The gray was around us. The sun was not yet present in the sky. The clouds of morning misted the world we lived in. My grandmother and mother moved quietly on the padded carpet of grass, still wet with dew. They brought to mind ninjas, but neither of them clad in black, slim of figure, or that fleet of foot. Instead, they stood two short Hmong women, one heavy with age, and the other still young, but wearied by life.
We lived in the McDonough Housing Project. Most of the windows of the townhouses were still dark, holding away the light of day, so that their tired inhabitants could continue their night’s rest. But we were up, and we were about to harvest our morning greens from the city’s ash trees.
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In the home that I grew up in, I was expected to take care of the younger ones. I was born the second oldest in a family of seven children. For nearly the first decade of my life, because my mother had many miscarriages in between me and the young ones, I was the baby of the family. I still have fond memories of my older sister Dawb holding my hand as we crossed the dirt road of our childhood toward the busy streets of America. I can still see the outfits, the faded jeans of the ’80s, the red and white striped T-shirt, and the white socks my mother used to put up on my bed for me each morning, the bowls of steamy ramen with egg she’d prepared for my breakfast. Then, in the blink of an eye, I was the one pulling out clothes for the younger ones, cotton pants with their matching tops, socks, and underwear from the plastic laundry baskets we kept their folded clothes in. I remember having to stand on tiptoes over the pot of bubbling ramen on the stovetop, afraid of the egg dropping into the broth and the bubbles burning me.
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Conversation with pulitzer prize winning writer Viet Thanh Nguyen and Vu Tran.
2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner Viet Thanh Nguyen reads with contributors Kao Kalia Yang and Vu Tran from The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives. These writers explore and illuminate the refugee experience. This program was recorded by Chicago Access Network Television (CAN TV).
The first woman whom I knew loved ghost babies was my grandma. She had a daughter she talked of as beautiful, a little baby who died one sunny day beneath the shade of a tall tree, on the edge of a high mountain, in the lay of a steep field.
My grandma had loved her as a living baby for seven months. Her hair, dark and thick, bloomed about her round face. Her lashes were stout and fat like the trunks of the flowering trees that lined their small village. Her mouth was a red slip of a chili pepper against the soft paleness of her skin.
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In the book, “The Displaced,” novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen reminds the reader, “These displaced persons are mostly unwanted where they fled from; unwanted where they are … in refugee camps; and unwanted where they go.” Nguyen edited the new collection of essays.
Nguyen and Kao Kalia Yang, who wrote the memoir “The Song Poet,” joined MPR News host Kerri Miller to talk about what it means to feel unwanted in your new land.
Listen to the audio interview here.
My host drove me around the outskirts of Dallas, Texas in his clean car. It was bright and hot outside, a stark contrast to the cold of Minnesota I had just left behind. The late afternoon sun reflected off the front windshield. He was giving me a small tour of Dallas, the city where John F. Kennedy had been murdered.
We were in a poor neighborhood with small one-story houses falling apart. The main business corridor held auto repair garages, restaurants, and pawn shops. All the signs were in Spanish. He turned toward the side streets. In the yards, empty of people, there were big dogs with sharp teeth.
In front of each front window, there was a grove of banana trees growing wild. The trees were healthy. They grew tall. I imagined little light could penetrate into those windows.
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Kho Kho Siab is loneliness in the Hmong language. Kho is to fix. Siab is to heart. Fix the heart. Please.
The woman laid on the sofa, her head on its leathery arm, her cell phone in her hand. She’d put on weight. With each breath she took, her stomach rose, a soft mound of flesh beneath the polyester shirt she wore. She needed a haircut. Her black hair kept short had grown long, its strands covering most of her eyes like a teenage boy’s. Her hair hadn’t been this greasy since the days when she worked the night shift and then spent the rest of her time caring for her young children. The time she could use to wash her hair, she used to sleep instead.
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