In the last issue of Xin Chào, I shared a story that began with an experience I had while visiting Việt Nam a few years ago. It was the first time I had truly felt connected to that country since immigrating to the United States in the mid 90s. That experience left me with a host of emotions that I’m still sorting out but the one coming clearly to my mind as I worked on the stories of this issue is the feeling of Wholeness.
I believe that I existed long before I came into this world in this physical form and that much of who I am now has been alive for thousands of years. When I was born, I was given life not only by my biological parents but also by the land and the culture we call Việt Nam.
It’s evident from the squiggly marks on my name, from how I instinctively take off my shoes when entering a house, and from how easily images of rice fields and water buffaloes stir my heart even though I have never spent a day in the countryside. Within all of these facets of myself are the memories and experiences of Việt Nam. I live out its hopes and dreams. I practice its customs and traditions. I endure its pain and sorrow.
But most of all, when I truly call out to that place, as I did on my last visit, I feel its unconditional love.
There’s a chapter in Belonging by bell hooks in which the author describes how living in urban California, away from her native place of rural Kentucky, was akin to being in “mental exile,” a condition that she says can utterly transform one’s perception of home and damage one’s spirit. Healing that spirit means discovering herself and finding homeplace – seeing clearly that Kentucky was her fate.
Two decades of being away from my native home (quê in Việt Namese) have also left me in need of healing. It’s as if I had lost an important part of myself somewhere along the way and in many others I also sense the same longing to be whole again. As you will see through the stories within this issue, this feeling comes at different times for each person and the path home is individually unique. For one author, it was through a death in the family. For another, it came one night via a Facebook message. One author found herself with even more questions and confusion after returning home.
Unique as each may be, what these stories collectively show is that, whether our connection to Việt Nam is faint or clear, that land has a significant impact on who we are. To understand Việt Nam is to understand the Việt Namese in Việt Namese-American.
I used to think that home is wherever you make it to be. While we can indeed create conditions of home anywhere, and some of us are fortunate enough to have many homes in our lives, there also exists an ancestral home where we come from. We don’t have to live there or even be born there, but it’s where we can always go to learn more about ourselves and feel more whole.
The title of this issue is Quê Tôi, which means My Quê. It is not meant to assert that Việt Nam is the native home of all Việt Namese-Americans. But even if it isn’t, it certainly plays an important role. As we set to launch this issue during the Tết season, a time when many Việt Namese traditionally return to their native home to be with loved ones, the sense of (be)longing is even more pronounced. After spending so much intimate time with these stories, I, too, am starting to see that Việt Nam is my fate.
I hope that the stories here will bring you a little closer to home, wherever you may be.