Friday, May 9, 2008


I'm reading this memoir right now that so far sounds pretty bitter to me. I wonder if the author meant it to come across that way. The memoirist came to the US when she was about two years old from Vietnam, having fled with her family in April of 1975. Like other memoirs written by immigrants that I've read, there is a lot of discussion of the food the neighbors or schoolmates ate in comparison to the food the writer ate at home with her family: Baloney on white bread instead of falafel in her lunch; banana bread and milk after school instead of sliced steak and pho.

There are, of course, descriptions of the neighbors and the friends in and out of the writer's community. Most of the memoirs I've read are by women who talk about envying their schoolmates' perfect, (usually) blond hair and nice clothes. Often these girls are mentioned by a changed name, sometimes by first name only, and sometimes are composites of people the writers knew in elementary school.

Reading this memoir in particular made me wonder if people recognize themselves in someone else's memoir as the girl next door or the boy who picked on the author every day in third grade. Especially for the neighborhood kids, because everyone who's in a neighborhood for a long time knows where that is. I try to imagine reading along in a book and thinking, "Hey, that sounds like me" if I were to run across a description that sounded like me in elementary or high school. If I had appeared in this book, I would have been the girl with a long brown braid and ham and mayonnaise on white bread in her Holly Hobbie lunch box.

But would I have recognized myself as someone to be envied? Not after starting fourth grade, but how we see ourselves is often so different from how others see us. . .

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