Worn out from years of explaining who I am and who I am not. I have grown weary of trying to assimilate into countries and cultures that ask me to be for them and not with them. I have grown fatigued of tracing a story that befits only a partial narrative, left only with speculation and the inability to reconcile the truth of the story. And I am one of the lucky ones—one of those whose story gaps were nearly filled after looking so long for the answer. But there are no complete answers, only more questions. I am tired of the questions left hanging like a string of lights above my head, filaments twisted on the inside and no longer producing a spark. They will remain unchanged—my once-steady hand exhausted from stretching out to change the bulb, the ladder I’ve used all these years weakened from my constant climb. I ache, after 40 years, from the moments I had to reel myself back in from feelings of loss and inadequacy, trying to find value in a space that wanted to compartmentalize me: my feelings, my worth, my identity. I am weakened by decades of trying to articulate what it means to be adopted, knowing that even in the best circumstance I could have been given, in many ways, I still lost. I was lost. Shuffled under damp blankets that suffocated me, weighted down by tears that accumulated in the taut threads of longing and silent suffering. Words left swallowed back down when I knew that I could not say what I felt. Hurt. Lonely. Sad. Simple statements you’re not allowed to voice because you’ll sound foolish. Ungrateful. Incomprehensible. I have typed out these ideas over decades—arthritic fingers connecting with black keys that are stiff from constant use, trying to capture the sentiments that sound like a betrayal to what I have been given. But they’re not. They’re just words, coalescing over waterfalls of ambiguity that I have lived with all these years. They’re just thoughts, simmering under surfaces of loss that I drag behind me. I am exhausted from pulling. The ropes are beginning to fray from the weight of all the time I was trying to find my worth because of one moment that makes you feel worthless forever. I am tired, Adoption. Not because you gave me everything but because sometimes, you gave me nothing.
First published on DearAdoption.com November 14, 2017.
Randy punched me in the mouth when we were ten. He said it was an accident; I thought it had something to do with my baseball card collection and not loaning him my Willie Mays. My upper lip swelled on the right side and the inside was slightly cut so I couldn’t eat any salty foods for a week. My mom called his mom and complained. His mom called his father at work and complained. Randy saw me at school the next day and complained. He couldn’t see me very well though because his eye was black and blue and almost swollen shut. He couldn’t speak very well either because his lower lip was split and puffy on the left side. But still, he wanted to meet at lunch to play catch. Randy murdered someone when he was twenty-one. He said it was an accident; I knew it had nothing to do with baseball cards.
Copyright: Joie Norby Lê 2007
Richard sat down at his desk for the fourth time that day and stared at the blinking cursor, counting them. He tried a couple of different things: batting his eyelashes in time with the blinks, holding his breath for twelve, thirteen, even fourteen blinks. He tapped his index finger against the desktop twice for every blink and liked that the rap of his fingertip against the wood sounded like a heartbeat, maybe even his own. Several times, he tried to lose focus of the cursor by allowing the page to blur, an occupation that took a great deal of effort from his eyeballs to the point it started giving him a migraine. It was then that he took his next break. He needed ibuprofen, a new beverage, a couple of crackers and perhaps a slice of the summer sausage he spied in the pantry earlier that morning. He pushed away from his desk, the familiar squeak of his rolling, faux-leather chair distinctly audible in his otherwise quiet office.
Continue reading Writer’s Block
One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Princess Bride.” There’s not much to NOT love about the movie, especially with its witty lines and characters. One of my favorite characters is Inigo Montoya, played by the talented Mandy Patinkin. His most famous line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” has infiltrated the memories of 80s youth everywhere. Similarly, I love the moment when he’s looking at Vizzini who keeps saying “Inconceivable!” and he finally says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Continue reading Vizzini Academics: Kneeling? Inconceivable!
With the recent worry about providing paperwork to affirm one’s citizenship, I have been sorting through files and boxes in my basement looking for my naturalization certificate. I just recently received a new passport, but in this political climate, I’m worried that it may not be enough. When I lived in Hanoi in 1996, the first advice given to those of us who were Vietnamese adoptees was: “Do not get in trouble with the law. If they throw you in jail, you’ll have a hard time getting back out.” I was twenty-three and rebellious enough to not care but mindful to store that bit of knowledge for later use. As adoptees of Viet Nam, most of us did not denounce our Vietnamese citizenship (effectively granting us dual citizenship up until 2011 or so). As a result, my U.S. passport was somewhat moot in 1996 in the event I was caught in the clutches of the Vietnamese government for some 23-year-old-rebellious-reason. Fast forward to 2017 and I’m now concerned about my U.S. citizenship, wondering if I will be detained upon reentry from international travel and questioned about my purpose, my background, or honestly, about my faith. It’s stressful and sad that I would question my years of U.S. citizenship or the gold star on my license. I have been filing taxes since 1992 and have enjoyed a privileged and democracy-driven life as a hard-working, U.S. citizen. Nonetheless, I still worry, and I still haven’t found my naturalization certificate.
