Voices for Racial Justice

Sharing Our Immigration Stories

Together as a staff and with the support of our leadership, Voices for Racial Justice has decided to close our offices next Monday, May 1st, in solidarity with our brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors fighting for immigration justice.

Immigration is not an abstract issue in our office. Many of us are either immigrants, refugees or the children of them. Our stories are complicated and different, just like the stories of the immigrants and refugees in our community.

Every day this week we will be telling these stories, and sharing parts of ourselves and our work with you to help you understand that while we will be closed May 1st, we will still be working, as we always are, to fight for justice, reform and respect of the immigrants and refugees that make our communities great.

My first language was Thai, simply the result of absorbing what I heard at home as the first child of Thai immigrants in Omaha, Nebraska. The world I lived in then as a toddler was small and safe and full of language. But then school became necessary and the teacher let my parents know that I really did not speak English. So the world grew larger, but a little less secure. Although I have lost my first language, I have not forgotten it. Still, listening to my family talk, I understand. I have held on and kept at least an ear and maybe more of myself in both worlds. This being in both worlds is what so many immigrant families do, and as we call on our government to honor the dignity of all immigrants, I am reminded of the rich language and culture, along with grace and beauty that immigrants bring to our communities. This poem dwells on the realization of language and understanding that came to me when visiting my family in Chiang Mai.

– Vina Kay


Salty Sweet

We squeezed around the table –

aunties, uncles, cousins, all –

perched on edges of chairs,

stools, some sharing, together

in the dining room above Aunty’s

shop and the busy market.

Food purchased from the market –

sticky rice, grilled pork, steamed

greens, sweet mangoes –

filled our plates. The talk blurred

by, Thai and English and laughter.

Words ran through my fingers

as I ate, but then, all at once,

something caught. Meaning

clung on, a word, and then another,

and whole phrases, and even

the back and forth. Language

washed over me and I remembered.

I remembered that I knew this

world, that I knew both. One

held me so firmly that I

thought and dreamt its

language. But the other

refused to let go, pulling

me under the currents of

language and smell and tastes –

salty sweet salty sweet –

so that I could not easily come

out. I was amphibious, able to

live in both air and water,

and needing both.