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dream worth a penny

Artwork by Fatema Rahaman, staff poet and artist

dream worth a penny

chị tells me she has the same dream every night:

it starts at buddha’s palms. she says he’s come to

save her; round ears to hear her prayers, she sings

them, and i watch her. her dreams, all bloated

and well-fed; pots of packed porridge & trays of

fat, fat, meaty swine flesh… in her sleep, we lay on

our fat backs like lazy pigs; we eat well, we rarely

work, we’re all pudge and meat and happy

we smile bony smiles at buddha

chị says i can breathe all i want in america. there,

my body is all mine; but here, in this filthy country,

no man will want my metal limbs and fat knuckles;

good-for-nothing wounds, burnt belly, pig-skin

white-ridged nails thin and brittle; no man wants

roasted pork; no man wants me; chị asks me why a

kind man like buddha would subject us to this hell,

this purgatory, where they hit us and hit us and

beat us with sticks. we work and work–it doesn’t

matter if we’re red as rib

in the factory, we chew thread & cyanide. the big

lady tells us we’re worth a measly penny overseas,

i hope chị prays harder – so that we can dream a little longer –

the big lady says my pig hands are meant to sew; we sew

and sew, blood stitched into shrouds & seams – our work

is worth a dime. i ask chị if she’s forgotten her dream;

her answer: not yet, buddha’s still listening, we’ll eat well


i’m asked what my dream is. but i can’t sleep, can’t dream,

can’t think heart over head; i’m not as strong as chị, not

strong enough to want, not strong enough to


Artist Statement:

In many Asian countries, child labor and trafficking continues to persist. Child laborers in Vietnam suffer from harsh working conditions and work for hours on end for little pay. While Vietnam observes rapid economic growth, this development is at the expense of its children; often, traffickers lure children from rural areas with the promise of pay for their education. With the child labor problem running rampant in Vietnam and many other nations, victims are subjected to physical and mental harm. Often, child laborers are trapped in these situations with no escape. As a writer of Vietnamese heritage, I constantly look for ways to incorporate my rich culture throughout my work. However, it is also important to me that I shed light onto the many social issues plaguing my home country, including child trafficking and labor. This poem reflects the pain of child laborers, but it also encompasses their hopes and dreams. These children carry such a heavy burden and endure so much in their daily lives; there’s no doubt that their stories deserve greater coverage.

Want to learn more about the issue? You can start here! This article shares the experiences of multiple child laborers and describes the realities they face:

A great way to help is to donate or support foundations that tackle the problem head-on. One of these organizations, Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, aims to assist and end human trafficking.

Tien Hoang is a sixteen-year-old writer from Richmond, VA. They write way too much about relationships and cultural food, definitely not because they constantly crave smoothies and spring rolls. An Adroit Journal Mentorship alumna, Tien's work has been recognized by Ringling College, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and occasionally, their relatives. Apart from writing, they enjoy streaming Spotify on the regular, going on unhealthy K-Drama binges, and watching really, really bad movies. They're also a part-time Costco fanatic.

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