All posts filed under: Essays Archive

Lost Daughters, Losing Mothers

Justice Involved Mothers is a column developed in partnership with Roots. Wounds. Words.: A Literary Arts Revolution. Devoted to real life, authentic narratives of criminalization, Justice Involved Mothers is curated and edited by Nicole Shawan Junior and penned by the Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Brown women who have suffered the white supremacist arm and misogynist fist of law enforcement. Through these creative nonfiction works of literary art, we aim to uplift liberation demands, amplify abolitionist urgings, and cast an even wider spotlight on the vice grip criminalization holds around the necks of women—MOTHERS—of color. Justice Involved Mothers centers Our stories because we are the ones who are most ignored. The ones with the most to tell. Pulling my charcoal peacoat tighter around me, I trudge the short distance from the train to Ma’s house. January’s cold nips at my bare fingers. I shove my hands into the coat’s pockets, bow my head to the ground, quicken my pace as I near the brick elementary school that shares space with Ma’s housing complex. School has ended for …

The Other Side of Town

On weekends, Mẹ and I drive twenty-five  minutes to the Vietnamese grocery store on the other side of town. The lot is chaotic, with no discernible lines to bring order to the few random cars parked on cracked black asphalt. Inside, the store is cramped and cluttered. In a corner, framed black and white photos of someone’s deceased parents anchor a mostly red altar. Beneath the pictures rests a gilded Buddha statue, flanked by a bowl of tangerines and fresh yellow mums. Incense wafts through the air, bridging the human world to our ancestors’ spiritual heaven.  Mẹ uses metal tongs to fish homemade tofu out of a big bucket and into a tiny bag. I get lost in a small selection of brightly colored Chinese candies wrapped in pink plastic. Mẹ’s broken crimson shopping basket holds dried bean thread noodles, packets of roasted rice powder, and bundles of rau răm and rau muống. The store owner grows the precious herbs on the patio, harvests them into ordinary sandwich bags, and from a beat-up produce case …

Seventeen

He was three months shy of turning seventeen when he shifted his weight, puffed up his chest and resisted my demands. When he sized me up, decided he was done with me, with the hole in his heart, the feeling of instability, with my ever-present absence. His golden-brown eyes ablaze—a tsunami of rage. His need? An ocean I wasn’t always willing to swim in.  I complained about something like the garbage or dishes or a coasterless cup on his brand new dresser. I’m not sure which one was worse, me running my mouth in front of the damn TV while he played his video game, or my being all up in his face commanding he look at me when I talked to him. His fingers clicked away at the PS4 controller, his head bobbed and weaved trying to get Call of Duty back within view. “Ma, come on man. Get the fuck out of my room!” he snapped.  My head swung around in disbelief. My heart sank. “What the fuck did you just say to …

The Other Way

My daughter and son do not like to read. There I said it. First time I saw those words on the screen of my laptop, I looked down at the keyboard, expecting to find another pair of hands, not my own. While some new moms shopped for cute sleepers or researched car seats, I purchased armfuls of board and picture books. I’m an educator, a writer, and my apartment looks like a small bookstore.  My daughter, Holden, named seventeen years ago after one of my favorite characters in modern literature, has often explained to me how she reads—preferring articles over books, listing off recent statistics on mass incarceration and evidence of climate change. Recently, I nodded absentmindedly, looking past her to my copy of The Kite Runner. I suggested she read it weeks ago, but it remained unattended on her DIY vanity. Shoulders stooped, gaze to the floor, and with the slow limp of someone grief stricken I shuffled out of her room. Why can’t she love books? I console myself with the thought of …

Election Time: When a Country Births a President

Four years ago, Election Day was exactly one month before my son’s birth on December 3. He was floating in fluid inside my uterus as we waited anxiously for the results of the 2016 presidential election that would slap us completely in the face. He probably wondered what else besides his punches and kicks could be making my stomach turn as my hopes of America electing the first woman president were eventually extinguished. Like the outcome, his sex was unknown to us and the rest of the world since we had chosen to keep it hidden from all until his arrival. With the exception of the unexpected and upsetting result, the days leading up to the election and the election itself seemed fairly uneventful, much like my son’s eventual birth: I did my best to prepare for the birth process while people did their civic duty and voted for their preferred candidate. Contractions began and continued, increasing in intensity, mirroring media outlets who kept track of the counting as the votes came in. Finally, after …