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SMW Guest: Soukprida Phetmisy

   Soukprida Phetmisy (she/they) is a queer Lao American activist, DEI capacity builder, teaching artist, and anti-racist/anti-bias educator and facilitator. She is the sister/daughter/granddaughter of Lao-Viet refugees and grew up in Houston, TX, where she was partially raised by her maternal grandparents. Her passion for community, storytelling, and disrupting the status quo was catalyzed by a decade of organizing and advocacy-centered work within the arts and education sectors.  

 

   She is the current head of Teach For America’s (TFA) National Asian American and Pacific Islander Alliances, responsible for cultivating and building relationships with grassroots and grasstops organizations, influencers, and media committed to strengthening and amplifying the talents, narratives, and voices of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander educators, students, and communities. 

 

   Alongside her work at TFA, Soukprida serves as a lead organizer and trainer with Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism, specializing in cultural competence, anti-racist/anti-bias education, and caucus. She holds a B.F.A. in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design and was a 2008 NPR Next Generation Radio fellow, publishing Accents & Identities. Her voice has been featured in NPR, Reset, Artemis, and more.

"To me, you were always Ông" by Soukprida Phetmisy

   "The poem is about my grandfather and the last time I was with him, in a physical sense. I was 8 years old at the time the photo was taken. I was wearing a pink sweatsuit (matching sweater and pant set). It was one of the last times we were in Provo, Utah. Following this photo, we ended up moving away from there to Michigan. My grandfather is still buried there, but no family physically resides there which is a nod to the line of “bringing him home”. I tend to believe he is with me wherever I am, so this poem is written as a reminder of that for me and for him."

The last picture we took together is the one at your gravestone.

Your name etched in the marble—
the same kind I’ve seen on my friends’ kitchen islands—
The delicate cursive making the shape of each letter flow
like small tides kissing the edges of a thousand shorelines.
A shoreline that brought you from Vietnam
to Laos,
to the United States,
where, the urgent beats of three separate hearts—
your wife, your youngest daughter, and your eldest (my mom)— 

laid you to rest
six feet under
the soft, brown soil now covered in snow
in a small cemetery in Provo, Utah.

Did you want to rest here?

We brought you poinsettias,
though I can’t remember if you really liked them or not,

but mama insisted we bring them with.
The three of them each said a few words,
a soft melodic prayer of:
we hope you are no longer in pain
we miss you so deeply there are no words
we wanted to let you know I got an “A”, and
we will be back soon to bring you “home”.

Did you know you were home to me?

We conjured your face as well as we could,
lighting the incense and sticking the ends into the snow.
The smell of it reminded me of the nights
in our small attic apartment
when you let me crawl into your bed
and the sheets would envelope me in the smell of stale smoke and cypress.

A few tears pooled at the edges of my eyes
as the snow crunched beneath my feet
the four of us kneeling around you—me in the center.

The sun caught my eye and I squinted into the camera,

left eye closed, and slight upward pull at the corner of my lips

but no smile.

Are you mad I didn’t smile?

I ran my fingers across each letter on your epitaph
feeling the sharp edges where the sander didn’t quite smooth,

the first gravestone I’d ever touched.
The edges of the “P” on your first name nicked my index finger,

and I put it in my mouth—
the taste of blood, and salt, and snow—
realizing this was the first time
I’d read your real name.

To me, you were always Ông.