Archive for September, 2008


A friend and I headed out one morning in search of the art district.  I’d never been to that area of town and had to google up a map.  Anyone who regularly uses google maps eventually learns that trying to navigate those things can tricky.  Sometimes it’s like trying to find true north using a needle-less compass.  We ended up heading straight out of town.

Luckily, backtracking was just a matter of getting on the other side of the highway via a u-turn.  So back we went to find the nearest gas station to ask for directions.  Undaunted, we headed out again hoping the gas station attendant knew what he was talking about.   As we continued down the road, I saw the word “Danang” on a store sign and mentioned it to my friend.  We decided to check it out and, wow, it was a newly opened Vietnamese store.

For me, it was a big deal.  Over two years ago, I wrote a post bemoaning my inability to connect with Vietnamese adoptee bloggers and the Vietnamese American community in general.  I couldn’t seem to find an “in” door.  Since then, I’ve made contact with other bloggers and even had the privilege of co-blogging with two of the most distinctive voices out there.  However, my attempts to establish contact with the Vietnamese American community in my area remained halfhearted.

Still gun-shy from previous experiences, my efforts were minimal.  I knew there was a fairly sizable community here, but still did not actively seek them out.  My justifications were endless:  I was busy.  There were more urgent matters to attend to.  The community isn’t really a community and is too scattered.  It’s too hard, dammit.

The truth is I’d turned into a big chicken and didn’t need much of an excuse to lull me back into forgetfulness.  Ah, will I ever learn?  As with my adoption, the signs were everywhere and popping up when I least expected them.  The Vietnamese store served as yet another reminder that there was something I should be doing and wasn’t.

Of course, to reduce my reasons to merely fear would oversimplify and misrepresent the psychology behind my reluctance.  I think the common set of fears did come into play: fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of not being able to connect, etc.  However, something that I rarely talk about is the resentment.  Being summarily rejected by a recruiter for the Vietnamese student organization at the college I was attending left a bitter taste in my mouth.  True, I was hurt and felt seriously discouraged, but just as importantly, I felt this blood-boiling rage.

It felt as if “my own” had thrown me to the wolves and then refused to let me back in because I’d been mauled beyond recognition.  I didn’t walk away.  They’d given me away.  I’d survived to seek them out again but rather than welcoming me back among them, they slammed the door in my face. They wanted nothing to do with me, and why should I care?  What had they ever done for me other than relinquishing me to an eternal state of otherness?

I was aware these feelings were unreasonable but felt them anyway.  Because I knew they were irrational, I buried them.  However, I would eventually have to face the truth.  Denial of those feelings numbed my awareness of them but still allowed them to affect my behavior.  It’s weird how the mind works.  I feel weird just writing these thoughts down, but surely I can’t be the only one.

I know as well as anyone that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to resent a whole community of strangers.  They had nothing to do with what had happened to me – either individually or as a group.   Furthermore, I’d met and befriended enough Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans to know better.   Why did I harbor such a sense of betrayal?

My mind immediately goes back to my childhood.  Insomnia and I have been joined at the hip since I can remember.  A lot of those late night sessions with sleeplessness involved thoughts of my Vietnamese mother.  As I’ve mentioned before, not all of my midnight daydreams were childish fantasies of tearful reunions.  Many times my imaginary interactions with Má were rendered with classic feelings of abandonment common to adoptees.

Some part of me felt that she’d sloughed me off like so much unwanted hair to be swept away and forgotten.  Of course, now I know that’s not necessarily the case.  There were other options, but to a child with limited knowledge and understanding, the only ones were a) orphaned by death and b) orphaned by abandonment.  To compensate, I waffled between the two scenarios.  Did she die or just dump me to my fate?

Sadly, Má wasn’t around to answer my questions.  She only existed in my head and could neither confirm or correct my assumptions.  Those thoughts never dissipated.  They were never resolved but lay dormant just below the surface of my consciousness.  I guess the recruiter for the Vietnamese student organization was just the trigger.  He’d unwittingly turned on the light behind my skewed optical lens allowing for a whole lot of projection.


