May’s Best Kept Secret
Whenever I think of cultural heritage months, I think of Morgan Freeman (video link). Morgan Freeman hates Black History Month.
Did you know May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? I didn’t. Marquette celebrates it in April because we aren’t in school in May and it would be mean to only devote a week to Asians and Pacific Islanders.
I went to two Marquette University events that celebrated API Heritage Month.
On Wednesday, I went to a Soup for Substance program. What happens at Soup for Substance is that you eat soup and learn about something. That Wednesday I learned about the Hmong involvement in Laos during the Vietnam war. Before Wednesday, I had asked my dad to tell me how Laos became a communist country. He talked about the old royal Lao government, the Pathet Lao, the re-education camps, General Vang Pao, and his [my father’s] escape from communist Laos. The Soup for Substance program talked about the same things. I was hoping they would talk more about bombies and the tons of unexploded ordinance still left in Laos, but, understandably, the presenters, from the Hmong student organization, focused on the Hmong involvement in the war.
Let me tell you about bombies.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world. Seriously? This should surprise you. You probably didn’t even know Laos existed, let alone know that a war happened in Laos. But how much is most heavily bombed? Have you ever seen Saving Private Ryan or some other WWII movie? I’m sure you have. America has a strange obsession with WWII movies. Anyway, have you seen the bombed cities in WWII movies? They’re awful! Imagine what Britain looked like during the Nazi air raids: 76 nights of bombings within the span of nearly a year. Ridiculous.
In comparison, Laos has been bombed with more ordinance than WWI and WWII combined. Two world wars. Two world wars worth of bombs dropped into my home country. Ridiculous.
Nearly 30% of those bombs dropped in Laos are still unexploded and live. Ridiculous.
People still die from those bombs. People still have to eat food, right? How do you get food? Well, if you live on a farm, you farm. If you farm, you need to move land. If you move the wrong piece of land, you lose a limb. Maybe your arm, maybe your leg. Maybe your son or daughter is helping you farm and instead of your limb, their limb is ripped from their bodies. Maybe they’ll bleed to death. Maybe the shock of the explosion will hasten their death. Maybe they’ll die. Maybe you can bury them fully. Ridiculous.
Why was Laos bombed? Because the Ho Chi Minh trail was in Laos. America wanted to break that trail. So America decided to bomb Laos. I don’t think that was the best thing to do. America probably killed more civilians and ruined more land than actually destroy the trail or kill their intended enemy.
The history of the secret war and the bombies in Laos are really disappointing. My dad tells me stories about those bombs. Those bombs are part of my ancestral history. I’ll never escape them. Actually, neither will the rest of the world.
The other program I went to was Varsity Live!. It featured the poet Asia and his The Asia Project. It was awesome.
He was a legitimate man, a Filipino man. He was very funny and real. One of the first things he told the audience was that poetry is like sex. Let me explain.
When you share poetry (or, in a general sense, perform) you feed off of the audience’s energy. If you love it, let the poet know. If you’re enjoying sex, let your partner know. Otherwise, in both cases, it becomes awkward. The poet and the partner begins wondering what they are doing wrong, whether they should continue, whether they should try something funny . . . Poetry is like sex.
He started off by doing an Asian roll call. He said that he doesn’t get to do that on his tours because his audience isn’t usually Asian. He usually doesn’t Asian shows, I guess. I was the only Laotian. My friend was the only Japanese. My other friend was the only Chinese. It was fun being with other Asian people.
Not many of his poems were about being Asian. He was just an Asian poet talking about his life. They were all so good. His brother-in-law played the guitar behind some of his lyrics, and it was very nice. He sold his CD for $10 afterward. He even made a special deal: 2 for $20.
My Japanese friend (and my Korean friend actually) bought a copy. I listened to a sample on Amazon because I’ll eventually buy one to support him. It’s not the same hearing it on CD though.
I think Asia, for me, is a part of this next movement within the Asian American community. He navigates the ambiguous situation for all Asian Americans: Are Asian Americans Asian and then American, or are we American before we are Asian; what does it mean for us to participate as both; can we participate as both? Asia’s poetry, I think, might demarcate that ambiguous spectrum. In him I saw an Asian American.
Those are the two events I went to during APA month. I wonder what other events will actually happen in May. That’s kind of a neat perk. I get about two months worth of APA month.