Last week, my family gathered at my oldest brother Steve’s home to celebrate my nephew Dean, who just graduated from high school. We had three generations of Vietnamese-Americans at the house. The parents, who sacrificed everything for freedom, the siblings who grew up straddling two different worlds, and the grandchildren, who have only ever known one homeland, America. And by the time the fourth generation comes, what’s left of our families’ stories would be diminishing memories. Sometimes it takes the third generation to remind and motivate us that preserving heritage and history is important.
The photo above are some of the cuties from our third generation.
I took advantage of the week, to spend time with my brother Steve to hear his story. On the first night, what started out as two siblings reminiscing over wine, turned into an argument, then tears and three bottles of wine later, we ended the night in laughter. This pretty much sums up my family. We are opinionated and passionate people with a great love for life.
So, the next night, I sat down with Steve again and this time I did not have wine. Steve first talked about his fond memories of childhood, even with a war going on. My grandparents, wealthy and prominent from the French colonial days. My parents, good looking socialites. Mom, a sharp businesswoman, always beautifully done up. Dad, a young and handsome Director at a prestigious French academy. Steve’s childhood was filled with whatever he wanted. He saw all the new foreign films with his aunts and had grand birthday parties at the house. All of that disappeared overnight on March 27, 1975. The day our family had to evacuate our home in Da Nang, just a month before the fall of Saigon. He was 14 years old at the time.
A wealthy boy who had never had to do anything for himself but enjoy life, was suddenly forced to become a man. His days were spent listening to political reeducation at school and then working the fields with my dad until sundown. As the oldest child, he quickly felt the burden of having to provide for the family. He eventually dropped out of school as he saw no point in getting an education under the communist regime. Instead, he focused his time on doing what he could to help my parents make money. He learned how to make coal up in the mountains and would lug them several kilometers home for my mother to sell in the city.
This photo is of my mom and my four brothers before 1975. Steve is the one holding my mom's pink pursue.
Steve escaped Vietnam with my father in 1979. They were the first in the family to leave. I think what surprised me most about his story is what happened after he arrived in America. Steve was 18 when he arrived and after many years of hardship and teenage years now gone, all he wanted was to live carefree and have fun. With little parental guidance as my father worked long hours, Steve went down a delinquent path until he met my sister-in-law. He shared with me one of the most romantic love stories I had heard in a long time. The details of Steve’s story will be shared in my upcoming podcast.