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POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
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Personal Essay: "On the Topic of Erasure" by Z.M. Quỳnh

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When we set out to destroy science fiction with this Kickstarter, we didn't want it to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill campaign. We wanted it to be full of smashing, crashing POC voices, telling what it really means to be POC reading and writing science fiction. One of the ways we hope to do that is by sharing a series of personal essays about the experience of being POC in science fiction.

Personal Essay: "On the Topic of Erasure" by Z.M. Quỳnh

I write about my people so that I won’t get erased. Not by the “they,” but by myself---by the “we,” “me,” “I,” “us.” The “exiled.” The “diaspora.” The ones that fled, died, killed, and sacrificed for “Tự Do.” For freedom.

At the age of five, too young to fully remember the Vietnam War, but old enough to never forget, I found myself unceremoniously shoved into the back of a cargo plane bound for America, a political refugee and one of the last poets to leave my country—my mother’s milk still warm in my mouth, unwritten verses spilling from my tongue.

In the country where I was born, the power of the South Vietnamese word woven into a poem or a story was considered so illicit that it was destroyed as soon as the last helicopters left. Afterwards, for two decades, in the shadow of a closed country, the minds of South Vietnamese writers were mutilated by forced labor, their tongues splintered by hunger, and their words burnt to ashes in bamboo gulags.

Meanwhile, in the country I call my home, in America, all that is Vietnamese is expunged as if it never happened. Instead, my family becomes multi-cultural and that part of us that is Vietnamese becomes diluted with the narratives of emancipation, reconstruction, migration, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and the systematic dehumanization in countless ways of people of color. Inquiries into our past only serve to pull out old wounds too raw to a people whose survival revolved around silence.

“Shhh . . . don’t speak about such things,” our elders say, holding their heads in pain. “Let the past lie in the past. Put those words away, they’ll get you killed!”

But still, I raise my children to respect that part of their heritage that is half theirs—together we grapple to learn words I can’t quite pronounce, partake in traditions that were never taught to me, words and traditions they will most likely forget. In the country I call my home, I am witnessing the slow death of my culture.

In a sense, every tribe of color in America has experienced this period of “transition.” It is the bittersweet phase right after the mass kidnapping/mass fleeing/mass exile when your people are in the “in-between stage”—in between losing the fluency of your culture and “acculturating,” “assimilating,” “acclimating” . . . often by force, sometimes with no other choice. It is the period in time when we hear our words disappear, replaced by the foreign words of our new home, watch our customs metamorphose, transforming to reflect the diversity of American history (disintegrating into the American narrative?). We celebrate our birthdays, but show up lackluster to our parents’ annual ceremonies held on the anniversaries of our ancestor’s deaths. We dress up for Halloween, but forget to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Children’s Festival. We toast up on New Year’s Eve, but fail to welcome ancestors for the Lunar New Year.

Until we have forgotten, I have forgotten all that I should not have. Until I become fragmented into those parts of me that are American, and those hidden deep inside that are Vietnamese. Until my culture and my memories become unmade, unreal—only coming back to me through the lenses of others, made real again only through the portals and possibilities opened up by science fiction and speculative gesticulations.

I write so that I can become whole, so that we may become whole once more. I write so that my stories will be real again, so that my people’s stories will become our own.

______________

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Z.M. Quỳnh huddles in a room tinged with blue, nursing calloused hands worn down from the chronic transcription of restless dreams. Past lives have included scattered jaunts through urban minefields with each misstep hinting at a life less easily mapped out by this amateur cartographer. Irrationally drawn to moving mountains one stone at a time, Quỳnh has tackled the tasks of labor organizer, juvenile hall literacy coordinator, artistic director of a guerrilla feminist theatre troupe, mother, mentor, and best friend (all rolled up in one), civil rights advocate, guardian ad litem for foster care youth, waitstaff at one too many late night diners (hey . . . free food—what?), slam poet, urban horticulturalist, visual junk artist, passionate lover, and cocktail server/candy salesperson at all-night rave parties (hungry people pay $5 for candy bars!). 2015 was Z.M.’s debut year in spec fic (but she’s lived in a fantasy world forever . . .).

Comments

    1. Gearsoul (formerly Orson Cream)
      Superbacker
      on January 30, 2016

      Really enjoying these so much, I wish I could afford to get all three of the 'Destroy' anthologies, in print I mean, but I'm settling for the PDF mega-pack~ :3

    2. Missing avatar

      Nina Kiriki Hoffman on January 30, 2016

      Thanks so much for all these fabulous essays. I appreciate so much the authors sharing their experiences and perspectives.

      Nina

    3. Lightspeed Magazine 3-time creator on January 30, 2016

      @Simone Cooper

      Yes! Due to our first stretch goal being unlocked, we'll be including the essays in the People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! special issue (in both the ebook and print editions). They'll also remain online on the Kickstarter page, which will still be accessible after the campaign ends.

    4. Simone Cooper on January 30, 2016

      I have been enjoying these essays immensely. Will they be collected somewhere?

    5. Tasha Turner Lennhoff
      Superbacker
      on January 30, 2016

      Very touching.