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For the past couple months, as you’ve probably noticed, I posted a series of excerpts from books on the Vietnam War that had an unstated, but clear, purpose (Notes from a Disintegrating Nation and It Was Never About Freedom). I’m more than happy to admit that I can come off as polemic and bit too scholarly for many people’s tastes. But, something must be said for a person who refuses to buy all the bullshit information that society chooses for you to eat your whole life.

No one enjoys being lied to, especially about one’s beginnings in this world. Growing up, it was generally expected that I accept the white baby scrapbook, the photos of little old me arriving at the airport in 1974 and my parents’ awkward silence on the country in which I was born and the unintended consequences of a war from which they tried to shield me. The looking glass into my past was wrapped in plastic and secured deep in reinforced concrete because I was never meant to step out of the amusement theme park that my life had become. For all the relative affluence my parents and this country handed down to me, I was expected to trade in my conscience and critical thought processes that had been hard-wired into me at birth.

The Vietnam War was recorded extensively, both officially and unofficially, and it has been imagined and re-imagined over and over to “teach” us lessons about life and death. In the American mass media marketplace, the war is usually recounted from one vantage point and with one singular goal in mind: To make the United States and Americans look good.

Ever since I can remember, the people of the United States and South Vietnam have been cast as the victims in the war and the twin beacons of freedom who fought for a noble cause. This kind of rhetoric is still used on us older Vietnamese adoptees to help explain how we were exiled from Vietnam and resettled in foreign countries. No one wants to acknowledge, however, the unpleasant paradox inherent in how we ended up in the very same country whose government and citizenry readily accepted waging a war against the very people who conceived us.

As a result of this rhetoric, compliant gratitude was slowly being fostered in me, leaving me temporarily with no defense against emotional manipulation and open to the planting of disinformation. However, no matter how unpleasant the topic of war was, I chose not to escape the devastation caused by other people’s decisions and actions. I wanted to rush back in time and witness for myself the events that likely contributed to my own adoption from Vietnam. Someone had to answer for the reason for my being here, I thought.

The more historical memory is contested with inconvenient facts and the more political propaganda is debunked and then dissolved through critical analysis, the more life seems to have purpose. And, if I can pique even just one person’s curiosity and get him to take a second look at conventional wisdom, then I feel I’ve served my purpose.

[NOTE: The following is a work of fiction.]

The Army man held me on his lap. I have the picture to prove it. This man’s big white hands curled around my plump little baby body so I wouldn’t fall and land on the wooden floor. The tinted reflection of my face looked bloated in the lenses of his sunglasses. The black-haired adults stood around us, smiling broadly, but their sharp brown eyes peered through the helplessness of the situation. Some of them teetered on the brink of exhaustion. Their knees appeared weak with the thought of giving up yet another child to a country that was sending its bombers over to float above their land like seagulls over a landfill.

But, nothing could’ve prepared me for what came next. The black-and-white photo of me entertaining the Army man became a press favorite and my image galvanized people all over the world to save up their pretty pennies to take home a child just like me. Dailies and weeklies saw their circulation jump tenfold simply by slapping my timeless mug on their front pages. The contrasting image of the impressionable foreign foundling sitting atop the knee of the corn-fed saintly soldier played expertly upon the maternal desires of the womenfolk and the predictable protectionism of the men folk. Inquiries flooded the orphanage, praying for our lonely souls and slipping in a few extra dollars to let the local officials know how much they cared about our safe arrival in more appropriate environs.

My mom and dad, the people who had the foresight to pick me out of the tropical bumper crop of 1974, told me that if it weren’t for the photo of me in their local newspaper, they wouldn’t have known to save me from the onslaught heading south. Their tales of ghoulish oriental Grim Reapers knocking on peasant doors and whisking away the young to fight against the doughboy GIs fed my already latent fear of scythes. They repeated over and over the stories of the Red scourge that hid among the reeds and waited for the hazy jungle nights to obscure their crimes against the good people of Indochina.

One day when I was playing on the Tonka earthmover in the schoolyard sandlot a rude boy wearing one boot and one sneaker skipped over to me and pushed me off it. I heard him laugh as I got up and ran to the teacher, crying about the indignity of losing face and losing my turn. The teacher crossed his arms and looked down at my teary eyes and curtly scolded me about wasting his time. He pointed to the painted pony on a spring and suggested I go play on it and stop messing with the other boys. It was going to take time, I told myself, to learn the rules of this new country. My mom’s face appeared to me and reminded me, as she did every morning at the bus stop, that not everyone is going to like me and they will call me names. But, I should ignore their taunts and ignore their shoving because I am above them, I am special. Instead of going to play on the toy pony, I marched over to the kid who pushed me off the earthmover and recited to him exactly what my mother had told me each and every morning, especially the fact that I was special. That’s when the kid with one boot and one sneaker punched me in the face, got off the earthmover and told me that it’s my turn again.

Every evening before even touching my dinner, I was encouraged to clasp my hands and pray for those, who unlike myself, couldn’t make it to our supper table because their legs had been blown off by mines or they had been starving on the street corner clutching clods of dirt. I was fully convinced that my survival depended on my adorableness that had magically warded off the strikes of the rifle butt to the skull or the point blank shots to the chest, which felled the other unlucky wretches left behind. How else could I explain my good fortune of living in such bountifulness and virtuosity? People told me that it wasn’t happenstance that had reached down out of the clouds and plucked me from Death’s hairy arms. It was simply destiny that I and my parents had been strolling down the same path of mercy and meeting at just the right time. People may tell me that this is a strange way to be thankful for the gift of life, but I’m convinced that there is no other way. I must believe that I am special. Don’t you?

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A blog by three adult Vietnamese adoptees as they move forward, reflect back and express their thoughts on just about everything in between. More...

Contributors:
Anh Ðào Kolbe

Kevin Minh Allen

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  • Call for Submissions: Vietnamese Adoptees November 21, 2013
    I’m so very excited to announce this particular call for submissions.  We are looking for entries from Vietnamese Adoptees across the globe.  Please help spread the word! CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR “Vietnamese Adoptees 2.0: In Our Own Words” Online Submission Deadline: March 1st, 2014 Type: Essays, Poetry, Short Stories, Art & Photographs Theme: Adoptees/A […]

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© All rights reserved, Misplaced Baggage, Sumeia Williams, Anh Ðào Kolbe, Kevin Mînh Allen. 2008. May not be reproduced without individual author's consent. The rights to all referenced content is held by the original owners.