A San Francisco Bay Area native, Praveena loves slam poetry and cold cliffy beaches. Her belief in the power of storytelling feeds her daily practice. She is a maker of higgledy-piggledy to-do lists, vegan cuisine, and the occasional scrapbook.
While perusing through a funky art market in Khon Kaen, her piercing stare caught my eye and she hasn't left my side since. She's poignant and pungent, graceful and unassuming.
In the last four months, she's traveled with me from Thailand to Vietnam, India, San Francisco, New York, and Boston. Tonight we head to New Orleans.
I wonder why an accessory or article of cloth can feel so intimate - perhaps it’s because objects can scoff at the idea of a life span. Tote bags survive longer than relationships and outlive its buyer. Vintage items hold memories and moments cherished by strangers- a concept that an entire market of shoppers succumb to.
I scurry through Brooklyn to catch the L train and begin my morning commute. I think about the millions of others who have taken the same path. I feel small. Clutching my bag, I share in the comfort of my lady’s permanence.
The soft-spoken man brushes the ground, and underneath disheveled brown forsaken leaves, lies the faint outline of a rectangle. He bends down solemnly and steadily lifts what now appears to be the entrance to a tunnel.
Other foreigners around me join me in this strange scene of tourism- families and couples are each accompanied by their own local guide. Everyone, as if in a synchronized act, fawns over this magic trick and whips out their camera. The guides demonstrate how to enter the tunnel and tells us to follow.
Besides the claustrophobia accompanied by crawling through the tunnels, it was an awe-inspiring experience for my dad and me.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. relied heavily on aerial bombing, while local troops went underground in order to survive and continue their "guerrilla" tactics against the much better-supplied enemy. The tunnels of Củ Chi are small, but nonetheless a historical part of an immense network underlying much of the country.
I flash back to the highlighted term in a high school world history class: guerrilla warfare. We empathized with American soldiers who wrote letters home about great loss and wartime struggles. But we missed the striking reality of what it means to have war on your own soil.
Even for a progressive California public high school, history was taught to us with bias. Terms were firmly bolded and highlight accompanied by matching definitions to be found in Appendix A. Exams tested our knowledge of these terms, training us to view them as facts of life.
The Trail of Tears was only referred to as an act of genocide if the teacher felt especially obliged to- see Manifest Destiny. Our Eurocentric curriculum downplayed the role that conquest played in the spread of Christianity- see Father Junipero Serra. Most of the Indian history I learned dwelled on customs rarely observed today, like sati- widows sacrificing themselves in the flames of their deceased husbands' funeral pyres.
Like all stories, history reflects its teller. And it permeates our books, brains, and bodies.
Small Saigon Moments