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Chong Yang Thao


The Way She Tells Itchong yang thao

She was fifteen when she woke up to the hard knock on the door. The way that she told it, it was as if she was relating an adventure or one of her ghost stories, complete with drawn out sound effects and vivid descriptions of the blood that felt sticky and warm on her palms. The blood that gurgled and burbled, like a water fountain, out of her father’s back. 

In 1962, re-education troops came to her village in Laoprabang. The VC was not hostile. With songs about freedom and change, they redefined relationships and ownership of everything, including love. Children were leaders and their elders were assigned to re-education camps. Wives were to be shared with VC “brothers”. If a VC brother wanted to spend the night with a man’s wife, he hung his hat outside of the couple’s door. If a husband complained or protested, he was accused of not following the new order and taken away to be “assigned a new plot of land”. Many village men were given new plots of land. Livestock were shared. Their previous owners had to ask permission to slaughter a fat pig to feed their families. Village elders were taken away for re-education. All these were done with smiles and a gentle hand on the back. Boys were taught to shoot rifles taller than them.  Young girls were violated in the worst way, many taking their lives to preserve their families’ honor. Filial piety was turned upside down, and for the first time, parents were afraid of their own children. The children were the new order—they held the power in their hands.

Being the oldest daughter in the family, she took her mother’s place when her mother spent days away at the garden. Because only boys were sent to school in Vientiene, she cooked, cleaned, did the family laundry, and cared for her younger siblings. Her father, Chue Yia Vang, was a man of wealth and status by her village’s standards. He was the village chief who made himself through hard work, fair dealings, and building friendships. His home was a place of generosity and respect. Clan members and villagers came to Chue Yia to borrow money for a wife, ask for opium to feed addictions, take a vase of pig lard to last through the winter. The people’s reverence for him made him dangerous to the new order. 

On a thick, black night, there is a hard knock on the door. It is kicked down and a Hmong man’s voice, disguised with a heavily accented Laotian tongue, demands, “Is Chue Yia home?!” Several men in hats that shield their eyes force themselves in, waking my mother. She watches the men shine flash lights on her father, who is just waking up. Suddenly, there is a popping sound. She cries out, “My father!” My grandfather places his right hand over one hole in his chest and my mom hears another shot, another hole through my grandfather’s hand, traveling through his chest, out his back. My mom rushes to him now, crying, “My father!” 

My grandfather falls back and as my mom puts her arms around him to raise him upright, he utters, “I die. Go to your mother. Your father is no more.” 

In the thick darkness of the Laotian mountains my mom runs barefooted to my grandmother at the farm. For miles, my mom runs on blind memory of the way. Blisters break and reform on the soles of her feet. But it is the warm, thick blood that smells like the salt that runs down her face. And the way she tells it, she just ran. Sometimes now, she remembers again. Vividly. Violently. Quietly.