Kelly Huynh

Lessons from Grandma

Two of my Asian sisters were beaten, dragged by their hair and kicked in the face in Melbourne CBD
By a white woman because she made the erroneous correlation between a virus and its country of origin
When I saw that on the news I was mad as a busted up fire hydrant spewing 100 degrees celsius of disbelief tell me how can you stamp a boot on someone’s neck when they are simply enjoying their solitude?
I took up self defense classes after that incident, look I don’t want to harm another person but I now I need to confront the mentality of another person wishing to break me and people who look like me
Well I have been blessed to hail from Sydney’s South West I’ve hitched a ride so many times on the junkie express
Used syringes were my playground so who do you think you are messin with for?
And now, I wish that I was the one who crossed the street with that woman, I’ll gladly show her what a real Australian backhand looks like
When did immigrant become such a dirty thing to be?
When did my golden skin become synonymous with spreading disease?
Coronaracism makes me feel like I’m having an anxiety attack and a bad trip at the same time
Mum, dad, don’t worry I haven’t a clue what the experience of taking acid and getting high is like but I assume it’s not unlike the time you both jumped into the ocean after 1975

If doctors examined my grandma’s DNA under a microscope they would find poetry in her blood
It is made up of one part oppression two parts resilience, a wake of adversity and a sprinkle of sass
Persecution picked a fight with my grandma across the two countries she landed upon and let’s just say she kicked its ass and won, she KO-ed that bitch twice and won
I asked her recently ‘what do you do when your race is a liability?’
She cut herself open for me to see that beneath her skin is muscle and circuitry
She showed me how to take trauma and struggle into my very core and condense it into an armour so tough that the sharpest verbal knives cannot penetrate
Because you wanna know what to do when your race is a liability?
She showed me how to cook away unproductive emotions like self-pity and regret then serve it on a platter for powering yourself on
When your race is a liability she taught me that ignorance has its branches everywhere you look that bear fruit you had better harvest when ripe because it’s just wasted hanging there to rot so you may as well make some jam
If all the world’s a stage she taught me to take up the entire front row of the theatre
Because when you make yourself small you allow the other person space to grow bigger
She explained to me that any person with hate in their heart is a learner driver steering a ten tonne truck across their highway lives for the very first time but is just scared to open their eyes it just takes someone willing and brave enough to be their guide
And you will get into a multi-vehicle car crash the difference between those who survive and move on and those who die is that the ones who make it, turn their grief into a scrap metal yard of ‘tomorrow will be better’

I know this pandemic is wreaking havoc across the globe I know that nothing will be the same
And there is nothing I can make artistic about over two million dead and counting
I know that attributing blame to someone’s face is cathartic and catharsis is therapeutic but it’s not therapy
It’s just like when you excise each metastasized lump of tumour but neglect to stitch the wound shut so you’re still suffering it doesn’t work!
But despite all these assaults on my kind even if I did have a choice I would choose to be born with the very same skin
Because inside each and every one of us anyway is a burning sun that loves the taste of being alive just that some of us forget to let it shine
Remember there is poetry singing in all of our veins and that it’s our job to turn the volume up if it’s too quiet

About the Work

I wrote this slam poem in response to the racism Asian-Australians have experienced because of COVID-19. I was initially inspired by an attack on two Asian girls in Melbourne back in March 2020 which shocked and upset me when it was shown on the news. I’ve infused it with some personal family history which is why it’s called Lessons from Grandma, my gran is this tough as nails Vietnamese-Chinese woman who lived through two wars so I wanted to pay homage to her. Slam poems are one of the best creative mediums for expressing highly-charged emotions with colourful imagery, in my case that was a combination of fear, anger and disappointment at the unfortunate physical violence and stigmatism that some of our people have been subjected to. This poem is my therapeutic response to what people of Asian descent have been through during these very trying times as of late and to understand why someone feels compelled to inflict hurt against another human being. I wanted to express in this poem a sense of solidarity amongst those who watch and hear it, ultimately, it’s a reminder that we are all humans who deserve to be treated with kindness.

About the Creative

Kelly is a Sydney-based project manager by day who acts (when she can land a gig) and has previously performed with ATYP. This is her first slam poem which came about by recent events against Asian people that both incensed and inspired her. She is very grateful to have her work commissioned by Diversity Arts Australia for the I Am Not a Virus project and hopes this piece lends a constructive voice to the current rhetoric around East Asian people and the pandemic. In her spare time you can usually find her at the next live blues music event.