Dear Nakanya Dao,
It’s van mae ying hang saht. International Women’s Day. I named you after a dragon princess because you breathed fire since being in my womb. There’s a reason why Laos celebrates its women and America shrugs it as another day.
Our pain still lingers in the skies. Our freedom is still floating between the Mekong and the Mississippi. They say we’ll feel human again when we are free, but you must know the heavy stories we carry in our tong ma lai bags. These stories disintegrate between the blood-soaked pages of your school’s alternative history books.
Before I felt American as a naturalized citizen, I was a Resident Alien. Holding onto a fragile green card through my teen years. Before I felt home on the prairie, I was a 2-year-old displaced refugee, in a faded pink petal dress gifted by the Filipinos at the Bataan camp. Before I felt human, I was born on the frigid floor of a crumbling Viengxai cave. Before I could feel, I was in your grandmother’s pa jia sling. Sinking in the muddy fields of a communist labor camp, as it rained bombs from all directions. The same pa jia that your grandmother rocked you in. Singing soothing lullabies of yesterday’s American Dream.
I write this because it’s the only way. To remind you of a time of sorrow. A time of joy. And that both can happen as a result of the other. You inherit the wins and woes of the women before you. The aunties. The creators. The fighters. The ones left behind.
Pave your path, but remember it will be tested.
The only memories of our family’s journey are at risk of becoming distorted, disfigured and eating dust behind selfies and society. As you navigate your identities, others will try to scrape your mother tongue dry. Till the taste of English falls perfectly on the roof of your mouth. They will sanitize the complex truths of who we really are, till our humanity thrives on manufactured memories.
Forgetting is erasure. Resistance was born out of the tumultuous arms of the Mekong. Home there. Home here. Without the feeling of fleeing home. But never really feeling free kind of home.
You deserve better. Remember for us. Remember for you.