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Manoa 14.1 (2002) 30-32
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A Strange Letter
My name is Linh Dinh and I am American. (At least that's what my passport says.) My wife's name is Diem Bui and she is not. (At least not yet.) We got married on 24 December 2000 in Saigon, the city of my birth.
I am American insofar as I read the box scores every morning, eat French fries on a regular basis, know that Buster Keaton is a genius. I am Vietnamese insofar as I have black hair, yellow skin, and a Napoleon complex.
A Vietnamese American is a special breed inViet Nam. Unlike an American American, he is not a total alien. He brings news from the promised land and, sometimes, is even a bridge to it.
Soon after our wedding, my wife received a strange letter from a distant cousin, someone she had not seen or talked to for more than a decade. The writer of this letter was a twenty-three-year-old woman:
How are you? I am so happy for you. You are very lucky.
On the occasion of your wedding, I want to send you and your husband my deepest and most sincere wishes for your future happiness.
My mother is doing fine. I'm still in school. I'm getting rather fat and so have been on a diet.
You haven't been back to Can Tho in a long time. Perhaps you don't even remember me. I still have very fond memories of your visit in 1989. I was so happy to see you because I am the only girl in my family. Even back then you were very fashionably dressed. Do you remember? The two of us went all over Can Tho. We ate roasted corn; you took me to school, helped me with my homework. We rented Hong Kong videos and stayed up until two in the morning. Then we fried up some duck eggs with scallions. Do you remember?
I was very reluctant to send you this letter. I was afraid you would misunderstand my intentions. Why haven't I been in touch? Why am I getting in touch with you now? Now that you have a rich husband.
My beloved Diem, I was only a kid before, distracted by school and play, and did not know a thing about writing letters. I also did not have your address. Aunt Tam never gave me your phone number. I didn't even know you [End Page 30] had a phone. All I knew was that you live by the Phu Lam Bridge in Saigon. How can I send a letter to a bridge? (Ha! Ha! Ha!)
But when you sent Aunt Tam your wedding photos, I finally got your address. My first thought was that you are truly a lucky girl! I love you very much. I'm not trying to suck up to you now that you have a rich husband. That's not how I live; I don't chase after money. We have a saying down this way: Don't let your conscience bite you in the ass!
It's true that my family is very poor now. But a torn shirt need not stink. Just because you're poor doesn't mean you have to suck up to anyone.
If only I were as lucky as you, how happy I'd be. I have dreamt of coming to America since I was ten, maybe earlier, but this lifelong dream has brought me nothing but disappointment. Now I don't think about it anymore. My mother used to be good friends with a woman who lives in Miami, a city just outside New York. One time she came by to show us pictures of her son, someone roughly my age. She even let me keep some of these pictures. I gave her some pictures in return. We all thought this woman meant something by it, that she had good intentions, but she never followed up. Why did she tease us like that? I even broke up with my...