Baby Pho, 1978

I was raised radical. You can tell by just by looking at me. Right?

When I recount my childhood, the images I share, the stories I choose: organic garden in the back yard where I ate horseradish and sucked on sugar cane straight from the earth; reading the Qur’an beneath a tree with my mother and brother; celebrating Kwanzaa instead of Christmas; my brother writing reports on important Black people in history, which he turned in to our parents; largely eating and identifying as vegetarian; listening to Islamic prayers on the radio on Sundays; my parents splitting childcare equally (or so it seemed to me); and going places and attending events that did not seem to appeal to other Black families (NJ State rock & gem show, anyone?)

I was taught character over color, over gender, but never to ignore the importance of culture. Family reigns important, but friends are family, too.

I wasn’t permitted to straighten my hair, and I can’t recall that I ever asked.


Teen Pho, 16?

My personal political is that I’m not really all that political, not in the ways I’m used to seeing/hearing/experiencing. However, to people I meet, I’m aware that it can appear that I walk my politics: it’s my hair (“how long have you been natural?” “oh, since childhood”), my wide smile, my inability to appear or to act other than I am. I speak very little code. I’m nearly the same everywhere, to everyone. I have too many opinions about too many things. Picking one side makes my heart sink with dread, because I see the other. I don’t like to leave people out, not even myself. Where people see problems, I try to look again. And again. And again until I can pull apart what I’m seeing and find the kernel of opportunity, of creativity, of solutions -maybe just-for-now, maybe for the long term.

Like most people I’ve met, I continue to search for where I fit. With my refusal to follow the paths laid out for me, I’ve been: the only girl among boys at the 3rd grade lunch table ; the only non-GirlScout at camp, rocking that windsurfing board; the 13-year-old learning how to train bonsai trees in a class of students age 30+; the sole Black occupant at the youth hostel in Dublin, tagging along with a young White couple; the single, long-standing Black employee at a dotcom; the writer among visual artists at a Failure Support Group; novelist among dancers.

Phoebe in the sun

Adult Pho, playing with light

My personal political says: go, see, connect, regret, laugh, mourn, listen, struggle, learn. It does not offer answers, but sometimes it helps me find the questions.