Mother Tongues

Video by Jess X Chen

We never talked about it. Since she escaped the communist regime in Vietnam, my mother resolved to leave her past behind. Any question about the war, the refugee camp, or the Saigon gangster that had been my father met unshakable silence. Con oi, du roi. Me dien cai dau. All I knew of my family’s history came from library books, neighborhood gossip, or the long-distance calls my mother made across the Pacific while I pretended to sleep. Living without a history denied all possibilities for “existence.” And though she determined to protect me from what the telling revealed, I could not reconcile her trauma with the desire to understand where we came from, how we got here, or what unspeakable violence demanded we live in fear of that knowledge.  -- Paul Tran

We do not enter this life as tabulae rasae; we are born with the ability to recognize our mother's voice. In utero we begin to hear the sounds basic to language.  As we grow, we internalize the rules and structures that turn sound into meaning. Mothers give us our means of discerning language; language gives us our means of knowing our world. Past documents and images can salvage only so much of this past.  To capture our mothers' narratives we must incorporate the ephemerality of memory through speech.  We must begin with her own words.  

Mother Tongues recovers diasporic narratives by chronicling the lives and experiences of mothers across three Asian American generations. Interviews, poetry and performances combine to form an archive that documents the triumphs and challenges of building lives in America.



Click on the below links to access multimedia content, interview excerpts and poetry.



Thursday, June 5, 7:00 pm
Fordham University, Lincoln Center
South Lounge

113 West 60th Street
Fordham University, Lincoln Center
Take A, B, C, D & 1 trains to Columbus Circle. 
Exit at 60th Street & Broadway.  Go west of Columbus Avenue.
Upon entering the glass doors inform the security desk that you are attending the English Department event. Take escalators up 1 floor to Plaza level. Head to the back of the Student Cafeteria.


Project Manager

Melissa Reburiano is a poet and a doctoral student in Applied Anthropology at Columbia University.  An Arthur Zankel Fellow, Ms. Reburiano's research examines race/ethnicity, gender, and social formation in emerging digital geographies. She has presented her research at conferences nationwide and has served as a teaching fellow at The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Columbia University.  A longtime educator, Ms. Reburiano has devised and facilitated college-preparatory curriculum for The Harlem Children's Zone and has most recently worked with the Asian American Writers Workshop to offer the organization's first workshop using strategies of improvisational acting to teach elements of the creative process.