English is a language made to hurt me. No amount of academic instruction will change that.
But I speak tiếng Việt better every day, with the help of my parents, who tolerate excessive translations. When I speak tiếng Việt, I invoke my ancestors, particularly the women warriors in Vietnamese history, who fought against Chinese and French colonizations and America’s failed attempt at neocolonialism. When I speak tiếng Việt, I resist academia, which tells me that only languages aligned with Euro-American values can command respect. When I speak tiếng Việt, I give myself permission to reject whiteness. . . .
I speak tiếng Việt for myself. For my childhood self who wanted so desperately to be more white, more masculine. For my present self who is boldly claiming subjectivity in my own language. And for the person I see ten years from now, who will be overcome with self-love.
I will speak all of the words stolen from me.
Sigi yan taitai: “Taking What’s Mine,” by Alex-Quan Pham