ON APPRECIATION: Where I Come From and Where I Am Now

Mila Le - Ecuador


October 7, 2015

My grandmother is a small, cute asian lady who has creases around her eyes that only grow deeper when she laughs and smiles. Her english is not too well, and I often receive lectures from her in her native language. Embarrassingly enough, I don’t always understand what she is saying and get tired of the routinely head nodding and the flat “yes’s” that leave my mouth. Words may get switched around, but the stories stay the same.

I come from a very large and semi traditional family. I can be classified as a second generation Vietnamese American. My grandmother often tells a story of a small village in the central city of Huế, a city that was a home to her, my grandfather, and five children. This city was also home to other Vietnamese citizens, many, it seems like, were my countless aunts, uncles and their children. The story of the war is not spoken about within my family and the only sources available to me are my history text books and what little my mother remembers or has been told. 

Here’s my version with a mix of both: The Viet Cong communists of the north win the war April 30th 1975 after what seemed like more than 29 years. Every year this day is a day of mourning and gratefulness. A family of 7 and the innumerous members of an extended family fear of what’s to come while a new power takes over, land is being seized, and a home and a city is being taken away from them. I’ve been told many explicit stories of what happens next to my family of refugees stowed away on a foreign ship to a foreign country, but no words could be formed to truly express the horrors, the blood and the tears that held place on this journey. And what comes after that is a mix of racism, years of labor, assimilating, and adapting.   

And all this history and these stories make for a unique and one-of-a-kind seed that grew me. Sprouting around the struggles of a single mother who was lost in her own ways of her past and future. I stood by many questionable things. Sometimes I’d be in situations impossible to comprehend as a young child, and I had no one to blame but my mom and my dad and why they had chosen to make me live in two different households with two extremely different environments. But I’m a little bit older now, and am finally tall enough to see the details of my parent’s faces.

Baring the same marks of stress, labor, and love my grandmother has, made by longs years of carrying all the weight of a scary voyage and the pressure to make a life worth all of it with me on right on top. I now think of the times I’ve rebelled, mindlessly sat through lectures, scolded for going out too much or not studying enough and realized during those things, I was forgetting who I am and how I got here. 

Making the decision to take a bridge year was so clear for me, for reasons that seemed right at the time. Because I didn’t want to go to college right away like my parents wanted me too, my grades weren’t good enough to go to a school they’d be proud of, because I wanted to be away from a house full of people I’d been with my whole life and see another world way less familiar than what I was used to. Only expecting to just learn a new language, make some friends, and see beautiful landscapes, I was not anywhere near ready for any type of self-realizations. It took me 4000 miles, a couple falls into Ecuadorian dirt, food poisoning, tears of frustration over sounding like a stupid foreigner and being in the state of constant confusion to appreciate the seed that grew me, the branches that are now growing here in Ecuador and most importantly my sweet, cute, little grandmother, who is now worried about me not knowing where I am on a map and who I should call after I post this. 

Ngoại, Grandma, I appreciate your wrinkles and the years and overtime you spent working and adapting to a place you would’ve never thought to call home. Mom, I appreciate your mistakes and your many trials and errors, I know you always did your best. I appreciate Global Citizen Year, for accepting me and giving me this opportunity to find who I am, and realizing how lost I was before. And also for all this knowledge, and guidance, and challenges an old me would be terrified to conquer. It’s only been about a month and I’ve seen so much growth in myself and am starting to understand what used to be the strange, weird unknown. I’m appreciating everyone who has helped me in coming here and am appreciating what’s to come in the next 6 months. I’m appreciating every thing that makes me who I am, the horrible memories, the scary stories, the friends gained and lost, the lectures, the wrinkles, the tears, laughs, fights and hugs, words of praise and disapproval, the cold winds of Azuay, Ecuador, the beetles that fly into my hair at night, the unforgettable smiles on my host family’s faces, and I appreciate every other moment that has led up to have me finally learn how to appreciate the things I’ve neglected to. 

Mila Le