I am writing to you from 2017, a time you probably can’t even fathom, since you’re still in high school and can’t see beyond the looming dread of the HSC (which, by the way, you will do fine in, and you will get into the course you want – so don’t stress too much, but probably don’t keep talking to that boy from Perth on MSN all throughout Year 12, because he’s a loser and you can and will do better).
There’s a difference between having a “type” and reducing people to a singular, uncontrollable factor about themselves, like race. I don’t message white guys to tell them I love garlic bread (for the record, I bloody love garlic bread); why would a white man think that telling me how much he loves bánh mì is a hot ticket into my pants?
I’m writing a monthly fictional diary column for Scum this year called Mai’s Super Sweet Sixteen, following the life of Mai Tran, a 16-year-old girl, in the year 2005.
Follow along here!
Rebecca Bunch is crazy. Sure, she comes with quirks, cute outfits and theatrical musical numbers, but the chipper protagonist of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is in serious need of help.
Those are just a few of the ways I’ve heard my surname mangled by well-meaning Australian friends and strangers.
I’ll admit it’s only recently that I’ve begun to pronounce it correctly to non-Vietnamese people – for a long time, I didn’t want to inconvenience or confuse anyone. When they asked what my name was, I said New-en – it was less complicated for them, even if it made me uneasy.
It always hurts the same way, like a new pain each time. The light goes out and you feel like you’re dying and you lie awake and become familiar with the stains and scratches on the ceiling, as if they are hieroglyphics with messages hidden in them just for you, or puzzles that are solved by staring at them for hours and hours and hours on end.
Having this language nestled on my tongue, being able to switch back and forth like a cultural chameleon, reminds me of the duality which I would not be myself without. I am Vietnamese and I am Australian. Both of these parts matter equally.
I interviewed my mother for issue 2 of the wonderful feminist publication Hot Chicks with Big Brains. Pick up a copy now!
We are living in a strange and frightening time where bigotry is legitimised and given the ultimate position of power. In the weeks since Trump was elected I have seen my friends, who are also people of colour (POC), vocalise their fears on social media; I have held friends as they cried, wondering aloud why the world hates people like us. I have felt the fear myself as I hear reports of violence in Australia against people of colour, of Trump supporters at universities yelling at minorities. I have felt despair grip me and have worried for anyone who is ‘outside’ of the white mainstream, especially my Muslim friends.
But there is hope in this time of abject terror, and it comes in the form of unity.
Ever since I was a child, I have wanted to write a book about my family.
As a teenager, I wrote imagined stories from refugee perspectives. I wrote poems that ached for something I’d never had. I read voraciously, hungry for tales that reflected the reality of everything that came before: the loss and the fear and the tiny victories that sowed the seeds for people like me to exist.
But I haven’t written about my family, and every time I try to start, I balk.