posted by sume
This photo is one of my first memories of another Vietnamese…Viet Namese…face other than my own. I can’t remember where I saw it, maybe on television or in a newspaper. I must have been seven or eight years old. I can’t remember what I thought when I saw it. I’m not sure I thought anything. He was a stranger.
I had no memories of my birth country, only a strange longing for something I couldn’t define.There were the smells; scents that whispered in a language that I couldn’t quite understand. The feelings of nostalgia would hit me unexpectedly, like some random flashback; sandalwood, lemon, certain spices, the automotive department at Sears (?!).
I left Saigon…Sai Gon before my mind’s eye had fully opened, its lens still unfocused. The war was not yet over but I was too busy being a child to notice. What did I care of war? It wasn’t until later that I learned about the war, about Ho Chi Minh, Viet Cong and still later My Lai. When I’d asked, “who won” an adoptive family member replied, “we did”. Who was “we”? Who was I? And why the lie?
The 1970’s American version of the war in Vietnam…Viet Nam was the only one available. I was saturated with it and breathed it in where it stuck to my insides like sticky soot. The old war stories became part of my memories. Sometimes, I overheard them talking on the streets or in the cafe. “The ugly little bastards were tricky. They could melt into the environment, burrow down like tunnel rats…yeah…tricky little shits.” Some forgot to distinguish between north and south.
Later on, Rambo was the hero of the day. He’d supposedly killed lots of Vietnamese…Viet Namese. I applauded in the theatre, then cried myself to sleep at home. In 1989, Michael J Fox taught me about the Casualties of War and gave me a hint of what “we” did to “them”. I asked, “Did we do things like this to them?” “No, we went there to save them,” said the educators. The war had been a perpetual dancer through my veins though its meaning was as lost to me as light to the eyes of the dead strewn among the fields of My Lai… Me Lie.
It was a different time, now covered over with memorials, anniversaries, trade agreements and diplomacy. The country I knew…never knew is gone. When people talk about history…my history, I think, “My history is here…buried there.”