I like the play on language here with the word ‘Me’, which in (northern) Vietnam is a formal way of referring to a mother, but in English refers to one’s own self. So she’s both “Me (her mom)” and “me (herself, a mother)”.
She’s now experiencing the same desire to keep her kids safe and alive that her parents went through. And though what her parents endured was far more dramatic, the drive to protect one’s kids comes from the same place.
Well if my neighbor’s O2 tank exploded and stated an apartment fire I would probably not be so aware as to gather all my stuff the way they did – so in a way that refugee reflex is a pretty good and practical skill, even if it’s genesis comes from a place of fear.
It’s like the family couldn’t wait to put the past behind them so much that they got rid of nearly everything that reminded them of the past.
I like how she describes what the intended lessons were (do well in school, be nice to others), as well as the unintended lesson (always worrying about safety).
She describes it as her parents building their bubble around them – a place separate and safe but also the words denotes an isolation too.
Interesting how they are used to the government taking care of everything but when they get to America they have to take care of themselves. I can see how that would be a culture shock, but my goodness we Americans take the self-reliance thing way too far to the point where it just isolates everyone.
Poor Bo, he gets left behind and then when he does get to leave it’s a disaster trying to get to America. I wonder how much it is his bad luck, or just lack of planning since Ma seems to be the one who has her head screwed on tighter?
I love that he thinks Chicago is ugly.
Different times in the late 70’s when it was relatively easy to get into the US and stat a new life. Sad how in my lifetime the US has slowly been closing itself off more and more from the rest of the world.
The refugee camp where people remake their lives. I suppose on one hand that terrible experience because you have no home and no real identity, but also an exciting possibility since you can forge a new one, at least a new professional identity, even if you can’t really change who you are; what you do can change.
Good ‘ol Ma, when she’s in the hospital everyone just sits around eating rice and butter, then when she gets out, even with no shoes, she gets a better tent, food, supplies, and everyone’s paperwork put in order.
And I was wondering if we’d ever get a real photograph, and she has one here of her family right after they escaped in ’78.
Being captain of a ship with a bunch of starving people and kids would be a nightmare – nobody would know what to do (and what not to do) and everybody would think they have a right to the ship’s operation (like the engine or the water supply). Having been in the Navy, reading this section makes me laugh, cringe, and stressed out all at the same time – and yet I’m not the one fleeing for my life.
That’s funny: one guy wants to put a sail up on a boat with no keep (which would cause the whole thing to tip over). But then how many people would know this that didn’t have any knowledge of boats? And it’s ironic because a lot of the people on the boat are the educated fleeing from the communists but they have no good knowledge which can help them easily escape.
Crazy how they used shots of Valium on some of the kids to keep them quiet as they navigated the river past the patrols. It’s also crazy how while people are trying to save their kids, it’s their kids (being kids) who can so easily get them caught.
That’s heartbreaking how her great grandmother knew the family was never coming back and they had to lie to her.
Everyone spying on each other, class disparity, government control – it’s like these things just keep happening over and over again no matter what country you live in – now it’s becoming America’s turn to dive head first into this insanity because if anyone thinks the artifice of society and government and safety are permanent has not opened the books those in power want to burn.
Interesting how the people who the Americans say were cowardly for surrendering were the same people who survived because they surrendered and then had to flee and become Americans who then raised their kids in America who were inundated with the American side of the story of Vietnam. It’s a lot of mixed stories and points of view making up the “truth”.
At the same time, spring 1975, while Vietnam was (either won or lost, depending on who you asked and which side you were one), Cambodia was also being taken over by communist forces, the Khmer Rouge, and that would lead to the killing fields and the horrific genocide in that country. It feels like Cambodia has yet to recover from those events, while Vietnam currently seems like it stands on its own now.
I like how she shows how complicated the situation was for her parents. Her father talks about the general who killed the Viet Cong in the head (the famous photo) and about how he hated that the military treated the people like criminals, but then also talks about how that Viet Cong had murdered his family a few hours earlier. There aren’t really sides here, it’s more complexities of nuance and gray and surviving.
War turns citizens into enemies of the state, relatives into black market profiteers. Nobody really changed, just their function and how they’re perceived.
Must be interesting to see what her parent’s reaction is to this book considering they’re telling her how they really felt about each other – one wonders if they ever said any of this – such as her thinking her mother thinking Bo probably wouldn’t live long anyway – to each other? Maybe it’s through the kids that the parents can finally communicate?
Her mother reminds me of my grandmother who also wanted more than what a woman born in 1919 and came of age during WW2 could have had. Sometimes the events of the world dictate your life more than you do, like being part of that chessboard where you don’t get to move the pieces, you can only get out of their way.
She says it’s hard for her to accept that her mother was happiest without having her family (the time before she met her husband), but I think that’s true for a number of people who could have had a career or something better instead of starting a family for practical reasons.
She makes a good point about how the chessboard of war never contains the people who are most effected by war: the regular people. It’s always generals and politicians and partisans, but not street vendors and grandmothers selling opium to make ends meet, even though it’s their lives that are the most effected by the wars.
“Even standing right in front of our ld house, I had to rely completely on my family’s stories to picture how it was when we lived there.” Funny how memory works as something handed down when we don;t have our own.
Her grandmother was growing opium to make ends meet. Meanwhile the mafia is fighting the new government, Diem, which didn’t ave full control of the south. You can feel the country falling apart.
