Kao Kalia Yang writes: My life in America has been a series of days spent within the confines of factories. For the last twenty-two years, I have worked with machines. Since we came to this country I have worked for three different companies. I was an assembler in a company that made coolant systems for cars. I was a general machinist for a second company that made wooden plaques and metal awards. With the most recent company, I was a second-shift polisher for different components that are used in industries such as canning and oil drilling. There have been moments in each of these jobs when my supervisors said in different ways, ‘Bee, you are not here to talk to me. You are here to talk to machines.’
In America, my voice is only powerful within our home. The moment I exit our front door and enter the paved roads, my deep voice loses its volume and its strength. When I speak English, I become like a leaf in the wind. I cannot control the direction my words will fly in the ear of the other person. I try to soften my landing in the language by leaving pauses between each word. I wrestle with my accent until it is a line of breath in the tightness of my throat. I greet people. I ask for directions. I say thank you. I say goodbye. I only speak English at work when it is necessary. I don’t like the weakness of my voice in English, but what I struggle with most is the weakness of my words.
In Hmong, my children hear so much of my words that sometimes I know they become heavy with the meaning I want to impart. I tell my children that my work in America is not important, but I work hard so that one day their work will be. I tell them that my big dream is for one of them to become an international human rights lawyer and bring justice to stories and lives like ours. I want one son or daughter to cross over the petty barriers erected by nations and states and stand firm for those who do not belong to these definitions. [Continue reading…]