Saymoukda Vongsay, Minnesota


Your mother will slap you because out of frustration you’ll yell, “Why can’t you just learn English?” So what. You’re supposed to act as translator at the welfare office. At the grocery stores. At your parent-teacher conferences. This is why they’ll raise you bi-lingual in this strange country.

On the fourteenth year of your life, you’ll be blindsided by the fact that you had a second brother. Don’t blame yourself for not knowing. Blame pain and guilt for taking residence in the hearts of your parents the night their second son died in the hospital. Blame their need to forget and their reluctance to heal, to even tell you his name. Be thankful that they didn’t give up on having more children after him because then you wouldn’t be born.

Remember to bring a box of facial tissue with you when you go to pick up your mother at the Christmas wreath factory. Don’t be disgusted when she cups your face with her dusty sap-dried hands, then kisses you. Fall asleep on the ride home, your head on her lap, and dream of a better life for her.

When you’re five years old, your uncle’s friend Tom will hurt you, coercing his grown man tongue into your mouth when no one is looking. Tell your uncle so he will beat the shit out of Tom. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame your uncle.

Finish the weekend work your third grade teacher sends you home with and go to bed early on Friday nights so that you can wake up two hours before dawn. Don’t wear your good clothes. It’s only the cucumber fields. Try to daydream about Saturday morning cartoons as you move down the rows, dragging your white bucket behind you. Only pick the ones as big as your hand or your parents won’t get paid.

Don’t grow up resenting your mother for choosing to stay home to raise you and your brother, over taking ESL lessons at the neighborhood church. Kiss her every morning before you get on your school bus, know that you are lucky enough to have someone else daydream of a better life for you. Kiss her, so that she knows its worth it for her to work the hours that she works at the Thai restaurant, just so you can be. More. American. 

-from "Letter To My Unborn Self" by Saymoukda Vongsay