Category Archives: Prose

My Story

By Marco Samson

My name is Marco Samson. Today, I am living in San Francisco, California. I live here in the city with my mother, grandmother, and Aunt. However, the funny thing is that we don‘t live together. In fact, we all live a few blocks away from each other in the Sunset district; my mother lives in a house on 31st Avenue; my grandmother and aunt live together a block away from me; and, I live on 46th Avenue next to the beach. I am also a college student in San Francisco State, double majoring in Asian American studies and Philosophy. And last but not least, I have a pet dog. Thinking back to how we got to where we are today, I am reminded of our common stories in the Philippines, the place of my birth. So, in this paper, I will start my explanation of how my family and I ended up living a few blocks away from each other in the city of San Francisco by telling a story of myself growing up in the Philippines.

My earliest memories of growing up in the Philippines were of playing with the neighborhood kids in the dirt roads and alleys of what we called in Tagalog the ―barangay‖ or, in English, our village. In our barangay, we started out as a much bigger family; my immediate family tree was not merely limited to my mother, aunt, and grandmother that I have now living in San Francisco. I lived in a large house with a large family; my uncle and aunt lived there; both my grandparents from my mother‘s side lived there; my mom lived there for a while before she moved to San Francisco in 1990. One immediate family member that was not in the picture was my second Aunt; she moved to New Jersey in America before I was born so I did not have the chance to meet her in the Philippines. Regarding my dad‘s side of the family, I didn‘t really know my father or his side of the family. He died before I was born and no one talked about him much.

Our family in the Philippines was actually pretty well-off due to the success of my grandmother‘s fruit store business in the Palenque or, in English, the town marketplace. My memories of the fruit store were from childhood; they are full of fun and games. I did not really share in the labor being done at the store. I merely remember just running around and always playing with the other store owner‘s kids. The fruit store itself was owned and operated by our family. We hired workers and a truck driver for our delivery truck that we used to pick up fruits we bought from farmers and vendors and deliver them to the store for resale. I had fond memories of these trips as a youngster because it was often my grandfather who brought me along; and, when I was with my grandfather, I always ended up getting some special treats like a halo-halo (Filipino dessert similar to some Tapioca drinks). The times I had the chance to accompany him and the driver to the places where the farmers and vendors sold the fruits wholesale, we often managed to take a break at a dessert store. I loved those breaks.

Fast forward time a little bit and we have me a little bit older and my mother ends up in an arranged marriage, leaves me in the Philippines to join her new husband and start a new life in San Francisco. That was in 1990. I would follow two years later to fly over the Pacific Ocean with my grandmother to first meet my Aunt in New Jersey for the first time. I stayed there for about a year and studied at the elementary schools there. I am forgetting the name of the school but I remember being surrounded by a lot of white kids during recess and I was alone. I felt kind of ashamed because I was new to the country and I could barely speak English. I didn‘t even know the rules for eating in the cafeteria. I went to get my food in the free lunch line and I didn‘t know that I didn‘t have to finish everything on my plate. I somehow thought that it was mandatory to eat all that they served. So, no matter what they served I forced myself to eat it, all of it. I slowly realized that it wasn‘t mandatory when I observed other kids throwing away their leftovers.

After the year ended, my grandmother flew with me across the United States to San Francisco to rejoin my mother and her new husband, a man named Edwin, in his house with his family. I did not really like living in his house; and, her new husband with his face surrounded by a full grown beard, did not really appeal to me. He always seemed to me as a strange man. Anyway, my grandmother left San Francisco to go back to my Aunt in New Jersey after a week. I felt sad about that because I had known my grandmother all my life and I felt like I would not see her again for a long time. With her departure, my mom‘s marriage with Edwin didn‘t last longer than a few months after I arrived. They soon got a divorce and my mom was left to find a home for herself very quickly.

The divorce changed both my mom‘s life and my own. We suddenly had to find a place to live in San Francisco. My mother had very little money of her own; she didn‘t have a full time job; so, she had to start from scratch. We ended up renting in a basement room of a house in the Mission district of San Francisco. It was a house owned by a nice Filipino family. They treated us well. However, in that house, my mother and I did not have our own separate bathroom or kitchen. So, when we wanted to eat or use the restroom, we had to go upstairs and eat and use the restroom after the landlords have finished. We were also on food stamps for a while. We did not have a washing machine or dryer. My mother was afraid to use the landlord‘s washer and dryer because she did not want to be liable if we broke them. So, we walked 5 blocks to the nearest Laundromat every week to do our laundry. I remember those days very well because I hated them. I had to push a big cart of laundry, I was younger and smaller then, 5 blocks two ways! I went to school at Miraloma Elementary and I made a lot of friends.

