posted by Kevin Mînh Allen
You would be glad to see that I’m still alive at 34 and doing what I’m doing to get by. It has been a struggle to mature into the person I am now, but I keep gaining wisdom every day and I’m trying to make a name for myself. Every time I write one of these letters to you I feel like I’m plotting out my past and future lives in the context of the present. There’s nothing left for me to do but bear witness to your memories and enjoy this life you’ve given me.
Incredibly, my first American name wasn’t ‘Kevin’, it was ‘Dominic’. Isn’t that funny? Wouldn’t it sound better if I were called ‘Dom,’ ‘Nick’ or ‘Nicky’? I found out this information when Evalyn, my other mom, gave me all the documents she had saved concerning my adoption back in 1974. She explained to me that she and her husband, Bob, were not the first couple to adopt me. It seems that a young couple from Springfield, Missouri brought me home first and took care of me for a couple months until their marriage fell apart. According to the adoption agency’s rules, they had to give me back. I was sent to a good foster family somewhere in Colorado and within a few months Evalyn and Bob waited for me to arrive at the airport in Rochester since they finally adopted me. Imagine taking on three different names – ‘Nguyên Ðúc Mînh’, ‘Dominic’ and now ‘Kevin Keith Allen’. I’ve even changed my name for a fourth time to ‘Kevin Minh Allen’.
People say that I should just move on and get on with my life, as if nothing had happened between you and dad; as if my life didn’t start in Sài Gòn but in western New York. Even though I have no memory of you, no pictures of you as a girl, as a woman, and no stories about you, the bond between us, however faded, is still there. When I lay awake after a long sleep, I can hear a woman singing to her child in her arms; the words I don’t understand, but the song is meant for me. It’s imploring me to come back to the place where you were born and where you may have died.
It’s hard going through the world admitting to people that I don’t know what you look like and I don’t even know your name, that in the end I was simply adopted by a nice American family. If only I had a picture of you or perhaps at least a picture of your grave; something that can prove you were here. But, what if nothing of you exists? What then? Then, it should become obvious to me that all the proof I need to show that you were the one who gave birth to me, is me. I am your proof.
Sài Gòn is the city where I was born. Webster is the town where I was raised. They probably couldn’t be more different from each other. Society told our parents to give us American names, American homes, American food and the American Dream. But, after all these years of denying it, I am one of many who have decided to come back and visit that other part of my life in Vietnam, the origin of my birth. It’s like Mecca to a Muslim: if you are able bodied and have the means, you must come back and pay your respects. I don’t know what to expect, though. I know you won’t be waiting for me, and neither will dad. Although I think of you, I’ve convinced myself that you are not alive. The opposite could very well be true, but why ruin the surprise, or better yet, why ruin a good thing.
My other parents were very happy to receive me on that November day in 1974. Many times I’ve looked at the photo of my reaction as that large group of people gathered to see the new arrival. My face was plump and flush. My natural curls looked tousled from uneasy sleep. My eyes were wide with a bit of surprise and fear. I had no idea who was holding me and I didn’t know I was being handed over to new parents.
It looked like I was in desperate need of an explanation.
I’ll see you when I get there. Until then, I’ll be here.