Brother Be Well Wellness for Boys and Men of Color

For a period of time, life was finally looking up. Patrick was living with his grandmother, a kind matriarch who worked hard to ensure her grandson always had what he needed. Patrick thought life could not have been any sweeter until he met another woman who also promised to care for him: his estranged mother. 

Patrick’s mother had escaped to the U.S. and started a new life. By chance, she bumped into one of Patrick’s aunts who had traveled the same roads. She told Patrick’s mother about his situation and begged her to provide for her son. Patrick’s mother reached out to his grandmother by mail. A year later, she flew to Viet Nam to meet him. 

“I remember seeing this petite and beautiful woman,” Patrick recalls, “I wanted to be loved by her. I wanted to be her son.”

Although he and his mother were practically strangers, he held tightly to her and her promise of maternal love and affection. His mother began sending him money monthly, as did his aunt who also lived in the U.S. They also began the lengthy process of moving Patrick to America. 

During this lengthy process, misery once again found its way into Patrick’s life. His grandmother was critically injured in a traffic accident. Patrick visited daily after school, weeping at his grandmother’s bedside. She was so badly injured that he could hardly recognize her. There in the cold and unwelcoming hospital, she fought for her life for two weeks before eventually passing away. 

Now fifteen, Patrick moved into the house that his relatives bought with the inheritance money from his grandma. Without Patrick’s grandma defending and providing for him, his other aunts and uncles reluctantly did the bare minimum to provide for him. There were five families living in a communal house. Each family had their own room, but Patrick had no space of his own. He drifted between the rooms, trying to be as little a burden as possible. If it was not for the little money that his mom sent to him monthly, Patrick might have ended up on the street. 

School became Patrick’s only solace. As a model student, he was often praised by his teachers and treated with much kindness. It was the only place where he felt he belonged.

Patrick’s days were often filled with loneliness, but there was something he dreaded even more: hunger. Because his mom continued to send money for Patrick’s needs monthly, his relatives continued to feed Patrick. However, they only fed him the exact amount of food purchased by his mom’s monthly stipend and no more than that. As a growing boy, Patrick often needed more food than what he was given. 

One afternoon, Patrick came home to find the fridge empty. He hadn’t even had lunch that day; his stomach twisted in hunger. Noticing some half-eaten food on the dishes that filled the sink, Patrick, in a trance from the hunger, made his way over. The food was lukewarm and soggy with sink water. But Patrick was famished, so he couldn’t stop himself from scooping up the food. 

Patrick sobbed as he ate, his entire being filled with shame and disgust. Even now, Patrick can’t tell this story without weeping. A young boy, unwanted in his own family’s home, eating soggy leftovers from the sink. That was Patrick’s reality. 

When Patrick was seventeen, the long-anticipated moment arrived. His paperwork was complete, and he was able to immigrate to the United States of America. 

“I was so excited,” Patrick recalls. “I felt like I had won the lottery.” He had never been on a plane or traveled outside of Viet Nam before. 

Patrick’s excitement made him forget how sleepy he was on the 24-hour journey to the US. As soon as he landed, he collected his luggage and hurried through the foreign airport. There he found his mother waiting for him –pregnant and standing next to a strange man.

His mother had failed to tell him she had remarried. She had also neglected to mention she was now pregnant with another son. Taken aback as Patrick was, he wanted to believe a better home life was waiting for him. They took him deep into rural Pennsylvania to a town called Lancaster. 

Haunted by jet lag and buzzing with excitement, Patrick was unable to sleep in the strange new environment. He tossed and turned for hours before finally getting up at 6:00 a.m. As Patrick walked downstairs, he looked through the glass windows to find powdery white snow falling outside. Patrick, born and raised in a tropical country, had never experienced snow before. He swung the front door open and dashed outside to catch the snowflakes on his skin, inhaling the fresh cool air. 

But Patrick’s mom hadn’t warned him about the burglar alarm, and he was as unfamiliar with the alarm system as he was with the snow. A screeching noise went off a few minutes after he stepped outside. It woke his new family. They rushed downstairs with frowns on their faces. Patrick got his first scolding from the woman who had been estranged from him for thirteen years. Knowing he’d made a bad first impression, the teen felt his excitement wither. He realized this might not be the happy home he wished for so desperately. 

Patrick’s strained relationship with his mother and her husband only grew more tense when they discovered his sexual identity. A young man still discovering himself, Patrick had grown up in a society that stigmatized the LGBTQ+ community. Most young people like Patrick do not have the luxury of expressing their identities freely. Barely understanding their own feelings, young folks like him would take solidarity in the company of friends who share the same feelings. It was a message to one of these friends that led to Patrick’s sexual identity being discovered by his cousin, who outed him to his mother. Things went from bad to worse. 

Influenced by old cultural roots and newly found Catholic religious beliefs, Patrick’s mother vehemently rejected his sexual orientation. At first, she tried to subtly shame Patrick into conforming to the norms she considered “normal”. She wanted him to change how he naturally talked, walked, and dressed. Everything he did irritated her. Patrick wanted to make his mother happy, but doing so meant to deny who he was as a human being. Patrick remained silent, a skill at which he sadly learned to excel at a young age. 

But when his mother accused Patrick of making advances on his own uncle, he knew the living situation with his mother would not get any better. Patrick never felt so violated, humiliated, and unloved. 

“If you choose to be gay, you would never be more than a day laborer! If you are lucky, maybe you would be good enough for a nail salon somewhere,” said his mom, who believed she had first hand experience with “all the gays” in the nail salon that she owned. 

His mother’s words were far more painful than any wounds his father had ever inflicted.

Pin It on Pinterest