My mother swam across the Mekong River, an unforgiving expanse of muddy torrents, while hiding from armed soldiers. She fled Laos to escape its oppression and violence. Here, on this foreign American land, she learned to speak its language, within months, on the job as a Shoney’s waitress (and had the audacity to admonish any customer who dared to mock her speech). She worked alone to care for us, with numerous side jobs that included sewing others’ clothing and battling my father’s emotional warfare. I spent most of my days after school alone, but I was always aware of her presence.