Writers for Migrant Justice Providence



Mary-Kim Arnold
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
AS220 Black Box Theatre
95 Empire Street, Providence

Thanks to Kate, Chris, and Stine for putting this together. It feels really good to be here with all of you tonight as part of Writers for Migrant Justice.

Kate suggested that by way of introduction, we talk a little bit about what being part of this means to us, and why we are doing it.

Many of you here know my story, but for those of you who might not, I am a Korean adoptee. I was adopted into a family of immigrants – my mother from Portugal, my father from Italy – when I was just older than 2.

Despite the happy ending narrative, the narrative of “aren’t you lucky,” that for so long was the only story I was allowed as an adoptee growing up in the 70s and 80s, that initial rupture from the family of my birth, under circumstances that I will never know, has really defined the parameters of my imagination – for the entirety of my life. I’ll be 48 next month, and despite all the love I’ve experienced, all the care, all the therapy, despite my family, and all the help I’ve gotten, I am forever changed by that rupture. There are many ways in which the primary work of my life has been mourning that 2-year-old child who died on March 26, 1974 at the JFK international airport terminal. My family, everyone who I have ever loved and who has ever loved me, also, has had to carry my grief.

Families are separated for many reasons, children are raised by people other than their parents for many reasons, but I think what I am talking about more specifically is the lifelong rage that comes with knowing that the circumstances of my life, my particular separation, were likely defined by military intervention, political expedience, and racism.

So when I think about migrant families being separated now, it’s rage that rises up in me, and the nearly inarticulable grief of knowing that these ruthless, cruel, despicable, racist decisions, and those who carry them out, are even as we speak, defining the lives of these families for this generation and for generations to come. These deaths – the literal and the spiritual deaths – we will all live with the responsibility for and the effects of these actions on us for the rest of our lives and for the lives of future generations. I truly believe this.

So, I just have one poem to read, and it’s called American Name.


Mary-Kim Arnold

             AMERICAN NAME

my father’s name is / not his name / my father’s father wanted an a / merican name / in wanting an a / merican name he was not a / lone when is a / name an a / merican name / my father’s father came by / boat and was given an a / merican name i / came by plane with a name that was not an a / merican name i was / given a new name that was not my / name was it an a / merican name the name / that i have is a / name i have / grown a / ccustomed to is my / name an a / merican name when i / make a sound do i / make it in an a / merican way / ? / the sounds i make / when i say my name / sound like the sounds i make when i say a / merica / you can try it too / meh / ree / kim / can sound like a / meh / ree / ka / if you want it to / i made the sounds / and someone who / wanted me to / have an a / merican name / heard me / or misheard me / and she said a / merica / ! / what a beautiful / name


*”American Name” first appeared in Denver Quarterly: Vol 53, #4, 2019.


Organizers: Kate Schapira, Christopher Lee, Stine An in partnership with Publicly Complex Reading Series

Venue: AS220 Black Box

Readers: Sonia ~Ascawawa, Mary-Kim Arnold, Tina Cane, Vatic Kuumba, Sebastián Castro Niculescu, Ada Smailbegovic, Chrysanthemum Tran, Noraa Kaplan, Nora Khan