Continue reading Paper Trails
First published on The Adoption Exchange Blog: https://www.adoptex.org/the-adoption-journey/blog/
Over the course of my life, people have been curious about my adoption story. It is a story that begins in the Vietnam War. At the time, adopting from Vietnam was as much a humanitarian movement as it was an opportunity for couples hoping to establish or expand a family. As such, questions about my adoption were numerous and while many people were supportive of my parents’ transracial, international adoption, it was still a tenuous time and the choice was not devoid of criticism by others. Adopting a child was one thing; adopting a child from an unpopular American war was quite another. Even so, my parents fielded the positive and negative comments with dignity and managed to pass on to me a healthy sense of love and belonging in a society that would not always afford me the same.
Continue reading When Difference Matters
Over the past forty years, my biological father may have remembered me now and again. He may have remembered my presence in the passing of a young, Khmer girl, a furrowed brow resembling my own even though she was not his daughter. He may have wondered how my mother and I were carrying on across the Delta, believing I was there with her the entire time. It’s hard to say. Either way, 42 years came and went without my knowing him or him, me, and now, more than ever, I feel that loss of time. I sometimes want to clutch those wisps of memory, like thin strands of pulled cotton-batting falling away from the much larger memory called family. I want to collect them as they lay pooled at my feet, stuffing their thinness in a clear jar I can hold on to. But really, there is nothing more than recollection, someone else’s telling of the story and all I can do is nod with understanding. But still, I do not understand. It was only me that lived on the other side of the world, with memories of my own to fill the pillows that cradle my head. In those four decades, I lost time.
Continue reading Lost Time
When I think of school I am caught off guard by the multitude of racialized experiences that sent me daily preparing for battle. I remember the kid that pushed me down in a bus and called me a nigger, stepping on my head as he walked over me and out the swinging doors. I saw kids in seats all around me, oblivious to the behaviors of others because, back then, a push and a shove were common experiences for kids riding to and from home in yellow busses. No one classified such incidences as bullying and frankly, no one really cared. I knew that when I caught the eye of the bus driver as I was getting up. He had seen the incident and did nothing. Said nothing. But he watched me as I got back up, gathered my things, and made my way out the door. On the bus I knew I was on my own.
Continue reading Get Back on the Boat
I am tired of being a pawn, a piece in the teaching game that is sacrificed for the greater good. I am your pusherman, peddling mandates of curriculum and assessment to turn profits for the wizards behind the curtain where the stakes are high and no one ever wins but the dealer. Best practices are packaged in shiny, new sleeves and rolled out as the latest goods for sale. States are still buying, but the products are just another method to stratify rich from poor, good from bad, losses felt by those who can’t afford to be a part of the solution. It’s a metaphor, but I don’t have the time to teach that properly because I waste valuable instructional time in rooms of silence, listening to the click, click, click of a mouse that will drag and drop kids into boxes that will never explain who they are just what they are not. I forgot what I was doing; teaching lost its shine the moment I became a pusher, an expendable chess piece of little consequence no matter what side of the board I am standing on.
Continue reading Opting Out
The first name I ever traveled with was Kha Thi Huyền Châu. In Vietnamese, “Huyền Châu” means “black pearl.” I sometimes wonder if the woman who gave me this name wanted to give me a sense of value after is was so obvious that I had none. In the orphanage they called me Josette, a name still lingering from a hundred years of French occupation, its long lilt feeling loose and frayed in my memory’s pocket. When I arrived to America I was placed in the arms of a second mother and given another name, also French, and names that resembled black pearls were left far behind with the drifting of lotus. Throughout my life, names have been given to me and taken away, attachments to identity abandoned with time, circumstance, or tradition. Like breadcrumbs they lead me back to the beginning, to a woman who continually scrawled out information in passports, the sweltering heat of a makeshift office making her tire, but the war urging her hand to move faster. Just another name in a passport. It means nothing. It means everything.