The House on Harkness Street

Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep. – The House on Mango Street

Alone At Sea

Growing up Asian in a predominantly white school is never having your name pronounced correctly when attendance is taken, is sitting down during lunchtime and not wanting to take out your meal – it smells fishy, is all eyes on you for the wrong reasons, is being unable to speak correctly because your culture blankets your words, all while trying not to cry as you look out to an ocean of blue eyes, so you don’t bother to speak at all.

Nasa pictured wearing traditional áo dài for Vietnamese New Year.
Image by Sean Cao

I Wish I Was

I remember the first time I saw him in the halls in third grade. Just the two of us, and he opened the door for me, and because I didn’t know any better, because I was never shown any better, I thought he was the best thing to cross my path. Who was I kidding, we were in third grade and our classrooms were right next to each other. It was no special occurrence, but I put him on my highest pedestal because I never got to truly see him and his flaws to be placed any lower than first place. For six years I glorified and obsessed over him even though he rarely ever noticed me. Six years of wishing for something more and never having enough courage to be the one to make my wish come true. I wish I were talkative enough like Katie to open my mouth and smile, or maybe even say “hi,” but I knew I wouldn’t be able to say it the way she said it, with a glistening smile of pearls and a swish of sleek hair and batted eyelids and a tilted head to the side. He liked her because she was perfectly cut with no rigidly torn edges, and because she was miraculously good at everything she came across. She had a tutor and trainer for everything, and she was contoured to every skill so well that she could be the trainer herself. I found myself setting myself up against her to the point where everything was a competition, especially when grasping his unbothered attention.

But then they started to hold hands, be the only ones to make each other laugh that certain way, hanging outside of school, looking at each other from across the room when something funny happens. And as their faces turned a bright shade of youthful-romance red, mine turned a deep red of hatred, envy, defeat, and insecurity. I’d come home crying every day for years because I wasn’t good enough to be better than Katie, or because I wasn’t good enough for him to like me too. They became synonymous. I wish I were top of the class and confident enough to show that I’m capable of doing amazing things too. I wish I had the blonde hair and blue eyes and Barbie doll caricature and voice that popped like a can of soda. I wish I were Katie, or even better, I wish I were his.


My favorite game as a kid was playing hide-and-seek, especially in the dark. I liked playing with my cousins because they’re older and they know how to scare me. Your heart starts racing but it’s the good kind because you’re giddy, like the incline on a rollercoaster. It’s thrilling. You’re scared but you know what’s about to happen is good. My aunts, uncles, and cousins came over often for family gatherings, and it became a tradition to play the game when the day turned to night.

But I started to resent the game when my uncle was always the seeker and I was always hiding. In the dark.

Cover up, my dad would scold me. Don’t dress like that when your uncle comes over. Dad, I hid in my room, I shut the door as a shield, I dressed like a nun, I didn’t even go out of my room to get food, and he still came back to find me. What more can I do? What more should you do? Mom, you told me it wouldn’t happen again. Your uncle is your father’s brother, family is family. A blood bond. I don’t want you to ruin that. And so I didn’t complain when you told me he’s coming over again, I kept my mouth shut, for you and for Dad. Keeping my mouth shut was what Uncle wanted of me too. I guess I fulfilled my role as the obedient daughter. I feel like My father would always comfort me when I had nightmares by saying our home is the safest place on Earth. Then, Dad, why do I feel like the monster under my bed will crawl out, and touch me again and again, even when I try to hide beneath the covers?

He knocked on my door, and entered before I could answer. I’m doing this because I love you, you’re my favorite little girl. I know you’re scared. You’re scared but you know what’s about to happen is good.

Image from

Piano Keys

Her scraggly fingers can barely stroke the boundless keys with much grace and reassurance, and the tempo is always rigid, stammering. But still, the sound of the notes quivering rings out in pride and accomplishment. Each transparently clear in singularity as they walk single-file down a hallway, straining with pure purpose and desire. Her parents recite the same script. I came to America just to give you the life I’ve always dreamed of, and you want to waste my earnings on becoming a low-life musician? You have the opportunities to be a doctor, so take them! People say that your job is your life, but it seems like her career would be a part of her parents’ lives too. So she will play for what she doesn’t know is the last time, hammering her calloused fingers at the ghostly keys because she knows she cannot feed into the beautiful beast’s temptation. The intentions are somehow prettier as a cast of whatever they used to be—a remnant of what could’ve been. And she will shut the keylid and walk away while the piano and her dream collect dust as it sits in the corner of the house. And her sheet music will become yellow and stale from sitting in the hazy light. And her callouses will start to soften while her resentment starts to harden.

Image by Nasa Cao

More Than DNA

My brother and I don’t look like siblings… not on the outside. Our friends say one of us is adopted, and it’s always entertaining to shock people when they find out we’re related. He stands out, I stay in his shadow. He has a clunky, stark build that towers over six feet tall; I am nine inches shorter than him. He holds his head up high, I lower my chin in crowds. His boisterous curls juxtapose my painfully pin-straight strands. Our mom says he’s like a social butterfly, but I’m like a moth meandering in his direction. We’re not like other siblings, whose facial structure and hands are molded in the same way. Some people say our eyes are the only feature we share, but ironically, we don’t see it.

And my brother and I aren’t like most siblings in the way that we were never really close growing up. We rarely ever had actual conversations with each other. Most of our bonding was unspoken. Most of it was building LEGOs, reading books, playing with figurines, swimming in the pool.

But my brother and I are more alike than people make us out to be. He and I laugh harmoniously and synchronously. We double over, sounding like hyenas, like we’re being uncontrollably tickled. We care for others the same way, to compensate for the care not given to us. And other things I don’t have the words to explain—other things that only siblings would understand. 

When Mom and Dad start fighting, it’s like an explosive, unstable clatter of fine china. It was too noisy for me to concentrate, too noisy for me to even hear my own thoughts and emotions. It was a time that was so loud that you couldn’t actually hear anything. As I ball up in the corner of my room, I flinch when someone knocks on the door. My brother peeks through a sliver, and he takes my silence as an invitation to sit next to me. 

We don’t say anything, just like how we never really had before. We look at each other with our supposedly identical eyes, and we sit in our own silence among the explosion in the room next door. We just get it.

My brother and I are the epitome of siblings, just not on the outside.

Nasa and her brother.
Image by Christian Cao

Skinny Jeans

I would wake up one morning in the fourth grade and put on my skinny jeans from Hollister, only for my legs to barely squeeze through, and I’d use all my might to marry the button and its buttonhole, then realize my ankles are starting to feel cold from being unintentionally freshly exposed. Exposed. I felt it in my hips and my shoulders and my chest and my ankles and my neck and my entire body. My hips were boxy and jutted out, my shoulders broadened like a football player’s, and these I shamefully hid under baggy clothes. No one else in my grade looked like me. I stuck out like a sore thumb. My body was marked with tiger stripes. My favorite shirt became untouched because of how it fit—or didn’t fit—me. Nothing actually fit me quite right. Everything was too loose and too tight at the same time, a recurring paradox that haunts my closet. 

“You’re in full bloom,” my mother reassures me. And that is the beauty of it all. Full bloom like rebirth of a new chapter. Full bloom like fresh life in the springtime. Full bloom like delicate rosebuds bursting with deep reds as the days roll over. And now I get my hands dirty and water the roses to nurture and ensure that their beauty is forever.

Image by Nasa Cao

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