This is a true story I wrote in 2006. The person in this story, Bac Minh, is now in the hospital, terminally ill.How many of us actually stop to think about our past? And when I say past, I don't mean the memories that have been made within our lifetime. I mean our history, the events which have led up to our existence in this world. The only way we can retrieve this information is through our family. More specifically, our parents. Kids my age can think of a million other things to do than to sit down with their parents to discuss the story of their lives. In other words, we don't care. We are too young and too ignorant to understand that it matters. The truth hurts.
Maybe when I am older I'll know more about my parent's history. But for now, I don't know much. I'm interested in knowing but I'm afraid to ask. Probably because I know that both of their stories contain volumes of hardships that I'll never be able to comprehend as a lucky, spoiled brat raised in America. Yesterday I attended a dinner for an American family that sponsored my father and his half brother's family when they were Vietnamese refugees in 1975. This will be a difficult story to tell unless I tell you the basic background of my family. This will be very confusing so please bear with me.
In Vietnamese culture it is not uncommon to take more than one wife. Especially if you're rich. My dad's father (who was a mayor, and important figure) had three wives. The first wife had children who are still living in Vietnam today. I have never met them. Interestingly enough, the second and third wife were sisters. There is actually a reasoning behind this that involves old customs and property concerns but the way my mother tried to explain it to me was very confusing, so I'll skip that part. Anyway, the second wife had two sons, my dad's half brothers. The first son became a general in the Vietnam war and fought for the south side. His name is Bac Minh and is still alive today. The other passed away before I was born, but his children are my cousins who all have kids of their own now. The third wife had my father and three other brothers. One brother is still in Vietnam. The rest live in Washington.
The year 1975 was when my father took his half brother's family and fled to America on a navy ship. He did not have time to take his own brothers. The news that North Vietnam had won had reached my dad and he only had a second to get on the ship. He took the closet people, Bac Minh's family which consisted of a wife and four children. At the time, Bac Minh was still fighting the war and could not escape. He was eventually captured by the communist side and spent thirteen years in prison.
Yesterday I had the honor of meeting Frank, who was the chair person of the committee that sponsored my father and Bac Minh's family. I learned that the sponsorship was actually a huge project of Frank's church. My dad and Bac Minh's family was actually a part of a long list of refugee families the church could pick from. They chose Bac Minh's family because a single mother with four children was the most in need from the list. I always wondered why my dad was Christian and why his side of the family was Christian and not Buddhist. Now I know. The church helped them a great deal and basically saved their lives. The church found a house and fixed it up for the family. Of course my dad and Bac Minh's family wasn't able to stay there forever, they actually had to move several times due to certain circumstances. But each time the church was always there. And so was Frank.
Frank is retired now. He has written an autobiography, and my family history is a large part of it. I plan to read every page. Today, Bac Minh is now living with his family again. Since his return and being reunited with his children and wife after thirteen years, Bac Minh has always been a head figure of our clan. He is the oldest and the individual that holds the most respect. When he returned to America most of his children had already graduated from college. Only one of the children was able to attend the dinner and the dinner was at his house. Unfortunately Bac Minh is extremely ill now and is bed ridden. He came out to meet Frank again in a wheel chair and did not have the energy to join us for dinner, not even enough to shake Frank's hand. He did however, have enough energy to speak. I can't remember every single word he said, but I'll do my best.
" I'm sorry I cannot join you all today, but I am very ill. It is good to see you all again. We are so blessed to have you in our lives and your help. I am also very grateful to be here today with my wife. I spent thirteen years in prison. Thirteen years with no freedom. The communists either liked you or didn't like you. If they didn't like you, you could never satisfy them. And so when I heard that my family was in America, I was so happy. I told them they could do whatever they wanted to me. They asked me, 'why'? And I told them it was because my family was no longer in this country. They were free, they were safe. So I am very lucky to be here now. We are all very lucky to be here and I believe that my family has established themselves very well in this country. We could not have done it without out you. Again I am sorry I cannot join you for dinner but please, make yourselves at home and please enjoy your time with my loved ones. "
And so we did.