Because my mother was educated as an architect in the Philippines, she used those skills in the United States to help American licensed architects design their buildings. She could not design her own because did not have a license; therefore she had to have a licensed architect review, approve, and stamp her work. After my mother had saved enough money, we moved to the Sunset district with a family that lived in an Apartment building. The room was a bit smaller than the first. But, it was okay. I didn‘t have many friends in this new place. So, I devoted a lot of my time to reading books. I was particularly fond of space and astronomy; I remember going to the library and noticing that they ran out of books on astronomy for me to read because I had read all the ones they had. I was so full of myself and my knowledge of space that I challenged people to ask me any questions about space. I was young and thought I knew it all.

Anyway, my mom and I lived in the Apartment with the family for a while before we moved to a nicer studio apartment in the bottom floor of an old man‘s house about 2 blocks away. This ground level place was nice because it had its own separate kitchen and bathroom. I spent all of my Middle School days there. During these times, we still were on food stamps and I started hanging out with the more mischievous kids at school. I started getting into trouble doing graffiti and stealing small nick nacks from convenience stores. It was not a very moral time in my life to put things short.

It was only when I reached High School that my mom finally bought a house in the Sunset district and I finally had my own room. I was still hanging out with the bad crowd at this point. My bad behavior with the groups I hung out with got so bad that it got to the point that all my grades were failing. I don‘t think that I was stupid at all; I actually started becoming really philosophical in my thinking during the times I hung out with the bad kids. I had really complex ideas and thoughts about life, art, and the sciences. But, I kept them to myself because the kids I hung out with didn‘t understand what I was talking about and labeled everything they didn‘t understand as “weird.” But I never applied my intelligence in the classroom. So, the school counselor sent me to continuation school, the school where all the dropouts and bad kids go. Ironically, the continuation school is where I started my movement from being a boy into a maturing young man. The continuation school teachers really made an effort to reform the kids that they had in their classrooms. The whole school was a place for the kids to find out that the school system has not given up on them and that, if someone really took the time, they could turn the kids into success stories. Some of the teachers noticed that I was smarter than I looked; they told me that I was like a diamond in the rough. The school helped me cultivate the intelligence I had buried inside me.

Before graduating from the Continuation school, my Continuation school counselor hooked me up with steps to college, an EOP program that helps underprivileged kids get into higher education. After I graduated, EOP hooked me up with San Francisco State. And, it was in San Francisco State that I truly believe that my passion for knowledge went on full blast and I matured the most. Also, before I knew it, I started getting straight A‘s and I even ended up on the Dean‘s list my first two semesters at State. I really got motivated to make a change and I credit everyone from my continuation High School all the way to my first professors in SF State that inspired me to learn more about philosophy and ethnic studies. So, this is where I have to end this story because it leads us to the present time; as I am writing this very sentence, I am taking classes at SF State as a double major in Philosophy and Asian American studies. I am taking the Japanese Art and Expression class that I am writing this paper for because it is one of the last classes I need to graduate with my Asian American Studies degree. Then, my future plan is to go to law school.

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Filed under 2010-2011, Prose

An Everyday Conversation with a Hmong

By Sai Vang

 

Monday

Kathy: Hi, nice to meet you! Sai: Nice to meet you too.

Kathy: What‘s your name?

Sai: I‘m Sai.

Kathy: Oh, what are you?

Sai: I‘m Hmong.

Kathy: ……….Mongolian?

Sai:…..Ummm…No…

Kathy: Oh, what is it then?

Sai: We‘re an ethnicity group from South East Asia.

Kathy: Oh, from what country?

Sai: We don‘t have a country.

Kathy: Oh…

Tuesday

Susan: Hi everyone. Welcome. Let‘s go around and introduce yourself along with your birth place. I‘ll go first. My name is Susan and I‘m from LA.

Michael: Hi, I‘m Michael and I was born in Texas.

Xin: Hi my name is Xin but call me Cindy and I was born in China.

