dreaming of goddesses, sunflowers and italian sunshine.
yet, every heaven has a hell under its surface.

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Message to Readers

the story of my life and the regrets i have for choosing to "fit in" rather than maintain my cultural identity. written for myself and all of those who have experienced the same. we grieve for our past selves.

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assimilation; a tragedy in six parts

September 23, 2019

I was three when I gained the skill of my mother’s native tongue.

    My adolescent mind has lost the memory of those moments to cram my mind with formulae and history of people not my own, but my mother showed me a video of a smiling cherub struggling to navigate the terrain of our deck, legs splayed either side of her brightly-coloured vehicle. It was little more than a child’s luggage with wheels, but the words streamed out of my three-year-old mouth as if I thought myself in a position of luxury.

    “That’s you,” my mother told me, as if I hadn’t seen that smooth black hair in all the family photos hanging around our house. And again, I am reminded of how much I have lost.

    I was five when I played with the children in the village my father once called home.

    There was a girl who was the same age as I was; she knocked at my grandmother’s wooden door, insisting that I come out to the field with her. I must have spoken fluently; I remember making fun of a turkey behind the wire mesh of the neighbour’s yard and asking her to pass me sand to fill up the bucket in the village playground. We fed the horses stale bread, and she laughed when I snatched my hand away from fear of their teeth; they were unnervingly human. I had two matching necklaces, and I gave one to her. She smiled, all blonde hair and blue eyes – the perfect Aryan specimen – before dashing home; her mother was calling her. Maybe it was a coincidence, or some divine comedy, but our names would have been the same if my parents had taken their second choice. I never saw her again. When I was thirteen, I gave the necklace away to Vinnies.

    I was six when I told my parents to speak to me in English.

    Primary school was a departure from the familiar; the teachers spoke English, my classmates spoke English, and the computer screens glared at me with a blue screen that seemed to highlight the incompetence of the foreign teeth that lay waiting in my mouth. I was Australian born, but not Australian enough. I had the hair my mother had chosen for me, words from my father left in my cheeks, but all I heard about my heritage were the scheming yellow-skinned rats that stole the white man’s gold from the fields of Bathurst. With my heavy tongue and foreign phrases, I was isolated, incomplete. I returned from the walled city of children, and refused to respond to any words not in the invader’s tongue. I wish my parents had rather kept me silent than had to silence themselves for my folly. Ten years later, I regret every rejection of my culture for the sake of assimilating to a system I was forced to be part of.

    I was eight when I decided I wanted to change my name.

    Eight was the age of independence, when my mother told me, “You don’t always have to ask for permission to watch TV.” And in that childlike authority, I decided I was going to change my name. Whether written in my developing scrawl, or printed from the fax machine, the sounds that came out of the mouths of others were never the intonations that my parents assigned to me from birth; four letters, so simple, yet sloughing out of strangers’ mouths like a disease, a taste they were unfamiliar to, and did not care to savour. I was six when I stopped correcting them. Six years asking God at night why He’d told my parents to give me a name that could never be called true. God never answered; I was fifteen when I branded myself an agnostic.

    I was ten when I realised I'd lost my ability to speak.

    We returned to the homeland of my mother, and I sat at family dinners with my brother close by. Raucous laughter would chime throughout the restaurant, but the syllables escaping their lips and yellowed teeth clashed horribly against my Caucasian comprehension. We flew across the sea and ate with my father’s family, farmer’s stock. Again, I struggled to understand the foreign words as they flew across the dining table, my grandmother’s bright eyes gleaming with mirth underneath the gentle folds of her face. They asked us questions, but my father would have to rephrase the words in English, the sudden change of language seeming an inconvenience in the fast-flowing conversation. But we answered as best we could, and returned, eyes focused downwards on our meals. I hated that I could not understand, but my brother understood even less; our parents had stopped speaking their native tongues to us after I'd come home from school and told them I wanted to grow my hair out. The China-doll haircut stood out in a sea of shorn locks and high-ribboned ponytails.

