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  • 1.

    No one knew what would happen next. The sirens. The curfews.

    The airport was on fire. Rumors spread like pestilence from ear to ear. Bombs. Bursting.

    Some whispered. It will be a bloodbath. Remember what happened in Hue? They buried all those people alive.

    Others said. Communists or not. They are still Vietnamese. Our brothers. Our sisters. Not some foreign devil. Stay calm.

    On the news, my mother heard that the Prime Minister had resigned. The roads to Saigon were throttled with refugees.

    As the red army rumbled forward, South Vietnamese soldiers abandoned their uniforms, their weapons, leaving them in an olive heap, by the roadside.

    At night, we hid beneath the canopy bed, dark, dusty, with cobwebs.

    At night, my mother sang to me a lullaby about the grapefruit tree and the moon, while the mosquitos, how they adored us, with petals of blood.


    Everyone waited for the Americans, our allies, to rescue us, with their B-52 bombers, with their green berets, with the arsenal of their invincible power.

    But they never came. Those son-of-a-bitch-horse-whore-lying-bastards!


    My mother called them. Jungle peasants.

    They were so young, the Viet Congs, just boys, except they were armed with Kalashnikov rifles.

    They wore sandals made from rubber tire. In black pajamas. Conical straw hats.

    For some, it was their first time in a metropolis. They gawked at the colonial beaux-arts architecture. The bistros. The fancy shops.

    They had never ridden an escalator, opened a refrigerator.

    They washed their faces in the toilet bowl.


    You learn to endure the unimaginable, my father tells me.

    You learn to keep quiet, to bow your head, when some peasant with a fourth grade education, hectors you about class treason and the workers’ paradise and how you should all be shot, but for the grace, the most esteemed, the most beloved, the most virtuous, the supreme leader, Uncle Ho.

    You learn that resistance is futile, when they arrive at your door, with soldiers to escort you to a reeducation center, for just a few days or so they say.

    You learn to know hunger with the intimacy of your tongue, as it swirls with dreams of feasting, roasted duck, catfish in black bean sauce, a bowl of pho, with just a twist of lime juice.

    You learn to be grateful for what you get, digging ditches in the swamp, cutting down trees, seeding rice, for at least, you were not assigned the task of clearing land mines, a death sentence for those whose crimes against the People were deemed more heinous than yours.


    They divided the city into neighborhoods. At night, there were meetings, in which you try to stifle your yawn, as a cadre droned on about the Supreme Leader and how everyone should be excited as we embark on creating a GLORIOUS paradise for the proletariat.

    Your neighbors became spies for the State. Any infraction would be reported at the next neighborhood meeting. Denunciations. Confessions.

    Be careful what you say in front of the children. They may repeat your treasonous slander against Uncle Ho to their teachers. Always be careful. Be wary!


    Some days, my mother said, she did not want to get out of bed. She wanted to continue sleeping until the nightmare ceased.

    In her dreams, she still walked with her father, clutching his hands, along the elegant boulevards, near the French cathedral, they would share a meal, at a bistro, an onion soup, a lovely crème brulee.

    In her dreams, she recalls the Chinese paper lanterns, in the courtyard of her father’s house, how the men, with their starch white shirts, their navy trousers, and the women, in elegant, silk dresses, would dance, late until the night, the rhumba, the cha-cha.

    But a new day would always break. And, like my father, she said, you just learn to endure.
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