Listen to a recorded version of this entry here.
Here is what we know: Around 1950, my grandmother gave birth to my mother, Nguyễn Thị Lệ. The rest is conjecture.
My mother grew up being told that my grandmother died in a hut fire. My grandfather had the choice of saving his wife or the baby. He chose the baby, and so my mother spent the rest of her life wondering what it would be like to have a mom.
Except, at some point in her childhood my mother overheard my grandfather talking to a friend. He said, “I drowned her in a rice paddy.”
My mom had a single photo of her mother. She believes she was wearing a nurse’s uniform.
This page will document my journey to find my grandmother—or at least, to find out who she was—and help my mother find closure on the greatest mystery of her life. Throughout this journey, I will also retell my mother’s story: from wading in jungle streams catching minnows, her indentured servitude at her aunts’ house, cooking for the prostitutes at her father’s brothel—to the turning point her life: working in the clubs of a US Army base where she met my father, arriving in Chicago in 1973, raising her four children in the American Deep South, and beyond.
My hope is to update this page weekly. Updates could be a description of where we’re at in the effort to find my grandmother; it could also just be one of my mother’s stories or an old photo. The page is to document, but also to publicize. We are using DNA test results to reach out to potential family members. At some point, I will also seek funding to travel to Vietnam to do research on the ground. At the end of this journey, I hope to pull everything together into a book. Entries are recorded specifically for my mother, whose conversational English is far better than her written English.
Thank you for joining me on this journey by following this page. I started to tell my mothers’ stories in high school. Her life was a major influence in my poetry in college. After taking an almost 10 year break from creative writing to pursue my PhD in education, I am armed with both energy and qualitative research skills to honor my history through this work. Still, I will need your help. I need your encouragement, the support of historical and qualitative researchers in my circle, feedback from my creative writing friends, and connections of potential family who visit this page. I look forward to finding my grandmother with you. Thank you again.