Linh Chuong’s Family Migration Story
My parents are strong. My father was one of many South Vietnamese military men detained in ““re-education camps” (trai hoc tap cai tao). My father, now a jolly pot-bellied man who spends his time strolling twice daily in the park, playing with his grandkids, and composing caustic Vietnamese poems for my entertainment, tells me he was 95 pounds with most of his teeth rotted from malnutrition, hard labor, indefinite detention, no health care, and minimal housing in remote locations—in what he calls torture prisons. My mother was pregnant when he was taken and raised my brother in post-war Vietnam. She doesn’t talk about it, but I imagine it could not have been any easier for her than him.
After three and a half years, he was released, but my family’s economic prospects, educational attainment, and freedom in Vietnam were denied permanently. My father was denied access to most occupations and closely monitored by the government through routine check ups and reportings of his daily activities. My father and mother ate yams in congee and did odd jobs for years. They eventually saved enough for farmland and then had a comfortable income after a decade of labor. However there were no prospects for us, their children. Although my father paid a small fortune to hire tutors and send my siblings to school, we were still barred from college, from even the hope of white-collar work.
So my family tried to flee three times. We failed three times. It was not until the United States invited our family to come to the United States through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) of 1988, or more commonly called the H.O. (Humanitarian Operation) program, that we successfully left for America.
Certainly, life in the United States started out a little bumpy. When I was growing up in the States, my father worked three jobs. My mother sewed clothes for a garment factory for at least 12 hours a day on top of cooking, cleaning and clothing her five children. I guess it is apt that they call us “resident aliens,” because that’s what we felt as students, as a family learning English as our third language (after Vietnamese and Cantonese), and as Yao Chinese ethnic minorities in Vietnam and then the United States. But my father says we have freedom of speech, thought, and movement: freedoms essential to humanity.
This is why I fight for comprehensive immigration reform. “Immigration” conveys for me a sense of my parents’ dueling emotions and the strength of their will to live and prosper. Their dislocation, their desperation and urgency in leaving their homeland, their heartache and all their hopes for their children’s future is part of my conception of our immigrant/refugee identity. They help me recognize that the decision to immigrate is difficult and costly; immigrants do not need to be re-victimized. They need a little American hospitality, built on a desire to protect freedom and a love for others.