‘Troubling Borders’ anthology shares stories of Asian American women through art, literature

Stillness in the air cast a gloomy scene, as Christilily Chiv shared heartbreaking and painful words of her family’s life before coming to America. A small gathering of students sat patiently, listening to three other womens’ painful past lives living under a diaspora.

The Poetry Center, Asian American studies department and the Diasportic Vietnamese Arts Network sponsored  “Arts and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora” Wednesday, March 12.

The audience came to hear the personal stories from four of the women that contributed to the book “Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora.” The four women were Chiv, Chau Nguyen, Aimee Phan and Souvankham Thammavongsa.

“Growing up as a second generation Chinese and Cambodian, we were taught we are here to survive, always watch your back and be careful of who you can trust,” said Chiv.

Four years ago Professor Isabella Pelaud, who invited the speakers, wanted to produce a book of various Asian women’s experiences through writings. But unfortunately, there were not many female Asian writers to seek out according to Pelaud.

“Being of Asian descent myself — half French and Vietnamese — I saw there wasn’t a lot of representation of Asian women being portrayed in media or writings. (This) touched my life personally because (I) experienced racism in France,” said Professor Pelaud.

Chiv read “My Mother’s Hand Bled,” her poem about her parents’ painful past during the Cambodian Genicide and escaping a war torn country overpowered by the push of the government shift. “When you share your experience as a human being we share our feelings behind the poems,” said Chiv.  

“For a while I was struggling whether or not I should continue that path,” Chiv said. She said she continues to write because there isn’t a lot of representation of Asian-Americans and their stories need to be told.

Some students, such as Dayshanae Darnell, felt a connection and realness to these female writers even if they they themselves were not of Asian decent.

Darnell, 20, chemistry major, related to the women speaking in the sense of identity and finding yourself. She felt relation in having to pick a major that her mom would be proud of, because it would lead to a stable career.

Souvankham Thammavongsa, who came from a refugee camp in Thailand in 1978, was later sponsored to live in Toronto, and wrote three poetry books. She spoke from “Perfect,” which mirrors what people’s views are on Asian born children.

“Focus on our idea of being perfect. Being perfect (often has) something to do with class or having a lot of money , a home and education. I wanted to change how we use that word, and change a time in my life,” said Thammavongsa.

Krishna Farol, 20, criminal justice major, was surprised of how related she felt simply because she is of Asian descent.  “(Asians are stereotyped to be) really book smart and successful, (but) I don’t aspire to be super wealthy or the ‘model minority.’ Knowing how I am in relation with my culture and heritage is better than money,” said Farol.