself in Thailand and Vietnam, and America is now her home. She is a second/third generation, multiracial daughter, spouse, and mother trying to make sense of it all.
You can follow her on IG at @little.boyd.