With ears comfortable to the sounds of the hums of quê hương, or quê nhà, my parents listened to an evoked past that reverberated well into the present. Yet these very sounds, as beautiful and tragically poignant as they are, sometimes suffocated me at night in our familiar home.
Through my parents’ repeated retellings of their stories, with the same tones, rhythms, inflections, and unreconcilable non-endings, I realized that beyond being a ubiquitous source for survival, water, or nước, was also personally symbolic for my parents.
Nhạc vàng songs are like ghosts living in and out of diaspora, trailing behind Vietnamese veterans, rewinding themselves, back to their country and the struggles of living through destitution and ideological polarization. The political and historical erasures that were never archived in print media were/are re/recorded and re/produced as songs. […]
There are two veterans in the family. Father, who wasn’t recognized as one, and my brother, who was born here and served in the U.S. military and is therefore formally recognized as one. The officially recognized veteran receives the benefits of the institution, and he understands that privilege he holds over the unrecognized.