Writer: Teresa Pham
I wrote the poem The Children Who Live in Boats because the plight of boat people feels especially relevant in the current political climate. Our supposed “leader of the free world” is a man who is dead-set on fomenting more and more fear and xenophobia within the population, on closing the borders and turning away those who seek sanctuary. It’s a strange and sad time to be the child of refugees in America.
There’s this narrative that we’re fed in this country, that America is a melting pot of immigrants who came here seeking a better future. It’s this idealized promised land. And while that may be true for many families, the Vietnamese American experience is largely separated from this narrative because our parents aren’t immigrants by choice - they’re refugees. They came here because it was the only option available to them when their home became a war zone, when everything they knew and loved became untenable.
There’s a Warsan Shire poem titled Home that goes: “you have to understand/no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land.” To me, that feels like the crux of what refugees face when they put their children in rickety vessels and pray for a safe passage.
The refugee experience is one in which there are no good choices or a sought after American utopia. There's only the hope of survival - for yourself and for future generations.
Teresa Pham lives and writes in Oakland, California.