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Giao-Chau Ly
La Jolla, California, USA

I was the first of my family to become a United States citizen in 1976. My mother commemorated this by naming me "connecting continents" or Giao-Chau. My birth made the paper in our little town of Waterloo, Iowa... as did my family's arrival there, and my older (Saigon-born) sister's first day of school. Our family was the first Vietnamese immigrants to move to the area. We were a novelty and the pride of our town.

My mother worked for an American company in Vietnam and was able to secure passage for herself, her husband, her 3 year-old daughter, her parents, and six of her eleven siblings. They "escaped" from the country the day before the last helicopter flew out of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. (The famous scene seen in countless documentaries and "Miss Saigon".) Taking only what they could carry and taping what gold they owned to their bodies, my family was flown in large carrier planes to Guam, Hawaii, and finally Arkansas where they were housed at a holding camp for the mass of Vietnamese immigrants seeking asylum. A Christian church in Waterloo sponsored my family- providing everyone with clothing, jobs, housing, and even food until they could support themselves.

I was born here in 1976 but my father couldn't adjust to the snow and bitter cold of the mid-west after living his entire life in tropical climes. He had a job as a meter reader for the water company... a far cry from the foreign diplomat he was educated to be. We moved to California when I was three where he continued reading meters, this time for the gas company. My mother found work as an English teacher to other immigrants as well as working as a secretary while taking night school to get a degree in business.

From nothing, my parents have made a successful life for themselves and for their children. They are the embodiment of the American Dream. They were able to send both children to college and now work as an electrical engineer (for the same gas company) and a strategic marketing analyst for a major Silicon Valley tech company.

As for me, I am your typical 20-something gen-Xer trying to fulfill her own American dream. My views of the Vietnam War were fueled mainly from the movies that I had seen, the high-school history lessons, and the news reports regarding the results of Agent Orange and the struggles of Vietnam Veterans. I was (and still am) sorely under-educated about the realities of the war and had the same vague negative image that most Americans do.

Out of curiosity I asked my parents what they thought of the war and the United States involvement. Suprisingly my father told me that most Vietnamese, himself included, were thankful. If the Americans hadn't come, the communists would have stomped on the people and there would have been no hope of escape. We will never know if this is true, but I do know that without American intervention, I would not be here today.
And for that, I am deeply thankful.

Both of my parents have returned for visits since then. Neither wish to return permanently. Over the years most of my relatives have moved here or to Europe. But we still have family there- many of which refuse to leave.

Unfortunately, I don't associate myself much with the Vietnamese community. I understand bits and pieces but can't speak a word of the language. This is rare among Vietnamese children and because of it I am slightly ostracized. As an American-born, I have trouble relating to other Vietnamese my age. I am ashamed to say that I don't know much about my ethnic heritage, nor the history that made me who I am, but I am gradually learning and am very proud of my identity.

Today, I don't know what to think of the war. Without the war my family and I would be living a life of poverty under the yoke of communism. But the war has also destroyed so many lives (my relatives included) and irrevocably changed the face of the American conscience. In the end, I can only hope that there are more positive consequences like my own story.


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