Lost Identity

I should go to bed, it’s late, but I also want to get this out before I forget.

Yesterday was April 30, the anniversary of what is commonly known as the Fall of Saigon among the Vietnamese diaspora. I don’t know how to fully interpret it. I could bandwagon and say that this day is important as it marks the beginning of the large refugee migration within Southeast Asia and many of our lives would not exist had our families decided to stay instead of leave their countries. I could do that, but then I don’t feel like it’s genuine to me.

I have lived a sheltered life. While I may have had a “party” life a while ago, at the same time, it has been pretty sweet. Growing up, I never knew what it meant to be poor. I just knew what it meant to be happy. And also that mother just liked to save lots of money, but I couldn’t figure out why and never questioned it. It took me years to realize the lengths my parents went through to do this for me. Sometimes they would tell me the stories of their journey, but it wasn’t very in depth and just about how they had to travel by this tiny boat and my sister was so good and well-behaved despite being so young.

But my parents provided for me. They kept me safe, they provided food, clothing, and shelter and it didn’t seem very difficult. All of it seemed normal that both parents worked, that my dad would come home around 7 or later and despite his lack of physical presence in the house, he still had a strong hold on what was and wasn’t acceptable in the home. He still taught me values that I hold dear today without all the hardship.

I used to, and sometimes do, wish that I would have suffered. I don’t know how to say this that doesn’t offend others who have gone through a lot of struggles and I don’t want to trivialize all of that, but in a way, I envy all of those who did. It’s not to say that people who don’t struggle can’t learn the values that come from sacrifice, etc, but for me, I just feel as if I didn’t have that deeper understanding of what it means to be poor, what it means to fear for your life, what it means to really be hungry and to not know when your next meal will be. I have always had a sense of comfort and safety and rarely have I been in positions of that level of vulnerability.

I watched the movie, Journey From the Fall, that shares the story of a family who was in the boat people movement, except the father, who was taken to “re-education camps” (which, by the way, American history books totally gloss over like it’s nothing wrong, when in fact, South Vietnamese soldiers were tortured, beaten and starved). I watched it and felt this deep lack of understanding of what my parents went through. The movie is sad, it’s heartbreaking, it’s a terrible movie to watch if you want to feel good afterward, but it reminded me of all my parents had to go through and how hard they worked before I was born to get to where they are today.

And I wish I was able to do that. I feel so lazy and unambitious and all these other terrible things. I haven’t found what truly motivates me and I just don’t know how to get there. But my parents – they knew. They had a family to provide for, a life to make for themselves. They had goals and dreams and they worked hard to get there.

So Black April isn’t just about what happened when the Northern Vietnamese overtook the Southern capital of Vietnam, but what it represented. It represented a migration and displacement of people. It represented that people are willing to fight one another instead of support each other. It showed me that my father was most likely very traumatized and because of that, has refused to return since he got here about 30 years ago. But I am still uncertain of what Black April means for me and I don’t know how long it will take me to find that meaning.