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Although much of Vietnam is comparatively primitive, Ina says that Saigon reminds her of Paris. There are many lovely French-style buildings and sidewalk cafes dating from the French occupation. While it is possible to starve in Saigon, it is also possible to eat a lavish gourmet meal accompanied by a twenty-dollar bottle of vintage wine.

A Gift of Love: Women Power at Work in Vietnam by Elizabeth Lehrman

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I can relate to parts of Mary’s story a lot more than I care to admit.


Written by Andres Chavez, Sun Contributing Writer
Thursday, 25 September 2008

Mary Mustard Reed returned to her alma mater California State University, Northridge a much different person than the 18-year old runaway who enrolled as a freshman. Today she is a proud, successful Vietnamese mother of three grown children. Then she was an abused child who told people she was Hawaiian because she was too embarrassed to admit she was Vietnamese. The story of her transformation is told in her autobiography, “Oceans Apart: A Voyage of International Adoption.” It is a journey of self-discovery as she attempts to answer “Who am I?” by examining her life: She was the first Vietnamese child adopted by an American couple during the Vietnam War, had an abusive childhood, and experienced cultural conflict and separation from her mother whom she believed died in Vietnam. It is also the story of triumph, how her years at CSUN enabled her to have a successful career, discovering her mother was still alive and being reunited with her and coming to terms with her Vietnamese heritage. “Oceans Apart,” Reed said, “is a way for me to preserve my background, my ethnicity, my culture, and preserve my family life for future generations, my grandchildren.”

It’s Saigon in 1964, when Americans were “just advisors” in Vietnam. A young Vietnamese mother, Nguyen Thi Thanh, takes her dying daughter to an American friend who’s CIA. Little 7-year-old Hein had contracted small pox. Nguyen Thi was a street vendor and couldn’t provide the medical care she needed. She asked Sam Mustard to save her daughter. He took the dying child to the American Embassy where the doctors cured Hein. “When I got strength and was doing better, instead of going back to the village where I lived, Sam Mustard wanted me to live in his home. They had servants, cooks and all that, so I could regain my strength even more,” Reed recounted.

The Mustards had been living in Saigon as part of the American presence in Vietnam. Although it was never confirmed, Sam was in the CIA. His wife, Margaret, was a teacher. After Hein had lived with them for 3 or 4 months, Sam wanted to adopt her. “My mother thought that it would be a better life, better opportunities to go live in America with Sam and Margaret Mustard,” Reed said. So she gave Hein up for adoption to the Mustards and Hein became Mary Mustard, the first Vietnamese child adopted during the Vietnam War. The last time she saw her mother was September 3, 1964. Two years later, Mary heard that her mother had been killed in a bomb attack in Saigon. Margaret Mustard was very unhappy about Hein living in her home. She had accused Sam of having an affair with Nguyen Thi but in the end, she was forced to accept the adoption. But every time Margaret looked at Mary, it conjured images of Nguyen Thi. This was the cause of the abuse Mary would have to live with for the next 11 years. “She just hated me. She called me, when I was 7 or 8 years old, a slut and a whore,” Reed recalled.

As Mary got older and resembled her mother even more, the abuse got worse. ” She would get scissors and cut off my hair, she would hit me many times, my eardrums were busted, in my right ear, she’d always call me names, referring to my mother,” Reed said.

continue reading

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Took a drive around the Neighborhood to look and see who had their lights on and what kind of decorations they had put out for the Neighbors to ‘ooh-and-ahh’ over. Boy, I got an eye full and I even took some pictures. Here they are:


…talking about these aspects of adoption is a yucky business, but if you don’t clean the wound it’s going to fester. And I can GUARANTEE you, if you maintain this attitude after adopting, you will do nothing but alienate the person you adopt.

a birth project

I heard someone say that when white parents adopt internationally it is because of “racism” and for many years white Americans adopting internationally adopted many more Asian and Latino children than African children. It seems reasonable to say that these choices reflect the existing racial hierarchy in this country.  At the very least, it is certainly true some white parents choose not to adopt children of African descent because they do not feel capable of dealing with the racism they know these children will confront. I thought about that comment for quite a while, and after I sat with it for a bit, I realized that, yes, racism certainly can play a part in some parents’ decisions – but what kind of racism are we talking about?

