Her Paper Voice
By: Sophia Huynh
My grandma's voice is becoming like paper.
It is smooth, flimsy, and rough around the edges
With every story she tells, it spills out of her mouth like a printer,
Never ending, telling me her experiences that she was waiting to tell me all day.
She speaks in the firmest tone that will get the point across yet that can still be bent without making a crease.
When she realizes that she has said something wrong, instead of erasing, she folds her paper voice into a paper river
She shows me that the road to forgiveness is long, yet you can float there if you hang on long enough.
My grandma's voice is becoming like paper
In her eyes, you can tell that her paper voice is wavering.
When I was little, I often stayed with my grandmother
I always imagined her Chinese characters jumping out of her throat being imprinted onto her voice writing a story
She taught me how to stand your ground
Look up into the person's eyes when they are talking to you
And always be present in any situation so people will have no choice but to give you recognition.
She emphasized multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction
But you could tell within her explanations that
Her voice had another story
Make sure you can recognize that having the subtraction symbol means that you are just adding another negative number
Like how us Chinese, are always just there, but we’re always just subtracted away from the equation
You need to know addition
‘Cus that’s the time when you learn to add yourself back into the problem to be noticed
Multiply courage into something so great, it’s too big to count
And divide those haters opinions into something so small,
The amount is undefined on a calculator.
We are so good at math because we are constantly reminded to calculate the distance it takes to go from America to Asia.
Have you ever thought the reason why we are so good at math is because
It is the only subject
Our elders understand in own native tongue.
My grandmother told me the first thing that you do in a problem was to FOIL
First hold your head and look towards the sky
Tell them that your belittled slanted shaped eyes will always try to find the truth
Outside, explain to them how they were pronouncing your name wrong, but
In fact, you know you’re just explaining to yourself because pronouncing your name out loud repeatedly is the last reassurance that you actually belong in this world
Last, being bilingual never meant for you to be alone, but to be together.
Sometimes I wonder if we need to measure the distance between our xenophobia or our common sense.
My grandmother's voice is becoming like paper
Every time she answers an unknown phone call,
Her ink lined mandarin characters are being shred to pieces
She musters out two words: No English and turn towards me with her eyes pleading for me to help her understand.
It’s been over 14 years that’s she’s been in America yet the only words she knows in English are Hi, Sorry, and No English.
She has never spoken my name in English once.
She can only communicate in a language she can call her own
But communication is a broken bridge
You can see the way,
But sometimes you just can’t reach the other side.
Before she came to America, she was so poor, that she had to make her family’s own clothing, and was paid ten dollars a week for fixing watches
She lived in one room with a family of eight
When she came to America, she sought a better life, a better future
But how can she get a job in America if she doesn’t speak English?
In America, instead of adapting to new languages
We force people to learn our own
One day, she told me that her voice doesn’t matter in this country.
She now questions and asks me if she should die in her home country or stay and die here in America
because the only thing holding her back from leaving is us.
Every time the question of leaving came out of her throat, her voice became creased, crumpled, and ripped a little on the edges.
I need to read and listen to as many paper voices so that one day, I can attach the stories to form a shadowing tree, and that tree will be too thick to be ever cut down.
But now that I think about it,
My voice is also becoming like paper
It’s sometimes smooth, flimsy, and little rough around the edges
I sometimes speak in the firmest tone that will get the point across but can still be bent without making a crease.
I will speak for my grandmother who cannot convey her feelings into English words
I will help her all my life
Because I will follow the path of my grandmother's footsteps
And be sure to pick up the torn leftover pieces of her paper voice that she