(part of a series of blogs and reflections written while abroad, and being published post-abroad).
I am a crier. I cry when I am happy, sad, frustrated. Particularly, I feel like crying when someone hits the golden buzzer on Asia’s Got Talent (something I learned about myself while in Vietnam). Also, I cried for days leading up to Vietnam because I was so nervous and scared about… everything. However, during my abroad experience, I rarely cried. It was likely because of my newfound happiness, but I found myself expressing my emotions in other ways. However, I wanted to reflect on a particular time when I cried abroad.
As a Vietnamese-American, living in Vietnam is an experience of duality. It is both incredibly joyful to reconnect with my loved ones, heritage, and history. But it is also profoundly painful. My existence is wrapped up in tragedies that unfolded throughout the war. Likely, the main reason I am Vietnamese-American is because of the painful war that engulfed my motherland.
In addition, as a diasporic Vietnamese, my recent ancestry is also made up of people I have never met – including my maternal grandfather. As a young child, I knew that my mother’s father had served as a Vietnamese soldier, but like many, was lost in battle somewhere. However, I had never reflected on him until one day in Quang Tri…
An Experience in Quang Tri
After leaving Hue, our academic director decided to take us to Quang Tri. As it lies close to the division of what was Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam, it was severely bombed and destroyed, making it a site of great suffering and hardship during and after the War. While there, she took us to a memorial honoring those who served. On the bus ride there and walking into the memorial site, I could feel a great sorrow erupting from my heart, but I couldn’t understand why.
Our academic director then handed us flowers and led us to the memorial, where we stuck the flowers into large ash pots at the top. Suddenly, I was overcome with emotion. I could feel tears beginning to spill over my eyelids. This was so new. Despite self-identifying as a crier, I acknowledge that I rarely cry for things that are deeply emotional and vulnerable to my heart – surface level crier I guess.
As we walked down and toward a museum, I couldn’t take it. I left the group to sit on a bench outside and sobbed. Until that point, I had never thought about my maternal grandfather, but in that moment, I felt grief spilling outside of me. I grieved for the fact of never knowing him. I grieved for the war. I grieved for my motherland that had to undergo such hardship.
After a while, my mom texted me to ask how I was doing. I replied that I was in Quang Tri, and became extremely sad when thinking about my grandfather. She texted back that she had already been planning to take the next day to honor him, even before I texted her.
To many, Vietnam is a story that we never had to experience and only learned through secondary sources. I am the same. However, it is a story that has impacted me from even before my existence on this planet and shaped me into who I am today. To me, the story is steeped in trauma and a sorrow that is unexplainable.
The pain that has been passed down through my bloodline and filling up each atom in me is seriously immense sometimes; to me, that is the intergenerational pain and trauma that I experience. In my everyday life, it occurs in different forms – that day, it came out in grief. I believe many diasporic Vietnamese still feel this. While I am so thankful that Vietnam has been so wonderful for me, there are moments like these that make parts of abroad that force me to assess my own connection with spaces and interrogate my identity – its difficult but a necessary part of growth.