For me, my life began with the first letter of my adoption papers. Anything before that is an insubstantial mix of of wishful thinking and stories told to me by my adoptive parents. I was born in Saigon during the Vietnam war but by the time America called its troops home, I was already long gone. My adoption papers say I was born in 1970. Six months later, I landed on the shores of America claimed and renamed; a supposed blank slate except for my race. Operation Babylift was yet to occur and by the time the war ended, I had already grown fat on biscuits and gravy.
The war ended in 1975 and in that same year, I entered Kindergarten. I had no knowledge of the country or the conflict from which I’d sprung nor did I truly understand the environment in which I had been transplanted. It was a small Texas town with a population of a little over a thousand; a population that was still in mourning and still bitter. Americans had not yet buried all of their dead and symbolically many still haven’t. So it was in this secluded post-war environment where I would grow and later learn that I was a seed scattered from some other tree an ocean away.
I grew up feeling not only ethnically misplaced but ethnically incorrect in this white-dominated town. It was a community that was still segregated by a set of railroad tracks separating the black and white sides of town. I wore the face of the enemy for both of them. The irony is that as I entered my first year of school, I had no idea that there were so many Vietnamese adoptees. As the only Vietnamese, only Asian in the entire town, I wouldn’t see another live Vietnamese face until I was around 11 years old. I grew up feeling as if I’d been cut and pasted onto a painting with too many pieces left behind.
My adoptive father served two tours in Vietnam and meant well. I can only guess at his motives other than to save an orphan from a life he thought held little promise. He went to Vietnam to fight a war and brought me back with him; a living souvenir. I float between feeling saved and feeling kidnapped, between gratitude and resentment but in the end, there is always love. We are a close family but I chose not to share these thoughts with them, at least for now. This space serves as a repository for those thoughts and my experiences as I sort through them.
There are still loose ends to my story and gaps that can never be closed but life does move on. I’d rather move with it than be swept away as I was as an infant but that doesn’t stop me from looking back. Half of me will always be stuck some where in the past, unable to move forward beyond the borders of Vietnam and a mother I never knew.