“The first time I spoke with my brother after he’d left, we couldn’t understand each other. He didn’t speak Vietnamese, and I couldn’t speak English.” I’d just met Marie, and she was telling me about her youngest brother, who’d left their home country at an early age. “He knew he wanted to be a priest, even when he was very young. My father knew it wouldn’t be safe for him in our country. So when my uncle decided to move to the US, my brother left our family and went with him.”
Concern for his safety and knowing that opportunities would be better for him, Marie’s parents agreed to allow him, their young son, to move away. Far away. Far away from the family he knew and loved, he moved to the US and was raised by his uncle.
“Freedom? There is no freedom.” Marie shakes her head and continues to tell me about the state of affairs in her home country. She and her family are part of the small minority of Roman Catholics. “Things are not safe. It’s better here,” she sighs before telling me about the persecution facing Christians in Vietnam. Pressure from the government to follow a state supported religion affects schooling, employment, their safety and their very existence. Bullying tactics make life, in some instances, agonizingly difficult. I shake my head in a mixture of sadness and disgust.
Marie goes on to tell me that she’s been married for three and a half years. Right after her wedding she and her husband decided it would be better for her to come to the US. He plans to follow her after finishing up graduate school at a Vietnamese university. The last time she spoke with her husband in person was right after their wedding. They’ve only spoken by phone since she arrived here. “I’m about ready to take my test for citizenship,” she tells me proudly.
I am greatly moved by Marie’s story. For a moment, I turn to hide the tears I feel welling up. Sacrifice – painful sacrifice for a better life, for safety. For freedom. My own mother left her country, pioneering out on her own to make her way to this land of opportunity and freedom as a young woman in her early twenties. She didn’t leave under such harsh circumstances as Marie, but the leaving was still painful. The courage it took to leave everything she knew, to leave her home, for a new, strange culture is something I stand in awe of each day. My heart is grieved by Marie’s story, and I know that she is only one voice out of many that have bravely sacrificed for a better life.
I can’t imagine the loss her parents must have felt in saying goodbye to their son, not knowing if they’d ever see him again. Saying goodbye to my own son seems unimaginable. Only hearing my husband’s voice over a cold phone line, not to hear him whisper good morning or feel his embrace after walking in the door at night from work seems unthinkable. Being one with someone, yet being so far apart. Sacrifice, I know, is sometimes necessary. I’m ashamed at the things I so easily take for granted, things that should be savored each day.
Now here in America, Marie’s had the opportunity to visit with her brother. After she took classes to learn English, they were finally able to talk for the first time. To talk about their family, their home, and about the brief moments of a shared childhood. Her joy is obvious. So is her big sister pride. “He’s all grown up now, and he made it,” she tells me grinning wide. “He’s a priest” she says nodding. “He’s a priest.”
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