Like an uprooted tree replanted in a foreign soil, I often retrace my past to find nutrient for growth. After the Fall of Saigon, my father was among the majority of the former South Vietnamese government officials being sent to the Re-Education Camp. The majority heads of the household were sent to concentration camps while other members of our families either fled the country to the dangerous seas or remained in the country with a miserable life since we were classified as second class citizens without the right to obtain a higher education. Luckily, my dad survived seven years of brain washing, at times laughable in his suffering and humiliation. He told us an experience of his Communist imprisonment when he and other cellmates gathered at night to learn English since there was no TV or any form of entertainment after a long day of hard labor and brain washed meetings. Seeing the inmates gathered in a group, the guard questioned the prisoners when he heard them speaking a foreign tongue that he couldn’t understand. They replied: “We are learning the American language.” To thwart this, the guard demanded them not to learn the America- language. Realizing the answer had just triggered the guard’s hostility, an inmate quickly explained: “We are only learning English in our spare time since there’s nothing else we could do.” The guard cooled off once he heard the term English instead of the American-language and the inmates avoided a possible harsh punishment for learning the American-language.
In school I had no choice but to learn Russian, but I didn’t really care because I felt no foreign languages do me any good anyway. We never thought that one day we would be able to leave the country, much less that our future might lead to America. But then this un-thought of thought became true when the US liberated my family and resettled us in this free land of America. Thank to the humanitarian operation of the US, my family and I were able to breathe the air of freedom. We knew we would encounter challenges as we started our new life without knowing a word of English. I slowly picked up English as I lived in this, my new-found homeland. I became an interpreter to help bridge the gap between people those with imperfect English or Vietnamese. As a first-generation immigrant, I believe in the multilingualism is another form of freedom. It is the matter of learning the quintessence of a new culture while also maintaining my own heritage. The more languages I am fluent the more I appreciate our nation’s diverse culture. Thank you, America, for teaching me your language and allowing me to deep root in your fertile soil.
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