Unsent Letters: Dear Ah Ma

The author writing at a younger age. (Photo Credit: Victoria Mai Huỳnh)

Unsent Letters is a new limited-run series at Reappropriate. Writers are invited to contribute a letter, poem, or other work that reflects on their relationship to a powerful figure who embodies or challenges them to (re)define Asian (diasporic) feminism. If you would like to contribute your own Letter, please submit here.

By Guest Contributor: Victoria Mai Huỳnh

This letter is adapted from personal diary entries written while the author traveled to Cambodia for the first time last summer. 

Dear Ah Ma,

Our family does not cry often. Today, they do. Mom and auntie hold your quaking body and tell you that you can go, “a ma muai lieu oh. my gek siem. Yuan liang oh ah um.” (Mom, you finished everything. Don’t strain your heart anymore. Forgive, Mom.) Why do they speak to you, if you cannot hear us anymore? 

I trace your heartbeat on the heart rate monitor to remember your heart still beats, but it does not tell me you are alive. Can your heart receive us, even if our words cannot reach you? 

My words are stuck in this silence. They become my unspokens: 

Ah ma, ah buoi oo gek siem. Buoi tha m thie, ah ma. (Grandma, ah Buoi (author) has “strained heart.” Su Buoi cannot speak. Ah Ma.)

I cannot speak, Ah Ma.  I do not know how. They took away the languages our people’s tongues knew, to take us away.

Ah ma, jia bue? Ah ma muoi mi gai? Tai diang si ha? Ah ma ai ku ka buoi boh? (Grandma, have you eaten? Grandma, what are you doing now? Watching TV? Grandma, do you want to go with me?)

And now, the oceans you fled guide you away. They took you before my words knew how to reach you. 

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