Until one early spring morning April 30, 1975, everything changed. It was the day that changed the course of history in my simple life. The loud booming noise exploded above our heads. My godmother pulled everyone together to hide under our big bed. Buckets of water were placed by the windows and doors.
I had no idea why it was there and I did not question it. Later we found a handful of bullet shells in the water buckets. I was told that they were bullet shells that were fired in the air from the planes.
The television was turned on all day long. My godmother craned to listen to any kind of news. Usually, no shows or news come on until after 6 pm. However, that day was a special day. By late afternoon, there was an announcement from the president, Ngô Đình Diệm, stating that the war was over and the Americans had evacuated. South Vietnam had surrendered to the North Vietnamese soldiers.
It was chaos. Everyone ran for their lives in different directions. Some people have relatives or friends in the services, they ran directly to the American ships for refuge. Bodies were bouncing off docks hoping to swim toward the ships.
Another way was to evacuate with the Americans by planes as refugees. During the evacuation hours, gaining a passport and exit visa jumped six times the cost and the price of seagoing vessels tripled. In between the American evacuation, as many Vietnamese refugees as possible would be flown out.
Many Vietnamese who did not have friends or relatives in the American services hid in their homes or in places that they felt could be safe such as churches or temples. I have families who were flown out as refugees and families who came aboard American Navy ships as refugees. Meanwhile, I was at home safe with my godparents and far away from my biological family.
The news was passing by quickly through the neighborhoods that the war was over. The Việt Cộng won. The soldiers entered my home a few days after the war ended. They were looking for something. Rumors said that they were looking for any reminiscent leftover from the Americans such as music or books. They were also looking for traitors or anyone who opposed Hồ Chí Minh.
The soldiers gave us a big framed picture of Hồ Chí Minh. We had to hang that picture up on our wall.
Hồ Chí Minh was a Vietnamese communist leader who was the prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from 1945 to 1969.
I remember vaguely waiting in line for our portion of rice and meat distribution weekly for our family. The Việt Cộng believed that everyone was equal. No one should be richer or poorer than the next person. No matter how hard or easy you work, everyone received the same amount of food ration. If you have a family of four then you receive four no more or less.
Our school went through a reform. All students wore a red bandana around our necks which reminds me of boy scouts. We had meetings in the evening with the group leaders according to age. I don’t remember how often or how long. We were taught to protect our country. When we see someone who was against Bác Hồ’s teaching, we have to report them immediately. Kids were praised and rewarded with ribbons and medals of honors when they turn in traitors.
I heard rumors that kids were turning in their parents as traitors. Neighbors were snitching on neighbors. Everyone was afraid to say anything bad about the new government regime. The bad people were sent away to reform or concentration camps.
I remembered hearing that English and French were no longer taught as optional languages in school. Russian would be the new language for 5th graders. I thought to myself that Russian will be an interesting language to learn. I never heard anything in Russian before.
One summer afternoon in 1978, I overheard a whisper of the possibility that I will be going to America. When I learned that I might be moving away from Mẹ Đức and living with my family forever, I got scared. I didn’t want to go. How can I get Mẹ Đức to go too? Or perhaps, I can run away when they take me. I will call for a taxi or a cyclo to take me home. Mẹ Đức will pay them when I am safely returned. That will be my plan and that will be what I will do.
I shared my plan with Mẹ Đức. She just smiled. She told me that it was time for me to go. From her taro cards, Mẹ Đức saw that my future was not in Vietnam. When I go, she will be able to live much longer. If I stay, she will not be able to live long enough to take care of me. I need to go in order to have a better future and a better life.
There were many ways of leaving Vietnam, legally and illegally. To learn more, please visit my next article called “My Journey to America – Different Ways of Leaving Vietnam.”
In America, we have the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom to be who we want to be. It does seem that we do have freedom on the surface but ultimately, do we? Are there hidden agenda in any government such as the case revealed by Edward Snowden regarding mass surveillance and government secrecy in 2013? Does the government has a heavy influence on the news and filter out what they think is adequate for the public to hear?
In my opinion, there is corruption everywhere including in America and inside its government. However, America is still a great place to be where opportunities still exist for everyone if we are willing to step up. I see Americans are generous at heart and open thinkers. I focus on the positive aspects of what America stands for in my heart. We are not victims of the government. We are the government. I listen to my heart and make a difference locally first for myself, my family, and my community.
Do I have a better life here in America right now? Yes, I do and I am very thankful for the opportunity.
Please feel free to add your thoughts below.