I grew up in an immigrant community in Dallas, Texas. Many Vietnamese refugees settled in the area since 1975. Whenever my parents meet other Vietnamese, the conversation inevitably turns to: How did you get to America? Such a simple question often elicits stories of tribulation and hope that one would only see in cinematic dramas. The common themes of these stories are often either about how they escaped by sea (boat people) or by political asylum due to persecution from the government after the Vietnam War. My family story is the latter. My father was a reconnaissance officer of the South Vietnam Special Police Force. Most of his work was in counter-insurgency during the war. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he and many other South Vietnam’s military officers became political prisoners. Many died in captivity. My father spent eight years in a labor camp (re-education camp). I have pictures of him before and after the captivity, the malnutrition he suffered during captivity is heart-wrenching. His eight years ordeal proved that we were being persecuted and earned our refugee status in the United States. It’s bittersweet to think that his ordeal bought freedom for children.
My family and I immigrated to the U.S. in 1996, we came with nothing. It was a struggle for my parents to adjust to a new life. We received many assistances from the community. I will never forget the generosity that the community gave us in our hardest time. I fondly remember attending my first week of elementary school. I was wearing a pair of shoes too big for my feet. My teacher, Mrs. Bergen, took me to Foot Locker and bought me a new pair more fitting for my feet. These acts of generosity shape me into the person that I am today. Twenty years later, I am now a second-year medical student. It’s my dream to one day return to my hometown in Texas, where I owe so much to its people, and repay the generosity that they have given me, my family, and the tens of thousands of Vietnamese that escaped the scourge of communism. I learned from these personal experiences that generosity and service for others are what bring us together and essential in forging a better community for all.