The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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This memory is about the first few weeks that my dad was in school in America. Up until that point, he spoke only Vietnamese and had to quickly learn English. He could speak a little bit and that he could speak was hard to understand at times because of his accent. His inability to communicate easy made it hard for him to make friends and made it easy for others to pick on him

Ring! Ring! The Liberty Bell tolls, liberating the third graders from the oppression of multiplication and granting them the unalienable right to free time.

    Getting out from his seat, Long couldn’t help but feel the power of such a liberty. He wasn’t going to let his efforts of fighting off math problems his teacher fired at him go to waste. He wanted to make the most out of his free time and finally make a friend.

    He scans the room and sees a collection of kids playing with blocks. He struts towards them, trying his best to look cool. He holds his chin up high and puffs out his chest, arms swinging in an alternate fashion by his side, hoping to join them.

    “Hi, can I play with you?” he stutters, pulling simple words he knows from his head to piece together broken English to form a mutually intelligible sentence through his thick accent.

    “Uh...No!” a girl responds with a sassy attitude.

    “Get out of here” a boy yells, tossing a block at Long.

    “But, why…”

    “No! Go away!” the group of kids shout in unison, not allowing him to finish talking and showing their desire to be left alone.

Slowly putting distance between himself and the angry jeers, he puts his hands in the air, wanting to preserve the peace, if there was any. He stumbles on spare blocks spread out on the floor. They are the pieces that the other kids refuse to play with because they are broken or misshapen in someway. He picks them up and heads to the opposite corner of the room to play with them.        

Long sits quietly, playing with the miscellany of blocks, trying to not be a disturbance to the other kids. He tries to make something out of the scraps he’s been given to show off to the other kids, but nothing will fit together in such a way. Long thinks that it’s not because the pieces don’t belong, it’s because all he can focus on is the echo of the kids shouting at him ringing in his head. He didn’t understand how people who are so similar can feel very differently about each other.

    Joe approaches Long, standing over him with his arms crossed, trying to look imposing and intimidating all while awaiting a response. Long shrugs it off and keeps looking for a combination of blocks that will make something. Joe, unsatisfied that he isn’t causing more of a commotion, decides to make one himself by kicking the blocks away from Long, smiling and letting out a cackle in the process.

    “Only kids that can speak English can play with these” he declares.

    “I can speak English” Long says, getting up from the ground and facing his bully.

    “I can speak English” Joe mocks, repeating it out loud in an over dramatized accent and incomprehensible fashion, garnishing laughter from the crowd of kids circling them.

    “At least I can add” Long responds

    “What did you say” Joe says, shoving Long backwards.

    “I said you can’t read” Long responds, shoving him right back.

    A brawl happens between the two kids. They are grappling each other, trying to bring the other down. Out of nowhere, a third kid comes in, throwing Joe to the ground. The teacher breaks it up.

    “Enough” she says. She badgers them about how problems should not be settled with violence and sends both Long and the mystery kid to the Principal’s Office for starting the fight.

    Outside the Principal’s Office, Long sits in silence, fidgeting in his chair, before asking the million dollar question.

    “Why did you help me?” Long asks.

    “Because I know what it feels like to be made fun of for an accent” he says in broken English.

    Long smiles, realizing that there is just someone out there like him and someone that he can be friends with.

Adjusting to a New Life

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Fall 1980s
Hatfield, PA

This memory is about the first few weeks that my dad was in school in America. Up until that point, he spoke only Vietnamese and had to quickly learn English. He could speak a little bit and that he could speak was hard to understand at times because of his accent. His inability to communicate easy made it hard for him to make friends and made it easy for others to pick on him

Decade: 1980s
Rating:
Recorded by Tyler Le on June 3, 2019
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