They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They tell the stories of a loved one’s happiness, their struggles, their sorrows, their memories. It captures what your soul feels in that second. One day I’m going to be old and wrinkly and I’ll have these memories to look back on and reminisce of my reckless and wildly naive adventures. This is why taking photos is so important even if it’s just silly day to day stuff in life.
I love photos because they’re a beautiful way of storytelling. Especially when it’s a story that you don’t know much about because the storytellers are not very talkative people. Growing up, my parents were very traditional and reserved. I don’t know much about my parents’ past lives because they’re not sharers. Ironic, right? Since I’m very much an open book. But what I do know to the best of my knowledge of my parents are bits and pieces pieced together from their friends, family members and those very rare moments my parents forget who they are and that I’m in the room and end up sharing little morsels of their past life.
The story that intrigues me the most though is the one of their struggles to immigrate to America. I want to share this because I follow @ofleatherandlace on IG and over the summer, she shared a story about her fiance who also happens to be Vietnamese. His parents went through a similar experience on their road to America and it resonated with me. I went home and dug up as many old photos of my parents past as I could find.
I don’t know the exact reason how or why my parents ended up in America, to be honest. They don’t talk about it much.
After the war, I think my father’s side had some issues with the government. I don’t know the specifics of it other than it had to do with my grandfather so my dad’s side of the family fled the country. His brothers and sisters came over to America first while my dad made the journey with my grandfather. In the middle of the night, he came to my mom and asked her to come with him. I guess this is where I inherit my spontaneity and recklessness from, since my mom basically left her entire family in the middle of the night without saying goodbye. I would learn years later that my grandfather didn’t like my mother much and didn’t really want her to come. He didn’t approve of her and saw her as extra weight and a liability in the risks they were already taking to escape the country’s repercussions after the war. He didn’t understand why my dad didn’t just break off the relationship, leave and start anew with someone else. I didn’t learn til I was much older that the reason my dad refused to leave my mother behind, was actually me.
It’s interesting because growing up, my father and I never saw eye to eye. Especially my teenage years. My father didn’t show emotion besides anger, sternness, disappointment, solemness. If I had to describe him growing up, I would paint a very cold impression. Fear ruled the house. I did not think my father loved or cared for me at all. But in small ways, I learned that my father did care. And that he was actually very proud of me. He would never say it out loud in front of me or to me, but I would learn through other people, his friends, his work colleagues, his work clients. Meanwhile all I thought growing up, was that I was a huge disappointment. I mean, how could I not think that? I was very rebellious and disobedient growing up. Even in college, I was pretty sure he hated me. I was dating a white boy and I dyed my hair blonde.
But in learning that my dad refused to leave my mom behind because he knew she was pregnant with me, I gained a new level of respect for him. It opened my eyes to the type of person he was; responsible, accountable, loyal and with much integrity. As ‘hard’ of a person my dad seemed, he is a good person and tries to do the right thing. I realized later on that it must have been hard for him trying to raise 5 children in America when all he knew was the old way back in Vietnam. Being first generation immigrants comes with a lot of challenges and I feel bad not being more understanding and patient with my parents.
After all, they did go through a lot. Even before they came over here. After fleeing Vietnam together, my parents were in Thailand for about 2 years in a refugee camp. My mom told me that they arrived with nothing and my father built a bamboo house with his own two hands for them in the camp. My mom gave birth to me in the camp and my dad labored during the day while my mom took care of me and my grandfather. Little by little, they built a life and eventually got their paperwork together and enough money saved to be able to immigrate to America and join the rest of my dad’s family. I honestly don’t know how they did it and how they even managed to have photos of their time in the camp. And looking back at theses photos, I realize my parents really do love me. I was their whole world, being that all the photos were of me and how everything they did was for me and to take care of me. And my father really does love and adore my mother, seeing everything he did and continues to do for her to make her happy. And looking at all the old photos he took of her back in Vietnam before I came along - I can feel his love and devotion through them by how beautifully he captured her. This is how he saw my mother and how he wanted the world to see her. It’s beautiful.
I wish I remembered more about my childhood. I feel like all memories before I was 3 are non-existent. As if the Men In Black came and wiped out everything from birth to age 3. I don’t remember my time in the camp, I don’t remember the flight over to America, I don’t remember my first steps on Long Island. My first childhood memory was my birthday party when I turned 3 and how excited I was receiving a Lisa Simpson plastic wallet with $5 inside. Oddly selective, right? But this is why photos are so important. The art of storytelling through photos. My father was a bodybuilder before me. My mother was young and beautiful and full of life. She’s very skilled at baking, sewing, and cooking. And not just regular homemaker skills. My mother can whip up a wedding cake if need be; there’s another photo album in her house somewhere of all the cakes she’s ever created and I wish I could find it to show you how amazingly talented she is. She’s also extremely talented at sewing and I don’t mean just hemming my pants and skirts and taking in my dresses. I try not to rely on her often because I feel like the projects I want done are burdensome but she’s created amazing costumes and outfits for me from scratch with no pattern. And cooking. Anyone who’s ever had my mom’s cooking, knows it’s the real deal compared to anything you’ve ever had at even the most authentic Viet restaurants.
I don’t think my parents get paid enough for what they do, honestly. My dad only possesses laboring skills but he’s amazing and detailed at what he does. My dad works in the extremest of conditions sometimes and it’s ridiculous how amazing his work ethic is even when he’s sick. I don’t know what I’d do without him sometimes, especially now that I’m a homeowner. Every time a homeowner hiccup comes up, I panic and cry. But then I text him and he comes over and miraculously fixes it and when I come home, it’s like he waved some magic wand over my house. When I bought my house, he took it upon himself to ask me to borrow my key for a day, and he came over and ripped all the old insulation out and installed new insulation in for me before I moved in. I didn’t even know he was doing it til after it was already done.