Almost three decades ago, my family and I left Vietnam inside a C-130 cargo plane full of weeping refugees. I remember watching a Saigon in
smoke, then a green mass of land giving way to a hazy green sea. I was
eleven years old too young to realize that I was witnessing a
significant historical moment. For the first time in her embattled
history, a history alleged to be 4,000 years old, the end of a war had
resulted in an unprecedented mass exodus.
A Diaspora: Two million Vietnamese, scattered into more than 50 countries
across the globe.
As a child in war-time Vietnam, leaving was unthinkable and the national
borders had seemed to me as concrete as the Great Wall of China. Once I
had expected to grow up and follow my father's soldierly footsteps and
fight for my country. But in that C-130 full of refugees, I was moving
not only across the sea but from one psyche to another. Yesterday, my
inheritance was simple the sacred rice fields and rivers which once
owned me, defining who I was. Today, as a journalist who covers Southeast
Asia and East-West relations and whose relatives are scattered in three
continents, Paris and Bangkok and Saigon are no longer fantasies, but a
matter of scheduling. My identity, likewise, has become multi-layered and
is in flux. Once bound by a singular sense of geography, I now have
reference points in at least three continents, several languages, and
across many borders.