As he rides the landing craft, it’s like he’s invading his own country the way the allies did with the same boats at Normandy just 11 years prior. Strange to think of refugees as invaders in their own country, fleeing from their own people, but whom they are separated from across an ocean of idealistic differences.
She also shows the ugly side of Vietnamese independence and how 200,000 were killed in the Land Reforms and that nobody was really free and the police made sure you clapped during the propaganda films. Not much of a life, especially if you’ve enjoyed the material luxuries of the French. Hard to go back home again (which he literally is doing but is struggling with seeing the upside to).
It’s like his father is intentionally making him see the country and how people really live so that he can convince his son to side with Vietnam and not the French. Not that he wasn’t already inclined to see the disparity, and even perhaps be sympathetic to the communists, but this is first-hand education, and not idealistic education one gets on school campuses.
It’s interesting how even though the French brought so many luxuries to Vietnam, which her father enjoyed, especially since he had been so poor initially before attending French school, so many people were willing to give it up to claim an independent identity, even if it meant sacrificing family. Speaks to the power that blood has over material things, and how much freedom is more valued than being ruled.
I don’t know if I should admit this, but I agree with her mother about how “Marriage = trap” and “Education = freedom”. I know it’s possible to balance the two, but I know it’s also a struggle and when you have to decide between the two you’re almost always going to side with family rather than freedom – and not that it’s a negative thing to do so, but balancing self vs others is always a conflict and tension.
OK, that was strange about her father being driven mad by his French, female boss who was tormenting him. Usually you learn about how men take advantage of women, but it can go both ways, too and it’s just as despicable.
Her uncle “wasn’t really a communist when he went [to prison], but on the inside, among the Viet Minh prisoners, he became one”. Just like always – when the oppressors start cracking down on everyone, then even the people who weren’t part of the fight get recruited because of how unfairly they’ve been treated – just like Iraq in the early 2000’s post 9/11.
Her mother grew up VERY privileged when the French were the colonizers in Vietnam. She was very rich, had servants, and her mother was sure proud of her lifestyle – meanwhile so many people were living in poverty and were arming themselves to fight the French, and people like her mother = class war. How many times in history has a country been ripped apart by class tensions?
I think I can understand why her mother was more comfortable talking to her daughter’s husband about her past than to her own daughter since it creates a sort of buffer by talking to someone you share no blood and past with and so it doesn’t get all mixed up and confused or misinterpreted or interrupted, though it does suck that the communication can’t be more connected between mother and daughter.
Interesting how her opinion of her mother is tied up with the opinion of herself, as if they are sort of one person while also being two different people, which is sort of the way kids work, I suppose in that we’re a lot like our parents while also our own people.
She draws her mother (as she knows her) as being sort of stiff and like her mind is somewhere else, though she was a lot different before having kids
I’m glad she explored her father’s past since it informs so much of the man he became, why he didn’t want to coddle the children because he knew how cruel the world could be and it’s probably better to prepare the kids then tell them it will be alright. Besides, he wouldn’t have known any better since his own childhood was terrible – how would he know how to raise kids?
Wow, that’s interesting, her father’s mother wound up in China and raised a whole other family there. She must have been desperate, obviously – you wonder what she had been thinking about her whole life when she thought about her past and her first family in Vietnam.
Jesus, the story of how her father’s father meat his wife and kicked her out at the height of famine and strife in 1940’s Vietnam – and he never saw his mother again.
The power of a graphic novel (memoir) is that you can have a panel with two characters and in the next one of them, her father in this case, is drawn as a 9 year old, not an old man anymore. There doesn’t have to be an explanation of how this happens, we can just see it and except that we’re going to get his story from when he was a child.
A lot of her anxieties as a kid are about not being able to find her way home, like the story her father told her about the guy who could astral project but his friends dressed his sleeping body up and his spirit couldn’t find it’s way back and he went insane (great story). Perhaps this is what the experience of the immigrant is, coupled with a sort of Exorcist possession where one culture invades the immigrant.
Maybe it isn’t that her father didn’t answer her questions because he wasn’t interested in making her feel safe, but that he wanted her to understand how the world can be scary and it’s good to learn how to deal with that rather than only be reassured all the time. Not that you can go all in one way or the other, but there should be a balance. So is she being unfair to her father?
Sad how their degrees aren’t recognized in America so their mother has to assemble circuit boards for minimum wage while the father stays home with the kids.
Interesting idea how she talks about her family as being “formed in another time and place to which they could never go back” while the kids are being formed differently in this new country and there isn’t much the parents can do about it.
Funny how so many people learn English through pop culture.
She’s writing about Brenda Spencer who is still in prison for the shootings; she did it because “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” School shootings are always a part of the American landscape, as is war, and people fearing immigrants which she connects all together here as she becomes more American every day.
There’s always 2 sides to a story in a family, like here when her mother says her father went to the movies when the kids were born, but men weren’t allowed in the waiting room in Vietnam.
She goes further and further back in time as each of her siblings are born, until we get to the first born who died and whose shadow still seems to stretch over her mother all these decades and thousands of miles later.
Wow, the Vietnam shaped hole in her body, more than a tattoo, it goes all the way through her, like an empty space that takes up entirely too much space.
Sad about whatever the history had been between her father and his family that caused him to refuse to go back and see them. Wonder what happened?
In Vietnam being 70 would mean you’re very old, but in America 70 year olds run marathons, so everyone is stuck between two expectations of time and culture. Everyone feels lonely and nobody ever seems to know what expectations should be upheld or not.