Unlike many Vietnamese immigrants, my family looks forward to Thanksgiving. Not because of the holiday itself and celebration of colonialism, but because it marks both my parents’ anniversary and my birthday. The long weekend feels like a federal holiday dedicated to my family.
My extended family usually meets, too, but this year we found ourselves together in the hospital. We went to visit my uncle who developed a pancreatic infection after a recent gall bladder surgery. His condition is worsening.
We visited him on my parent’s anniversary. How timely. He introduced them and, later, presided over the wedding. My parents wouldn’t have met and married if it weren’t for him. So, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here either.
None of us would be. Not in the US, at least. My uncle was the first to escape Vietnam in the quiet of night, without a whisper goodbye to the family in order to keep their innocence when the Viet Cong came to question his whereabouts. He made it to Los Angeles, from which he managed to sponsor my mom after her escape by boat and months in refugee camps. One by one other family members came over. If my uncle hadn’t settled in the US, they could have ended up in Canada, Australia, or remained in the camp indefinitely.
Beyond his role in our family, he’s a prominent figure in the Vietnamese community. A highly gregarious and charismatic person known as an actor, singer, community organizer, and poet. I haven’t met a Vietnamese person in California who hasn’t heard of him.
What’s next? The doctors say that he needs to eat well: lots of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, little fat and sugar.
This is where I hope to be helpful. I’m going to grow veggies for him — the foods he finds comfort in to ease the pain and bring him to health. After all, I’m here because of him. And I am thankful.