Hey APC! I’m Trang Nguyen and I am a sophomore at Columbia University’s Engineering School. I a proud STEMinist studying computer science and hope to one day work with AI to close the education gap for kids who came from poor communities like the one I grew up in. Despite being a STEM kid, I have a love affair with the humanities and find myself drawn to creating and expressing my complex identities through writing and photography. Below are two writing pieces that explore my identity, the first about my experience growing up as an immigrant growing up in the United States, and the second about healing after being sexually assaulted.
The Relinquishment of the Yellow Myxo Cell
By: Nguyễn Túy Đoan Trang
Any moment now, the fate of thousands of Myxococcus xanthus cells will be determined by my little hands in blue surgical gloves as I begin to mercilessly starve them in order to observe their behavior. Myxo as we like to say in the lab, is a gram-negative bacteria that exhibits an exquisite characteristic of aggregating into fruiting bodies when they are starved, allowing sporulation to happen. The process of sporulation is rather cynical as only a few cells in thousands of cells survive and those who do not, in a sacrificial way, burst to give whatever remaining nutrients they have to the few cells that will survive. It is an evolutionary advantage of ensuring that the species will survive even if it means the death of most of the cells. As I trudged down the dimly lit hallways after I finished my lab work, I pondered about this
seemingly sadistic predicament that I’d placed the cells in. Reaching the end of the corridor, I walked out into the snowy evening of Syracuse and saw my mom waiting in the car, my melodramatic approach regarding the fate of the cells became eerily reminiscent of the fate of my parents and the fate of my own.
“Four times eight is—” “Thirty-two!” This was our nightly routine. I would lay by my mother under the mesh mosquito net as she recited the multiplication table and I would eagerly reply until I drifted off to the humid night of Vietnam. At a young age, I had a fiery ardor for enlightenment as my parents carefully cultivated my attitude towards learning through their irrepressible love. The quest for my knowledge was not without the expense of my parents as they scrambled in the Vietnamese society to give their daughter all possible opportunities. However, as my dad has told me, he knew that it was not enough and eventually, my thirst would not be quenched. That was when my parents took the leap.
The move from Vietnam to the United States in 2007 marked the death of my parents’ livelihood as the sunny weather was replaced by harsh winters, familiarity by isolation. Though I was only six, I understood my parents’ sacrifices and crafted a subconscious mindset of achieving greatness. This mindset aided me in the annihilation of all things that blocked my end goal of repaying my parents’ love. However, it soon became more than just the obliteration of menial things like language barriers, but things like my true identity. I rejected parts of me that I’d garnered from the American society where I’d spent half of my life. Despite the gradual manifestation of my misery, I hid behind my alter ego: a diligent first generation immigrant fulfilling her family’s American dream. My unhappiness was a justified sacrifice that was humble compared to my parents’ sacrifices. With my unhappiness growing, my resentment towards my parents grew and I began to question my parents’ sacrifice, the very ideal I’d lived by my whole life.
Relinquishments are multifaceted yet more often than not they are reduced down to a single facet of glorification. My parents did not voluntarily choose to sacrifice themselves but were placed in a predicament where they had to relinquish in order for their children to succeed. Though it took me longer than it should have, I now know that the ultimate sacrifice I must make to repay my parents’ love is to not make sacrifices at all. I must fulfill my desire for knowledge instead of depriving myself through the abstract construction of sacrifice. Unlike my parents, I have a choice and I must seize it. I have enriched my mind throughout these years and will continue to do so. With the clarity of my purpose, I will carry on the efforts of my parents, just like how the very few myxo will carry on the efforts of those that died for it.
Youths Yearning for Years
By: Trang Nguyen
the petrichor of her tears
reeks like youths yearning for years
imbued with speech of virtue,
her sentient muse awaits an uproar
four walls bound to the word whore
PLEASE! she implores.
the recurring chore of men
flows like a pen on a list,
again and again.
youths yearn for years,
until a time when youth was some year.
she will peer at the history
that is not his
realizing that she did not lack acumen.
in fact, it was the men who lacked the speech of virtue spoken by a figure no longer her muse.