Upon receiving a text message from Cousin Minh sharing stories about our extended family written by Aunt Chín, I dropped everything I was doing and focused on reading every sentence and every word. Aunt Chín’s conversational prose gave me an impression as if she was sitting next to me and telling me these stories. Among the siblings, Aunt Chín and Aunt Hai had a gift for storytelling. One time, I had the pleasure of joining Aunt Hai’s family taking a vacation to Disney World. The drive from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Orlando, Florida took more than half a day. At that time, there was no smartphone and I was not into reading yet because I only came to America a few years earlier and my English was not good. Fortunately, Aunt Hai, who sat in the front passenger seat, told us stories in articulate details about her parents’ life and businesses during the world. I wished I had a recording device to document every word she said. My wish, however, is now fulfilled when I read Aunt Chín’s stories.
Reading about the lives of my mother’s parents and her siblings, not only made me proud, but also lucky to be related by blood with the Lý’s extended family. I admired Grandfather’s talent and audacity. At fourteen, he left his home in the village to find work. From his empty hands, he made his dream come true. He opened his own Chinese traditional drugstore and became a herbal doctor who created his own cough medication. He was not just an entrepreneur, but also an innovator. I respected Grandfather, but I had tremendous love for Grandmother. She put her life on the line to work and to feed her family. The casualty of war ended her life. Her sacrifice was profound.
Aunt Hai was not only the oldest daughter who upheld her filial piety, but also the oldest sister who loved and cared for her siblings. She was a talented business woman. Her successes in both Việt Nam and America had proved that she can be put anywhere on God’s green earth and she’ll triple her worth. Aunt Hai was a hustler. As for my mother, I had lived with her peculiarities, including her clean freak and glacial pace. As for her jealousy, I had a different perspective than Aunt Chín’s (and I will delve in more details about it).
Aunt Năm was always willing to help out her parents’ business as well as her younger sisters with schoolwork. In addition, she was a quick learner and skillful in making handcrafted jewelry. Uncle Sáu was the only son of the family and an outstanding student. His story reminded me of my childhood memories including cricket fights and soccer. I did not know about “The Beetle Car Game” until I looked it up on YouTube. It was an intriguing traditional game that made me wish kids today used their hands to craft their own toys instead of just pushing buttons on their touch screens.
Aunt Tám was indeed the savior of the family. I am here today in the land of opportunities because of her love for her family. As the first person to escape, she helped and supported each of her family members to reach the land of freedom. Last but not least, I admired Aunt Chín’s photographic memories. Although some of these stories occurred over 60 years ago, she remembered them in great detail. Her storytelling was frank and honest. She wrote what she experienced and observed. Sometimes the truth hurt and the reality was ruthless. I hope we can take away what she has offered and learn from our past.
When deciding to write this epilogue, I would like to share my own thoughts on what Aunt Chín has written. As I had mentioned before, I had a different view on my mother’s jealousy. My observation might not be right and hers might not be wrong, or vice versa. We just had two different perspectives. I knew nothing about my mother’s previous marriage because she never mentioned anything about him. In her heart and soul, he no longer existed. Aunt Chín shared the issue was that he always went away and she was jealous of him; therefore, she asked him for financial help to raise their kids. He didn’t give her anything. They got into arguments and physical fights. They ended up in divorce.
To me, my mother was not the jealous type. She shouldn’t have to ask her husband for financial support for their kids. As a responsible father, he didn’t need to be reminded to provide for his family. Maybe that was her fate; therefore, she could not escape it. Even when she was married to my father, the situation was the same. He worked far away for months and only came for a few days, then left again. When my mother asked him for financial support, he told her that he did volunteer work; therefore, he had no money. She had to pawn her jewelry to get by until we left for America.
In the first few years living in a foreign country, she raised two kids on her own. She felt sad and chastised him for not taking care of his wife and kids, but she was not jealous. Even though she knew he was having an affair with another woman in Việt Nam, she paid him no mind. After thirty years of living by herself, she no longer needed any financial or emotional support from any man. A few times I asked her if she missed him or was jealous of him and she responded, “I have no time to be jealous or to miss him.” Of course, most of her time was spent in the kitchen from early morning to late night.
I always remembered and respected her toughness; therefore, I never thought she was jealous. To be jealous was to love. If she were jealous, she could have found a way to trap him in the US or she could have gone back to Việt Nam with him. She had done neither. She gave him complete freedom. After many years of submitting the paperwork for him to reunite with his wife and son in the US, he ended up only staying for a few months and wanted to return to Việt Nam. She didn’t hesitate to buy him a one-way ticket back even though she knew he would not have another opportunity to return to America.
