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The Trauma of Black April

On this day, April 13, I remember and honor the one person who loved me unconditionally and who sacrificed everything so that I may live a good life. My mother, Lê Ngọc Tuyết, would have turned eighty-three-years-old today. It is in her honor I write this blog. Happy birthday, Mom.


I was born on Tuesday, July 30, 1974, in a small province in the Mekong Delta. It was no ordinary Tuesday, for in the US, the House Judiciary Committee gave its final vote to impeach President Nixon in the Watergate cover-up. And it was no ordinary year, for in Xian, a city in China, local farmers came across one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made while they were digging a well… the Terracotta Army guarding the tomb of the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di (246-210 B.C.). So what else was significant about that period?

On April 30, 1975, my mother’s joyous smile was eclipsed by the furrow of fear she wore on her face. For on that black April day, she lost her husband and her country. It was a coin toss if she’d also lose her only child to a congenital heart defect. My mother’s PTSD began on Black April, the day Saigon fell to the communist party and the day her husband left Vietnam with his American family, leaving her alone to question how cruel life could be.

My mother, an intelligent woman with a university degree in mathematics, soon found herself unable to move freely in the only homeland she’d ever known and loved.

The Americans left. She couldn’t get a job. Her husband betrayed her. What was she to do? She lived under a suffocating blanket of fear.

She was stopped at every checkpoint, harassed by the police, starved to the point of going underground to sell contraband in the black market, all while praying she could keep me alive long enough to make it to America where dreamers were promised Heaven on Earth.

Amy's mother (right) with a friend at a beach in South Vietnam (late 1950s)
Amy's mother (right) with a friend at a beach in South Vietnam (late 1950s)

I was born with a hole in my heart, and without open-heart surgery, I would die. Time was ticking. And so my brave mom held her breath, kept her head down, and plowed on for five years, somehow managing to survive the hard times.

How alone and scared my mother must have felt. How brave she became. I don’t think she breathed during those five years of hustling underground, of floating aimlessly in the South China Sea, of fighting disease in the refugee camps. We ultimately made it to America in 1980 through a church sponsorship in Seattle, Washington. AMERICA!

Fast forward to April 30, 2017, to the 42nd anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Another black April for my family,

but this time, it was I who found myself feeling alone and thinking about how cruel life could be. It was me who didn’t have a job and it was my life that shattered.

Amy and her mother in Seattle (early 1980s)
Amy and her mother in Seattle (early 1980s)

I had recently picked my mother up from the funeral home, her ashes encased in a purple urn, for she lost her battle with cancer. I thought about the sacrifices she made to give me the life of freedom I richly took for granted.

Black April was the start of suffering for my mom and also was the start of a journey for me; a journey of healing as I unpacked the trauma, as I unearthed my origin story, and embraced my heritage.

What does Black April mean to you? For some, it was about reunification and peace. For others, it cemented the guilt, shame, horror, and pain that would haunt them for decades. Whereas Black April once held my mother hostage in the confines of her mind, it has opened my mind to understanding my family’s behaviors, actions, and beliefs. As we commemorate another anniversary and remember the sacrifices of our parents and grandparents, let us also celebrate the gifts our ancestors passed on to us through storytelling, honoring traditions, sharing recipes, and paying tribute to the resilience of our people.


Amy Le Headshot
Amy M. Le

Listen to Amy's story on VBP podcast episode #22 SNOW IN VIETNAM

Amy M. Le is a full-time writer and author of The Snow Trilogy and owns Quill Hawk Publishing, helping emerging authors to indie-publish their work. She is also co-founder of The Heart Community Collection, a resource for the Congenital Heart Defect community. Visit Amy M. Le (

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