It’s July 4th 2012, one of my favorite American holidays. To honor this day and all it represents for my adopted country, the United States of America, I thought I’d share the story of how I came to live here.
I was born on April 20, 1975 in Saigon, Vietnam — just ten days before the city fell to the Communist government. According to my mother, I arrived six weeks premature after a very difficult labor.
For the first two years of my life, I resided on the island of Phu Quoc, where my mother was born and where my dad — as a visiting businessman — pursued my young, beautiful mother.
Times were really tough. Never mind whose side you were on between the South and North Vietnamese governments. The country was at war, which meant most people suffered from poverty and the lack of opportunities to better the state of their lives. Dad was a smart, ambitious professional who hungered for progress.
Many Vietnamese people wanted to escape the country and go elsewhere, mainly to Europe or the U.S. Escapes were by boat, and most people didn’t make it. Escapees were either caught and imprisoned by the military, raped and killed by sea pirates, or perished from dehydration and starvation at sea.
My Ong Ngoai (grandfather), who loved his children dearly, suspected that my father had a plan to escape with my mother and me. So Ong Ngoai had a serious talk with my mother, entreating her not to leave with my father. He vowed that should Mother remain in Vietnam, he would take care of her, me, and my brother who was six months in my mother’s womb. Mom promised Ong Ngoai that she wouldn’t make a run for America, and Ong Ngoai believed her.
But one late night soon after that talk, my father drove pregnant Mom and me on his Honda motorbike to the very shores of Phu Quoc, where we had to swim out twenty-five feet to the departing boat. En route to Thailand, we were robbed by sea pirates but fortunately, nobody was hurt or killed. When we arrived in Thailand, we stayed with friends for a few months, and Mom gave birth to my beloved brother. Less than a year into our stay in Thailand, we made our way to France, just outside of Paris, where we resided with a kind French family, who sponsored us. After about a year, we arrived in America, where we were sponsored by my mother’s oldest sister, who had moved to the U.S. with her family under U.S. protection — her husband was a pilot in the South Vietnamese air force.
I was not quite four years-old when we moved to America. I remember not understanding a lick of English when I started Head Start pre-school. I learned English by reading and re-reading and memorizing the children’s books that a kindly neighbor helped me obtain at the local public library. Then when I was in fourth grade, my parents passed the exam that granted our entire family American citizenship.
And that’s how I came to live in America and become a U.S. citizen. I am proud to be a naturalized American, and I’m grateful for all the freedom and opportunities this country has granted to me and my family. I love America.