I HuMAN: BECOMING VISIBLE
by Khánh Hạ
My name is Khánh Hạ - yes, two words, just the first name. The 'Hạ' part alone could mean 'summer' – and I say 'could' because it can mean something else, like how the word 'take' has 42 different meanings according to the seventh edition of the Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary, and I know this for a fact because I spent most of my childhood pouring over the tome, trying to wrangle English into something that could feel familiar on my own tongue. When I was five, my mother sent me to English school the moment she found out I could read, because she thought it's best for me to become fluent in the language of the West, of civilisation, of progress. She still speaks about it proudly now: how she had been before the times, how I now speak 'proper' English and is fitting in and flourishing even away from home.
What she doesn't know is that for the first four years of that fitting in, I abandoned my name for 'Summer'. The rationale was that it would bother people too much to figure out the nuances of the rising and falling tones, the throaty 'kh'. Summer sounds effortless and catchy, like the season; Khánh Hạ sounds foreign and awkward, sounds like 'sorry, come again?', sounds like a neon sign pointing out the fact that I don't belong here, in England with a vaguely American accent, with a name that is neither here nor there.
Being here or there means a lot of things: It means I spend a silly amount of money to convince immigration systems that I'm only popping by for a visit. It means at this point I probably qualify for a Masters of Arts in Packing. It also means that all my journal entries aren't written in tiếng Việt. It means there are parts of me I can't describe to my mother. It means at times I feel like I'm midway across a broken continuum, too here for there, and too there for here.
But for all the times that liminal space is heartbreaking and disorienting, it's also such a strange and joyful thing. It means that everywhere I go, I find people with the same eyes and smiles, with different life stories to sit with. Everywhere it goes like this: my name is Khánh Hạ, as in a celebration, because surely there must be something to celebrate out of all this: rooms full of people, good food, and better stories. Every time it feels like a little homecoming – the knot between my shoulders loosens, I laugh louder, feel softer, despite a world that thinks I should be quiet and stony. To that I say there is strength in my vulnerability and anger, there is courage in how I choose to voice them regardless. There is a point to all of this, I'm sure – connections to be made, stories to be heard, if anything, a space to come together. If not us, who else? If not now, when else?