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To the Daughters of War

I write this to fill you with love, so that one day children of war will no longer have to make sense of life through death.

Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, the Asian American Feminist Collective hosted a virtual writing workshop with Kundiman. Over the course of three months, we embarked on an literary journey with a group of Asian American writers dedicated to deepening our connections with feminist texts and histories—and how they may inform and refine our own craft. Each session, we pored over texts by feminist writers such as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Sara Ahmed, Mia Mingus, and Vivek Shraya, attempting to understand how our pasts, identities, and politics emerge in our writing practices and explorations. All the while, the cohort of 20 wrote and workshopped their own submissions into this tradition of Asian/American feminist writing, which were then presented to the public in a final virtual reading. (We recently published the final pieces into a zine titled To Us & Ours.) 

One of these pieces, written by cohort member Victoria M. Huynh, felt especially prescient as we’ve been grappling with the deadly impacts of U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan. We chose to share her story, “To The Daughters of War,” in our Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities column as well, because as feminists of color we know that writing about intergenerational trauma is difficult, especially when our histories are constantly being rewritten for us by our oppressors. But in the lineage of texts like Cha’s Dictee, Huynh translates what is lost (both historically and emotionally) in these revisionist retellings. I hope that reading this essay helps others along their own journeys of unlearning, relearning, reconciling, and reconnecting. 

—Tiffany Diane Tso, Asian American Feminist Collective

We do not come from America.

The Americans taught me that I come from a dead people. That children of war—especially daughters of war—are the perennial victims (of “authoritarian dictatorships”/of our own people’s liberation wars) who need to become rehabilitated as Americans to be worthy of life. The American liberals will teach you that you come from a pitiful people deserving survival at best. But, war child, your people’s foremothers also came from revolution. Your foremothers were not American. 

The daughter of war, who forgets her place in this war, waits for U.S. imperialism to strike at home and forgets the ways it is already here. You(r people) are still at war, child. When they tell you the history of how your people died, they try to teach away your rage, sever you from the story of how you were coerced/forced here. Make you believe America is your country too, that the American settler-colonial project is yours too, that their governance is capable of reform with your hands too. 

I come from my Mother. 

My mother did not want me to write her and her people like the victims the Americans would have them be, like they did not fight too. My maternal side left Cambodia at a time when the United States, in pursuit of repressing and eliminating the anti-imperialist Việt Cong, decimated the rich Mekong Delta… the Americans made sure “every goddamn thing that can fly goes into Cambodia and hits every target that is open.”¹ Nixon’s order to Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State In turn, the Khmer Rouge co-opted growing anti-imperialist sentiment among the Khmer people and wrongly redirected their anger towards building their genocidal regime. To further deny their role in catalyzing such atrocities, the United States deliberately blamed the genocide on Southeast Asian communism, despite the fact that Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge diverged from the actual communist-liberatory fronts. 

The American liberals will never teach you:

That the U.S. war in the Pacific once cut in half the heart of Korea and again used the same strategy on Việt Nam, Laos, and Kampuchea was and is rooted in U.S. containment of Global South proletariat uprisings. Wherever the peoples’ uprisings converged across Asia, Latin America, and Africa, they threatened European and British models for colonization and thus, capitalist expansion. The Americans, adept in a new imperialism, argued that their unilateral global domination and “benevolent” pillaging of the world was justified, guided by liberalism’s mantra of “freedom” (for the bourgeois white man) for the world. The capitalist endeavor to contain the influence of the Communist Party of China’s victory and “the Red Tide,” afterall, undergirded the Cold War. 

That the 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act depended on the United State’s earlier colonization and/or conversion of lands in Guam, Thailand, the Philippines into military bases and launchpads, where Rest and Recreation zones were created to facilitate the sex trade, ultimately closing down on their targets in China, Korea, and more… 

That anti-communism was and is both anti-proletariat and anti-Black, setting the grounds for the founding of the CIA, of the Special Forces, of the FBI & COINTELPRO to contain the internationalist formation of the Black, Indigenous revolutionary left, to disperse their revolutionary potential and leadership… 

That early deportations in the United States meant the dispersion of political prisoners and diasporic students protesting the genocide of their peoples at home… 

That the enemy was and continues to be U.S. imperialism, not simply as “another” system, but as the principal contradiction of struggle today. 