    I was fourteen when I realised I wasn’t the only one.

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  • jengelman

    i really like this except raucous laughter just ruins the tone for me. otherwise everything in this piece is magnificent

    4 months ago
  • r|A|i|N

    contest winners are announced!

    4 months ago
  • rainandsonder

    how in the world does this have 49 likes and only 13 comments?? that's an outrageous ratio for a piece this fantastically written. reading it, you can tell that this a very personal story, and although i can't relate to the exact story you're telling, i know the feeling of not fitting it and you capture it perfectly. reading your writing is like experiencing the world in its rawer form, like tapping into the human experience, if that makes sense. seriously, this is incredible!

    4 months ago
  • Dani A. Remlap

    This is the best thing I've read in ages. Good God, that hits hard.

    4 months ago
  • Maryam Q


    4 months ago
  • ajamwal

    wow @Anha, i just can't express this into words, i don't care how cliche this sounds, but you are just g r e a t. thank you for inspiring me and all the other WtW writers, keep writing, i don't think i should say writing, i think i should say "painting with words."

    4 months ago
  • and-peggy

    This is super good!! By the way, thanks for your comment on my contest. Whoops, looks like I was a little tired when I wrote that. September 30 is the deadline.

    4 months ago
  • Kenny

    god, this hits too close. my parents were the ones who started speaking English at home, so i could become more fluent. and i am fluent in it, it's my first language, but not really my first language, you know? or my second, or my third. i don't understand my family anymore, and that's just.. so sad? my family's spoken it for centuries, and now it's gone in just one generation. fuck.

    4 months ago
  • Serendipity

    dude, i could relate to this so hard, and that honestly only made this piece much more of a delight to read. your way with words is incredible, and the structure of the piece complemented the text in a subtle, but effective way. also, that last paragraph was not only beautifully written, but really hits home because that has actually happened to me before, and no matter how hard i tried i just couldn't understand my own family, which sounds so terrible now that i'm writing it out. i honestly could continue all day on how relatable this is, but i guess i better not haha :> keep writing like this and you're gonna go places on day with your talent, anha :)

    4 months ago
  • Claraaa

    This was written with such maturity and masterful use of device. Perfect.

    4 months ago
  • weirdo

    absolutely beautiful. love the last sentence.

    5 months ago
  • efflorescence

    This was simply beautiful. As someone who's 5th-generation American, I've never encountered a language barrier within my family, but I can relate to the inability to communicate (I had speech therapy for all of elementary school). Plus, many of my friends come from immigrant families and share stories very similar to yours. Despite not having undergone this kind of experience, your lyrical prose and unique sentence structure immediately drew me and put me in your shoes.

    5 months ago
  • Julius Caesar

    right in the childhood! I love the way you wrote this and i really really love your title.

    5 months ago
  • loveletterstosappho

    there is so much i love about this piece. reading it hurts my heart; i haven't lost all ability to speak, but i still can't quite keep up whenever i go back to china and my relatives make offhand comments about my slight accent when i speak chinese. i love the way you use time and "i was *age* when *event*" because it makes it so concrete? grounding a piece in time is important and you do it well. also i think my favorite line is the last one. it isn't the most lyrical, but it's the most hard-hitting and is thus an amazing last sentence.

    5 months ago
  • Ursa

    Wow, anha, this is beautiful. The structure you use just pulls the reader through the piece, and your phrases about the culture are so vivid ("I had the hair my mother had chosen for me, words from my father left in my cheeks" stuck out particularly to me).
    Bahhh it's so good

    5 months ago
  • chiaroscuro

    As a Vietnamese American, I relate to this immensely. I didn't know how to speak English when I first went to school but now I can't speak Vietnamese. Your words evoke exactly how I feel at every family gathering where I can only utter simple phrases or speak in English in response. Beautifully written—I love the structure and language you used.

    5 months ago