The conversation gained momentum with breaks, like children playing side-by-side, we returned to our solitary activity — my Kindle, his a series of brief phone calls. “News from America,” he explained.
As he allowed me into his story, I learned he left Vietnam at the age of 25, to Vancouver. Why? “The Communist regime gave my nation no future.”
He went alone. And managed to return a few times because someone knew someone who bent a rule. (Others told me they had never been able to visit loved ones left behind)
This was his farewell trip, encouraged by his doctors while he’s able, because another heart valve replacement is not an option.
Extracting information as gently as possible with “Why’s?” and “How’s?” about his leaving and “How has the country changed under the regime?” His concerns? The struggles of his brothers and sisters and bevvy of nieces and nephews? Do his siblings express regret for staying? What is their attitude toward the U.S.?
We scooted our chairs closer and spoke in hushed tones, at his warning that criticism of the government warrants prison — if overheard, we would arrested.
“Still? Today?” My American-mind can hardly wrap around the lack of freedom of conversation in a coffeehouse.
And his family left behind? They missed that tiny window decades ago, and now have no liberty to leave, no real hope of improving their lot. Young and old alike marvel at his stories of life in Canada, but to express regret for not leaving when their country fell would be neither “Vietnamese” nor wise.
On a cruise from Japan to Vancouver, I met many South Vietnamese who’d immigrated to Canada and the western U.S. when Vietnam fell to communism. Their lifestyle was dramatic contrast with today’s Vietnamese citizens, who have no voice, describe deplorable healthcare and education, their future only communism’s end game — poverty and gray hopelessness.
With frustration still in his voice — or was it anger? — one summarized U.S.’s errors, “We needed money to fight, not soldiers. The officers didn’t know jungle warfare or a Vietcong from us (dialects of north vs south) …”
I love the immigrant story.
In 1982 I lived in very cheap apartments beside a noisy freeway in Southern California, next door to a multi-generational household sharing a tinier quarters. While I deplored the aromas of food they cooked, I so respected their sacrifice and watched as they launched nuclear families one-by-one, and then sponsored more. Not unlike my own family’s immigration — sponsor a sibling, work, sacrifice, work, save, work…
One too-well hidden tour in NYC — the Tenement Museum and Tour — tells the story well. https://tenement.org/
Several young Vietnamese adults said, “Only revolution will bring opportunity for our future.”
While revolution seems to be what young people do, time will tell whether they can push through the imprisoning blanket of Communism and find their way to liberties and opportunity, a voice in their own futures.