Poet Spotlight: Johnny Nguyen on the Importance of Giving our Stories a Voice
This month’s spotlight features a poet on a mission to explore the depth of emotion and experiences through the eyes of his family. Johnny Nguyen is a writer who seeks to encourage others to tell the stories of their hearts: the stories that played a part in making them who they are. For Nguyen, part of that process is giving a voice to his family’s experiences and the hardships they endured as refugees. His writing speaks to the painful realities of discrimination and the everyday struggles his family has often faced in silence. Nguyen believes in the importance of honest, vulnerable storytelling: through words, through art, and through our lives.
“One of my goals is to highlight the depth of human emotions, no matter how big or minuscule. From love to heartbreak, from tragic endings to breathtaking new beginnings, words have the power to magnify how we are truly feeling on the inside. Every experience matters, every moment counts, words can either tell a story or destroy. I choose to tell stories.
My second goal which I’m focusing on more as of late is to give a voice to families and individuals that have been silenced. My parents are refugees from Vietnam and me being a Vietnamese-American, possess an excess of stories untold. From the tragic beginnings of war to the journey to America to growing up facing racism and discrimination, immigrants and minorities hold libraries in their bones full of stories that can truly change the outlook of the world. In my efforts to capture that from my personal perspective as well as my family, my hope is that it will allow a window for others to bear witness and gain an understanding beyond what they know currently.”
Nguyen’s words come from such a genuine desire to promote compassion and understanding for our fellow human beings. Every one of us has a story, but so many of those stories have not been heard or told. They are the stories that unfolded quietly through the hard work and dedication of a family doing everything they could to support their children. They are the stories that show us the harsh realities of a world impacted so deeply by racism, discrimination, and inequity. They are the stories that remind us that we have so much to learn and so far to go in our journey to equality and acceptance.
Nguyen’s poetry is dedicated to telling those stories and making room for the emotions that shape them. His writing is honest and eye-opening as he gives readers a glimpse into a world that they may have never seen before, even though it’s the reality for so many.
“They say we came from money.
they say we look so comfortable now.
But they weren’t there when you came into
this country and spoke not a single letter
of English, no money in your pockets,
bearing a child, exhausted.
They weren’t there when you
walked three miles in the snow to
work three jobs for a nickel an hour.
They don’t know about the holes
in your children’s shoes or leaving them
at home alone at the age of 7
to take care of each other
while you slaved to put food on the table.
They weren’t there when we slept in the car,
when we got robbed, when your children
walked miles home from school
with no jacket in 20-degree weather.
Mother, father, they don’t know us
and what we had to endure in a country
that didn’t try to accept us.
And it’s better if they didn’t.
They’d probably try to say you weren’t THAT poor.”
Nguyen’s writing is profound and challenges readers to explore the perspectives of the people around them. Each of these stories opens up our hearts to the experiences of others.
Nguyen put it best when he said, “immigrants and minorities hold libraries in their bones full of stories that can truly change the outlook of the world.” These stories encourage us to listen, to learn, and to seek deeper understanding. Nguyen’s poetry pushes us past the boundaries of what we know so we can grow together. We still have much to learn, but every story told and every voice heard along the way helps us to be better and to love better.