When I interviewed my mother for a class assignment, she told me that in Korea, she stood on the ground. I imagined her body morphed into the thick chestnut trees planted near her grandmother’s countryside home.
In America, my mother added, I float.
A Hmong girl with sepsis. Her parents, refugees from Laos, fleeing from the Khmer Rouge. They longed for their mountainous homeland, where blood, the life source, wasn’t drained from their daughter in white-walled hospitals with squeaky foreign floors. This will save your daughter’s life, the doctors said.
I asked a classmate’s sister about our shared experience as a daughter of an Asian American single mother. I don’t remember our conversation, but I remember the feeling after it ended. Comfort, like a bowl of warm soup. Unceremoniously empty, like the whoosh of passed, grazing cows on the freeway.
To explain the Vietnamese American experience to my professor, I told her that the refugee narrative should emphasize individual experiences and emotions, along with the incorporation of the longing for the homeland. The sorrow and loss of Vietnam shouldn’t entirely encompass the definition of the refugee, I said. The human experience is commonly composed of the experience of humans. It’s natural to conglomerate and categorize, but we should resist.
I watched a documentary about the Korean diaspora shaped by war and violence against women, interposed with artistic shots of Seoul’s red-light district. My mother passed by this district on the bus route from school. Prostitutes displayed in fans and feathers. Sex meat. Women for Japanese and American colonial consumption.
The first day of my publishing class, our professor asked us about how we felt after the Atlanta massage parlor shooting. I remembered that my mother interrupted my grandparents’ constant stream of Korean dramas to urge them to be careful when walking alone. My family’s women are geese. Brave, colorful, too loud. Now, afraid.
I wrote a poem about my childhood. In the poem, a girl chased Canadian geese until they hissed in indignation and flew away. At the Korean market, fish patiently waited for slaughter, swimming in too-small tanks alongside magenta packages of sweet potato snacks. She slurped up udon, ate donkatsu without the sauce, and nibbled on kkwabaegi. She brought her stuffed sheep everywhere. When my family read my poem, silent tears rolled.