In researching my book and after my book has been published, many conversations have been had. Conversations with scholars and activists that bring a sharing and healing in one way, give inspiration for further thinking and work, to give flight to actions that may be possible in the future, for myself, or others in future generations.
And there are the many conversations that happen spontaneously, with everyday others, perhaps bringing a much needed space for feeling a connection and honoring, giving space to talk of things unspoken.
Unspoken because of too much sadness. Unspoken because of too much rage. Unspoken because perhaps we find it futile to talk of the memory boiling in our inner being, clawing at us and yet the solution is where? Unspoken because we have spoken and are met with a body retreating, coiling in horror, or in disbelief. And worse yet, accused of being weak, or “living in the past” or “why don’t you just let it go?”
Today, yet another meeting with my barber. A barber shop I have gone to for two years now, yet had never had a haircut with the head barber of the shop, always with his assistant in the past, now I sat with the head barber in conversation. The haircutters are Southeast Asian. I thought either Cambodian or Vietnamese.
Today he tells me that he is Cham, one of the Austronesian peoples who have lived in Vietnam and now reside in dispersed areas of Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Hainan Island (China). They have been excluded and persecuted for centuries in the area and most mainstream people of the world know very little if at all, about them. He tells me that his wife’s father is a mixed-race Black/White American military man and mother is Vietnamese. He asks me my background. We discuss the term Amerasian. His stories rang like the stories I lived through, witnessed, or heard in Japan, and from others from Korea, the Philippines, and China. Indeed, the Amerasian story is full of grit and survival and herculean efforts and strength, amidst the most horrendous of what humanity offers its excluded other.
He told me of how three American soldiers held his grandfather at gunpoint while two other American soldiers raped his grandmother, the wife of his grandmother. He talked of how most Vietnamese and Cambodian men were emasculated during the U.S. presence in South Vietnam, by the Americans, and the women bore the brunt of the most brutal sexual and physical domination. In many cases, he thought that the women would sometimes be clever to use their sexuality to calm Americans down before they would escalate, often, to beating the women they would rape, and any men in the way. There were also fights between American soldiers, some of them wanting to keep harm away from the Vietnamese women.
He spoke of how the Americans and the Communist Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge were all the same, as to how they used their power. How they would all lie when it came to their own violent and deceptive crimes, and made themselves the heroes and the gatekeepers of fairness and all that is good.
As he is telling me this, he is turning red. His body moving in staccato movements and passionate motions. His voice strong and forceful and full of rage and sadness at the same time. He apologizes for how mad he gets. I told him I understood completely–his sadness and passion.
I let him speak, and telling him that I went through similar, but not revealing too much. This was his healing. His eyes filled with tears while continuing to speak intensely. He spoke of how much his wife suffered for being mixed Amerasian and how both the Cambodian and Vietnamese people treated her like a rat, an unwanted creature, free to violate and ridicule and use. The American father never came back, perhaps he was killed in the war, or just left them, they never knew. Her mother had to raise her under so much duress. My barber is a ball of pain and rage at this point. And yet he softens as he winds down.
We hug each other and he asks me my name and writes it down. He says he is happy that I know about the Cham, as I name drop Julie Thi Underhill, whom I know as a great researcher-writer-activist and one of the few who can speak English and who represents Cham Human Rights at the United Nations. He says “You know about Cham, then you are alright.” We smile and we say our good-byes. My hair looks great.
Posted in: Black Pacific