forgotten tongues

while transferring from my wheelchair, i look at the ceiling and scream dramatically
“i have forgotten p!!”
“blood? pi???” my mom asks worriedly in corean
“no umma! the letter p! p-ubt!”
i am quiet for a moment then ask
“…what does it look like?”

disregarding the grave nature of this situation, she shakes her head at me and leaves the room, telling me i need to spend less time on the computer.
(i love that she equates any lack of knowledge on my part to too much time in front of the computer.)
does she not know what losing language, letter by letter,
script by script, means to me?

i think back to middle school where i won an international writing contest sponsored by south korea’s national tourism agency
the local k-times newspaper interviewed me and put my picture on the front page
unraveling and ragged, my mom carried that folded, faded yellow picture with her for years

the writing prompt was something simple like “why do you ❤ korea?”
and while older americans australians and europeans wrote about delicious food, a culture of respect, and hiking geumgangsan, eighth grade me submitted an essay about king sejong’s work
the theme of the essay focused on hangul as the language of the people
now of course i didn’t know about globalization colonization assimilation
the struggle of people of color in this world
or resistance back then
but the power of language
as generator
for maintaining community
was obvious
to even my middle school half corean
broken-tongue self
sejong’s refusal to let language belong to the aristocracy brought writing and literature to the people
creating a new era for the joseon people

now i am left flailing my arms with a sense of loss
will future generations of my family
only know korea
through margaret cho comedy sound bytes?
mentions of the eradication of the dmz in history books
and store-bought kimchi they eat at their halmoni’s house?
has it really been 8 years since i have traveled to see my family?
did i really encourage my mother’s students to change their names from hankyul hanbyul youngkwang and myunghan
to heather ellen danny and kevin?

no. yes. no. yes. yes.
what to do with this,
where to go with this,
i don’t know.
for now i will start with the letter p.

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Filed under woc, writing/poetry

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