Literary Segment

Mary Phan | 01 November 2021

Do dreams really mean anything? Because Yesterday,

Mary Phan.jpg

Dominic Phan, Untitled, 1996, oil paint on canvas (Image: courtesy of Mary Phan)

I closed my eyes and I was back in ancestral lands on which I’ve never stepped.

Looking at trees murdered by Agent Orange. Great swaths of earth that will never grow anything again. I wonder if my damn houseplants have been tainted by Agent Orange.


Some relative fell in love with a girl from a town nearby this cursed dirt. His Mother said, “Love someone else, her body is poisoned”. The chances are too high she will die slowly and dreadfully, or your children will (or have already). This conversation happened in 2020.


‘Now, I wasn’t born yesterday!’ or maybe I was. The first in America. The firstborn in this Manifest Destiny, Yeehaw, Ronald McDonald land. A supposedly golden daughter bedecked in gold and jade bracelets, dropped off at school without an ear or tongue for English. This land is my land, this land is your land.


In pre-school I drank chocolate milk, cried, threw up, rode a pink tricycle, never smiled, never napped.

My best friend in school taught me to chew with my mouth closed. I don’t remember how we communicated. Many years later, she voted for Trump and I donated to the ACLU. How ungrateful of me.


‘Introduction to Art History’, where we ‘develop an educational foundation’. I don’t look like Vasari or Winckelmann. I do look like ‘Napalm Girl’. My family looks like the people, or rather, the mangled heaps of bodies, in ‘And Babies’. It seems every artwork to do with Vietnamese people has to contain some rhetoric of violence. Such a shame, because we really are funny people. Maybe more of us should channel the trauma into comedy rather than such pedantic things as painting, photography, or poetry.


Am I assimilated because I love artisan breads and natural wines? Am I erased because I only dream in English? It’s probably easier for me to write a dissertation, than it is for me to speak freely to my Mother.

Yesterday an old woman’s eyes widened as I spoke to her, she exclaimed, “Your English is very good!” Thank you very much, I wouldn’t know!