Hieu Pham was born in Mỹ Tho, Vietnam, but her family sought refuge in the United States when she was three to escape the political persecution and poverty of the area. After spending two years in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines, they were able to settle in Des Moines, Iowa. She enjoys writing about her family and what it’s like to be a mother, but she also centers much of her work around the Vietnamese diaspora and Asian-American culture. She lives with her husband and two children in Des Moines, where she works as an advocate for Asian victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault at Monsoon Asian and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity.
“At 7 a.m. I could already smell the pungent aroma of salted fish. I heard the sizzle and pop of oil in a frying pan. I knew my mother would soon walk upstairs to place a tray of food on my bed, where I had lain for a week since the emergency C-section. “You better not get up, or you’ll regret it when you’re old,” she said, which is what she said yesterday and the day before, scolding me before I’d even disobeyed her.
For a Vietnamese mother, scolding and nagging are part of the mother–child relationship upkeep, a reminder that your mother cares for you and wants you to be the best you can be. The background music to my childhood was a refrain of threats, colloquial life-coaching, and refugee-parent affirmations: “Never pay full price” . . . “Don’t go outside in the cold with wet hair” . . . “Don’t be too picky about choosing a husband or you’ll end up settling for a lesser one.” For me and many other children of Asian immigrants and refugees, adolescence and young adulthood were marked by a severe and strangely temporary physical impairment: deafness.”