Happy Mother’s Day to every mother out there. We hear it and we personally experience it. A mother bear has a will to protect and give her cubs the best chance in nature. What that means to every mother is different, but as a child of immigrants, I know it meant coming to the U.S. to have a better life.
My parents are what history books call “boat people.” I’ve been meaning to reflect and tell their story for some time. With the quarantine, I have nothing but time and today seemed like the perfect, significant day for it.
My parents lived through the Vietnam War, and in 1975 South Vietnam lost (aka The Fall of Saigon). This started a transition period of reunification and “re-education” for dissidents. At this time, many South Vietnamese began fleeing Vietnam to avoid living under Communism.
My parents didn’t leave right away, but we had many relatives who did. If the government caught you, you went to jail. Sometimes if your relative left, they would question you or your parents. They would ask for his/her whereabouts. If you don’t provide a legitimate answer, you go to jail. That happened to my grandpa when my uncle fleed to the U.S.
My parents knew the risks, yet they wanted to take it. At this time, my parent were engaged. However, my family secured a fishing boat for them. It was now or never. My parents gave up their wedding and what they knew, in order to have a new life.
“Boat people” are termed boat people, because Vietnamese would crowd into small fisherman boats. Along with the environmental dangers, the people were subject to the risk of pirates and starvation. Also, like my mother, many people did not know how to swim. Therefore, if the boat tipped over, those people would drown.
My parents were extremely lucky and they landed in Thailand, which is a country known to help many refugees. They stayed in a camp for awhile. As you can imagine, it wasn’t a luxury hotel. You make do with what you had and the standard of quality is very low.
From there, I’m unclear how they ended in the Philippines. I believe it was by helicopter. They again stayed in some sort of camp. My mom became pregnant with me, which again was no luxury. You feel morning sickness in a hot location that lacked all your home comforts.
At a certain point, the U.S. military evacuated from the Phillipines to return to the U.S. They would take some refugees with them. My mom tells me that pregnant women and children got priority. There was a moment of panic that she and my dad would be split, but my dad came too. The U.S. dropped them off in MN, which was one of the coldest places you could leave a Vietnamese person.
My parents only had $300 in their pocket. With some help from friends, including Grandma and Grandpa Winnes (our angels, RIP), my parents were able to get clothing donations and help navigating the U.S.
Now, my parents are doing great for themselves. It took a lot of hard work. Their Vietnamese college degrees didn’t count anymore, so they had to start their careers all over again. My parents are the definition of hard work. I don’t agree with a lot of their beliefs, but we agree on work ethic.
If I was ever in their situation, I cannot say I would end up as successful. They didn’t really have a road map on how to set a foundation in the U.S.A.; That’s why they call it risk. However, my parents are smart and resilient. They found their footing. Now, they are the road map for the rest of my family.
My parents are a prime example of overcoming obstacles. I work a lot, and though I appreciate a work/life balance, I also push through a load of tasks and simply the duties of life. Who am I to complain when my parents have done so much?
When school kids would comment on my generic clothing brands or when people jokingly call me Viet Cong, I used to be embarrassed. I know now people are pure ignorant and I wear my family history like a badge of honor. It shows the bubble in which people live. They may read articles about war or famine, but it’s a faraway message to them. They have zero empathy for those type of hardships.
I was born in the U.S., so I don’t know what it’s like to run for your life, but I know the hardships of being poor. My parents led by example when they escaped the cycle of poverty and pulled their children up with them. I admire them so much, and I know I would not have the same life if it wasn’t for them.
I am forever grateful for them.