We Don't Leave Our People Behind

Earlier this year, I was invited by Charlie Pacello (a veteran himself, and a child of a Vietnam veteran) to speak to Vietnam Veterans, to share my story about what happened to my family after US troop withdrawal and the subsequent Communist takeover of Vietnam.

Whenever I speak, I do my best to tap into the Emergent Energy of the Communal Space.

There are aspects of my family's lived experiences and heart that emerged as a result of being in shared space with Veterans.

We don't leave our people behind.

As soon as my parents were established (barely) enough, they began to sort through the multi-year, complicated, and expensive immigration paperwork process....while raising two little girls, paying a mortgage, both working in manufacturing, and Dad getting as much overtime as possible.

They scrimped and saved, and managed to sponsor out to Australia Mum's sister, her husband and their three children, who had spent the previous couple of years living in a refugee camp in Indonesia.

After helping them to get on their feet somewhat, Mum and Dad then worked towards sponsoring Mum's parents, who were still living in Vietnam, to come live with us.

ông ngoại and bà ngoại, although in their 60s, were not able to enjoy a slower pace of life knowing that some of their adult children were still struggling. After a few months, they got manual labor jobs in factories, doing piece work, earning AUD$4-6 an hour. They slowly managed to save up AUD$25k, to sponsor to Australia an adult daughter (single mother) and her child, knowing that their lives in Vietnam were even harder without ông ngoại and bà ngoại around.

As a young teen, I knew that there were bonds of love that I didn't understand and yet, I struggled with unnamable feelings of emotional deprivation. I knew my parents loved us because they were always working. Then I saw them continuing to work, laboring with love and loyalty, for the betterment of family members.

Immersed in Western cultural notions of romantic love, I resented the silent, survivor-guilt-fueled, obligation-driven notions of filial piety. It was my way of stoically defending my birthright to joyous love untainted by threat of loss.

As a young adult, my romantic relationships reflected this sense of being burdened by loving and being loved, and rejecting the responsibilities that come with love....while deeply yearning for that which I wasn't yet able to truly let in.

It was messy.

All because it's hard to let in that kind of love, my parents' love.

The kind of love where my parents risked death for their children's futures. For me. For the idea of me. For what I represented to them - hope and courage - and a love so strong that their own feelings of hardship became endurable and surmountable.

"Oh you're so lucky, you made it out [of Vietnam] with your family," I'd hear well-meaning Anglo-Australians say. Somewhere during my mid-thirties, I realized why that phrase never landed quite right for me. In my culture, a family is not two parents and their children. Family is village, clan, tribe. A communal love tethers us, strengthens us and compels us forward, forging a future to honor our lineage of ancestors.

Mum and Dad on their wedding day in 1976, with their parents and elders. ông ngoại and bà ngoại are in the front row, the two to the right.


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