Fall of Saigon Remembered
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We're talking about milestones today, both personal and public. Today marks 32 years since the end of the Vietnam War. For Vietnamese citizens, the American pullout marked the end of a long, bloody era. For commentator De Tran and his family, the day also marked a new beginning as a refugee and immigrant.
Mr. DE TRAN (Vietnamese Immigrant; Publisher, V Times): On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam ceased to exist. In America, the Vietnamese refugees began the process of reinvention. We began the second act of our lives. We had to relearn everything, from how to use the pay phone to how to grocery shop.
In our family album, there are faded photos of us during our first days in America, looking haggard and wide eyed, wearing ill-fitting groups donated by church groups. We learned English. I drank Coca-Cola, hoping that it would wash away my accent. We tried to blend in. I became more Americanized. I learned Cole Porter and Johnny Cash, Wagner and Seinfeld. I could throw a curve ball, know how to read a safety blitz and memorize lines from "Casablanca."
Assimilation, however, doesn't mean being completely accepted. There's a part of me that's always missing, a friend once told me. He spoke of the sadness of exile that never quite disappears.
The world has moved on now. Vietnam and the United States have long normalized relations. Most of Vietnam's population today was born after the war. The United States, meanwhile, is mired in Iraq in what many call another Vietnam.
I wonder, will the hubris of our political leaders fail America once more? Sometime, I wonder what my life would have been like had I stayed behind in Vietnam that April in 75. Surely, I would not have had the opportunities and blessings that America has given me. My world, most likely, would have been contained inside my little Seisum(ph) hometown.
Now, when I see the silhouettes of palm trees while driving down the freeway, or when the summer rain hits the scorched earth and sends up that acrid smell, I drift back to Vietnam, to the blue water and the beaches of my childhood, to friends and loved ones who are forever young and vibrant in my memory. But my life is here now in America. My mom is buried here. My nieces and nephews were born here. And I realize that memory is but the sweet poetry of a past no longer attainable.
MARTIN: De Tran is publisher of V Times, a Vietnamese weekly in California's Silicon Valley.
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