I was not as strong as my mother, but she had taught me an invaluable lesson in love and marriage: You can’t stop someone from leaving. Before my own marriage, I had a few relationships in which “my lovers left me one by one like small rivers.” I was sad, but I accepted their departure and never held them back. I have found love for the time being. I will love with all my heart and soul. We will walk together in this journey through life and I won’t let go unless she wants to go. I will hold on if she wants to stay, but not if she wants to go—even if I had fallen madly in love with her.
As for education, I have a different view than Aunt Chín. Of course, education is important at any time, but it was heavier in her generation than mine. I must confess. I hated high school and college. My English was poor and my grades weren’t good. I went to school, but it felt like I went to prison. Especially during four years of college, I counted down each day until I finished serving my time to get a release paper. Why didn’t I drop out of school? The only reason was that I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. In Aunt Hai’s family, Cousin Minh and Cousin Karen graduated from college. In Aunt Năm’s family, Cousin Nhơn and Cousin Tam also graduated from college. Aunt Tư’s family had none. I wanted my mother to be proud of me and that was my motivation to prevent me from dropping out of college. I earned my BA with an average GPA. Fortunately, I found my skills in design; therefore, I taught myself to be a web designer.
I only started to love school when I was accepted into the master program in graphic design. Even though I had a full-time job and a family with young children, I studied hard. As a result, my GPA went up to almost 4.0. With my master, I was promoted to Director of Design and Web Services. Although I had risen to the director position, I still had to work for the people above me. If I were lucky, I would have a boss who would trust my expertise and provide me the flexibility to do my work. As of this writing, I have that boss. If I were not so lucky, I would have a boss who would micromanage my every step. Unfortunately, I had that type of boss and I was stressed out. I would never put myself in that position again.
In contrast, Cousin Duy is his own boss and he has succeeded in starting his own business. In retrospect, Duy inherited our grandfather’s genes in business. Unlike me, they worked for themselves. I had indeed tried to work for myself, but I didn’t have the business mind like Grandfather and Aunt Hai; therefore, I had to continue working for the people above my pay rate. Nowadays, Duy is doing well with his own business and he is happily married to his wonderful wife. They have two beautiful daughters. All that he needed now is a little boy to carry on the Lý legacy to fulfill our grandfather’s wish.
Let’s get back to Aunt Chín’s writing. Because these stories were meaningful to me and they will be more valuable to my kids later on, if they wanted to learn about their origin, I wanted to contribute in a small way. I asked Aunt Chín’s permission to allow me to edit these stories and put them together in a book form to preserve them. I was filled with joy when she gave me the permission to revise her stories.
I am not a writer, but I am a designer who enjoys writing and reading. I write on my personal blog everyday to hone my writing skills in English and Vietnamese, but this is the first time that I edit someone else’s work. It is a daunting task even though I just help fix spelling and make the prose flow better. At first, Aunt Chín only wrote in Vietnamese, then she translated her stories into English. For almost a month, I spent every late night and early morning editing the content, but I am sure I still missed many errors. If you spot anything, please contact me.
As for the book platform, I am a web designer; therefore, I created a web book instead of a printed book. A web book can easily be shared with family members anywhere. When I wrote my thesis for the Master of Arts in Graphic Design, I chose my topic in Vietnamese Typography as an experiment. My goal was to create a guide to help type designers around understand the Vietnamese language so they could design proper, legible, readable diacritics. I dug deep into my research on the history of the Vietnamese language and studied our writing system to provide a complete guide on the topic of Vietnamese diacritics. After I submitted my final thesis and received an A+, I listed my printed book for sale and launched a web version online. The printed version didn’t do too well because no one knew anything about me. The web version, however, attracted thousands of unique visitors each day. My web book reached type designers around the world. In return, they had hired me to review and make recommendations related to Vietnamese diacritics for their new typefaces. I am proud to play a small part in expanding and enriching our Vietnamese language.
Because of the success of Vietnamese Typography and the potential of the web for reaching people across the globe, I wanted to continue to create a web book instead of a printed book. If later on anyone in our family wanted to contribute, it would be easier. Whereas a printed book can’t be updated until the next reprint or a new edition, a web book can continue to be edited and expanded. I would like this website to be a living book.
At the same time, I want to maintain all the profile information for our family members including their official names, ages, birth dates, and death dates (for those family members who had left us). I would like to thank any family members who contributed to this project by sending in profiles and photos. Thanks to Cousin Minh for encouraging Aunt Chín to write. Once again, thanks Aunt Chín from the bottom of my heart for these incredible stories.