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Letter for Anh Due

Tácgiả: vuducduong

Last time, I asked anh Due when he would go back to Vietnam. He said he would have liked to very much. I knew what he meant. He’d been living with me for more than 6 weeks. I sensed in him an unfulfilled longing built up in a long time for the country we called Vietnam.

But Due said he was sad because when he would go back to Vietnam, what would he go back to? No home, no family, no relatives remained. I felt even sadder for him, a Vietnamese expatriate. Did the Vietnamese expats really lose their homeland?

Chi Diem, a very close friend of mine once confided in me. She said when she went back to Vietnam, she felt sad too because while she was there, she realized her home was in the US. So then, is Vietnam any longer the home for them, millions of Vietnamese expatriates…….

Will this also be my story?

Anh Due is sad.

So are Chi Diem and many other friends.

I crooned to Dang, a friend, songs about our homeland. He’s almost thirty five now. He didn’t understand a word. When I ask him whether he was Vietnamese or American, Dang said he was American. Due said he was a Vietnamese living in the US. Diem said she was a “naturalized American”. I quote her precisely. Fortunately, they were still able to comprehend the question and came up with answers even though the different answers carried with them many disquiet thoughts and emotions. I took Misa and Michelle (Chi Diem ’s children) to school at times. They had been born in this far-flung land. They were raised speaking very good English unlike the broken one uttered by their parents. I tried to teach them the song “Daddy loves me because I’m like Mommy. Mommy loves me because I’m like Daddy…” (ba thương con vì con giống mẹ…) The response to my attempt was the innocently clueless look on their young faces. They could not relate to the melody or the lyrics of the song. I felt so sad.

A young Vietnamese woman held her first born child, trying to put the kid to sleep with a lullaby. I use the word “lullaby” here loosely because aside from lightly patting the baby, she was humming a few meaningless sentences “Rock a bye baby on the tree top….” They are utterly meaningless. I missed the sweet lullabies my grandmother used to serenade me when I was a baby….so sweet…. “My father’s accomplishments are as high as Thai Son Mountain. My mother’s love is gushing like a water spring.” ….I also missed my mother’s tender loving…. “Fish will get rotten without salt, children without parents’ teachings will go the way of the rotting fish.” …. Then my cousin serenaded her children “Everyone has only one motherland, just like one mother. If one doesn’t remember one’s motherland, one will not be able to grow into an adult”, an adult with every sense of the word.

I felt compassionate toward Anh Due ,sad for my friend Diem, and painful looking into the innocent eyes of the children. Is it true that when Vietnamese people left their country, they forgot the way back? Is it true that with the fast-paced and hectic lives in foreign lands, my people no longer have time to sing, to serenade, and to speak to one another in the sweet Vietnamese language that embodies the Viet soul?
Millions of Vietnamese fled the country in mass exodus. Many generations of Vietnamese grew up overseas. Paris has a thriving Vietnamese community around 13th precinct yet I searched in futility for a Vietnamese restaurant like those in Hanoi. In Washington DC, Vietnam town is a small U-shaped shopping center that only shows some life on the weekends. In Little Saigon, Vietnamese is spoken everywhere, the Vietnamese mixed with English that sounds so funny and strange to Vietnamese people in Vietnam. Words denote different meanings. A Vietnamese linguist would have a field day. Yet, they sound endearing to me because they still are able to speak Vietnamese. Would the successive generations be able to?

There are Vietnamese families that are still unceremoniously teaching their children the traditional Vietnamese way. No matter where their children end up in the world, they will always impress others as people with root. Let truth be told, I “admire” them. On a local Vietnamese radio station, there were children as little as three calling in a children’s show and sang “I’m three years old and I go to kindergarten…” or “When at home, my mom is also my teacher. When at school, my teacher is like my loving mom…” I wish every Vietnamese family could be like that. The image of our country will forever stay beautiful and duly passed down to subsequent generations of Vietnamese overseas.

Back to my anh Due, I just wanted to tell him that he still had many things to go back to, the soul of Vietnam is still waiting for him to come back.

His home is the quaint Vietnamese countryside with authentic Vietnamese people saddled with baskets full of young sweet rice lending fragrance to the cool autumn breeze on their way to the market places. His home is the winding narrow dirt roads frequently traveled by the industrious farmers toiling to bring food home. His home is the river curving through idyllic and peaceful villages on whose bank young couples whisper “I love you” for the very first time. His home is the green rice patty reaching to the horizon where his mothers and sisters till the land with their bare hands. His home is the golden rays of the full autumn moon casting on the front porch where his old grandmother contently watches the children perform their renditions of the Vietnamese folk songs…..

His home exists in the songs laden with maternal love, asking the sons and daughters away from home not to forget their skin color, wanting them to come back, be it Dang, chi Diem, or the children who can no longer speak Vietnamese.

His home will forever remain in the image of Pho stands on a Hanoi street emanating savory scents of cilantro and chive which seem to warm the crisp air on the last days of autumn. His home is a boulevard lined with “hoa sua” trees as tall and noble as the Hanoians shedding the last leaves sending autumn off in the chill air of arriving winter. His home is the departing trains in Hang Co station laden with love and life-long promises linking my beloved Hanoi and Saigon.

His home is still there while he’s close to us, his friends, listening to Vietnamese songs on Bolsa Avenue. "Chieu trên phố Bolsa,tình người sao hiếm quá." This land is the land of plenty, yet the human touch is so hard to come by.

The day I left Vietnam, the painful feeling of losing my homeland penetrated every fiber of my being. My dad has passed. I was leaving my mom. I felt more torn apart than ever. However I believe that even if I live in a foreign land for a hundred years, I will still be myself, a Vietnamese away from my homeland where my heart will always belong.

It’s only now that I perceive to the fullest the love of one’s homeland….It truly is a bunch of sweet star fruits. –Quê hương là chum khế ngọt..


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