What is a War, when did it start, and when will it end? 

You talk about war so often, you have forgotten which war you speak of. War—and specifically World War I—according to Lenin, originated with world capitalism. Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois redeveloped Lenin’s definition of war so that it encompassed racialized war, arguing that earlier imperialist conquest and violence against the colonized laid the foundations for capitalism. Therefore capitalism-imperialism, under which wars continue to be fought in the name of maintaining and transplanting capitalism, is the largest “war” of all; it requires not only militarization but also economic sanctions, enclosed trade, coups d’états via CIA interference, and manufactured consent via propaganda. This war’s goal is to crush any and all alternative political economies to neocolonial dependence on this U.S. monstrosity. It is the same war that plagues China, Cuba, the Philippines, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine, and Haiti, that enforces coups over the socialist states of Venezuela and Bolivia, that usurped communist leaders of the people in Indonesia, Algeria, Timor-Leste, Burkina Faso… 

AFRICOM, the U.S. Pivot to the Pacific, the Pax Americana, the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on the “Axis of Evil”—there are one too many names for it. This war imperialism has not ended.  

So when you lose your foremother to war imperialism, you will learn the lesson: that the “conferral” of liberation, in U.S. terms, can only look like the (slow) death of your people, seeped red in your foremothers’ blood with what the United States calls their “democracy,” their “love.” You will learn, like the armed anti-imperialist women from your motherlands, that the triumph of your liberation must look like the end of the United States of America, returned to Turtle Island protectors. The U.S. empire—in action—U.S. capitalism-imperialism, is the principal contradiction of your foremothers’ struggle.²  

What is a Revolution, when did it start, and when will it end? 

My grandmother and my mother were not militants³, but I know they raised me to be one. “Don’t believe everything they tell you, kon.” When you dare to ask where the remnants of your foremothers’ insurgence have gone, you will be led to the conclusion that they have not. Perhaps the most sophisticated aspect of capitalist-imperialist war is that it convinces those who survive it they have no choice but to surrender. For the Southeast Asian daughter, it dislodges and conceals the capacity to revolt, to claim a legacy imbued with the most lethal kind of movement work: anti-imperialist organizing. 

“You don’t know what it is like to live in war,” where revolution—not rebellion—is anything but a choice. Where organized, en masse action is a duty. A revolution, in its basic form, does not come from the desire to obliterate meaninglessly like the Americans do us, but from the love for life so strong it looks like cadres of militant peoples defending their people from genocide with whatever they have. They say that wherever there is oppression there is resistance. But the means of your resistance to terminate the systems that live off of your oppression will determine your liberation. The principles that directed your foremothers’ practices in pursuit of communism were not the evil but their means of liberation. Remember that when they tried to wage genocide on us, we fought back with revolution. In Việt Nam, the Amerikan imperialists were defeated… and this was a resounding victory for socialism and anti-imperialism in the Global South.

Never forget that you are a child of that too. 

So here, my battlescars, read like this instead:

In the 1960s, the imagery of armed Việt, Lao, and Cambodian women resonated across the world and converged with the liberation forces of anti-colonial women in Korea, the women in the Cuban Armed Forces, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the armed women in Mozambique. Southeast Asian liberation fighters exemplified the possibilities of diverging from the United States and forced the world to reckon with militancy as a proletarian feminist practice.

If your foremother could teach you, she’d tell you the Việt, Lao, and Cambodian women were resolute in their power to defend their nation against the French, Japanese, and the Americans—playing more roles than any man could. Under French colonization, the Indochinese Communist Party’s women wrote to each other in newspapers and drafted poetry, took informal classes with anti-colonial fighters, studied from Chinese revolutionary fighters, wrote independence theories, sought for the abolition of private property and thus studied patriarchy not as an ahistorical, cultural phenomenon but as a system inseparable from the development of class society. Revolt was not new to them. When the United States intervened, peasant girls struck by poverty and cut off from the produce of their land participated in growing an anti-imperialist liberation front. Under the Việt Minh, young girls were encouraged to read, write, grow their own food, and work to cease feudal patriarchal relations. 

