SPOTLIGHT: Paperwork and Borders: a marriage by Anna Nguyen


“I don’t really want to get married.” My statement was directed at my partner post-meeting. I had to leave for a shift at the library and had been darkening my barely-there eyebrows. I stopped wearing a face full of makeup because of the mask mandate. “And why does everyone say Germany is progressive? They don’t even recognize common-law.”

During my shift, I continued to grumble to the librarians on duty. My rings must have confused them, though they never asked. I never clarified. My nameless partner, my nameless husband.

“Why don’t you want to get married?” a librarian asked. She was married with children.

“I don’t …” I started hesitantly, wanting to grasp for the most direct words. “I don’t want to get married because that actually means I finally decided to get married because I knew I had to. I don’t want to have to give into those…” I made a slight face at my conceptual framing, hoping it conveyed enough without my having to add analysis. “Patriarchal values. I don’t want to get married if it’s the only way to prove my existence.”

She nodded. “I understand.”

The library had a very small section for language learning. I flipped through a beginner’s German dictionary.


I had to fill out a second family tree. This piece was more detailed compared to the form I filled out for my visa application in Montreal. It asked for the names for my family members, birthdates, birthplaces, citizenship, and current residence. For my father, I hesitated. I didn’t know what to write.

“Why are they asking all of these questions?” I asked my partner in annoyance.

“Probably because they don’t want you to bring in your family members to Germany,” he answered. “It’s their way of guessing if you’re trying to bring in your family members to immigrate. Immigration control.”
                “Racist,” I mumbled. I looked at his paperwork. He had begun writing down the names of his grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

I couldn’t remember my mother’s birth year. Sometimes she even confused me with varying years. It had been common practice for Vietnamese folks to take off a few years from their actual birth years, both of my parents said. Ba had lied about his age, to avoid being conscripted in the Vietnam War. When he was caught, he was placed in prison a few times for not being a good patriot, he used to say, always laughing. I didn’t think it was an amusing story at all, and I was saddened to realize their birth dates may not even be accurate.

I called Ma and explained I was preparing paperwork for the big move.

“I can’t remember your birth year,” I apologized.

“Why do they need that?” she asked once she gave me her answer. “I’m not the one moving.” I asked her to double check her driver’s license.

I repeated my partner’s words to her.

Her vehement response surprised me.

“Che!” she yelled. “I wouldn’t want to be in that country even if they invited me!” She was truly miffed.

I tittered at her outburst. “Do you remember where we’re moving?” I asked, in between laughing. She couldn’t remember the name in English. I reminded her, in Vietnamese.

I wrote “deceased” under my father’s current residence. It wasn’t a place, but I didn’t know what else to write. The word seemed self-explanatory. I didn’t fill out any more of my family tree once I wrote in the information of my siblings.


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