Rachel Thuy Nguyen
Over 40 years ago, when I was a just a little girl, my family and I left our Vietnam home to escape the Communist regime and pursue freedom in America.
I never understood or experienced what true freedom was until I visited Vietnam again after the fall of Saigon in 1975. We have so many rights in America that we take for granted, including the right to travel, the right to speak freely and the right to be what we want to be. Not all countries have such freedoms, including my homeland.
I felt overwhelmed seeing my relatives on our first night in Nha Trang. The whole clan met under one roof, and my extended, overseas family was as curious about us as we were about them. My Vietnamese language skills slowly returned as we spoke.
I was grateful to see them after all these years but saddened by the distance. I want them to experience what we have here America, but I know they can’t.
Never again will I take my freedom or my rights in America for granted. Living in America, with its challenges, is nothing in comparison to other countries. The people there would trade places with us in a heartbeat.
My cousin shared with me that his family was outside the American embassy gate with the thousands trying to get in and escape the country when the U.S. helicopters were leaving that final fateful day, April 30, 1975. They couldn’t.
We remembered his father, who passed away and wasn’t able to see his son grow up. I saw the sadness in his eyes and heard it in his voice when he talked about his father, who unfortunately wasn’t able to see the man his son has become.
At our reunion, my other cousins in Vietnam saw their oldest brother, who lives in San Diego and visited the country after these 40 years. The separation was very hard on all of them. On the last night of his travels, I could see it in all the siblings’ eyes that they wanted more time with one another. They were torn that they would be separated yet again. I am reminded of family and the love that binds them; nothing would tear them apart, no matter how much time and distance there was between them.
The visit to Vietnam was powerful and moving. We even went back to the place where my grandparents lived in Dalat. It took us awhile to find the neighborhood but thanks to my cousin’s efforts, we found the exact address. The house was no longer there and a new house was in its place. Knowing that I stood where my grandparents and parents lived moved me beyond words. I never knew who my grandparents were. I had a chance to see my family’s history. I am grateful that my husband and son experienced and understood what this meant to me. To know who you are and where you come from is priceless.
When I think of how much my parents sacrificed coming to a new country and leaving their families behind, I am overwhelmed. They didn’t know the language, where they would live or what their next meal would be. When I think of how many of the Vietnamese refugees the United States were taken in, I am amazed. Thank goodness for the American churches who took in the Vietnamese families. We are indebted to them.
Also, when I think of the many soldiers who died for our freedom, my heart stops as I consider the lives that were lost. When I toured the Mekong River, I could see how the soldiers had to go through the muddy terrain and rivers. I didn’t want to get mosquito bites and yet these soldiers stayed and fought in the land. If it weren’t for them, the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Americans who call the United States their home – me included – wouldn’t be here.
I am forever grateful for their courage.
It was a gift to return to Vietnam and visit our family. We plan to go back in a few years. In the meantime, I will continue to communicate with my cousin and his family regularly. I also will count my blessings every day for the price of freedom we so easily take for granted in the United States.