Last week, I turned 41. And every year on my birthday, it's a designated time for me to declutter and make room for another great year. As I was rummaging through my things, I ran across this speech my dad gave on my wedding day, when he shared with my friends a bit of my up-bringing that some were not aware of. And it wasn't until last year, when I turned 40, that I embarked on a journey to share my family's refugee experience to everyone, through this nonprofit start-up.
"As some of you know and some of you may not know, my wife and I, we have a family of seven children. To the American standard, it is too much, but to the Vietnamese standard it is acceptable. We married in 1961 and in the years that followed, it all started with four sons in a row. In a society where people prefer boys over girls, like in most Asian countries, they believed that having four sons in a row bring prosperity and good luck into the family.
I don’t remember if we had any kind of good luck but we wished to have a girl and we got three daughters in a row. Today when we celebrate the wedding of Tracey, our last daughter in the family line, I want to say a few words about all three of them.
Tu-Anh was first on the wish list. That’s why she got spoiled before she was born. Fortunately she never became a bad girl. As my wife remembers, at the age of 10, Tu-Anh cried over an old lady waiting at the bus station without a warm cloth on her in a cold winter day, and she gave away her only sweater she was wearing, to the lady.
Next in line is JoAnh who was born when South Vietnam was about to fall under the communist invasion in 1975. The family was then forced to evacuate from the town when JoAnh was just three days old. It was a time of war. So destruction, chaos and even death are everywhere. Is it in hard times that makes a new born baby harder and stronger later in life? I don’t know but JoAnh grew up a strong, disciplined, and a logical person.
Out of my three daughters, Tracey became the most independent of them all. She had to because when you are the seventh child, there isn't room for more attention. Not in the conditions in Vietnam that Tracey was born into and for several years in America, life brought us new beginnings but also new challenges.
My girls came to America at a very young age. When their parents struggled to feed the family to survive in a new country, they stuck together, learned together, took care of themselves and of each other.
I am happy to have and proud of my three beautiful, lovely, intelligent daughters and the same time I am happy to have four lucky guys in my family..."
His beautiful speech left some friends in tears. In the last several months since I began this oral history project, I have met and connected with so many younger generations of Vietnamese-Americans who share the same desire to capture their families' stories. And similar to me, they want to preserve these stories but did not know how or where to start.
Thus, VietnameseBoatPeople.org and our podcast was born. Where you don't have to be a good writer, an established author or someone famous, to be able to share your family's story. Reach out to us, share your story and let us help you document it. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org