Tongue Eulogy

“The education system taught me I could be anything I wanted, as long as I spoke their language.”

The education system taught me I could be anything I wanted,
00:06
as long as I spoke their language.
00:09
They started teaching me French in third grade,
00:12
told me a language of Romance was all I needed
00:14
to fall in love with the history of colonization.
00:18
But we remember the winter you brought us,
00:20
the troops invading South Vietnam,
00:22
the shrapnel coating the rice fields,
00:25
the bodies turning to snow, precipitating in the villages.
00:29
Napalm, girls scream with their skin on fire.
00:32
They colonized our land, language, and bodies,
00:35
cracked heads with tanks,
00:36
drowned our women in river water,
00:38
colonized our language and later my tongue.
00:41
But we did not come from winter to be frostbitten by your language,
00:44
and yet…
00:47
I speak to my grandmother in both of our colonizers’ languages
00:50
before Vietnamese.
00:52
I want to tell her, they taught nothing of the war our family went through.
00:57
The only history they carved into me was from the knife
00:59
on the end of the rusty barrel, a bayonet,
01:02
translation baïonnette translation lưỡi lê
01:07
meaning tongue, a foreign invader,
01:09
a mouth only fluent in Google Translate,
01:11
a body salivating for answers, lê,
01:15
from the word pear,
01:16
my tongue of fruit platter on foreign china.
01:19
My tongue, only pretty in American porcelain.
01:22
My tongue an [speaking in Vietnamese] on Barbie skin.
01:24
My throat’s always coughing up Agent Orange
01:27
into every conversation.
01:29
My voice has always been napalm finding its way into the jungle.
01:34
I am the result of a country that has only known warfare in memorials.
01:38
I am a footnote in your history textbook,
01:40
and still here I am reading you the house down.
01:43
I’m no [speaking in Vietnamese], Ho Chi Minh, [inaudible] Vĩnh Hưng.
01:47
I am the active landmines and the [speaking in Vietnamese]
01:50
I am the souvenirs at the war museum.
01:53
I am all of my ancestors and a body forgotten by my colonizers.
01:57
Where is your white savior complex now?
02:01
To drag me from the trenches of my anger,
02:03
to bury me in fertilizer
02:05
just so I can phoenix my way out of the ashes if I could.
02:09
(audience) Yes.
02:09
I’d rip your tongue from your mouth
02:12
so you know what it feels like to be a stomach so full in your culture,
02:16
but not be able to taste all its sweetness.
02:20
(cheers and applause)

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