Thursday, March 4, 2010


Have any you ever felt silenced? Well one of my Asian American Studies professor wrote this poem when she was younger about her experiences growing up. It is very relatable and powerful. Enjoy!

by Tu-Uyen Nguyen

When I was a little girl,
I never said,
I want to grow up and be

What?! Speak up!
I can't hear a word
Of what you're saying
Speak up!

For some,
Speaking comes so easily
Just open their mouths
And words come streaming out

For me,
Voice is like a lonely wanderer
Who rarely ever comes by
You see, to come, my wanderer
Must come through many miles

Miles of silent longing
Miles of silent struggling
Miles of silent tears
Miles of silent years...

So you tell me to speak up
Speak up! You say
You, not knowing the miles
I must trod everyday

How do I speak up?
When I don't even know how to speak down
Speak left or speak right
Speak even a sound

I've known only silent travels
All kinds of silent fears
I am so very tired
Of silence all these years

I don't mean the silence
Of dew drops, fragile
In the glistening dawn
Nor of a slowly falling leaf
Cradled as a boat
By gentle waves of wind
For these things speak of what they are
In their graceful natural beauty

No, I mean the silence
Of a child being told
Not to say how she feels
Why do you always talk so much?
Be quiet! Silence!

The silence of asking for a glass
And not getting one
Because the waitress didn't hear you
And telling yourself it's O.K.
Drinking your soda from the can

The silence of being invisible
In the eyes of those
Who only want to see
Their ready-made image of the Other

The silence of having others name you
Internalizing the wrong pronunciation
Of what you want your name
To be.
Nujen? Ne gyen?
The silence of feeling trapped
In darkness
Between two worlds
Vietnamese hyphen American
American hyphen Vietnamese
Opposite ends of the alphabet
Outer edges of two cultures

The silence of emptiness
A hollow more vast than nothing
A void within history
Of the voices of women unheard

The silence of Lotus Blossoms
And Dragon Ladies
Of virgins and whores
Of battered women

I mean the silence
Of my own voice
Of the stories that are locked
In unspoken words

Of the pains and triumphs of women warriors
My mother, my grandmother, my great–grandmother and her mothers
Yes, I mean the silence of
Not Existing

I've known only silent travels
All kinds of silent fears
My mind angry, disgusted
Of silence all these years

So you tell me to speak up
Speak up! You say
You think I haven't tried?
Day after aching day?

Breaking my silence,
Can't you see?
Not like you break an egg
It's not that easy

Takes more than dew drops
And falling leaves
Takes lots of heartache
With no reprieve

Takes many dreams
And remembering too
Takes my whole being
Takes also you

So open your ears
And listen, take heed
You can begin to hear my voices emerge
In chorus, with others no longer silent
Saying, we will be heard, we will be heard!

Tu-Uyen Nguyen is a doctoral student in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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