MY MOM'S ORAL HISTORY

My mom is amazing. No matter how often I roll my eyes and get annoyed by her unsolicited advice, I always remember that she's been through so much. She was a young woman in Vietnam before the war and an unplanned immigrant in the U.S. I will never truly understand her struggle. These are her stories that I've collected over the years.
  1. She was the eldest daughter.
    In Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s, the eldest daughter had the most responsibilities. By nature of birth order, she was basically nanny to her younger siblings whether she liked it or not. My grandparents had 11 kids. While her two older brothers were out, she chased after her younger siblings to give them baths, carried the youngest ones around on her hip, and made sure that everyone finished their homework.
  2. She was a tomboy who climbed trees.
    I would have never guessed this as my mom is the most cautious, scaredy-cat person I know. Apparently, she used to climb her neighbor's trees and pick their fruit. She even has a scar under her chin from when she fell!
  3. She fled North Vietnam in 1954.
    After the Geneva Accords, North Vietnam became communist and her family fled to the South. That's why our family has a Northern accent. She recalls a very vivid memory of being carried by her eldest brother when she was 6 years old, then being placed at the foot of a cyclo. She reached out with her fingertips to touch the pavement streaming past and wondered if she would ever see her home again. When we landed in Hanoi for the first time 50 years later she could not stop crying.
  4. My grandpa used to wake her up with a hanger to her bottom.
    It was the eldest daughter's responsibility to make the morning tea and breakfast. If she wasn't up by the time my grandpa got up, he would whack her on the bottom with a hanger. (Clearly easier than making tea for one's self.) She had to feed him, feed her siblings, and clean the house before she was allowed to leave for school. I'm a spoiled asshole compared to her.
  5. She had to sit in a darkened hospital hallway waiting for my grandma to give birth.
    My mom was the only one who accompanied my grandma when she was in labor. It was scary to sit in a hospital in the middle of the night--especially for a kid. And my grandma had a lot of babies!
  6. She got top marks at school!
    My mom was and is super smart. She was usually #1 in the class. She chose to go into pharmacology because that's what women did (men became physicians). Also, pharmacists made a lot of money! The expression is: they sit on a mound eating gold.
  7. There's nothing like fresh, hot baguettes!
    She used to buy hot baguettes from a man who rode through the neighborhood on a bike with a wooden box filled with bread. She says there's nothing like the smell of fresh bread in the morning on the dusty road to school.
  8. She was a science teacher.
    I must have gotten the teaching bug from her!
  9. My grandparents took most of her salary.
    Once she earned her pharmacist license, she was able to make a lot of money. Unfortunately, my grandpa took 75% of it to use for the family. She just accepted it. The worst part is--he never told her siblings and they don't understand her sacrifice. He refused to admit it to the family even until the day he died. I love him, but that still makes me mad.
  10. She came to the U.S. to earn an American Pharmacy degree because she wanted to teach at a Vietnamese university.
    Again--the love of teaching! She went to the University of Michigan. She stayed with a very sweet sponsor family, who took her clothes shopping at the fancy department store and even bought her a new bike.
  11. She was stuck in the U.S. after Saigon fell.
    And stressed out about what was happening to her family. Before she left for the U.S., she told my grandma to convert the family's cash into gold. My grandma didn't listen and their family lost so much. Worst of all, they had to leave behind their family dog, TiTo. 😢
  12. A Swedish guy had a crush on her at U of M.
    You mean I could have been Hapa?? Mom!!!
  13. She married my dad in a Catholic ceremony, but refused to convert from Buddhism.
    She got a lot of pressure from her in-laws, but stood her ground. My parents also let me decide what religion I wanted to follow when I was a kid. 🌟
  14. She had a part-time job at an animal research lab while she was pregnant with me.
    She went to class, did the unsavory job of cleaning up animal carcasses in the lab at night, then pushed together 3 chairs to sleep a few hours before class the next morning. All. While. Pregnant. Again-- I feel like an asshole.
  15. She used to look at a poster of Linda Ronstadt when she was pregnant and hope that I'd be as pretty as her.
    LOL, sorry, mom!
  16. She carried me in a 25lbs car seat up and down the outdoor apartment stairs. In the snow. While wearing platform shoes.
    She's 5 feet even and weighs 90lbs.
  17. She moved to California, where my dad got a job as an engineer.
    And had to leave her parents and siblings for a second time. Luckily, my grandparents and half her siblings eventually moved out here where the weather's better :)
  18. She still dreams of her eldest brother who died in the war.
    He was the one who carried her when they fled to the South and was the kindest person. His tank was bombed. She dreams of him every year before his memorial dinner. I wish I had the chance to know him.
  19. If you made it to the end of the list, thanks for reading!
    This was one of those lists that was really just for me. I always wanted to write down her stories and finally found a place to do it!