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I used to dream of a simpler time, a Vietnam of thatch roof huts and banana leaves and lotus flowers. But this Vietnam only exists in my imagination. We must not romanticise a past that never was, or choose only to remember the innocence of our history. Spoiler alert: Nobody’s history is innocent. We must be brave enough to claim it all. People like me, who by today’s standards are referred to as 'people of colour' or 'minority groups', belong to histories which are not only as tremendous, as grand, and as civilised as the Europeans, but as brutal.
In March 2019, in New York City, a dozen writers of the Vietnamese diaspora gathered together to discuss community, the ghosts in their words, and what they're fighting for with their art.
I have tried on a few occasions to write “Dear Mẹ” poems, but I do think that since she is still living that it is harder to be as honest and vulnerable. I think I am afraid to ask her the things I need to, I’m not sure why, and maybe it has to do with my lack of fluency in Vietnamese, and the lack of nuanced language one needs for these types of deep and challenging conversations.
“Ahhh, giống chúng mình quá,” my mother said when I finished the book. “I don’t eat fried grasshoppers but I understand.” It’s this cross-cultural understanding that Vilayvanh Bender seeks to establish in her children’s book. The wish for parents and children to connect is as ancient as language itself, breaking cultural barriers and generational barriers...