/ AJ Noelle (Writer), Helen Huang (Illustrator)

Nonfiction2 min reading time

No. 4

Dear Mom,

You said that when I come home next week, you want to hear about my research. I’m excited to tell you more about it, how it’s coming together, and the amazing professors I’m working with.

But, at the same time, I’m scared. I’m scared you’ll see how much of you is in my work. I’m scared that as I describe the narratives I want to embrace, uncover, and live, you’ll also hear the parts—these burdens that have been passed down to both of us—that I’m rejecting, moving away from, and laying to rest.

You say you want to know me, but when I speak my mind, my ideas enrage you. The blatant rejection hurts. Other times, I tell you my thoughts and they quiet you. This, I find equally painful.

In some ways, I’m in the same boat as many of my peers. A boat, I imagine, that holds many graduate students of color, whose works inevitably or intentionally intersect with their lived experiences and identities. Grad school has a way of isolating you from your friends and family, sending you on a boat drifting away.

As comforting as this well-worn image is, I know no such boat exists. That I’ll never be in the same boat as Julie, and the waters that they endure as a nonbinary person in a patriarchal society. Or as Hero, whose boat navigates belonging through race and disability. Or as Yasmine, who steers strategically and carefully, as they travel without papers.

My boat navigates waters deep with colonial wounds and dead languages and pounded identities and women in the kitchen only with no room for tears. But, across the way, I can see Julie. And Hero. And Yasmine. They are holding lights for me, bringing me home when my boat is breaking, sinking, lost. How badly I wish you could see this, Mom.

How do I say to you these many truths that I hold?

That under your roof, I only half-lived.
That it took years to unlearn the self-hate, the judgment, the woman-hating, the racism.
That the scars of your teachings live in me as a rejection of my body, of pleasure, of the primal.
That shame is laced into my own shadow.
That you have reclaimed Catholicism, but I have not.
That I would never tell you of the women I have imagined being mothered by.
That I wish you were standing next to my friends, leading me home.
That you are the reason I do this work.

But also,

That I hold your pains in me, and you hold my pains in you.
That you are of the adventurers, the heroes, the warriors I read about.
That you persist, like our motherland, no matter how much is stripped, buried, or stolen.
That your heart and honey are not finite.
That your support for me is unending, even if my work kills you.
That you are the reason I do this work.

I hope, one day, we are both able to hold these many truths.

With love,

A boat drifts on the ocean's surface. The skies and water are the same cloudy grey color.