Amid it all, two figures ever stand to typify that day to coming ages,—the one, a gray-haired gentleman […] and the other, a form hovering dark and mother-like, her awful face black with the mists of centuries, had aforetime quailed at that white master’s command, had bent in love over the cradles of his songs and daughters, and closed in death the sunken eyes of his wife,—aye, too, at his behest had laid herself low to his lust, and borne a tawny man-child to the world, only to see her dark boy’s limbs scattered to the winds by midnight marauders riding after “cursed Niggers.”
– W.E.B. Du Bois; The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
I am always moved by this piece. I am moved because I am reminded of the history and trek which brought my mother and father here. I am reminded why my mother’s story is stitched into my head to never forget lost memory.
I first heard this piece when I was in highschool, when a teacher (Janet Stickmon) handed me my very own copy of I Was Born With 2 Tongues’ “Broken Speak.” I never really understood this track’s context or its importance until I re-listened to it during my second year in graduate school. It’s actually funny how ambivalent and how incoherant I was to its significance and relatability to my mother’s own journey. However, on coming back to “Mother,” I rediscovered its beauty and vision, and would like nothing but to share it with you. This post and love letter is to every Asian and Asian/American mother who made the journey here. Additionally, this post is also for every Asian/American child who may have forgetten the journey and stumbles which brought them here. Cheers to the journey, and cheers to the path which carves out our future. Be brilliant.
This morning I was in conversation with a friend about the physical and mental aspects of life. I was telling him that I do what I do (even when stressed out and having lack-of sleep) because it’s not who we are now or today that define us, but what we do that helps shape the future. Very Shakespearean, no? Anyways, the post below was initially written for a Thai-Thai/American diplomacy trip my friend, Siwaraya, took a couple of months back. In her short but concise blog, she hints at the inconsistencies of physical attractiveness and cultural legitimacy within the community—as seen through the eyes of a Thai/American child, and now Thai/American woman. What I gathered from Siwaraya’s words is that what quintessentially defines our legitimacy and cultural belonging are not necessarily what our peers or elders tell us is correct nor is it the absence of cultural precision, but more so, how we map out and redefine the inclusive path our community can and will take in the future.
“You see that thing they’re serving on a platter? Now what are we going to have dessert or disaster?” – Keri Hilson
My clothes are strewn about the floor of my room and my mind is cramming all details down pat. It’s a week and some change to Thailand. Four of us were selected from applications to nationally represent our second generation brethren of Thai America on this leadership trip to Thailand. I want us to shine and make our cohorts proud. We’re the inaugural program. We’re culturally mixed with our ethnic Thai roots and growing up in America. Emotions and thoughts twirl in my mind and heave against my stomach.
Suddenly, I flash back. Classical Thai dance performance at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium – 3,700 seats. I’m the darker skinned four-eyed gangly tomboy towering a head over my fair skinned genteel nimble peers. They’ve been dancing since age 5. I’ve had a solid 5 weeks of prep. I step onto the stage as one of the ‘aunties’ snatch my glasses off in an effort to have me blend in and be pretty. And, in seconds, I careen “beautifully” off stage.
Cut to present day. I’m trying to balance propriety of my outfits with practicality of the tropical humid heat. My Thai itinerary for the trip has scribbles of English translation with words such as “princess angel (princess sirindhorn)” “parliament” and “dine”. How hard and much should I hold to my progressive thoughts or push forward and up the traditional lessons passed down? We’ve been told a tv news crew may cover us ‘like reality tv.’ Will my presentation be professional yet personal enough (but not too personal) for the university students? I’m wondering if I’ll master the steps to this dance in time.
And, I realize…. in dance, the most important thing I can do is lose myself in the moment. There’s no sense in fearing the little voices of what people may or may not say. My experience will never be Thai enough. My experience is not quintessentially American enough. I’m here as me with all my failures or successes. Let this tide of possibility overrun and overflow abounding with life. Then, no matter what I do – it’ll be worth any fall.
Dedication: The Undeniables and Nong Snap