poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

August 31, 2012

POEM: In Memory of John Vietnam Nguyen (1993-2012)

I can’t sleep. Yesterday, I stayed offline, worked all day and night, then found out about the sudden passing of a gifted poet,  hip-hop emcee and b-boy, John Vietnam Nguyen, who drowned while trying to save a friend’s life yesterday, at the age of 19. When he was a high school student, John was a member of the Multi-Cultural Youth Program in Chicago. He lead an interactive youth workshop and performed at the “Out of the Margins: Asian American Movement Building” Conference that our Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program sponsored in March, 2011, at the University of Michigan. I am thankful to UMich alum Steve Hosik Moon for introducing me (and so many others) to John.

When I can’t sleep, I write. I wrote this poem in the middle of the night, for John, for Steve, and for everyone trying to make sense of this tragedy. A talented optimist, John would always sign off messages, telling folks to “stay up” and I always liked that better than “hang in there”. Rest in Poetry, Peace, and Power, John Vietnam. Love and prayers to you, your family, and friends always. Thank you for being you.

John Vietnam Nguyen performs at an Asian American Movement Building Conference at the University of MIchigan, March 2011. Photo by Ahmad Fuad Rahmat.

trying to “stay up”: a rough draft

in memory of John Vietnam Nguyen (1993 – 2012)


© by Emily P. Lawsin



i met you in person only a few times,

honored to have shared the stage together,

spinning rhymes with inter-generational revolution.


the last time we spoke,

you called me “auntie”,

always respectful and real.


i told the audience i felt old and proud,

like i could be all y’all’s grandma,

you, MCYP’ers fiercely rockin the mic.


in the front row, you spit your big laugh,

pointing your smile to the sky,

patting your chest like a heart beat escaping.


you, always the first to thank me

for being Hosik’s teacher,

so he could teach all of you.


yet, i am the one who is thankful, like so many others,

to have been taught by you,

when you were only 17, 18, 19 years young.


today, we gather and sing your songs,

thankful to have received your gifts of words and music:

stories that made the dancing streets cry for our people.


everyone asks why, on this eve of a blue moon,

why did you leave us too soon,

leaving us drowning in lakes of our tears?


today, we wear purple (your favorite color and mine),

we weave a wreath of your warrior wisdom,

remembering your voice in the wind,


no doubt, rapping in the heavens with the elder angel poets,

as you quietly skip your usual encore cue:

“one love, stay up, and peace…”



 August 31, 2012



Emily P. Lawsin has been performing spoken word poetry since 1990.

She teaches Asian American Studies at the University of Michigan.



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John Vietnam left us lots of good videos of his performances. (See his YouTube Channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/johnvietnam13) Here are a few:

If a Minute Would Reverse (with clips and quotes of Grace Lee Boggs) http://youtu.be/LOU_vQBsW2s

A Day in The Life: http://youtu.be/YBAYhbbCDg0

Rest in Power John Vietnam Nguyen, footage by Tom Callahan: http://vimeo.com/48573282

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Here is funeral info from the family’s Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/114861828662904/

“Please join John’s family, friends, and communities in honoring his memory, spirit, and love. Services will be held at

Cooney Funeral Home,  3918 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL.

Monday Sept. 3, Visitation: Noon-9pm
Tuesday Sept. 4, Visitation: 9am-11am, with Eulogy and funeral to immediately follow.

“We are planning to carry out John’s wish to print his t-shirts. We will be figuring out the means to accomplish this and will have information available at the services for anyone who would like to pre-order shirts in their size. Once we get it set up, we will edit this to provide the link here. https://www.facebook.com/events/114861828662904/

“If you are unable to attend the services, you may make a donation to help offset the costs by:
1) Sending a payment to John’s paypal account under his email address, nguyenjvn13 (at) yahoo (dot) com
2) If you don’t have a paypal account – you can donate at the following link: http://www.gofundme.com/14l28s

We know very well how loved and admired he was by everyone he came across, and we would like to thank everyone for their support and love.”  ~ From John’s Family (For latest updates, check: https://www.facebook.com/events/114861828662904/ )

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