My father-in-law was one of the South Vietnamese employees of the American Embassy in his last job in Vietnam. He also had many other 'black marks' against him which made the fall of Saigon particularly dangerous for him. He had been a Catholic monk, he was well educated, and had been an officer in the South Vietnamese Army. The war was divided along rural/urban lines and religious as well; something many don't know.
|Air Boss on the USS Midway that day. My sons sat in|
these seat on a recent visit - a special perk from a man who
had been there that day and gave my husband and us a
special tour, nicer than his first visit there on April 29, 1975.
The Nguyen family is full of GRIT. The things they went through that day were harrowing. But those were only just the start. What was sad was not only were they leaving their country but the life they had built from nothing. Through grit they had come from poverty (my FIL was a monk because his family couldn't afford him and gave him to the monastery at 7). The day my husband left Vietnam, he was going to the top private school in the nation and his 'life was set'. He had attended seven schools in three years to claw his way there. They started over in refuge camps with nothing. If you speak to my husband, you would never know that English is his third language as there is no accent. He worked his way to MIT and has started multiple high-tech companies. At this point, risk is something that comes natural. It wasn't just that the months were hard - once they got here to the USA, they had nothing. This is a particular period that they just don't discuss - the years of hardship.
It is no surprise that he married me, a dyslexic girl whose high school had a betting pool of how many weeks it would take me to flunk out of MIT. I was told once by a professor that if I thought I was going to grad school with writing like that - I was sorry mistaken. I got mad and got to work (I still am an awful writer, but not as bad!). Both of us tend to set our jaws and 'get it done'. We are comfortable with failure and the need to try 99 times to figure something out.
|See it. You think you|
know the story of
April 29, 1975, but
there is so much more
We were invited by Rory Kennedy to the opening and were able to see it as a group last night. The people seated around our group of Vietnamese adults and 'halfee' kids were often surprised as my husband or his sister would loudly blurt things out during the film. "The yellow flares! I remember that!! They were everywhere". Or "We stayed in the trench that night while the bombs hit the airport". But the other movie goers didn't seem to mind. I think they realized that two people who lived though this as kids were piecing together their shattered memories into a coherent timeline for the first time in their lives. We had made sure to drive in one big SUV - the conversations were priceless on the way home. The kids all had big eyes and lots of questions.
We were stunned. My husband blurted out at one point - "we landed at 3 am on the Midway, I asked my dad what time it was when we tumbled out". We realized that he was on one of the last runs of helicopters. The operation ended at 4 am. 420 South Vietnamese were left on the embassy by Presidential order. Last night he marveled that if it wasn't for these men, he would likely be an internet savvy farmer in the hinterlands of Vietnam right now (if he was lucky).
Rory Kennedy's point is obviously that when we in the West go into a country and people work with the American and Coalition Forces to achieve our mission - we can't abandon them. It is morally wrong. That was what everyone leaving the movie was talking about. The modern parallels are clear. Obviously we agree.
I get very angry all the time to watch people here rail against immigrants while sitting on their butts letting their kids drool in front of video games and expecting that they are entitled to all America offers. 'Job creators' is their favorite phrase usually contrasted with 'immigrant welfare'. That little terrified boy who almost didn't make it on that helicopter has created four companies and hundreds of jobs - an entire industry in Boston in Speech. Most of you have a phone with his technology on it. And he isn't comfortable with laurels, each time he took a month off and then was back to work on the next company idea. When he is working on a new company (as he is now), I step up my work into overdrive and support the family so he can create something new. The Casket and Stumpwork course were designed for this purpose. You are funding the next big-tech thing.
My impression of refugees and immigrants - legal and illegal (if you really watch the movie - all the South Vietnamese were illegal) is quite different from the shock jocks out there. I have watched parents work menial jobs because protectionist policies for native borns wouldn't allow their doctorates or medical training to be transferred (my MIL is a French trained surgical nurse, but spent 20 years in the USA washing surgical equipment instead) -- all the while pouring everything into their kids and demanding only the most attentive work from them so they could academically succeed. Every time I step into a cab in Boston, I ask for the life story of the driver. Try it. You'll get out and shake their hand as you will just have met someone who is usually from some war torn country working multiple jobs and going to school trying to support an extended family. Honorable men not sitting around complaining about others. My friend teaches English to new immigrants who ride a bus two hours each way after cleaning floors in poverty to learn - she is furious as her funding is being cut while everyone yammers at how people don't learn English. She has a 300 person waiting list - people who want to learn, but they may have to close their doors. I listen to locals in my wealthy town complain about 'these people' coming into town and making the schools harder for their kids. And smiling with no comment at them as they explain why their kids aren't taking honors math -- 'the teacher is a hard grader, you know'. As if avoiding work is a ok thing. I know she is a hard grader, because my kid is taking it. And we are spending an hour a night tutoring him instead of doing something for ourselves. Because that is what you do when you realize the opportunities America has to offer and you almost didn't have it. They often don't realize because of my white face that we are 'these people'.
See the movie. And think about donating $5 to Rory Kennedy's Indiegogo project with PBS to record the stories of all these South Vietnamese like my FIL before they die. Their stories are all similar to ours and what makes America constantly reinvent itself, be innovative, and vibrantly alive.
And we thank those Americans in Vietnam who followed their conscience instead of the rules from the bottom of our hearts as a family! If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be in the position to teach embroidery to you.