Tuesday, November 16, 2010

10 days old

Lunch together as a family.

My mom (grandma), my brother Phi and Baby Derek at 10 days (11/14/10)
When we were growing up, my mom always told me the story of how she and my dad left Vietnam. My sister Uyen was four years old... but the real challenge was that my brother was only ten days old. My parents got onto a cargo plane with a bag of diapers and left the whole world they had known behind.  This was complicated by the fact that my dad had been seriously injured on the battlefield just days before (when my brother was 3 days old).   First, they landed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines .Ten days after they left, on April 30, 1975, Saigon fell. Their homeland was gone.  By then they had been transferred to Guam.  Not long after, my family was just among the hordes of refugees at sprawling Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. When my brother Phi arrived there, he got sick, and so did my mom. Phi ended up being the first patient at the Fort's military hospital. My dad waited in line for 2-3 hours at a time, several times a day, to pick up formula for my brother because my mother was too sick to nurse. At one point, the guards insisted that my father bring the baby to "prove" that they needed the formula. My dad erupted in anger. He argued back that it was ridiculous to stand in line for hours with a sick baby just so that he could be fed. Ultimately, the guards gave in and gave my dad the formula without having him bring Baby Phi. But they did this, day after day. This was before we were sponsored by Rusty, my dad's war buddy, to Manhattan, Kansas.  Talk about culture shock - from Southeast Asia to America's heartland. But they adapted, they persisted, and eventually succeeded and thrived.  Its strange to now think my parents have been in the US longer than they lived in Vietnam.   The Vietnam they grew up with and the one I heard stories of, is one that no longer exists. I have never had the strong urge to reconnect with modern Vietnam, because it is not the one of my parents memory. For me, its not the homeland that I wish to return to.

I always thought my parent's story was amazing, even as a child.  It resonated with me about the sacrifices that a parent makes and when faced with tough choices they always do the best for their children.  I know I was born into a different time, when they were settled here in the States. I was the very first US citizen to be born into my family. I could run for president! I tried to be grateful growing up, knowing the circumstances of how our family came to America; how we were among the "lucky" ones that didn't go by boat, were separated by years or lost family members to reeducation camps or worse. Of course, the story took on a completely different meaning when I now actually had a baby that was born into very fortunate, abundant and welcoming world. I could barely imagine how my mother was feeling or how she could have carried a 10-day old infant and 4-year old, sitting on the bench of a C-141, an aircraft suited to carrying equipment, not people to an unknown destiny -- unsure of what was ahead of her. She left behind her mother, her sister, her home and all worldly possessions, only with the hope that she was doing what she and my dad knew would be best for their family.

When Derek turned 10 days old, I asked my family to just get together to be grateful that we are still a family and to remember a bit about the story of how our family left Vietnam and eventually made it to the US. I thanked my mother for being the amazing woman she is and for always being an inspiration and role model. I thanked my father for always being a wonderful man, the strong support and pillar that we needed to be successful in our lives.
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  1. Tini, this is so touching.. I never left this page not until i finished the last word. it gives a vivid picture of those bleak times then.. Can we use this in our newspaper?

    grace (valera)

  2. Hi Grace - Thanks for the kind words. You're welcome to use the story for your newspaper (not sure if its really journalism material though...)