Ah yes, it’s 11/11/11. It’s also Veteran’s Day. And Happy Friday, of course. Make it a day to remember because this only happens once in a while, folks.
History has a way of repeating itself in classrooms, conflict zones, and the homes of aging soldiers. But what about the missing piece of history that those wanted to erase, to forget, to never ever be reminded of it again?
Yesterday I got a copy of my parents’ audio interview from the Minnesota Historical Society. It was my parents’ refugee immigrant story. It spanned from 1963 as a young married couple of war to the day we came to Minnesota on a UN plane. I was there as an interpreter, but to listen back and hear their poised voices and their stories felt new and different to me. I was on the sidelines listening to the detailed past that became a memory that they didn’t want to keep.
Having a military father, I’ve heard our refugee story millions of times. At our dinner table and during lectures as a child. It was a historical piece of the past ingrained in my soul. I hated hearing it. I hated how my dad told this story for hours and hours on end, till my butt on the kitchen chair was glued. I hated knowing that we struggled against poverty and war on the tired hands of my mom and dad. I hated to hear how I almost fell victim to a human trafficker during our desperation to seek refuge. I hated how my dad used our story against me every time I wanted to stay pass curfew, hang out with my friends, or just buy the newest backpack for school.
A few days ago, I got a call from an elder Lao woman in D.C. She had news for me. “Noy, please tell your parents ‘paw thou’ passed away.” I had no idea who this woman or the man was, so I Skyped my parents with the news right away. I grew up only knowing the same serious and disciplined face my dad held. But the long pause and the slight crack in his voice clenched at my heart. I kept quiet; listening to the silence and drawing out another part of the story that I hadn’t heard before: “He was there at the camps. He was there in prison with me. He was my best friend back then.”
When I hear my parents story now, I’m reminded of how much I miss hearing it from my dad. I realized I never hated our story. My dad, mom, brothers and sisters were there. I was there. I loved our story. I want to listen to it again and again and again.
“Father, I hear you”
By Chanida Phaengdara Potter
Hear my silence before tomorrow wakes
These invisible hands
Sought comfort in your past
Your eyes had spoke the truth
Guns, bombs, screams
The murky Mekong had your soul
Loud, crisp, clear
“It was for freedom, democracy, for you”