The Night Before I Left Home

This story was shared by a Project Ava Storyteller. Learn more about the Storyteller Program.


Pheonix Photo
Illustration: Tiffany Lam


Like hundreds of thousands of people, my mother escaped a war-torn Vietnam, risking her life to come to America, where the roads are paved with cheese (or something like that). She was jailed twice during her first two escape attempts, almost drowning on the way to a refugee camp in Indonesia. When she arrived in America at the age of 19, she attended a public high school in Chicago for a bit, then got a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering, all while speaking minimal English. I know that her story is not uncommon, and I know that I am not special in using the thought of my parents’ struggles to motivate me to work hard and do better.

In general, the Asian-American narrative is not lacking in testimonies lauding the accomplishments of our parents. As a writer, it’s almost too easy to write about that subject, not because it’s something I make light of, but because I already think about it so much and run the same questions through my mind. How much have my parents done for me? How can I ever repay them? How do my accomplishments start to hold up against theirs amidst the obstacles that they had to face?

This poem was inspired by some new question that I’ve been entertaining lately: who was my mother before me and our family and the maternal/eternal sacrifice that all of us think about so much? What more could she have accomplished had it not been for being a stay-at-home mom for two kids? The wings she used to carry me, where could she have used them to fly instead?

Of course, I’m not regretful of what my mom has done for my family. However, beneath the tough love and the maternal instinct, there is just a person. I am trying to get to know that person.

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