After the fall of Saigon, there was much oppression, alienation, and public outcry between the divided Vietnam. Many people lost their lands and property to the Communists. It was amid this chaos that able-bodied Vietnamese decided to flee their country, in hopes of a future (not even a BETTER one, just a future).
Many of them landed in the Philippines (as many more had perished in the sea). This story is about a couple who had managed to beat the odds. Before I continue though, please be warned that I am not sure if this was one story or two stories I'm melding into one, as I have read it/them a long time ago.
But read on. The gentleman belonged to a prominent family in North Vietnam, so much so that they owned maybe 2/3 of all North. When the Communists took over and they had lost all, he was among the people who fled. He sought refuge in the Philippines, along with his wife, and in time, had assimilated the culture. However, because they were deemed illegal immigrants, they couldn't be granted citizenship.
This gentleman, though, was educated, and helped improve the fishing industry of the country. In time, he was allowed to go to America with his wife. While on the boat, he felt a sudden wave of depression thinking about the life he left in Vietnam, the fortunes he had lost, the family members so long not seen nor heard from. He was filled with so much anguish that he wanted to jump overboard. He almost succeeded if not for his wife, who stopped him, and begged him to change his mind. She willed him to think not of what they had lost, but what they stood to gain, however hard it was to understand. In that moment of darkness, the couple looked to each other for hope and reason to live again.
They reached California, and started a life working in a bakery/grocery store. They helped bake the bread, and tended the store in the daytime. They slept on the kitchen floor at night. They used public bathrooms to clean and relieve themselves. For two years. And even after they had saved up enough to afford a decent apartment and a car, they chose to continue their disciplined if not odd existence, because they had a goal. In 3 more years, they would be able to buy the grocery from the owner. They reasoned that if they lived in an apartment, they would have to spend for everything that went with it. The same was true if they bought a car.
So for 3 more years, they slept on the kitchen floor. After 5 years, they had enough money to buy the place, and that was the beginning of their good life. Maybe they were able to send for the rest of their family in Vietnam. I don't remember. But somehow, their story found its way in the pages of a book, and I read it. It is a source of inspiration for me.
In a few months, my family and I will become American citizens. While we have not endured the hardships that the Vietnamese couple in my story did, we have our own story to tell. Every immigrant in a strange land always has a story to tell.
The moment we pledge allegiance to the American flag, my heart will weep a little because it is then that we have to renounce our loyalty to the Philippines. Or at least that's what the application forms say. In my heart and mind I will always be equally a Filipino and an American. In due time, we will make that possible by applying for a dual citizenship.
Meanwhile, life goes on. And we celebrate.