Sai: Hi, I‘m Sai and I was born in Thailand.

Susan: Oh, you‘re Thai.

Sai:…Um..not quite.

Michael: What do you mean?

Sai: I‘m actually Hmong.

Susan: Mong? You mean Mongo?

Sai: No, just Hmong.

Michael: How do you spell it?

Sai: H-M-O-N-G.

Susan: What country is that from?

Sai: Um……We don‘t have a country.

Michael and Susan: Huh?

Sai: We‘re a group of people from South East Asia but we don‘t have a place to call ours. We‘re from all over the place.

Wednesday

Ellen: Hi, my name is Ellen. Nice to meet you.

Sai: Hi, I‘m Sai, nice to meet you too.

Ellen: Oh, where are you from?

Sai: I‘m from Stockton, California.

Ellen: I mean, from what country?

Sai: Oh, I was born in Thailand.

Ellen: Really? Sawadeeka? Did I get it right?

Sai: Yes, but I‘m not Thai.

Ellen: Oh, then what are you?

Sai: I‘m Hmong.

Ellen: What‘s that?

Sai: A group of people in South East Asia.

Ellen: What country is it?

Sai: We don‘t have a country.

Ellen: What? How is that possible?

Sai: We just don‘t have a place to call Hmongland. But we‘re from everywhere around South East Asia and the world.

Thursday

Sai: Hi, my name is Sai. I was born in Thailand but I‘m Hmong.

Daniel: Nice to meet you Sai, I‘m Daniel. So what is Hmong?

Sai: Oh, we‘re an ethnicity group from South East Asia.

Daniel: How do you spell it?

Sai: H-M-O-N-G.

Daniel: Hamong?

Sai: Actually, the H is silent, so you pronounce it without the H.

Friday

Renee: Hi, Sai, I heard that you‘re Hmong.

Sai: Yes, I am.

Renee: Can you show me on the map your home country?

Sai: Oh, you mean Thailand?

Renee: No, I mean the Hmong country because I can‘t find it.

Sai: Umm, well Hmong people don‘t have a country so you won‘t be able to find it.

Renee: What?! Then where did you come from?

Sai: Well, there are lots of stories about our origins from the elders, but we don‘t have facts to prove exactly where we‘re from. Somepeople said we came from Mongolia and traveled to China then. Laos. During the Vietnam War, many Hmong helped American CIA in the Secret War. But after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Americans left the Hmong behind and many of them were prosecuted by the Vietcong. A lot of Hmong fled Laos and went to Thailand to take refuge in refugee camps. And there was where I was born, in a refugee camp in Thailand.

Renee: Wow, what a history.

Sai: Thanks.

Saturday

Landlord: Hey Sai, you were born in Thailand right?

Sai: Yes. Landlord: I‘m on the phone with a Thai girl and she wants to rent a room here but she doesn‘t speak English that well. Do you think you can talk to her and translate it for me?

Sai: Sorry, I was born in Thailand but I‘m not Thai. I can‘t speak the language at all.

Sunday

Jessica: Hi Sai, I was wondering, since you‘re Hmong, what language do you guys speak? Chinese? Thai? Lao?

Sai: We speak Hmong. Jessica: What?

Sai: Hmong, we have our own language.

Jessica: Oh, wow. So all of you guys can communication with the Hmong language?

Sai: Yes, but we also have different dialects within our language.

Jessica: Can you guys understand each other?

Sai: Yes we can. Our different dialects are similar to European English and American English. Some words are different but we can understand each other.

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Filed under 2010-2011, Prose

My Mother’s Story

By: Margo Chui

My mother was never very verbal about her experiences in Vietnam. I would always ask her, and she would tell me “Don‘t ask questions. You will get yourself into trouble.” Or sometimes I would ask her not knowing she is busy and she would respond with “Mo see gan” (no time), Which made me extremely curious. Why was it that she could not find the time to tell me about her past? She had the time to watch her Chinese soap operas or gossip on the phone with my aunts and grandmother, but no time to tell me about herself?

It was not until one night after my father had left for one of his monthly get-togethers with his brothers that I finally knew the truth. We had hot pot that night, and my sister and I were sitting around the table talking about something on MTV that we had seen earlier that day. My mother asked if we enjoyed the dinner and we said yes. We thanked her for the meal because hot pot was a special meal in our house. Out of nowhere, I asked her a question.

