This morning my older sister, Lynn, texted me to remind me that today is the 20th anniversary of the first day our family arrived in the US. September 25th, 1989. It’s been twenty years. Sometimes, I stay awake pondering. Most times, it revolves around finding a way to profit from the sale of homemade fruit leather or opening an Alpaca ranch in Peru. But on occasions I wonder what my life would be like if we had never left Vietnam.
It is interesting to think of the infinite alternative realities. In one, I am a space pirate looking for riches on different planets. In another, I become old and escape to find adventure by tying thousands of balloons to my house and floating to Venezuela. All right, those are plots of animated movies. The closest reality I could imagine is one of a boy whose family lived in a small mountain village in Vietnam. If we never came to the US, I would probably grow up in that village, raising crops and learning how to ride a motorcycle. I would marry my childhood best friend, Ha, and have two kids by now.
And sometimes, in the village, I would ponder what it would be like, in a different reality, if I lived in the US. In the evening, while tending to the chayote and passionfruit plants, I’d stare at the distant mountains, wondering what lay beyond them. Covered in sweat and dust, I would walk home to a small hut. Then I’d probably go on the internet and blog about it. What, just because someone lives in a village, you don’t think they’d have access to technology? Stop stereotyping people.
It’s still unbelievable that we’ve been here for 20 years now, traversing the soils of the US from Philadelphia to Seattle to Memphis to Chicago to St. Louis. “One day,” my father said to one of his American friends, “the Le family will be all over the United States.” Right now, it’s still just the few of us. In twenty years, the clan grew by only five members, and lost one, my mother. Her absence makes this otherwise ordinary day bittersweet, like waking up from a really good dream.
“We should go to celebrate,” I texted back. We never paid any attention to this. No one noticed any of the other anniversaries. Vietnamese people don’t take notice of yearly markers, except when someone dies. But twenty years is a lot, especially for my older sister, who is the reason we were able to come here. Half-Vietnamese, half-American, she was called here, and we, her adopted family, came with her. More than 2/3 of my life has been spent here now. I love my older sister, and I am grateful she brought us all here to this great new world, where I have a flat-panel TV and can complain about the government without being put to jail. Of all the realities, this is the only one I know, so it’s the best one. What should we do to celebrate 20 years of this reality of being Americans? I think we’ll just go out for a drink, and to celebrate our Vietnamese heritage, go to karaoke afterward.