Pandemic: Through the Lens of a Refugee
Today was an ordinary day for most, but not for me.
I knew that it was going to be an emotional day. In addition to living during a pandemic, it was also April 30th. For many, it’s known as the Anniversary of the Fall of Sài Gòn. For me, it’s the day I lost my homeland. This day changed the lives of millions of Việtnamese, including my family and I. We were forced to flee our home and lose everything. The only home we knew.
My eyes felt heavy. The gravity of today fell upon me.
Back then as a child, it was like any other day. Or so I thought.
Thundering sounds of heavy artillery echoed in our neighborhood. The ear-splitting sound of machine guns ricocheted in our streets. Sounds of women and children screaming pierced through our ears. The symphony of terrifying sounds played like the soundtrack from a never-ending horror movie.
Only this is real life. Our lives.
“At that moment we became refugees.”
In a moment’s notice, my parents desperately gathered our most cherished possessions into a single bag and hastily lifted us and our few belongings into our vehicle. My father was determined to carry us to safety by driving to the nearest port hoping a ship would be available.
We maneuvered urgently through the hectic Sài Gòn streets that were bursting with masses of people. The intense mayhem hampered the movement of pedestrians and drivers alike.
“We thought: We’re safe now. We were wrong.”
Shadowy clouds blanketed the sky with dark smoke from gun fire and the aftershock of bombs that descended nearby. The air was weighty. Not from these weapons of destruction but from human fear and despair. We felt the terror circling around us and it manifested on our faces. All of our faces. Grandparents, fathers, mothers and children moved in tangled chaos. We all ran. Hoping to end up anywhere but here.
It was surreal.
Finally. We arrived at the congested dock. Few ships remained. We frantically rushed onto one of the few rickety and overfilled ships. As our ship leisurely drifted from the land, we gazed in horror. The communist and the U.S. military were annihilating our country.
At that moment we became refugees.
We thought: We’re safe now. We were wrong.
“Lucky” refugees managed to escape, but only to begin our long and perilous ocean journey. We faced crammed and filthy conditions, contagion, dehydration and starvation. About 200–400 thousand Việtnamese refugees died at sea. After being displaced on different refugee camps, we ultimately arrived in the U.S. to begin our new lives.
“We waited hours to receive essentials for our family.”
No one chooses to be a refugee. My parents made best decision for us during a time of imminent threat, fear, despair, and loss. Tremendous loss.
As I reflect back on this anniversary from the comfort of my home. My thoughts fixate on the irony of my past experience and our current situation.
When we were displaced on refugee camps, each morning, afternoon and evening we wearily stood in the food line. We waited hours to receive essentials for our family. Essentials that were selected for us. Essentials that others thought that we needed: a sandwich, an apple, and a cup of water.
Today, many are agonizing over having to be with their families and having to stay home.
When we lived on refugee camps, being with all of our family members was a privilege that we didn’t have. In the chaos of fleeing, we were separated from family members and relatives. We didn’t know their fate. We didn’t know our fate.
The most heartbreaking reality for me is that we would have given anything to sit on our own furniture to share a meal with our family.
We would have given anything to stay at home.
In our home.