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The "James Bond" suitcase my grandparents carried from Vietnam to the United States

The "James Bond" suitcase my grandparents carried from Vietnam to the United States

Inside the "James Bond"

As Told By: Lani Mac

Journey

  • My Name is Lani Mac
  • I am based in Dallas, TX, USA
  • This story is about my family
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  • Childhood Address: Chợ Lớn, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Departure Location: Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Departure Year: 1990
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    Text 2

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  • Resettlement Location: Dallas, TX, USA
  • Resettlement Year: 1990
  • My Story

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    My grandmother refers to the slim, black suitcase as a James Bond, an example of the influence of American pop culture in Vietnam. The James Bond accompanied my grandparents on their journey from Vietnam to the United States in 1990 and is seen in the photos taken at the Tan Son Nhat airport before they boarded their flight. Of my immediate family, my grandparents were the last to leave Vietnam. Of their three children, my uncles were the first to leave in 1978, stopping in Malaysia and Hong Kong before being sponsored to Dallas, Texas. Nine years later, my mother made the journey, first through Cambodia and Thailand before arriving at a refuge camp in the Philippines and finally being sponsored to Dallas by her brothers.  After being separated from their sons for 12 years, my grandparents were finally able to join their children in the United States through family reunification. They departed Vietnam on December 10, 1990, stopped in Thailand for seven days to process immigration papers, and arrived in the United States on December 17, 1990. 


    I don’t know what the James Bond carried when my grandparents departed Vietnam. Perhaps it contained family albums, important paperwork, or neatly folded slacks and blouses. My grandmother used to have quite the wardrobe.  Today it carries our family’s memories in the form of Polaroids and photographs, from black and white passport style photos of my grandfather in his youth to glossy, color photographs of myself at three years old, standing with my grandparents outside their new home. The majority of the photos, however, are of my grandparents’ travels in the early 90s. Armed with fanny packs and an abundance of camera film, they travel throughout the U.S., to Canada, Guangzhou, to their ancestral homes in Hokshan and Zhongshan, and eventually to Vietnam, too, where my Grandmother’s family remained.  After spending over 50 years in a place that did not feel like home, I can only imagine that my grandfather finally felt at ease in these initial years. 


    Born in 1932 in Hokshan, my grandfather traveled with his mother and two siblings to Vietnam in 1936 to visit his father, who had gone alone to Vietnam to make a living. Their stay was meant to be temporary. However, on July 7, 1937, the Japanese invaded China in what would be the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and in my grandfather’s words, even though they had a home, they could not return.  He ended up staying in Vietnam for half a lifetime of fifty-some years. 


    Consequently, my grandfather spoke his village dialect of Hokshan, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese, languages he learned through daily life. It never ceases to amaze me when I meet someone from my grandfather’s generation and hear them hold conversations in four or five different languages, but at the same time, I am reminded that these are languages of displacement and war, spoken by tongues well versed in uncertainty, resilience, and starting over. 

    And for our grandparents’ generation, what did it mean to start over again at 50 or 60 years old? According to my grandfather, though he did not know much English when he arrived in the U.S., there weren’t really any inconveniences. And life was still good because his children have the opportunity to find new successes.

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