A few days ago a poster mentioned how the schools in Vietnam separate the children into different classrooms according to gender, and the smartest kids are sent to schools with tougher scholastic standards.
That’s how my friend Tuyvan ended up in a refugee camp in Kansas when she was 12 years old.
Her family lived in Hue, just south of the border between North and South Vietnam. Her father was a respected martial arts instructor who owned five martial arts studios; they even had a car and a chauffeur, which was rare in those days.
Tuyvan’s uncle lived 600 miles south in Saigon, where he worked for the U.S. Military. Being the smartest kid in her family, Tuyvan went to live with her uncle’s family and was enrolled in a private school.
The Paris Peace Accords treaty was signed on January 27, 1973, ending the Vietnam War, and shortly afterwards the U.S. military began withdrawing troops. The treaty didn’t last long. On March 25, 1975, North Vietnamese troops crossed the border and overran the city of Hue. Tuyvan’s family lost everything: their home, the car, the five martial arts studios. The invasion continued southward, and by April 27, Saigon was surrounded by 100,000 enemy troops. The remainder of the U.S. military and embassy employees were evacuated by helicopter. Tuyvan and her cousins and her aunt and uncle were flown from the roof of the American Embassy to a ship in the South China Sea. The 6-day journey to Guam is a memory that Tuy-Van is reluctant to talk about. She has mentioned that every meal on the ship consisted entirely of canned beans. To this day, she refuses to eat canned beans.
After being sent to a refugee camp in Kansas, Tuyvan was enrolled in a public school. She learned to speak English and began tutoring other Vietnamese kids when she was just 14 years old. By the time she was 16, she was tutoring American kids in Math. She’s now a flight attendant at a major US airline, she's married and has a son, and lives in Colorado. She uses her airline passes to visit her parents and siblings in Vietnam.
I went with Tuyvan to Vietnam in January, 1993, just before the 25th anniversary of the Tet Offensive. It was her first time seeing her parents and siblings since her escape in 1975. If I can find my notes from the trip, I'll share the story. It was quite an adventure.