Adopt This!

It’s funny how life works out.

Ahhh my brother and me…

Whenever we meet new people together and they learn that we are siblings, their first response is always the same:

You don’t LOOK like brother and sister.

And it’s true. We don’t. Not at all.

But we are. How could we not be?

He’s the only brother I’ve ever known.

Ethnically Incorrect Daughter

What happens to us is often the results of choices we make.  Sometimes, it’s the result of choices others make.  Sometimes, the course of our lives is the result of a combination of the two.  Sometimes, our choices are based on the choices others make.  Still, there are other times when life just happens and then we’re ultimately left with a choice.  The options presented to us aren’t always ideal and sometimes we just make really bad decisions.  The point is that in the end, it’s what we – and sometimes those connected to us – do that decides not necessarily the destination but the path we take to get there.

It Came From The Cabbage Patch

There is some debate out there about who’s responsible for what when it comes to keeping the relationship going; adoptees should be more considerate of their mothers, mothers should be more considerate of their children, it goes on and on. Both sides want the validation we seek and deserve.

JJ Trenka

You don’t have to be ashamed. Many people lost their children to adoption. It is not all your fault. Even if Korean society doesn’t understand that yet, the adoptees understand that. He doesn’t come to blame you. He comes simply because he wants his mother. That person is you. Of all the people in the world, only you can fill that hole in his heart.

Julia’s JAM

Another beautiful poem by our Julia – I think it speaks for itself.

Living, laughing, whining…as a Korean adoptee

We hurt ourselves

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I Live

I may not be lauded for picking through the ashes; I may not be praised for interrogating skeletons; and, I may not have any awards bestowed upon me for mapping out the inconsistencies; but, at least I live to honor the truth.

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Really?  I didn’t know that.

It’s annoying when well meaning but presumptive people attempt to explain away or justify my adoption with “things happen for a reason”.  The sarcasm becomes a living entity that wants to claw its way out of my mouth and bite them in the face.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard that statement over the last month.  Don’t get me wrong.  It all depends on context.  I can empathize when a person says it as a way of coming to terms with events in their lives they can’t explain or don’t want to delve into.  I can even politely smile when religious people say it.  If they believe some higher power is orchestrating all our lives around some greater plan, that’s their business.  I’m all for a person’s right to believe in whatever they want as long as they don’t try to impose it on me.

For some, it’s a source of comfort.  I’m sure many feel it’s consoling for others, but I’m not one of them.  It’s dismissive.  They might as well be saying that the reason doesn’t matter.  Everything was “meant to be” so no one need take responsibility or be held accountable for their choices.  Why worry about it?  Why think about it? Give up.  Let it go.  Move on.

Again, don’t get me wrong.  Yes, things do happen for a reason.  For example, I received a citation for not having a current inspection sticker because I failed to have my car inspected.  I was flat broke when inspection time came around and couldn’t get it done.  Later on, life got really chaotic, and I just plain forgot.  I decided to go to the library one day and ended up driving down the wrong street at the wrong time.  Mr.  Policeman was more than happy to remind me of my expired inspection sticker.  That same week, I went and had my car inspected.  When the due date for the fine rolled around, I went to the court house and showed them the receipt.  The young man at the court house was nice enough to wave the fine and send me on my way.

What happens to us is often the results of choices we make.  Sometimes, it’s the result of choices others make.  Sometimes, the course of our lives is the result of a combination of the two.  Sometimes, our choices are based on the choices others make.  Still, there are other times when life just happens and then we’re ultimately left with a choice.  The options presented to us aren’t always ideal and sometimes we just make really bad decisions.  The point is that in the end, it’s what we – and sometimes those connected to us – do that decides not necessarily the destination but the path we take to get there.

Looking back, beyond the limits of my first memories can be a confusing process, especially when the historic truth is reliant upon the honesty and memories of others.  However, I can still partially see how I arrived “here”.  There’s no need to feel either completely in control or completely out of control, but one thing I absolutely cannot do is throw reason to the wind and dismiss it all as “destiny”.

