For class today, we were asked to read Thannha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. I remember passing by the book in my school’s library when I was in elementary school, but I never really had the urge to read it. Poems were short and confusing, while books like Harry Potter were long and fantastical (meaning it didn’t really require me to think for too long). But reading Inside Out and Back Again now, even though it is a children’s story, was healing. Lai’s story was moving (to me) because of the childlike innocence the story has. I really felt like I was reading from the perspective of a child, especially when Ha talks about how, “no one knows,” that she buys less food so she can buy more treats, which makes her feel “smart” (31). When I was younger, I too thought I was smart and that I could get away with anything (i.e, playing my gameboy under my blanket when my mom said go to bed). However, part of growing up is learning that your parents knew what you were doing all along. Ha too learns that her mom knew all along that she was buying less pork to buy fried dough (231).
Ha’s confession signified growth and development in the way, she was growing older, admitting her secret wrongs. Unlike the other stories we have read, Inside Out and Back Again zones in on what a meant to to be a child during war. It showed what it felt like to not understand what was happening, the loss of something you never really had, and how it felt to see the things and people you love all from the perspective of a child. The story is so heartbreaking because we all understand what it was like to be at that age, ignorant, scared, (sometimes) selfish, and angry. It is so was easy to understand how Ha and her siblings felt, which made Lai’s story all the more accessible to both children, and adults.
The class is coming to an end this week and its a bit of a bittersweet moment for everyone. On the one hand, we will have more time for ourselves and relax. On the other hand, this class has been one of the most reflecting classes I have ever taken and… well not being in it anymore is going to be a little saddening. Asian American/Asian studies have been a way for me to explore my identity in a predominantly white space, for which I am always grateful.