This was written by Thuy Smith about her experience. All Rights Reserved.
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It starts with Thuy’s reflection as a child growing up, to an Amerasian experience / perspective, about her parent’s relationship, returning to Vietnam for the first time, and finding healing, identity, and forgiveness. (Website)
“Searching for the right words to articulate the cries from your heart”- Mai Neng Vang
Most people call it “writer’s block”; I call it “searching for the right words to articulate the cries from your heart”. After two months of contemplating my words, I am finally able to tell a story that I have been keeping silent for far too long. This story is not a complete one and is only the beginning of the many stories that need to be told. But we have to start somewhere so I will start with the place I come from.
I am a Hmoob American woman. I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand called Chiang Kham where each day was lived with an uncertainty of more tomorrows, where food was scarce and diseases were abundant, where the tears of my people could drown the camp. I came to the United States a month shy of turning four, leaving behind the place where my parents grew up, leaving the poverty that was part of daily life, leaving those we loved, never knowing if we would see them again. We didn’t come with much; the most valuable things we carried were dreams of a better life and hopes to find a place we could call home.
My parents told me that education was the key to a better future so I was very set on making education my priority. And while I was working on my English at school, my parents were working on making a life in America.
Both my parents are very intelligent people; the words of wisdom from their hearts taught me more about life than anything I’ve ever learned in a class. However, when they first came to the U.S., neither of them could read nor write the language so they had to use their physical strength to make a living because here in America, you can’t get very far when you cannot communicate your intellectual strengths.
My parents tried the best way they knew how to give my siblings and I a life that they never had, having grown up in the terror of a war that was not supposed to be theirs to fight. The battle they fight today is one for the future they dreamt of for their children.
This country has been my home for the last 18 years. I have been so blessed to experience the opportunities I have had; I am so grateful for the chance to fulfill my goals. However, the closer I get to my goals, the more I realized how much injustice there is in this country.
Even after the Japanese internment camps era and the Civil Rights Movement, policies still exist that oppress people of color, the media still portrays people of color as un-American, and segregation continues in a different form. Even after living the majority of my life thus far in this country, people still question whether or not I am American. I feel that there are certain expectations of a person in order for others to consider them an American.
So what does it mean to be an “American”? Everywhere I turn, people say, “America is about diversity, to be different is to be American.” But how is this true when people frown on those who do not know the “American way”. In my eyes, my parents are strong and brave and intelligent, but as soon as they step outside of the Hmong community, into the “American” world, their voices are weakened and they become children again in the eyes of those who are only listening to their accents; they are looked down upon—sometimes by people younger than them. I’ve seen this happen. Unfortunately, I know it still does.
In 1943, President Roosevelt said, “Americanism is a matter of the mind and the heart.” I would like to question the validity of such a statement. If it is true, then why do I have to prove my Americanism with a sheet of paper that grants me the right as a citizen of the United States of America? Why did my mother and father, grandmother and grandfather spend endless days, weeks, months, years studying for a test that was so difficult to pass? If it is a matter of the mind, then why is the accent that I carry more important than what I have to say? If it is a matter of the heart, then why is it not enough to be patriotic and loyal to the government of this United States of America? If it is about what I think and feel then why is my Americanism questioned because of the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes? Why do I still get asked “Where are you from?” with the expectation to answer with a foreign country? Why am I still being judged by the Hmong blood that runs through my soul?
Today, fear and uncertainty is what is silencing people like my parents from speaking up about injustices that they have experienced. They are afraid of confronting a system that will not listen to them, afraid of talking to people who will not understand them, afraid that their Hmong voices cannot be heard in this sea of English. As a society, we need to listen to the silence more often because sometimes, silence speaks louder than words. Listen to the people whose voices are often lost among louder voices; listen to those voices that have never spoken because of fear; listen to the silence of those who are being oppressed by the systems and institutions. We need to do more than hear these voices; we need to listen with our hearts ready and our minds open. Healing can only start once we take time to listen to the stories of pain and suffering.
And so I write my story so that others can be inspired to share theirs. I write down words that cannot begin to express the pain behind them, but still I write. I write in hopes of opening the eyes of everyone around me. The story does not end here, so I will continue to write.
