In honor of World Refugee Awareness Month, we wanted to share a guest post from Mượn Thị Văn, the author of the picture book Wishes, with illustrations by Victo Ngai.
Powerful, lyrical, and breathtaking, Wishes follows a family that is leaving Vietnam in the search for a new home. Told through the eyes of a young girl–and through different inanimate objects she encounters along the way–Wishes was inspired by Mượn’s own refugee experience as a child.
Below, learn more about Mượn’s personal story and her own wishes for both modern refugees, and the world.
When I hear about secret escapes and border crossings, about family detentions and separations, about fear and loss but also about hope and new beginnings, I can’t help but think of my family’s own story and wonder: How long and how often will this story be told? When I was born in 1980 in southern Việt Nam, my family had already been in hiding for several years. My father had served in the navy on the losing side of a long civil war that had ended a few years earlier. The new Vietnamese government was not kind to those who had previously opposed them. We were hiding so that my father would not be captured and imprisoned, where he might then die.
Soon after I arrived, my family quietly made our way back to our village. We stayed in a house near my grandfather’s house, and my mother and her family began secret preparations for an oceanic voyage to Hong Kong. Almost no one knew we were leaving until the moment we left. On the night of our departure, every one of the twenty-two passengers aboard our boat left behind a child, a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, or a sibling. Some we never saw again, including my grandfather. We left streets and neighborhoods that were as familiar as the lines on our hands; we left customs and traditions that had been handed down for generations; we left communities that had shared in our joys and sorrows; we left our world, pursuing and hoping for a better one.
During our nearly month-long voyage at sea, we ran out of gas, we ran out of food, and we hit a storm so terrible it almost ended our journey and our lives. Some of our relatives lost their young children while making the same journey. Fortunately, everyone on our voyage survived and we even rescued four refugees stranded on the island of Hainan. In the waters near Hong Kong, our boat was spotted by the local coast guard. We were eventually brought to a refugee camp where we stayed for almost a year before we found asylum and a new home in the United States.
More refugees are made every day, not only from local violence and persecution, but increasingly from catastrophic natural disasters and climate change effects. It is not always easy to decide whom to help and when. But I think it is easy to open our hearts and to do what we can when we can.
Sometimes that means sharing what we don’t need, whether it’s food, clothing, or room. Sometimes that means volunteering as a language tutor, a guide, or a driver. Sometimes that means demonstrating to show support and solidarity, and sometimes that means petitioning to change laws and policies. Sometimes doing what we can just means saying, “Hello.”
I wish only for a safer, kinder, fairer, and more beautiful world. I hope you’ll join me in this wish. Together, we can make it come true.
More About Wishes:
Wishes tells the powerful, honest story about one Vietnamese family's search for a new home on the other side of the world, and the long-lasting and powerful impact that makes on one of the youngest members of the family.\Told through the eyes of a young girl, the story chronicles a family's difficult and powerful journey to pack up what they can carry and to leave their world behind, traveling to a new and unknown place in a crowded boat. With sparse, poetic, and lyrical text from acclaimed author Mượn Thị Văn, thoughtful back matter about the author's connection to the story, and luminous, stunning illustrations from Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree Victo Ngai, Wishes tells a powerful and timely story in a gentle and approachable way for young children and their families. Learn more at https://bit.ly/WishesBook
More About Mượn Thị Văn:
Mượn Thị Văn stitches stories by starlight and by daylight. Some of these stories become books, and some of these books are read around the world. Since her New York Times acclaimed debut, In a Village by the Sea, illustrated by April Chu, Muon's books have received many distinctions, including a Northern California Book Award, a Golden Kite Award, a New York Public Library Best Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and an Irma Black Honor Award. Her work has been translated into more than ten languages. Visit her online at www.muonthivan.com.