Giving Thanks… The Unbreakable Ties

On June 3rd, 1990, the day before my mother’s b-day, my aunt put my brother and me on the plane as the most precious present ever to her sister, she said. I moved to the US to finally reunite with my parents and older sisters after 15 years of living apart: my father was sent to re-education camp in 1975 in northern Laos; my sisters were sent out to Hawaii via the refugee camp in Thailand in 1978; my father returned from camp in 1980; my brother and I left to France in late 1982, while my mother remained the only constant… in Vientiane, through it all…

Adapting to immediate family members who shared little memories and who have lived separate lives on divergent paths took some getting used to. A firm believer in the thickness of the blood, the unbreakable thread that tied us all, my mother became the glue that mended all of our differences. She was the iron hand in a velvet glove, one that once only touched the finest of silks. These same hands were able to endure the fast pace of the assembly line, upon which our family rose to build together the long awaited life under the same roof, and to share once again in the deeply rooted tradition of having meals around the dinner table. My father worked hard at transferring his French education to the increasingly high tech industry. He quickly adjusted, mastered English in record time, and regained his role as head of the household. His authority was sometimes questioned. His French ways clashed with the American simplicity. But it was his Lao stories, his father’s teachings, that most epitomized who he is. He opted not to say much, choosing his words, sometimes too carefully. But with a simple look, at times hard and demanding, and at times lost and gentle, he could express all the sorrows changing times have caused, and all the convictions and dreams a father could wish for his children. I understood beyond words. I get that their partnership is not at fifty-fifty, but gives and takes based on the situations, but always rounding up to one hundred percent.

invitation picture48 years ago this month, my parents married with approvals from both sides of the family, a match well made. Their traditional soukhouane wedding ceremony in which respected elders tied white threads around the wrists while wishing the newlyweds longevity, prosperity, health, and strength in their union, took place in the morning and was the very first marriage celebrated at the house on the Mekong. Many times I have heard my parents recount the preparations my grandmother orchestrated leading up to the blessed day. Parachute cloth had to be stretched to serve as tents over temporary outdoor kitchen. Clay stoves had to be brought in for mass cooking. Details about food had to be arranged. The house saw countless people go in and out, marching to the rhythm of pestles hitting the mortar, twirling to the sounds of chopping, slicing, and grilling. All the women in the neighborhood were mobilized to lend a hand, to concoct their specialty for the feast, to polish the silver, to prepare baskets for betel nut chewing… Only the most respected and happily married relatives were invited to arrange the banana leaves into cones and branches, and to string flowers full of meanings, connoting love, harmony, procreation, fortune, and happiness for the double baci trays (ceremonial flower arrangements atop stacked silver bowls): these hands were to symbolically transmit marital bliss onto the young couple. That same evening, a reception took place under the clear January sky and brisk air where friends danced the traditional lumvong (the circle dance) the night away…

40anniversary0011Through separation and life tribulations, my parents’ ties remained strong. It was their unshakable determination to give us a home that finally brought our family together and bonded them after so many years: it was their sole reason for leaving Laos. Never have I heard them blame circumstances for our displacement. Not once did I hear utter regrets. Not once did I witness their discouragement on starting from nothing way behind and much later in life, settling in a new country, learning a foreign language, adapting to an alien culture. Their acceptance of karma, the consequences of their decisions and actions whether good or bad, is fact of life. They have shown me that good will, positive actions, and unwavering faith can overcome anything. It was on their sheer iron will that our family stood tall to meet the challenges, and resolutely restored that deeply rooted tradition of sharing and gathering around food, a ritual so long ago bestowed on us in such a faraway land. No matter how well adjusted and how close we are to living the American dream, my parents have always reminded us of our roots, of where we come from, now a place they once again call home. Life has come full circle…

For that and so much more, I am grateful.

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This entry was posted in Family and Life, Festivals, Traditions, and Culture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Giving Thanks… The Unbreakable Ties

  1. I think I just fell in love with your father; he is one handsome dude! Congratulations to your parents, to all your family. Truly, a grounded foundation is imperative to every success in life. I am honored to have met them in person.

  2. laosmonamour says:

    Very touching indeed. Besides, you remind the young generations of what makes a Lao so special and so different from other people and culture!

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