Today marks the 27th anniversary of my arrival in the U.S. I was in my early teen and accompanying me were my parents, my eldest sister O, my second older sister V, and my older brother T. We were fresh off the boat, figuratively speaking, or as it's said in Vietnamese, "chân ướt chân ráo", meaning one foot (chân) is still wet (ướt) while the other is dry (ráo).
We arrived at JFK International at night, via Singapore. It was a cold night, much like today. We came in clothes made for the warm weather of Southeast Asia. Our sponsor was Uncle P, a cousin of my mother, on her father's side. I think he brought us some winter jackets. We stayed at his home that night and for the next few days. The trip from the airport to his home in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, could not been very long, but somehow it made me feel nauseous. Unlike my eldest sister, I don't get motion sickness easily, whether it was an airplane ride or a bus ride from the city to the countryside, but the short trip in Uncle P's car got me.
The first few days of a new life should have been memorable, but after 27 years I don't have it all remembered. I know I enjoyed Uncle P's bathtub very much, after the months of living in the refugee camps in Indonesia. I played with my cousin E's toy boat in the tub for what had to be a long time, because eventually Auntie had to knock on the door to make sure I was OK.
One day while staying with Uncle P he drove me to a nearby school. I took English classes for a year before we left Vietnam but bookish learning and actually using/hearing English were two totally different things. I spent a day at the school and had no idea what happened. Perhaps Uncle P thought my family was going to stay with him for a few months. In reality, after about one week, the agency that provided the social service for us, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), found us an apartment in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. The area is now somewhat of a Little Saigon, but back then we were only one of the few Vietnamese families in the area. Most people were nice to us.
My mother may have a better collection of photos from those early days in America, but I only have this one photo. It was taken inside the late department store Alexander's, at the northwest corner of Fordham Road and Grand Concourse. Other than that piece of info, I cannot recall what was the special occasion.
Twenty-seven years. In the movie, many years can flash by in a second, or as sometimes said in Vietnamese plays, "mười lăm năm trôi qua", meaning "fifteen years floated by". In real life, sometimes upon looking back, the many years do seem to pass by very quickly. In those 27 years, some of us went on to secure higher education, obtained professional jobs, traveled all over the world, moved to different U.S. cities, and achieved the American Dream of home and car ownership. Well, one of us got into the I.T. field and now feels his job threatened with low-cost labor from India, but that's life.
Happy Anniversary to my family!