*We allow our guest bloggers to share from their experiences / perspectives, one of many. Take what resonates with you, put aside what does not. We are merely a platform for various views, perspectives, and voices.
This is a clip from a new documentary about the plight of Amerasian children left behind in the Philippines. This is also a similar story for the Vietnamese Amerasians and Amerasians from other countries as well.
Servicemen are either stationed in many of these Asian countries or are there for a brief visit. During this time intimate relations occur between the soldiers and the women of these countries. In many cases children are born due to these visits and then are left behind without a father to endure many hardships. These incidents are not isolated or rare occurrences.
Although there are many servicemen who have developed loving relationships and have acknowledged their responsibility toward their own children, many have not. These innocent children grow up without having a father and experience much shame, stigma, and discrimination for being an interracial child. Those with African-American descent or darker skin experience this even more.
In the case of Vietnam, there were some loving relationships and not all women were prostitutes or bar girls. This is a myth and stereotype. My parents are a good example. In fact they were married in Vietnam during my father’s second tour. He met her while she was working at an American mess hall serving food and as a maid. For those who were prostitutes and bar girls- so what? They are still people who all too often are victims of poverty and other unfortunate circumstances to begin with. It would be easy to dehumanize and demonize the women as an act of justification.
Sometimes during the war in Vietnam people genuinely got separated and were unable to reunite. I hold no judgement from that time period. I understand as in the case of Vietnam for some, being young especially during wartime, lends itself toward living in the moment and not always thinking ahead with making the best choices.
I know there were some Vietnam Veterans who didn’t even know they had a child. For those who did know, many had no idea how to find them again. There are Veterans who have tried to search for their kids. Some actually found them.
My experience of being Amerasian in this country was not a positive one. I was discriminated against not only by some youth, but some adults. I was told in the United States I did not belong in this country and to go back to “my county”. I also had some adults use physical aggression toward me. Some in the Vietnamese community were also discriminative.
I felt ashamed for being from Vietnam, for being Cambodian Vietnamese, and for being Amerasian. Today it is different. I embrace being Amerasian and I’m proud of it. Despite what I experienced I still consider myself the fortunate one and am truly proud of my American Vietnam Veteran father.
I have worked hard to bridge the gap with the rest of the community about Vietnam Veterans. I proposed and advocated for a Vietnam Veteran’s Day in my state, organized many events and platforms for them to come together and share their stories, and am part of a coalition of states advocating for a national recognition. All across the nation Vietnam Veterans have been receiving their long-awaited proper acknowledgment after 40 some years. I support this whole- heartedly. You may possibly find this hard to believe since I am writing about this topic. There were many victims of the war in Vietnam, and yes the American soldiers as well. There was “good and bad” that took place from every end. When I bring awareness to Vietnam Veterans, I bring awareness to Veterans like my Vietnam Veteran father whose intention of going to Vietnam was to do good. There were many honorable men like him as well. For those who made past mistakes of ignoring their responsibilities regarding this issue, many are also trying to make things right today. Many of the Vietnam Veterans I’ve talked to are embarrassed and ashamed whether or are embarrassed by their fellow Veteran who did. Many G.I.s from the Vietnam War Era have contacted me asking for help to find their child or possible child. Of course there are those who simply want to forget. However, I’ve always said and truly believe that this whole thing regarding the war in Vietnam can not truly come full circle until everyone that has been affected by the war in Vietnam and their stories have actually been acknowledged.
I feel for the other Amerasians as well. Although from different countries, we are all the children of servicemen.
Many Amerasians who have been able to reside in the land of our fathers have focused on moving ahead with our lives. We have worked hard, become leaders in our communities, and been successful in our lives. All we want now is to not only be able to tell our stories, but especially the stories of those less fortunate Amerasian children of American Servicemen.
What are your thoughts? What responsibility should our Government have? What about the government of the Philippines or other countries with this similar issue? What is the solution to this issue in preventing other tragic stories in the future?
Amerasian is a term coined during the war in Vietnam. It was a term to identify children of American soldiers who fought during the war and the Vietnamese mothers. In this powerful reunion, it is an American that reunites with his Filipino Amerasian Daughter. What child doesn’t want to know their father?