Where I’m From

I’m from wondering how to answer, “But where are you really from?”

I’m from the question, “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” and my response, “Do I only get two options?”

I’m from longyis and lahpet thoke, boo thee kyaw, and mac and cheese with curry powder

I’m from a family of matriarchs

I’m from the Burmese Bhikkhuni who reunited a broken monastic lineage from the 12th century

I’m from a mother who left her first two daughters and moved to another country, then did not see them again for 13 years

I’m from Allentown, Pennsylvania, an iconic steel town, Americana at its blue-collar bluest

I’m from two physicians—one anesthesiologist and one colon and rectal surgeon

I’m from a family that idealized and valued education, but sometimes denied the other things—the body, spontaneity, creativity

I’m from violence and control and fear—whipped with a leather belt in the front yard, more embarrassed to be seen by my best friend and neighbor than afraid of the sting

I’m from shame—shame that the brilliant prodigy who went to medical school at age 14, became the gold-medalist student, and came to the United States to an Ivy League university, could simultaneously be an alcoholic who was destroyed by colonialism, first, racism, second

I’m from the two-year-old brown girl who learned to say, “My ethnicity is Burmese, but my nationality is American,” before she knew what any of those words actually meant

I’m from grief and generational trauma—broken relatives in psych wards

I’m from secrets that get lodged in my throat, stuck in my frozen shoulders

I’m from artists and musicians, poet laureates and doctoral candidates

I’m from mothers who were wounded daughters themselves

I’m from decades of therapy and trying to redirect the ship, change the course that appeared laid out at birth

I’m from ceramic bowls and Asian soup spoons filled with black and white wedding photos embedded in resin

I’m from pagodas sewn from red and gold theatre curtains, rising and falling like the belly of a meditating yogi

I’m from tiny toes at the tips of chubby pink feet

Feet that peek out from quilted baby blankets in the stroller, as people ask if I am the nanny

I’m from a mixed-race marriage that struggles in a country that only legalized mixed-race marriages the year after I was born

I’m from my children—the person they envision when they think of me, walk away, and then look back

I’m from anxiety and perfectionism, the expectation to do the right thing, be the good Burmese daughter, mother, sister, wife

I’m from a country that aspires to democracy, but forces its citizens to bear unwanted children and fundraise for their own cancer treatment

I’m from karma and loving-kindness, best intentions and new beginnings

Listen to Thet read the piece here:


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