30th Anniversary Gala Special Guest: Alexandra Huynh & Her Poem for the Asian Pacific Fund

“I wanted this poem to center joy—at the heart of the Asian Pacific Fund’s work, I see the desire to enable Asian American communities to thrive by providing safety net services and driving critical systems change. Karaoke, to me, is one expression of shared joy that I see reverberate across Asian households. I write this story from the lens of my own family’s experiences, but I hope it brings to mind a sense of celebration that this Gala evokes.”

Karaoke (Vietnamese Version)
by: Alexandra Huynh

And when the meal ends, the singing begins:

Aunties lay saran wrap over aluminum trays
of papaya salad and fried chicken
as the uncles approach the TV set
like a car they’re gathered here to fix.

They tune the speakers with an engineer’s
precision and call out, Who’s first?
like hawkers in Hoi An, microphones
dangled into the crowd.

And, as always, your eldest cousin concedes.
He croons a folk song about homegoing
as the instrumental’s lone zither whines with grief,
the guitar plucking in a major key before
descending back to minority.

It sounds almost like a Bond song, you think.
In the movies where someone wins or dies.
Always a villain backing him toward a corner
until the last end, when,
our hero comes swinging from the smoke,
dressed to the nines.The parents
lean on the backs of couches in approval;
they know this one.

When it’s your turn, you enlist the help
of your brother. Together, you pull up
a video titled, Numa Numa (Vietnamese version video)
and attempt to pronounce the lyrics
marching neon green across the screen.

Your voices soaked with the vibrato
of suppressed laughter. Look at
the flashing car and the singer’s
hair gelled into spikes; he moves
electrified by the swagger
of his song–a Vietnamese adaptation
of a Moldovan pop internet hit.

You absorb his affect, feel magnetic.
And no matter how misshapen
the words sound, everyone joins in:
your siblings and cousins
shouting the chorus. The microphones
now defunct, as they should be.
And you finally understand why
your parents put you in singing lessons,
and why they insisted on
installing music-syncing LED’s in the living room
in the middle of September,
and why the couches remain arranged
in an open square with Heineken for the uncles
and slices of soft bread for the kids.

You get it, you get it.