26 years | becoming more American

I chose to put up a photo of my favorite dishwashing liquid, Palmolive — Original, to mark the 26th anniversary of my being American.

It’s the first scent that I vividly remember the first few days after arriving in Minnesota from the refugee camp. We moved into a two-bedroom apartment, on the second floor, of a four-unit building on 4th street crossing 32nd. A family of eight, plus Dad’s male cousin who came to Minnesota a few years prior. He just moved in with us because he was single at the time, and it seemed ideal to have him be to leading guide when Dad and Mom had no idea how to navigate the new world.

In that apartment, I washed a lot of dishes by hands because for nine people, three meals a day…dishes and utensils accumulated quickly. And I still remember standing in that small kitchen, with a gas stove, and running water coming out from a faucet — the thought that I did not have to fetch pails of water from a nearby community water fountain (the way in the refugee camp), or from a water well (the way it was in my neighborhood in Vietnam) gave me a fancy of living in luxury. And it was a luxury, more or less, to have all of these amenities and conveniences coming from a third world country.

I guess other than white snow (it was so brutally cold), grey-casted tree branches, and the aging beige-painted wall in that small apartment, what I remember the most was the scent of green Palmolive dishwashing liquid, and how new life began then.

And I have been using this brand since then, out of habit, of course, but it also gives me a sense of comfort.

P.S. Palmolive paid no sponsorship for this post. 😀

P.S.S. This morning while standing in the kitchen washing the dishes, I also put on some Vietnamese romantic music from my phone, listening to Vũ Khanh singing a familiar song (Mùa Đông Của Anh — My Winter) that Dad used to sing for us. I told Mr. O that I miss Dad, I miss how he strummed his thin and callused fingers on the guitar strings, singing in his coarse voice and alcohol-filled breath, and I kept watching his adam-apple kept moving up and down this neck. 

Little moments like that…get me every time!


12 thoughts on “26 years | becoming more American

  1. Yes some moments bring back those memories so fresh like it was yesterday. I like how you tell your story. It feels my chest with hope that everything is part of life and we need to live every moment.

    I can understand the smell of washing dish, we have the yellow lemon flavor liquid here !

  2. What a beautiful story. Such precious moments with your father. I had no idea your family was in a refugee camp. I can only imagine the world you stepped out of, then into another so very different. It must have been very difficult learning how to live all over again. I’m so thankful you were blessed with family to be there with you.
    As a kid my mother was very poor. There were many days we didn’t have healthy food, warm beds, but we had eachother. And not having, makes me so much more thankful now. My kids have never gone hungry or cold. I’m so thankful your kids have you, your life story. 💜

    1. We are grateful for things our parents didn’t have, indeed. I also want to instill these life lessons and values for my kids. That they don’t need luxurious and expensive items to be considered comfortable living. They need to learn the value of hard earned monies and spend it wisely, knowing that not many times in life we meet people who lend us a hand when we are down trodden.

      1. So true. It’s a hard lesson to teach these days, with everyone more concerned with what people see – the popular boots, nice cars. And tiny kids have cell phones and tablets! My kids are happy to have cable.

      2. We take our kids to second-hand stores (once upon a child) for most of their pants, shirts, sweaters. We only buy brand new shoes and undergarments or other items we see as deemed for brand new. They know that it is okay to wear second-hand clothes, as long as they are not dirty and ragged, then it is not a shame. That’s how I grew up too, all used items donated by the Lutheran church. I did not have any new clothes until I went off to college and earned my work-study money to buy reasonable-priced clothes. I remember other girls were in Guess Jeans that cost $100/pair and I was aghast at how expensive brand name clothes were.

    1. Mà em chưa kể là còn nồi niêu xoong chảo đó chị.

      Mà lúc đó còn nhỏ xíu mới 13 tuổi đâu có biết cuộc đời mới nó cũng gian nan không kém lúc ở VN. Mà thấy có bếp ga nước vòi sen là thiên đường cho em rồi vì gánh nướng mệt lắm. Vì hồi nhỏ gánh nước hoài mà em lùn có một đục đó chớ

      1. Trời, hồi còn nhỏ Tranh cực dữ vậy. Chị sống ở nhà quê mà còn ít cực hơn Trang. Bây giờ nghĩ lại đám nhỏ, con của chị và con của Trang sướng quá trời chắc không bao giờ biết được cái khổ của cha mẹ đâu.

  3. Quay qua quay lại mà 26 năm rồi ha em iu!

    Có những khoảnh khắc, nhìn lại thời gian đầu mới đến đây, tui tự mỉm cười 1 mình nè. 😉

    1. Ừ nhanh ghê. Lúc qua mỹ năm 90 thì lúc đó cách năm 75 có 15 năm mà ba mẹ nói đó là khoảng thời gian khủng hoảng dài vô tận. Vậy mà 26 năm qua nhanh ghê gớm vì mình sống trong thời bình yên không đói khát nên không cảm thấy cái khó nó kéo dài.

      Mà nghĩ lại thì ba mẹ tụi mình đúng là những nhân tài chịu cực chịu khổ bao nhiêu thời

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