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For Vietnamese kids who left Vietnam but weren’t part of the large migration wave to the US after the fall of Saigon in 1975, who went to New Caledonia, New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), Canada, France, West Germany, the Philippines, even Norway, we are like seeds spread by the winds that sprouted and learned how to thrive without anyone knowing what to name us. We are part of the Vietnamese diaspora, but we have yet to name ourselves.
On 1 July 1972 during the Easter Offensive two Vietnamese journalists, Ngy Thanh and Đoàn Kế Tường, used a heavily damaged railway bridge to cross the Bến Đá River, which bisects Highway One between the cities of Quảng Trị and Huế. What met them on the other side was a scene of carnage: many hundreds of civilian and military personnel corpses littered the highway, the result of an attack two months earlier.
Her research focuses not just on the events of the massacre, but on the civilian efforts—spearheaded by the independent newspaper Sóng Thần (which my mother and father were publishers and editors of)—to identify and bury the bodies of the dead in the aftermath of the event.
From one witch to another, I sat across from her and asked the question that has haunted me my entire life. The question that made me travel almost 3,000 miles to Brendon’s hometown, to elbow my way through the tourists, to float on my back on the clearest waters you really ever did see and wonder if what Lan Vo told me would ever come to fruition.
I used to dream of a simpler time, a Vietnam of thatch roof huts and banana leaves and lotus flowers. But this Vietnam only exists in my imagination. We must not romanticise a past that never was, or choose only to remember the innocence of our history. Spoiler alert: Nobody’s history is innocent. We must be brave enough to claim it all. People like me, who by today’s standards are referred to as 'people of colour' or 'minority groups', belong to histories which are not only as tremendous, as grand, and as civilised as the Europeans, but as brutal.
And yet: I encounter discomfiting truths here, within and outside of myself. How I have for years longed to come back, felt some piece of me missing for not reckoning with the Vietnam that was left behind, and then to come back and have to admit the ways I still feel I do not belong.