This week we were challenged to trace back our family history and discover information about the lives of our ancestors. Though I was not able to trace very far back, learning about my ancestors was interesting. It gave me a sense of both pride and appreciation.
My roots trace back to Japan, China, and Vietnam. My dad’s mother is half Japanese, half Vietnamese, my dad’s father is 100 % Vietnamese, and both my mom’s parents are Chinese, making me ⅛ Japanese, ⅛ Vietnamese, and ¾ Chinese. Ba Noi (my paternal grandmother) had a colorful life. World War I broke out when she was a little girl. Her father, a Japanese businessman had to live in Japan during the war, leaving my great grandmother alone in Vietnam with three kids: my grandma and her two older brothers. During the war, my great grandmother and her children had no home. They moved from village to village and never knew where their next meal was coming from. When the war ended, my great grandfather returned to his family in Vietnam. At that time, my great-grandmother’s health was poor. She passed away from a stroke when my grandmother was around sixteen years old. When her mother passed away, my grandmother was devastated. Her father felt bad, or maybe regretted, leaving his family in Vietnam during the war, so he took good care of my grandmother and gave her a good life in southern Vietnam in the city of Saigon (modern day Ho Chi Min City). He was a successful businessman. He owned the largest exporting and importing company between Japan and Vietnam. He was also a philanthropist who built hospitals, nurseries, libraries, and the first electric dam in Vietnam. My grandmother became an entrepreneur. She actually became a more successful business woman than her father. She owned a rubber plantation, an industrial salt mine, a bicycle factory and shop, and a hotel for Americans.
My paternal grandfather’s family owned thousands of acres of rice paddy fields in northern Vietnam. This land was passed down through generations. My ancestors leased the land to people who would live and take care of the land and pay rent, slightly similar to the feudal system of the Middle Ages in Europe. When the communists began taking over Vietnam, the communists wanted to execute all landowners. My great grandfather was forced to move his family to southern Vietnam. Ong Noi (my grandfather) became an engineer for the South Vietnamese Air Force. He married my grandmother, and together they lived with their two kids, my dad and my uncle, in the center of Saigon. In 1975, when the communists from the north officially took over and began moving into the south, my grandparents, my father, and my uncle fled Vietnam. My grandparents were forced to leave all of their successes behind in Vietnam. They came to America with $7. My grandparents worked in textile factories and eventually built a stable life in America.
Learning about my family history has truly made me proud and more appreciative. My grandparents and my dad endured many difficult hardships that I have never had to. While they had successful lives in Vietnam, they also were faced with the hardship of living amid a war, the difficulties of poverty, and the calamity of losing practically everything. However, they worked hard and persevered to rebuild their lives in America. Their story is both profound and inspiring.