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Human Parts
A publication about humanity from Medium: yours, mine, and ours.

Immigration

In Human Parts. More on Medium.

Humans 101

Your curiosity does not take precedence over another person’s comfort

Painting of many colors.
Painting of many colors.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me why people of color often get defensive when White people ask where they are from. She had a new friend whose heritage she was unsure of. She genuinely wanted to learn more about him and asked where he was from. Her question led to a disagreement, hurt feelings, and offense on both sides.

For people who don’t fit the stereotypical social expectations of an American identity—whether because of their skin color, accent, or any number of factors—this question can come up a lot.

And it’s almost always a White person who asks.

If…


This Is Us

The dog that saved me, the dog I couldn’t save

Vintage photograph of a German shepherd dog.
Vintage photograph of a German shepherd dog.

When I was five, a kid from my neighborhood was bitten by a street dog, infected with rabies, and spent a month paralyzed in bed before he drowned from his saliva. His doting parents, who continued to share his meals despite his illness, contracted rabies through infected body fluids. They died a few weeks later, leaving his grandparents penniless, ostracized, and heartbroken.

At least, that’s how the well-rehearsed story goes. Rabies has the highest mortality rate — 99.9% — of any known disease. In the decade before my birth, almost 60,000 people died from rabies in China, nearly all from…


This Is Us

My immigrant dad, the most embarrassing man on the planet, made no sense until I understood where he came from

When you grow up in a comically rural town like I did, you’re more acutely aware of how different you are for having an immigrant parent than you would be if you lived closer to civilization. My dad, apparently unafflicted by the chronic embarrassment I struggled with daily, did not possess this overt awareness of his foreignness. I remember not thinking anything was out of the ordinary, until it was out of the ordinary.

“I knew your dad was Polish, but I didn’t know your dad was Polish,” peers would say upon meeting my father. At 13, I was pathologically…


This Is Us

For starters, it’s Blacker and gayer than you could ever imagine

People dancing in summer clothing in the streets of a small town, one wearing an elaborate yellow dress.
People dancing in summer clothing in the streets of a small town, one wearing an elaborate yellow dress.

My South is singing to Dolly Parton through a mouthful of elotes and trap music at a Low Country boil.

My South is weedy grass growing up through the curb, a “We Buy Houses” sign stapled to a telephone pole, collard greens grown in empty lots, and a grandpa whose story is going to take all day.

My South is the mangonada truck parked at the top of the riverbank, children emptying the change out of their pockets, tamarind sticky fingers, shoes left tangled in the roots of the trees, and a rope swing plunging them into the muddy water.


My efforts to lend an ear to undocumented communities opened my eyes to how easy I had it

For as long as I can remember, the authority figures in my life have impressed upon me the importance of pondering my own privilege: An elder lamenting how, before the internet, he was obliged to rely on nothing but a set of encyclopedias for a term paper; a teacher recounting the tale of a young boy who traversed miles of war-torn roads just to get to school; my mother huddling my sister and I around the computer to read an email about starving children in East Africa. …


There were no visas required when we fell in love online, but now we live in a bureaucratic nightmare

In an age of growing suspicion of one another, when policy is changing to build walls and ban travel, when nations vote to leave decades-old unions, falling in love with someone from another country seems like a foolhardy enterprise and, in all honesty, I can’t argue with that statement. But I never was all that bright.

Like a lot of modern couples, I met my wife online. We were both members of a community on the (now deceased) video app Vine (thanks again, Twitter), she a citizen of the United States and I, a citizen of a then-United Kingdom. A…


The dirty little secret of my New American family

Both sides of my family, the white one but especially the Southeast Asian one, are going to freak when they see that title. However, since my mom went to the great Gucci outlet in the sky a few years ago, there is no one here to throw a massage sandal at my head and verbally assault me for an hour in response. And my dad barely does email, let alone read blogs, so let’s continue.

The title of my story is the great unspoken truth for many of us North Americans “of color.” I have heard my mom say, “Send…


Mine didn’t quite translate when I came to the U.S.

My name is weird. How weird? It’s “Haukur Örn Hauksson.” Yeah. Literally translated, it means “Hawk Eagle Son of Hawk.” I love my parents dearly, but they can be a little bit eccentric sometimes, like when they explained their inspiration was for me to have a “Native American name.”

This is interesting, because I’m not Native American, I’m actually from Iceland, that cold, brutal, volcanic island in the North where Vikings wrestle polar bears, eat sour ram testicles, and have an unorthodox naming culture. See, Icelanders don’t actually have a last name in the traditional sense. Our last names are…


The American Dream was out of reach for my immigrant family

“What are you doing, habibti?” she asked, confusion growing into concern. I had been humming a quiet tune to myself and paused without looking up.

“I’m breaking the dolls’ heads,” I replied.

My mother tried to force a laugh, but her voice betrayed her. “Why?”

Still, I didn’t look up from my dolls, answering her even more decisively than I had before. “Because. I’m going to put them in the oven like they’re doing to the mommies and the babies in the village,” I said and continued to play.

I was three years old when my parents left me and…


I know what happens when we separate children from their families

I know what happens when children are separated from their families. They collapse into themselves and try to become as small as an atom, infinitely divided. They fold their sorrow over and over again — hoping that by taking up less space, they may create room for their families to rejoin them.

There is no understanding, no reconciling or consoling the feeling of abandonment. We grow up with a gaping open wound in the center of our chests and shrink into ourselves to hide our permanent dissonance. When children are taken from their families, they forget their parents names: ma…

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