My mother, the Vietnamese immigrant

Jan 31, 2017

The Vietnam War began on November 1st, 1955 and lasted for twenty years. November 1, 1955 was the official date determined by Congress to honor the deaths of Americans in Vietnam due to the establishment of the Military Assistance Advisory Group. The war ended on April 30th, 1975 with a strategic goal victory to North Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh, whose goal had been make Vietnam a communist country. This war divided the country and drove many of its inhabitants into poverty.

My mother, Kim Phuong, was born in Quy Nhon City, September 10th, 1973, two years before the end of the war. The country she was born into was very poor.  With open fighting and recovery after the war, life was difficult for many.  She had two brothers and a sister. Her neighborhood was very open, meaning doors were open to neighbors but secrets had to be hidden well.

One of my mother's family secrets was a radio her grandfather kept when it was illegal to know of news from outside Vietnam. The family would all gather around it in the very late hours when neighbors were asleep and listen to news about America and Ronald Regan. No one in the family was allowed to share news, because the neighbors would alert the authorities and the consequences were worse than simply taking away the radio. Children still entertained themselves by listening to my mother's older brother Thahn play the guitar or, under the direction of my mother, participated in small musicals.

In the morning, school children caught fish early to sell later in market, and after taking a bath in the ocean, ran off to school. They all had one pair of clothes, which they cleaned well and sometimes swapped with their siblings. My mother's older brother, Thahn, used one pair of pants for morning classes and my mother then used them for evening classes. My mother's family would occasionally go to market if the fish and rice supply was not enough. They would sell the bigger fish and keep the smaller ones to share as meals. One of my mother's fondest memories is coming to America and seeing what we had to eat. She says what one person eats in America as one meal could be a full meal for a medium sized family in Vietnam.

My mother kept a treasure from Vietnam: a worn tin box her father made her in prison and the only surviving photograph of him. When she came to America, she left hundreds of photos of her father Tam with family, who threw all of the photos into a fire.  My grandfather, Tam was in the Navy and was a fisherman. He was taken to re-education camp, across the stream many miles away from my mother's home. She would sometimes travel with her uncle to visit him about twice a year. He died from sickness in a prison cell on October 10th, 1986 and is buried yards away from the camp.

My mother had to live with her aunt and uncle because her own mother worked very hard for many hours. Thahn died in his twenties after many difficulties.

My mother came to America with my father, Jeremy, as a sponsor in 2002 and they got married on February 14, 2003. I was the first born with four more siblings following after me. My grandmother came to live with us before my youngest brother was born in 2010. My mother misses Vietnam but is grateful for the life America has brought to her. 

This is the second of eight stories from the feature reporters at Kid Scoop News, a monthly newspaper tabloid designed for and by Siouxland students. The hope is that these readings might inspire others to start recording the stories of friends, family members and loved ones they don't want to forget.