“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,
as long as I spoke their language.
They started teaching me French in third grade,
told me a language of Romance was all I needed
to fall in love with the history of colonization.
But we remember the winter you brought us,
the troops invading South Vietnam,
the shrapnel coating the rice fields,
the bodies turning to snow, precipitating in the villages.
Napalm, girls scream with their skin on fire.
They colonized our land, language, and bodies,
cracked heads with tanks,
drowned our women in river water,
colonized our language and later my tongue.
But we did not come from winter to be frostbitten by your language,
I speak to my grandmother in both of our colonizers’ languages
I want to tell her, they taught nothing of the war our family went through.
The only history they carved into me was from the knife
on the end of the rusty barrel, a bayonet,
translation baïonnette translation lưỡi lê
meaning tongue, a foreign invader,
a mouth only fluent in Google Translate,
a body salivating for answers, lê,
from the word pear,
my tongue of fruit platter on foreign china.
My tongue, only pretty in American porcelain.
My tongue an [speaking in Vietnamese] on Barbie skin.
My throat’s always coughing up Agent Orange
into every conversation.
My voice has always been napalm finding its way into the jungle.
I am the result of a country that has only known warfare in memorials.
I am a footnote in your history textbook,
and still here I am reading you the house down.
I’m no [speaking in Vietnamese], Ho Chi Minh, [inaudible] Vĩnh Hưng.
I am the active landmines and the [speaking in Vietnamese]
I am the souvenirs at the war museum.
I am all of my ancestors and a body forgotten by my colonizers.
Where is your white savior complex now?
To drag me from the trenches of my anger,
to bury me in fertilizer
just so I can phoenix my way out of the ashes if I could.
I’d rip your tongue from your mouth
so you know what it feels like to be a stomach so full in your culture,
but not be able to taste all its sweetness.
(cheers and applause)
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
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