the girl whose mother lives in the sky
Thomas French
Thomas French
About this story

Several years ago, I learned about the Southeast Asian Preschool while taking my own children to their preschool, Lad 'n Lass, which shares the same grounds at a St. Petersburg church. In the mornings, I would hear the Asian children singing in their classrooms or would see them playing outside. I wondered who they were and how they came to America. I wondered, too, about their parents and what their experiences meant for their young sons and daughters.

In the spring of 1994, I set out to find the answers. Along with photographer Cherie Diez, I began hanging out with the students and their teachers. We embarked on the story with the permission of the preschool and United Methodist Cooperative Ministries, which oversees the school. When we found children we wanted to describe by name and in detail, including Mari Truong, we also obtained permission from their parents.

Some of the children at the school go by two names, a formal Asian name and a nickname, which is sometimes American. Since this story centers on the children's experiences at the preschool, we refer to them by the names used there.

I spent nearly 18 months at the school. In the years following, as the boys and girls headed for elementary school, Diez and I kept track of some of them. The Girl Whose Mother Lives in the Sky is an account of what we saw at the preschool and of what happened to those children.

One final note: This story chronicles a period in life -- the time just before children formally enter the world -- rarely covered in a newspaper. This period, when the children are shaped and molded in the most elemental ways, is crucial to their future. But the events described here seem quiet, small, almost episodic. Furthermore, because the children were so young at the time, they now remember almost none of it. They have forgotten the games they used to play, the songs they used to sing.

No matter. This is still their story. The lost story, retrieved from days before memory, of how they took the first steps toward becoming themselves.

-- Thomas French


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