Bui Doi: Lost ForeverAs a child, I had never been interested in my ancestors or where I came from. I was a Vietnamese-American. Nothing special about that. Until I learned that there was much more to that. My grandfather was an American soldier in the Vietnam War, but no one alive today knows who he was.
My grandmother lived in Saigon, the heart of Vietnam, in the midst of the war. She was young and beautiful and found herself falling in love with an American soldier. Their love grew and she found herself pregnant with his child. But suddenly, her soldier disappeared. Whether he was killed or simply fickle, no one knows. She kept their relationship a secret, most likely due to the shame and embarrassment of being abandoned. No one ever knew who he was, and then he was gone. But she was still left on her own to raise a child in a volatile and tumultuous time. My mother was born, and raised lovingly but in poverty through the war. Three years later, my grandmother developed a vicious and terminal cancer. Shortly after, she passed away, leaving my mother on the streets of Saigon. With the death of my grandmother, the last link to my grandfather was broken. My mother became "bui-doi" or "dust of life" in Vietnamese. This refers to the many children left to roam the streets of Vietnam, insignificant ghosts floating through life. Left to fend on her own, she begged for food even though no one could even feed their own families. Years later, she was taken in by a woman who became her new mother, and the rest is history.
I've come to terms with the near impossibility of ever discovering who my grandfather was. But there will always be the wonder and mystery. I could be anything; Irish, French, Italian, English. What color eyes did he have? Is he the source of my out-of-place height? I'd like to think some unfortunate catastrophe separated my grandparents, and not simple infidelity. I'd like to think their story was a fantastical tragedy, very much along the lines of "Miss Saigon". The rational part of me knows that I'll never know. But the dreamer in me hopes that one day, fate will send me a long lost letter or faded journal and help me uncover the mystery of the Vietnam War Soldier.