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Fish Sauce

My sister was proud,

because her house didn’t smell like fish sauce.

I lived with her so I did too,

because we both knew,

kids in school were cruel,

to them, smelling different was easy to use.

But, my eye shape gave me away anyway.


How could I tell my parents?

They packed only what they could hold,

trekked through jungles, waded in water,

with someone else’s sons and daughters,

and a sea of families,

waiting on an island for saving.

Yet here I was,

20 years later embarrassed because,

mẹ’s thịt kho was too pungent.

I loved it, and at the same time ran far from it.


I fought hard against myself for years

ignoring my language,

wishing I wasn’t Asian.

I’d push the tip of my nose up just a little in the mirror,

dreaming of waking up a different color,

a different body,

with different eyes,

change how everyone else saw me.


But now I sit and scroll,

the same kids now older,

posing in fields, riding boats,

looking off into the same jungles.

Captions read:

“I love Vietnam, it’s beautiful,

the food is amazing, and so are the people.”

And I can’t help but let my eyes roll,

I’m full of power for a moment,

then forgetful.

A little forgiving too,

because I finally feel good.


While their years of taunts wore me down,

and took my core away with words,

I began to feed myself with the same things,

that I fought myself with before.


We were proud,

because of a house that didn’t smell like fish sauce.

But fuck it, now we love it,

because that shit’s always been delicious.

 

Paulina Vo is a Co-Founder at Highnote, an audio collaboration platform– she’s also the General Manager at The Digilogue, an organization dedicated to music and tech. Paulina has led and scaled Stevie Award-winning customer support teams at Squarespace and Teachable, and has focused her efforts on building more diverse, inclusive, and equitable spaces for underrepresented folks. She’s also a musician, songwriter, and producer who lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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