“Mommy, tell us what happened in Vietnam.” She looked at me with a quizzical eye.

“Yeah, you never tell us anything,” my younger sister chimed in. “Tell us about how you came here.”

My mother sighed. “We left Vietnam because of the war. You already know that your Grandfather died in Vietnam. Soy goo and duo goo (our two uncles) were already here in the States and we were trying to get here by boat, but first we had to go to a camp somewhere else. On the way over, our boat was attacked by pirates.”

“PIRATES??” My sister and I looked at each other, confused. The only pirates we knew about were the ones from Pirates of the Caribbean. We thought she was confusing one word for another like she usually does.

She continued, “They came onto the boat and stole everyone‘s money, then went down under the boat and broke the engine so we could not leave. After they left, we were stranded there for a few days. We saw an American ship. I think they were the Marines? Navy? I do not know. They came up on board and we thought they were going to fix the boat. But they just left us there.”

“THEY LEFT YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN?!” I was extremely shocked. “Wait, where were you going?”

“We were on our way to Malaysia to stay in the camps for the refugees,” her eyes seemed to glaze over as she remembered one of the most tragic moments in her life. Meanwhile, my sister and I grabbed some more shrimp and threw them into the hot pot. “Since the boat was still not working, one of your uncles went under with five other men to fix the engine. So we were back on our way to Malaysia. We were sleeping against the side of the ship, next to a hole. Your uncle was sitting next to the hole to make sure we would not fall off. We all fell asleep, and when we woke up he was gone.”

I started to tear up because I knew where this was going. I knew before that he had fallen off the boat, but I did not know how. “We looked around the boat for him, but could not find him. We finally arrived in Malaysia and we were waiting for everyone to get off the boat. We waited on the shore for him to come back, but he never came.” Her eyes started to tear up. She grabbed one of the napkins from a stack of napkins that we usually take from restaurants. “He fell off when we were sleeping.”

“Was no one else awake? Were there no life preservers? No one could have saved him?”

“It was dark, and the boat was loud. Nobody could really tell what was happening.” My mom knew how to hold back her tears. My mom cried for years. She kept saying, “I should have been there, but I was inside the boat house, taking care of your younger sister.”

My sister and I looked at each other, and I stared at the hot pot. The shrimp we threw in were ready to be taken out, but I was not hungry anymore. I could not believe this was the story. I now knew why she never talked about her past. I could tell just from that one story that it hurt her to talk and think about it. It was a memory that would never go away. One that she would like to never have happened, but also one that she knew she had to keep for forever. Before this story, my mom told us a lot of stories about the uncle that fell off the boat. He was talented and he could look at a bag, a shirt, a dress, or pair of pants and go home and make that same piece of clothing to the stitch. He learned different languages on his own and taught them to his younger siblings. It makes me sad to think I never got the chance to meet him, because through my mom‘s eyes, he seemed like a hero.

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Filed under 2010-2011, Prose

Richard Aoki (Mo Akagi) is a Symbol of Unity

By: Jenny Chang

As Americans, we often tend to believe that no one else in the world is struggling like we are or experiencing similar struggles. In fact, we group ourselves into races and believe that no other race is encountering similar difficulties. For example, Chinese immigrants believe that only the Chinese understand their hardships coming to America. They do not believe any other race can understand the tremendous pain and difficulties they have gone through to immigrate to America. But if they look past the surface, they would realize that many other immigrants face similar difficulties as well. Perhaps it is not the same as being imprisoned in Angel Island for months, but the struggle to immigrate to America is the same. In Karen Yamashita‟s I-Hotel, she writes about Mo Akagi, a made up name for Richard Aoki. Mo Akagi joined the Black Panther Party. Although he is not African-American or is of African-American descent, he joined the Black Panther Party despite his Japanese American identity. After Akagi‟s joining of the Black Panther Party, he slowly manifests into a symbol of unity and helps discover why unity is important.

