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.
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.