ON BEING VIETNAMESE-AMERICAN
Bai An Tran

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, I escaped from Vietnam . I arrived in the US when I was 35 years old. After 10 years of having immigrant status, I prepared to take the test to become a United States citizen. I asked myself: “What should I maintain as a genuine Vietnamese-American and pass on to the next generation?” My answer will focus on three dominant beliefs: the danger of war, the necessity of education, and the value of lifelong learning.

I grew up in war time, so I know firsthand the dangers of war. I was born in 1940 soon after World War II began. At that time, Vietnam was occupied by French colonists. The war between France (and the Allied Powers) and Japan (and the Axis Powers) extended into the territory of Vietnam , so many Vietnamese were killed and their properties were destroyed. My house was burned two times during the war. My father went to France to join the French Army. I stayed home with my mother under harsh conditions. Due to the war, there was a shortage of rice, the main staple of Vietnam . Almost two million Vietnamese died of starvation. My mom and I survived on a small bowl of soup each day. Corpses of skin and bones lay everywhere on the street. After World War II, the fight continued in my country between the North and the South. Finally, the South was overtaken by the North in 1975 and I had to escape from Vietnam . The lesson I would like to leave to the next generation is that war is very dangerous and brings too much destruction and death, and the enmity created by war breeds animosity for generations.

Secondly, education is always crucial to everybody in war time and in peace time. In Vietnam during times of war, children’s education was often disrupted due to the shortage of teachers who were called upon to do military service. Also, several schools were destroyed by bombs or rockets. Fortunately, my parents always encouraged me to go to school day and night. Finally, I graduated from a university and became a judge. The lesson I learned from war time is the importance of patiently accepting anything that happens in life. Material goods achieved through sweat and tears can be destroyed in seconds by bombs or fire. But the fruits of my education remain with me forever. I am a father of two sons who are currently studying at San Jose State University . There are many differences between my sons and me. When they were young, I wanted them to focus on their schoolwork, but they wanted to have fun instead. I was taught: "If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for ten years, plant a tree. If for a hundred years, teach the people."  I will pass this message on to my children and keep trying to remind my sons about the importance of education.

Now I’m reaching the age of 68. This society allows me to retire, but I still want to work hard. Normally, retirement is a time of relaxation; however, I think differently. There are many similarities between a little child and an elderly person. A child sleeps many hours a day and older people do, too. The little child cannot take care of himself, the same is true of many of the elderly. The child goes to school every day and most of the old don't want to do the same, but I do. Many older people say, “My body is old but not my heart.” I feel the same. I would add that my heart as well as my brain is never old. That's the reason I am going to school now. If I compare my 35 years in Vietnam with my 33 years in the USA , it’s hard for me to say which part of my life was better; however, financially speaking, I have gained more than I lost. Psychologically and mentally, I am always happy. The message that I would like to send to my children is always study hard and stay active. St. Thomas Aquinas, the author of many valuable philosophical and theological books, taught his students in his old age that he knew only one thing - that he knew nothing. Therefore, I will continue to learn until my last breath.

In conclusion, during the past 68 years, I have experienced the importance and necessity of peace, education, and hard work. I hate war, but I love education and I prefer working hard to retirement. I was inspired with those ideas when I was sworn in to become a US citizen. I don’t want to become an ordinary US citizen, but I really want to be a good American, and I hope the next generation will follow my beliefs.