What It Means To Be A Refugee

The good life is not free.
01/30/2017 11:48 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2017

In response to the recent Executive order to ban refugees, I feel that I can no longer stay silent, and it’s my obligation to speak up, having been a refugee from Vietnam in 1975. Political reasons aside, this country has received me with open arms where I’ve been thriving and contributing in ways that I’m proud to call myself a patriot. I am only one face and one name of many refugees. Here’s what it means to be a refugee and how I contributed to this country. www.chibeingchi.com

Dearest Daughter,

Today I woke with the good news of your engagement to the love of your life.

After the flood of happiness subsided, I knew I must publish the memoir I had started so long ago.

Twenty-four years ago, I started writing this memoir with the sole purpose of passing down my family history to you (and then to your younger brother).

I wanted to tell how vastly different my life had been compared to the life you were living. I wanted you to know how I survived the Vietnam war and successfully fled the communists at the fall of Vietnam in1975, my ensuing journey in acculturation and assimilation in America, and how I eventually met your father.

When I started my memoir, you were only two years old, peacefully dreaming in your afternoon slumber. Little did I know I would continuously revise it as time went by, addressing the story to you when you started kindergarten, junior high, high school, college, and again as you graduated.

Now, I know it can no longer wait, as you will soon be married. This will be the ultimate and eternal gift to you and your brother, to your children, grandchildren, and for many generations to come.

It is a story that must be told, a story that’s been tugging at my heart, my soul, and all the fibers of my body. It’s not a “want” to tell this story, but a “need” and a “must-do” life’s goal of mine.

Besides the family history aspect, I want you, your brother and your father to gain an understanding of why I am the way I am. I want you to know that some of my insecurities are the direct results of my wartime upbringing.

No refugee chooses to be a refugee. We do not choose to upset our lives, ripping out our hearts and souls, leaving all that we knew and loved for the unknown.

I want you to understand why I am so easily startled, why I used to worry excessively for your safety, why I tried to exert so much control in your life, and why I had anxiety and anger issues that I’ve successfully weaned from with writing and mindfulness.

I also want you to understand why I raised you to value and respect people first and foremost, not value material goods. I wanted you to value the outdoors, and nature. I wanted you to enjoy traveling to learn and experience other cultures (even within America), and around the world so you could experience and appreciate life from another’s perspective.

I wanted you to be resourceful and solve problems creatively, outside of our comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

Know this, my dearest daughter, life is good, but it is good because we fight fiercely for the values and ideals that we hold dearest to our hearts and minds. The good life is not free, it’s your labor of self-love and self-respect, day in and day out, hours upon hours of determination and resolve.

There will be many good days, even glorious days, but if and when dark days come, always hold your head high and march on with all that you can muster.

In sharing my story, I hope that you will learn from it and that you come back to my words on self-love and self-respect, as this was how I pushed myself onward during my darkest hours, when I couldn’t see the end in sight, when I could no longer find tears to ease my pain.

When those dark days come, and sometimes in life, those days have a bad habit of popping up when you least expect them; take a pause, a meaningful and thoughtful pause without judgment or action.

Sit on your hands, be still, stay still and listen beyond all the angry noises and anxieties. Don’t react hastily or harshly. Stand by the people you love.

When you are feeling lost and defeated, cry... do cry. Feel all that you feel, but then I implore you to get back up to fight, and fight like hell to bring happiness and joy back into your life.

As time has progressed and the political situation has changed with the Syrian refugee crisis, this has given me another compelling reason to not only share my story with you, but to publish my story now, in order to raise awareness of the refugee experience.

No refugee chooses to be a refugee. We do not choose to upset our lives, ripping out our hearts and souls, leaving all that we knew and loved for the unknown. Rather, we do what we must do for our survival and the survival of our children, because it is a basic human need and drive to perpetuate our family’s heritage and legacy.

Unfortunately, refugees have a stigma that most people want to avoid learning about because frankly, it’s unpleasant, and we don’t want to see ourselves in that situation ― and out of avoidance think it could never happen to us.

It’s true. I didn’t think it would happen to me when I was 13, and a privileged colonel’s daughter, but it did happen and it happened fast.

As you know, my life came full circle as I served for three years at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services as the GIS Chief, leading and providing real-time online maps for response and recovery of disasters, manmade or natural.

Let us not fear the refugees and immigrants, and let us remember that we all have the same fundamental human need for survival.

I served the demographics of the misplaced, the needy, and the distressed, who were refugees of disasters, whether they fled their home from fires, earthquake, or flood.

Today, I’m sad to see the refugee crisis playing out repeatedly all over the world, and strongly believe that not only is it necessary to share my narrative, but it’s unequivocally my obligation to pass it on as part of this country’s oral history.

In sharing my story, my ultimate message is of compassion, love, and understanding through learning what it means to be a refugee.

Let us not fear the refugees and immigrants, and let us remember that we all have the same fundamental human need for survival.

In sharing my story, I want to put a face to the refugee experience; I was a refugee and I strive to be kind and good. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that they all strive to be kind and good.

Now in 2017, the Vietnamese are being celebrated as a successful ethnic group in America, and that our contributions are vast, but this hasn’t always been the case.

In the 1970s we were not wanted and were looked down upon as Boat People. Yet as I share my story with you, I want you to know that we the Vietnamese are strong people. We are proud people. We don’t give in nor do we give up.

We’ve endured thousand years of Chinese domination, five years of the Japanese imperial occupation during WWII, a hundred years of French colonialism, and at least twenty years of the American Communism Containment Foreign Policy.

Our ancestors’ heads have rolled, our books have burned in piles or been banned, our women raped and oppressed, our men tortured and killed silently in the night, our children orphaned and hungry, our soldiers maimed, stricken with Agent Orange and suffered brutal battlefield deaths.

Our people, our ancestors, have sacrificed for generations so you and I can prevail with dignity and with our integrity intact.

My story is my gift to you, my dearest beloved daughter. I’ll leave you with these lessons to fight like hell for what you believe in, to have love and compassion, and to stay loyal to your family, friends, community, and country.

My gift, my story, now fills the void in you that you didn’t yet know existed.

Tomorrow, when you exchange your vow of marriage to the love of your life, know that you embody everything our ancestors have to offer, to guide you through life’s most difficult days. We’ll celebrate with you on your most glorious days. We are with you, every step of the way, we are you and you are us.

This is my ultimate gift to you, so carry this with you and you will always prevail and be successfully grounded, wherever you are.

Your loving mom

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