Since moving to the east coast as a teenager, April has come to signify for me the changing of the seasons, when nor’easters ease their threats and the weather starts to warm. I can honestly say that I have become more attuned to the arrival of spring since leaving the mono-climate of LA. But with this greater acuteness also comes more complicated musings–thoughts of history (both personal and worldly), questions of self-purpose, and wonderings about heritage past and future. April doesn’t come quietly anymore, though I work to keep the stirrings contained within me, letting the daily busy-ness distract me.
You see, I was born in April 1975, amidst the fall of Saigon. I came into this world under a bed in a hospital where all the lights were turned off due to an intense bombing raid. I’ve told the story many times and yet there is the safety of distance, of living and knowing, but not of remembering or feeling. But there is no denying that my identity is rooted to this time of immense bloodshed, international struggle, familial tragedy. Many years later, I still come back to this beginning, as if seeking comfort in knowing my place in a bigger story.
My story is neither unique, nor is it new. Like so many Southern Vietnamese families, the fall of Saigon signified the fall of my family. In an instant, everything was gone, survival became a struggle and families were dispersed as loved ones were sent off to re-education camps to endure unspeakable hardships. For me, these are simply stories, none of which I can truly lay claim to as my own. I can’t recall what it was like to see my father taken away. I can’t recall our struggle to survive. And I most definitely can’t recall the boat trip that threatened our lives but then saved us all. In some ways, I am no different from you in this respect–we are both just the audience.
And yet, it’s April again and my birthday is once more around the corner. Most days I know exactly who I am and what I am doing here on this earth, but my birthday, like a strong drink, blurs reality just enough to make me wonder anew. What if? What if I had not been born during that time, in that place? Who would I be then? What if I could remember all those awful things? Would I be overwhelmed by the feelings of loss and fear?
So, for a few days, I wonder and allow myself to consider the power of memories, even those that you can’t remember and those that you keep at bay. And then I stop, until next year.