Titi Mary Trần
Mothers rarely receive the recognition they deserve. The same for my mother, who grew up with and survived the war in Vietnam.
She stayed loyal to my father during his re-education camp from the time when they were not married until today. Mother raised four children in the post-South Vietnam era, when most of her family’s possessions were taken by the communists, food was rationed and her career was jeopardized.
Her life became unsettled at age 2 when her father uprooted the family from Hue and moved South, along with hundreds of thousands of other Vietnamese, during the 300-day grace period after the Geneva Accords of 1954. In the South, grandfather found land and built a community around it. Childhood for my mother from that moment on was as peaceful as the ocean breeze.
Until her dearest younger brother was killed in the war just several months after his graduation as a military commander in 1975, Mother was hospitalized. Her life has been disrupted since that trauma.
War continued. For her to witness corpses laying in the streets was normal.
Her family’s land was confiscated; they had to give it up to arrange for grandfather’s freedom. People formed lines each morning to buy food with ration coupons assigned to them.
Apparently, it was a common procedure when there was a change of regime.
From a principal of an elementary school of a democratic regime to the daughter in-law of a country farmer of a communist regime, she went to work in the rice paddy. Legend has it she wore high heels. She later became one of the best rice growers and harvesters in town.
In the U.S., my mother quietly reinvented herself as a tailor, a rice cake steamer, a stay-at-home home mom and a fresh-fruit seller. She raised four children who went on to become college graduates. Yet, it is a challenge every time I try to squeeze a word from her about her legacy and the life she has led.
Her typical response: “There’s nothing to it. It’s just like that.”
Now, she battles a mental health illness that could be treated, if she’d allow it. She can’t shake the stigma of mental health among Vietnamese Americans.
My mother’s story is not uncommon. It is so familiar among war-born generations that it has become muted, partly because those who lived it do not wish their experiences upon their descendants. This silent generation of Vietnamese women live with deep trauma and a belief that chaos is the norm, silence is a virtue and self-destruction is a glorified sacrifice.
May the change be forthcoming, my beloved mother. Happy Mother’s Day.