The First Anniversary
By Jackie Bong-Wright
Remember Tu Ho Nguyen, widow of Khang Nguyen, the only Vietnamese who perished at the Pentagon on 9/11 last year? How have she and her son coped with the loss of their beloved?
To mark the first anniversary, Tu celebrated a Buddhist ceremony at the Phap Vuong Meditation Institute last week-end. Her father, Qui Ho, 65, said, “according to Vietnamese traditions, we do not celebrate birthdays, which are only for children, but we religiously observe death anniversaries. This is to pray for the deceased to reincarnate into better lives, to pay homage to their souls, and to remember their good deeds so they leave a legacy for posterity.”
To feel less lonely, Tu, 39, sold the house she had bought with her husband before he died and moved in with her parents. Every night, she prepares a meal at the altar under Khang’s photo and invites her late husband to eat at the same time the whole family does. After the meal, An, their son, five, lights an incense stick to ask that his father bless him, his mother, and his grand-parents. When he misses his father, he stares at the sky and asks his mother to telephone his father so he can talk to him. Sometimes, he wants to go back to their old house and visit his father. Once, he cried when his mother did not allow him to go inside and disturb the new owners.
Tu, still struck with grief, loneliness, and worries, often suffers from shortness of breath and dizziness, she confesses. She denies having received hundreds of thousands of dollars from federal and private funds, as has been rumored. She puts her whole mind and heart into her work, which she says is her best therapy. “It has been a huge consolation for me to receive such a multitude of notes and good wishes from friends and colleagues. The best support came from An, who has grown taller and stronger in the face of calamity. He said that he wanted to replace his father to take care of me. He is a constant companion to me after work hours. He helps carry my groceries as his father did, and says comforting words when he sees me sad.”
The widow said that she would like to see Vietnamese Americans to help terrorism victims, and fight terrorism to prevent more loss of life, and to get involved in civic affairs.
Tu’s wishes have not gone unheard. Since the disaster, in a surge of patriotism, Americans have contributed generously to the 9/11 victims and their families. As far as the Vietnamese community is concerned, they have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the survivors’ funds to show their solidarity. They have written letters of condoolence, gone to different bereavement events, donated blood, and demonstrated with other ethnic groups to put a stop to violence.
One Vietnamese-American with views on terrorism is Mr. Le van Ba, 81, past president of the League of Vietnamese Associations. He says that Vietnam has known terrorism for hundreds of years. Acts of violence such as assassinations, mass murders, bombings, and incarceration have been widespread, even routine, in Vietnam, he said. Vietnamese refugees came here thinking that they had finally found peace, liberty and paradise. The sudden attacks on U.S soil sent shock waves and war flashbacks through the refugee and immigrant communities. He said that he was one of the thousands of Vietnamese-Americans across the country, demanding that human rights in Vietnam be restored.
He continued, “Two weeks ago, about 500 Vietnamese went to Boston to ask Senator John Kerry to support instead of blocking HR 8233, Human Rights Act for Vietnam, which the House had passed with an overwhelming majority. On September 9, another group went to the Hill to reaffirm the same request, and will continue to do so until they see some change in the bill. Mr. Ba agreed with President Bush who said that as long as there are still countries which harbor terrorists and commit acts of terrorism, the world will not find peace.
Reverend Nguyen Chi Thien, a Catholic priest, who migrated to the Washington area ten years ago after being jailed for three years in Vietnam by the Communists, echoed Mr. Ba, “We have to get rid of dictatorship and restore democracy, not only in Afghanistan, but in many other countries in the world, including Vietnam. What we should do in our adopted land, America, is to be involved in civic activities. We should urge the younger generations of Vietnamese-Americans to take part in government affairs and run for office. We have to exercise our right to vote.”
This is exactly what ten Vietnamese groups in the Washington area will do by co-sponsoring a voters’ drive at the end of this month. To mark the First Anniversary, Hung Nguyen and Tuan Hoang, newly elected to the Board of the Vietnamese National Congress of America, spearheaded a “Rock and Vote” event. Vietnamese Boy and Girl Scouts are being trained to register Vietnamese voters at the Fairfax Government Center from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on September 29. Well-known Vietnamese singers will volunteer their time to motivate and attract registrants. Government officials will be invited to talk, and will encourage people to register and vote, the best exercise of civil liberties and human rights in this land of freedom, which average Americans often take for granted.