In 1979, at the age of 28, mom left home - her family, her country - to start a new life. Along with dad, she was among the hundreds of thousands who fled Vietnam by boat in the years following the fall of Saigon. Their story is one of courage and determination that I hope to tell another time.
Yesterday was mom's birthday and these photographs are for her.
From the moment I walked through the front gate of the house she grew up in, I was struck by a strong sense of nostalgia. I could see my grandparents in their suit and áo dài, proper as they were, doing what adults do as their children's laughter filled the air. I could see jokes being played and ghost stories being told, memories recounted to me all these years. I could see the indulging in treats collected from the local market food stalls. I could see a young boy playing mah-jong with his great grandmother. I could hear the names of my aunts and uncle echoing through the hallway. I could see dad wooing mom on the balcony overlooking the neighborhood. I could see my uncle hiding on the roof, evading imminent capture by the Việt Cộng. I could see money getting tight and my grandparents having to slowly sell their possessions. I could hear grandpa encouraging mom to flee. I could see sadness in the unknown. I could see innocence lost.
I kept walking in and out of the same rooms, up and down the same stairs, my mind juggling these beautiful and profound images, my eyes holding back tears. I could've spent hours there retracing the steps mom used to take. It's been 36 years and she has yet to step foot inside this house again. On the one unique occasion she returned to Vietnam, she didn't get the chance to go past the front gate, but I know she would have loved to.