Imitation as Survival

Provided with emotions and past memories, replicants turn against their master precisely because they wish to know their expiration dates.

―David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier, 1999



How many days to erase us? I mean, this is the state of amnesia or the state of loss. I mean, I live in the United States, but I am not white. I mean, my eyes are white.

How many lies pull at my flesh? How many cuts until I find again one more with my face, drowned by morning? Her roots exposed, or worse, overwatered.

They will find out. My mother repeats―They will find out.

What I am about to reveal is not so important, though its contents―its innards and glass walls, its citadels, its blood maroon mangosteen, its fingernails―are all matters of public record.

A nation will fall, and they will find me chanting―I thought so, I thought so.

My mother calls the police before noon. I’ve split myself open like the serpent to a flame, my thighs like fangs, my wrists like the twitch of some beast in pain, but I scream because it feels so good.

They find me in the bathroom, and I think I am menstruating.

They ask for my name, and I think I say―Yes.

They cite my mother as next of kin, though she cries―I think it’s just the depression.

It is as if they find me dying in the heat of my possession. Here, a little boy sprinting down the road. Here, his father tripping not far behind. They are both naked. They have been stripped naked.

Here, napalm. Here, a mass grave. They forgot to cover the bodies.

At the hospital, I insist the ghosts are real―I see them. I see them.

They ask for my name, but before I can think, my mother answers for me.

Sophia, hang on.

I can’t, mama. I have to go. Remember when you fled that night, and your own mother pushed you away? The fisherman’s boat was small but heavy with orphans abandoned at sea. Remember how you starved but did not fall asleep? Remember where you left behind your nationality?

Sophia, hang on.

I can’t mama. It’s my turn now to go.



Would you welcome me as a fake in your white-face midst, a number after my name―Sophia One, Two, Three―or would I be just the faux-leather weight, the counterfeit change with no “real name,” the check next to my mouth―one, two, broken lips?

Really, I need a stillness. To love without being loved. To owe you nothing but my absence. The mystic born again and again, whatever remains of conquest, whatever remains of light and brick and mortar; I mean, I speak of the skulls behind it. Do you know my real name now?

I’m unmarked, an open field of flesh and rose and jade, at least, that is how my elders would describe me. They’re dead, too, you know?

Introducing the colonized aesthetic, introducing a journey and learning experience, divide and till my worth, my land of dusk, your guessing game―I see, you’re Vietnamese!―I die again, identified, identified. Maybe you had the feeling I was something else by my name. Maybe I just want to disappear on my own terms.



I have nothing else to claim.


“Imitation as Survival” was published in condensed form in I AM NOT A WAR (Essay Press, 2016). You can find even more of Sophia’s work here, here, or here.

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