What is Black April?
No, it is not a month of discounted shopping. Unless you are Vietnamese or fought in the Vietnam War, most Americans do not know what this day is all about.
On April 30, 1975, Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was captured by North Vietnamese troops. This day marked the end of the Vietnam War, the Fall of Saigon, and the beginning of the reunification of Vietnam into one country, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
But this is not a celebratory day for families that were a part of South Vietnam. For them, this day is known as Black April. A dark and sad day. A day my mom refers to as "the day we lost our country.”
My childhood memories of Black April was a day for mourning the loss of our beloved Vietnam. We would spend the day in prayer for the souls of those who fought for our freedom, for the innocent lives lost during the war, and for the lives of our relatives who died post-war living in poverty and disease or died at sea trying to escape communism. Then we would go visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC to pay our respects to the Americans who fought for our lives. “God Bless America”, my mom would say.
I was born shortly after the war and was too young to remember post-war conditions in Vietnam. But what I do remember are stories told by my mom. Stories of her beloved country; the pristine beaches of Đà Nẵng, the tranquility of Đà Lạt and the breeze you could feel from our home balcony in Nha Trang. The stories would quickly turn somber, as she described our lives post-war under the Communist rule and how we lost literally everything, both physical and spiritual.
Don’t Shame Us I don’t think I fully understood my parents’ pain until my late-twenties. On the day of my business school commencement ceremony, my parents flew to Arizona for the occasion. I attended Thunderbird School of Global Management and it is tradition to open the graduation ceremony with an international flag parade. I was honored to be asked to hold the Vietnam flag in the parade. I thought my parents would be proud that I was representing our country.
The complete opposite happened when they found out. My brother went behind stage pulled me aside and said I CANNOT hold the Communist flag. The red star does not represent Vietnam;. it represents Communism and everything our family had lost. He said “Mom is crying and Dad is so upset he can not speak.” At first I thought my brother was overreacting. But I saw the persistence and hurt in his eyes. For me, it was not about betraying what was once South Vietnam; it felt like betraying my parents. By holding the flag, I felt guilty that I had discredited all their loss and sacrifices. Without them, I would not even be getting a higher education. I put the flag down and apologized to the event coordinator saying that I was not feeling well and could not participate.
Forgive but Cannot Forget This year marks the 44th anniversary of Black April. Today, my parents are proud of what Vietnam has become. That the country is one of the top travel destinations and that it is one of southeast Asia's fastest-growing economies. That Vietnamese business owners dominate the nail industry in the U.S. and phở is a recognized dish in most households. They were even on the edge of their seats watching Miss Vietnam make it into the final five in the Miss Universe 2018 pageant.
My parents have forgiven but have not forgotten. They have made many trips back to Vietnam. In 1995, when the U.S. announced the formal normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, my mom must have been first in line to go back. Since then, she has donated to multiple orphanages, churches and nonprofits in the country to help rebuild lives. Her time and money is also given to family and friends to whom we are indebted to for helping us when we were starving and desperate. She often reminds me that we are more fortunate now and we must remember to always pay gratitude to them.
What Black April Means to Me Today
I recognize that for the older generations, it represents loss. But for me, having started the Vietnamese Boat People podcast -- Black April represents remarkable resilience.
This moment in history, marks the beginning of the Vietnamese mass exodus, while tragic to start, resulted in Vietnamese culture and grit permeating across the world. Visit other countries like Canada, the UK,and Australia and most people can tell you where to find a good bowl of phở or banh mi locally.
Today, we have trailblazers like Pulitzer Prize winner, writer Viet Thanh Nguyen; policy-changer, civil rights activist Amanda Nguyen; Star Wars sweetheart, actress Kelly Marie Tran; immigration reform supporter, Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy. These trailblazers are children of Vietnamese refugees. The list goes on and will continue. We've come a long way. Both country and people.
Documenting the stories of what the Vietnamese boat people have endured and generations later what they have accomplished has been the most rewarding experience in my entire career. For me, it is about lifting the darkness that Black April represents and finding that the remarkable resilience of the Vietnamese people prevails.