Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese regime on April 30th, 1975. On that fated day, "Doom Day," American officials along with South Vietnamese
civilians and 1954 northern refugees evacuated Vietnam in unprecedented numbers. My father, at that time serving as an official for the
Republic of South Vietnam, had the opportunity to flee to safety. However, it would have meant leaving his family behind. He chose to stay
and was therefore imprisoned in a so-called "re-education" camp. There he remained for the next seven years.
I was born six months after my father's imprisonment to a mother struggling to balance her full-time work with raising me, a newborn, and my
one-year-old sister. For the first seven years of my life, with my father in prison and with my mother working tirelessly to earn just enough
money to support us, I was raised by a collection of people including grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors. I remember being confused
by my father's absence and equally frustrated with my mother's. Although I was told that I had a father, I struggled to understand why I
could not see him. I started kindergarten in fear. Fear of what other kids, ones that had fathers, would think of mine when they learned
that I did not. Fear that they would ask about him. Fear that I would not know the answers.
I must have been five or six years old when one day, my mother asked me if I wanted to visit my father. I will never forget the emotional
tide that washed over me at that moment. The prospect of seeing the man that I had dreamt of so often was overwhelming. I went to bed that
night and am sure that I did not sleep for even a minute. My mind raced with thoughts of visiting my father the next day. I must have dozed
off eventually because I remember being woken by my mother very early in the morning. It was so early that it was still dark outside. I was
led to an already overcrowded van filled with many people and heavy duffle bags piled on the roof. We drove for a long time on the highways
leaving the city and headed to a place further than I had ever been from my home. Eventually, the road became bumpy as we no longer had
pavement beneath us. The van slowly made its way along bumpy dirt roads through fields with giant trees. I felt like I was being taken into
the jungle. The animal sounds were unfamiliar. I remember being scared of the birds, snakes and strange animals that I could not see. After
what seemed like a long time, we reached a gate of sorts. Several armed men stood guard and after questioning the driver, escorted us on
foot to a single level building. We were directed to wait. I remember the ceiling being low and the building being hot. The door was open
and we could see across a clearing in the prison camp. I kept my eyes on that door thinking that my father would walk through at any moment.
What would he look like? Would I somehow recognize him even though I had only seen his image in a few faded photographs that my mother had?
After a long while, we saw a queue of middle-aged men in pajama-like rags across the camp. Suddenly, I felt my mom's hand grasp my
shoulder, she kneeled down and said: "That's your father! Right there, that's your father!" We were given permission to walk outside to
reunite with our loved ones. The clearing became a jumble of people and I lost sight of the man my mother called my father when all of the
sudden he appeared. He instantly crouched down in front of me, and picked me up. I still remember him squeezing me in his arms and then
holding me away from him to get a good look at me. I could see the tears in his eyes. I felt so happy but at the same time so confused.
For the first time I wondered why we had been separated for so long.