the supermarket

the other day at the supermarket, i was reminded of how my heart craves to be more deeply connected to my community — how my heart yearns to hear my native tongue spoken in my surroundings, how my heart searches for home in the greeting of an elder, how my heart dances when it sees my grandmother’s favorite snacks on the shelves, and how my heart beams to see my people laughing through the stoicism that paints over our daily survival in a land not our mother’s.

i was carrying a basket full of food and heavy containers in line at the register behind an auntie who smiled at me and quickly ordered me to go ahead and sit my basket on the boxes full of beef jerky by the counter while she unloaded her food onto the conveyor belt. her impulse articulated in vietnamese was like a brief gesture of “welcome home.”

growing up, i worked to distance myself from my native culture — internalizing deep the shame of being “other” and learning quickly that assimilation relied on shedding the tongue of my ancestors. undoing this childhood-long trauma is constant and deliberate.

i thank my mother for being honorably obstinate about speaking to her children only in vietnamese and cooking vietnamese food throughout our lives. because of her, i have ‘home’ in our language and dishes. ‘home’ here in the u.s. is found in bits and pieces — words, meals, songs, rituals, and stories that remind us we are made of the water, soil, labor, and love that is our motherland.

in this fragmented sense of home, there is always a longing. and there is grief that washes over me time and time again, like a wave meeting and re-meeting the shore. to be an immigrant is to be swimming, always and earnestly, against this wave, in hopes to cross the ocean and be home again. 


thy nguyen