I know it’s a bit late that I’m posting this, but I still consider it April 30th. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, April 30th was the Fall of Saigon, the day in 1975 that the city of Saigon, Vietnam fell to the Communists.
The day that everything changed.
It’s been 40 years, and I know that my parents have this day ingrained in their minds, stamped onto their hearts, crushing their memories like the Communists crushed my great-uncle as they buried him alive in his field. I know that they think about this day everyday, even if it is December 25th and they are sitting with us opening presents under the Christmas tree and even if it is July 4th and we are all watching red, white, and blue fireworks shoot up into the sky. I know they think about their freedom.
April 30th, 1975 is a day that all Vietnamese-Americans remember. It was the day that they had to choose where their life would turn: would they stay or would they leave? Communism was fresh and many Vietnamese people didn’t know how to react to it. After their tireless fighting to remain independent was wasted they didn’t know what was even worth the effort. What could they count on if not their country’s fighting spirit?
The current government of Vietnam states that the Vietnam War killed up to 4 million Vietnamese citizens. They call it the reunification of Vietnam, but I call it the death.
It is still amazing to me to see how fast South Vietnam crumbled, like building blocks that a child recklessly pushed over with his feet. Often, I feel as if I was there although I know that I have known no suffering like family has. I wonder what would have happened if April 30th had not happened the way it did, if somehow the Southern Vietnamese troops hadn’t lost the presidential palace and remained strong.
It makes me sad to look at the Vietnamese flag on American maps and history textbooks. The yellow rectangle with a red star is not my flag. My flag does not have an obnoxious, five pointed shape in a dark red color that only reminds me of blood and death. My flag is yellow, with three red stripes stretching from end to end, and that red is strength and freedom. It is not Communist. It will never be Communist. I will never acknowledge that flag as the Vietnamese flag for as long as I live. That is one thing I can count on.
I know that I wasn’t alive on April 30th, 1975. I know I wasn’t alive until much later. Yet, I know that I was heavily affected, so much so that I might not even be here today if this hadn’t happened. My parents, desperate to escape, huddled on small boats that drifted at sea with 50 other people. They dealt with starvation, dehydration, and malnutrition. But worst of all, they sometimes lost hope. And if my parents hadn’t put themselves through such an ordeal, risking their lives and their families, then I wouldn’t be here today. Born in America. Born with freedom.
It may seem as if I am overly patriotic, with all my spiel about freedom and America and how much I love being here. But to be honest, I’ll accept the patriotic freak label, because it’s true. There is no other country that I could love as much as America because my parents traveled across oceans and countries just to come here. They almost died coming, of all places, here.
I traveled to Vietnam last summer. It was my first time, and my mother’s first time since she’d left 35 years ago. She hadn’t seen her middle school friends, and here she was meeting them again for the first time. I often hear this story. My grandmother urged my mother to escape quietly at night so she wouldn’t get caught. So, one night, my mother took what little belongings she had and left. The next day at school, she was nowhere to be found. Her friends knew, though. They knew where their classmates were disappearing to. This story always breaks my heart. What broke my heart last summer though was seeing my mom’s best friend from middle school. She took one look at my mom and began to cry, not even able to go and say hello. She waited until she had calmed down and then pulled my mother so close that I began to bawl as well (childish I know). She then showed me all the letters that she and my mom had sent to each other. She gingerly pulled yellowed pieces of paper out of a cardboard box and she held those letters like they were worth one million dollars. I’m sure that was how much she valued them. Seeing my family was even worse. These people, who I’d never even met before, were welcoming me and embracing me as if I was visiting for the weekend. My grandparents’ brothers and sisters were getting older and weaker. They said to me, “We probably won’t see you again because we’ll be passing on soon. Work hard in school. Don’t forget that. Work hard.” Needless to say, I bawled even more.
That is why April 30th matters. April 30th, 1975 determined my fate. It determined my entire family’s fate. It ripped me apart from my family in Vietnam, a family I could have made memories with for my entire life. It ripped me apart from my mother’s friends and their children who I could have grown up with. But it gave me the chance to live here, in America, where I don’t have to be afraid of what I say or do. It gave me strength to fight back and work hard and to never accept something that I don’t believe in.
I will never experience the Vietnam that my parents experienced. This saddens me. And I will never experience what could have been the independent Vietnam. But I know for sure that I will never forget that it could have existed. I will never accept that this is all Vietnam is. Because this is not my Vietnam.