Soldiers’ children resent past injustices

October 31, 2006

by Huu Ngoc

Not so long ago, Vietnamese people fathered by foreigners were generally treated with disdain. This was particularly true of the countless children brought into being by members of the French and American armies during the two long wars that rocked the country for three decades of the last century.

Children of mixed parentage had to live virtually like aliens in a society still tainted by racial prejudices that were a natural result of an instinct for self-preservation, entrenched parochial views and suspicion of all things foreign borne out of centuries of political and economic domination by outside forces.

Kim Lefevre had a very unhappy childhood because she was half-French. She was born shortly before the end of World War II and abandoned by her father, a military man who returned to his native country. Kim’s mother came from a landed family in Nam Dinh Province. She ran away from home and married the Frenchman, who later deserted her.

At the age of six, Kim was placed in an orphanage in Ha Noi while her mother went south to seek a living. After the Revolution of August 1945, she was reunited with her mother, who was by this time remarried and living in Cho Lon, Sai Gon.

Kim went to school again and obtained a scholarship that enabled her to get a doctorate degree in literature in France.

In her Metisse Blanche (Bernard Barrault, Paris 1989), Kim recalls her mother’s self-sacrifice in providing for her education and the selfless assistance that a Catholic sister gave her during her college years.

But she remembers with great bitterness her triple misfortune of being female, an orphan and a “half-caste”. She once heard her uncle say to her mother: “Your bosom is nourishing a viper. Her kind knows nothing of gratitude.” One primary-school teacher treated Kim with particular harshness, as if blaming her for the on-going French aggression. There were times when Kim cursed her French half, but in moments of lucidity she realised that she was only a victim of a people who had been victimised by colonialism. Over time, having matured in age and mind, and with a heart full of love, Kim returned not long ago for a visit to Viet Nam, her Viet Nam, the country of her mother.

Another such woman who does not forget where she comes from despite everything is Ngoc Anh, who lives in Garland, Texas, USA.

In a story carried on the community paper Viet Bao in California early this year, this 40-year-old Vietnamese-American tells how she revoked her “tearful” years from 1957 to 1990, particularly the period immediately after the end of the American War. At primary school she was bullied for her stiff hair and punished again and again for fighting back.

Ngoc Anh’s misery did not end even with Washington’s decision to grant citizenship to children fathered by Americans during the war. At a third-country transit camp for refugees, she was the object of distrust by old-timers, who unjustly thought that half-breeds were “natural thieves”.

After years of a happy life with her husband and her children in the United States, Ngoc Anh still longs for the place of her birth.

She misses the croaking of frogs in the paddies, the cooing of cuckoos on moonlit nights, the soothing lullabies mothers sing to their babies swinging in a hammock.

She declares with candidness: “I hate anyone speaking ill of the Vietnamese people even though I am physically not like them at all.” — VNS

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