Perhaps it comes down to my attempt to relieve myself of some of the uncertainty with which I’ve been forced to live.  Of course, we all have to live with some amount of it, but most do not have to deal with the same kind of uncertainty regarding their history as they do their future.  Looking back is just as murky as looking forward which leaves many of us with only “now”.  Hope does lie in the future, but for me there’s more to it than simply moving forward.

The choices I make “now” will not only affect my future, but can also affect my past.  If I choose to close my eyes to my history, it remains locked away.  If I choose to delve, my actions now and in the future could simultaneously push me through opening doors to my history.  It’s like moving forwards and backwards at the same time.

In a figurative sense, adoptees must sometimes become their own Kwisatz Haderach “existing many places at once”, bridging the past with the present while paving the way for their future.  However, learning lessons from the past, understanding how it’s led to the present and how both may affect the future is the closest thing to prescience most can ever hope to have.

For those sitting there thinking, ” Yeah, she’s off her rocker,”  you’ve missed the point and are taking me too literally.

I suppose I could save myself some writing, be less geeky about it and use George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

David C. McCullough’s quote would do nicely, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

Those are more straight forward, but not nearly as much fun.

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National Marrow Donor Program

From Thao Silke Pross via AVI listserv:


My name is Thao and I am a Vietnamese adoptee. I would like to take the chance to draw attention to a topic that could be quite interesting for us as Vietnamese adoptees. My (adoptive) dad has been diagnosed with leukemia May this year and since then I have read a lot about leukemia and stem cell transfusion. Fortunately a stem cell donor could be found for him in the US.

For many patients a stem cell transfusion is the only chance to survive. A certain percentage can receive life-saving stem cells from relatives. If none of the relatives fit, then a match can be found in the bone marrow registry “National Marrow Donor Program”.

However, as Vietnamese adoptees, we often don’t know our biological relatives. Furthermore, the National Marrow Donor Program as well as the equivalent organizations in other countries lack donors of Asian or mixed heritage.

Most donors registered are Caucasians and in case they would need stem cell transfusions their chances to find a match are approximately 80%. For Asians or those of mixed heritage chances to find a match are far lower, if not even half.

For stem cell transfusion racial and ethnic heritage are very important factors. Because tissue types are inherited, patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity. Together we can increase our chances and become donors for us, our kids, and as well as for any other Vietnamese or Amerasian in need.

For further information click on the following links:


Please consider to register. It can be you, your kids or your (adoptee) friend who could need a life-saving stem cell transfusion now or in the future.

To register or for further information
You are welcome to contact Mr. Ted Nguyen from “Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches”.

Ted Nguyen
Vietnamese Outreach & Recruitment Coordinator
Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M)
244 S. San Pedro Street #503
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Toll free: 1 888 A3M Hope.
Phone: (213) 625-2802 x106
Email: tnguyen@Ltsc.org

(Only within the US, for other countries please check your national bone marrow registry or ask your doctor of any programs in your area.)

Important information for Vietnamese adoptees in Germany
DKMS mentions a minimum weight of 50 kg, but requirements for donors of Asian heritage have been changed this year and the minimum weight is now 45 kg.

A touching story of a Chinese adoptee in need of stem cell transfusion
This is one of many stories which shows we need more registered donors of Asian or mixed heritage.

For bone marrow registry in Vietnam, I couldn’t find anything about it, I guess there is none so far, but I would appreciate any information as this is a project that I am interested in.

Thank you for your time,

P.S. Some more information, because bone marrow donation and transplant have a scary reputation, but nowadays a surgery isn’t necessary anymore

1) How to join the registry: you give a small blood sample or swab of cheek cells to be tested for your tissue type, and this information is added to the registry.

2) PBSC Donation: PBSC donation takes place at an apheresis center. To increase the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream, you will receive daily injections of a drug called filgrastim for five days before the collection. Your blood is then removed through a sterile needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells. This process is similar to donating plasma. The remaining blood is returned to you.
National Marrow Donor Program
Source: http://www.marrow.org

Information and resources for donors, patients and physicians about bone marrow and cord blood transplants and the latest news about the National Marrow Donor Program

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