Despite Mo Akagi‘s ethnicity, he joined the Black Panther Party because he was hired to teach the Black Panthers how to use the weapons (guns). He also became the field marshal for the Black Panther Party. As strange as it may seem for Mo Akagi, a Japanese American, to join the Black Panther Party, it is not as strange as it may seem. Because they both have a common goal: empowerment. Although the Black Panther Party is for Black empowerment, it does not mean that Mo Akagi could not join. In fact his joining was welcomed because they are both seeking empowerment. The better way for them to empower and have their voices heard, is through the unity of Asian Americans and African Americans or unity with any other race. The unity of Asian Americans and African Americans is important because when they band together. They are a stronger, unbreakable force. Also, they can help each other. Because when they come together their voices are louder for they have become a larger union. As Akagi said in his speech, ―Everyone of you out there, is so important for our struggle‖ (211). Akagi states that everyone is important because when people come together, their voices are louder and stronger, in hopes that they will be heard. Also, coming together makes it harder for the oppressors to oppress the minorities.

Through evidence of history, it has been documented that oppressors separate groups to go against each other, because the smaller groups are easier to manage. In order to fully to succeed and not be controlled, people should unite. Mo Akagi is a symbol of unity because he, as a Japanese American, has joined a party that is meant for Black empowerment. He has worked with them to empower not only African Americans, but Asian Americans as well. Akagi has stated ―„See, what people need to understand is that we come together today to show Third World solidarity and unity for political prisoners within United States‖ (212). Akagi has opened our eyes because he has helped us realize how much in common Asian Americans have with African Americans. Although our exterior may be different, our struggles for equality are similar. Akagi has helped us realize that we should look beyond the surface. Through Akagi‟s activism and Asian American empowerment and unity with the Black Panther Party, he has become a symbol for unity.

These past couple of days, coincidentally, I have been thinking about unity and racism amongst Asian Americans. I have been thinking about racism amongst Asian Americans because I have noticed how racist my parents are towards other Asian Americans. It really annoys me that they are so racist towards other Asian Americans because, in my opinion, we as Asian Americans have struggled to be accepted in America. Not only acceptance, but our parents have struggled to immigrate here, and so have other Asian Americans. Perhaps we do not have the same culture or are from the same region, but the roots of the struggles are still the same. Asians who have immigrated here all struggled to come to America. It annoys me that my parents cannot see pass the surface. I hope over time that they will see how similar they are to other minorities and rather than bashing on them, they offer a helping hand and unite with them.

In conclusion, Mo Akagi, a made up character name to represent Richard Aoki, for Karen Yamashita‟s I-Hotel, is a symbol of unity. Mo Akagi, a Japanese American joined the Black Panthers Party, an African American empowerment group, and displays unity amongst different races. Akagi‘s joining symbolizes unity because he unionized Asian Americans and African Americans. Hearing of such unity gives me hope that my parents will one day help other Asian Americans.

 

 

Works Cited
Yamashita, Karen Tei. I Hotel. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press. 2010

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Filed under 2010-2011, Prose

My Father is a Warrior

by Jenny Chang

I always believed my father never understood me. But reality is, I never tried to understand him. Being the teenager I was, I believed that the world revolved around me which is why I never stopped to try to understand my father’s behavior. Perhaps I never tried to understand him was because I felt that he was trying to confine me. Because of that it made me believe that he could never understand me. After interviewing my father about his life, made me realize that his overprotective nature was not because he did not understand be, but because he wanted the best for me.

Recently I realized how much perseverance my father has. Majority of his childhood and young adulthood was spent alone. He had to flee from communism alone. He fled to Bangkok at the age of sixteen alone. While escaping from the police in Thailand, he was alone. When entering the refugee camp, he was alone. Finally leaving the refugee camps, he flew to Arizona alone. Upon arriving to San Francisco, he was finally reunited with my family at age twenty-four.

After talking to my professor, I realized the survival of my father was a miracle, especially since he has encountered many dangerous events within his lifetime. I began to wonder, what kept my father going? I am still unsure of the answer, but what I do know is that my father has been fighting since he was a young boy. While soldiers fight in war, my father is fighting a whole different war. He is fighting a war against the world and he does not allow the world to defeat him. The strength and persistence to survive to me is powerful. My father has always been a warrior, fighting his own battles to provide for me, my sister and brother to achieve the unthinkable.

I wrote this piece because I was inspired after interviewing my father about his life and his immigration to America. This piece was also an awakening for me, that everything my father does has a reason and purpose. This piece is dedicated to my father to show him my appreciation and new found admiration for him. 

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Filed under 2010-2011, Prose