After all, the formation of the Việt Minh in the 1940s called for ‘people first, weapons later.’ Cadres like the Long-Haired Army were trained in the study of how to get the people free—Việt and Lao women would embed anti-imperialism in community-building necessities—education, intelligence, and gathering supplies. You should know that when they studied in underground bunkers, set up as night classes lit by just a single flickering candle, and practiced the words of Hồ Chí Minh, 毛泽东 (Mao Ze Dong), Lenin, Marx, and more, they also worked as traveling school teachers, workers, and guards to grow the revolutionary potential of the youth. Known for their ability to emotionally maneuver interrogation, they feigned innocence to their advantage. For example, women working to clean the military barracks once stole coffins full of ammunition without the United State’s awareness, tricked U.S. troops with bamboo shoots and fireworks disguised as sniper guns to steal truckloads of rice to feed the masses. In the renowned victory of Điện Biên Phủ, which military strategist Võ Nguyên Giáp recognizes was pivotal to the Việt victory over the French-U.S., it is said women played a pivotal role in compelling women fighting for the French to join the Việtnamese People’s Army on the ground. 

She’d tell you that women cadres in Việt Nam and Laos socialized childcare and schooling for youth and created avenues for self-sustenance; they trained in sowing rice fields, agricultural and communes maintenance, as well as developed strategy. When in the Tiger Cages, women sat and hummed songs only they knew; it was political theory, history, guerilla, poetry, and mutual study that sustained their collective spirit. Under imprisonment and torture, it is said that men were the first to give in, whilst the women were the last. Women were responsible for the sustenance of revolution as a communal, long-term project, ensuring that people were fed, taught, trained, and nourished in the belly, head, and heart. 

And after all of this, she’d ask you: What first made you think you had to filter your words like that, hang your head low like that? Made you think your sentences were either too heavy or too light, made you want to wash your body off of things that they told you made you weak? Made you blame you and your own for what you could not forsake, could not afford… So much so you tried to make yourself fit the hand of the imperialists… 

I come from my Mother.

I like to imagine my late grandmother’s kitchen—in its warmest hour, lit up by the sun at the point right before it sets, in which everything looks gently on fire and my grandmother’s skin is as golden as I last remember it. She peels away at chestnuts, sitting in the same clothes she wove herself for the factories after resettlement. She still smells like 4 AM-made donuts from the donut shop and Chinese herbs… When the grief in our lives feels quieter for once—not gone, just quiet. And the world feels warm. 

I like to imagine this is where my grandma sits in her time now away from earth… hopefully, forgiven me for everything I did not get to do for her, for everything I didn’t know… 

Where I know I am her granddaughter, I try to read her from the cracks in the palms of her hands, the long silences standing in between rumors she heard about Mao Ze Dong (versus the American capitalists), when she could not read or write. When I ask her if she knew of Issarak women in Cambodia or the guerilla women in Việt Nam, I tell her how badly I wanted to know we were more than refugee poems and American toys. And she just murmurs: 

You come from Love. 

Your foremothers love you. Your people love you, con. 

Don’t let them teach you that you come from a dead people; you come from love, you come from life.

I write this so we know the way militant women raised us in their history. 

I write this so you know that there has always been a way out—and it is against—the monstrosity of U.S. imperialism. 

I write this to fill you with love, so that one day children of war will no longer have to make sense of life through death.

Your love was deliberate, so is mine. 

¹ Nixon’s order to Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State

² In Marxist thought, contradictions are the pervading tension between two opposing forces (poor vs. rich, colonizer vs. colonized). Not all contradictions, however, bear the same weight, depending on the historical context. National liberation revolutionaries identify that U.S. imperialism, used interchangeably in this essay to refer to capitalism-imperialism, is today’s principal contradiction.

³ Militancy can be defined technically by the work of those who resist reform/assimilation to capitalist-imperialist power. While my loved ones are not militants in those technical terms, I honor that that is due to a complicated and traumatic context of warfare, genocide, and refugeeism outside of our control.

⁴ We need specificity to understand how certain structure(s) historically form the base(s) of which all systems interact. In Marxist thought, a class society is organized on the principle that power is dictated by ownership over the means of production. This analysis has developed with in mind settler relations, white supremacy, patriarchy, and more.