Archive for December, 2016

Fountain Valley, CA (12/16/16)  When I was 6 years old, we fled our war-torn homeland of Vietnam. 1975 was a symbolic and landmark year in our lives. My first Christmas in the USA, I vaguely remember entering first grade, not knowing a single word of English. That was 41 years ago. It was a blur … of wonderment, angst, confusion, with just a dollop of fear and a profoundly, deep sense of gratitude.

In the face of the immense chaos of such severe childhood displacement and trauma, I only felt ‘a little afraid’ when I entered first grade. This, I remember clearly. That’s because despite the tumultuous fleeing out of a Saigon in flames; Despite migrating and living in Tent City on the tropical island of Guam for a few months under blistering hot tents; despite eventually moving into the refugee camps in Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania, I don’t really ever remember being ‘that afraid.’ In hindsight, I think back then I wasn’t allowed to be afraid because there was too much ‘excitement’ in trying to get to the ‘next stage’ of our journey to make it to first grade!

I also don’t think I had the chance to feel afraid because I always felt ‘safe,’ enveloped in the immense love and unshakable courage and strength of my parents. Along with being surrounded by extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles who fled along with us en masse, we were literally #StrongerTogether. More amazing was that at every turn in this circuitous journey to arrive at First Grade, I encountered profound generosity from complete strangers: be they navy officers on the U.S.S. Midway in the Philippines, to the men and women in the military who ran Tent City in Guam, all I remember in retrospect, was the intense KINDNESS of the folks who enabled us to finally arrive to America.

When we got to Pennsylvania in the late fall of 1975, the churches and complete strangers took our refugee family 6-pack into their homes and into their communities. They were nothing short of unconditionally loving in helping my parents renovate, paint, refurbish a one hundred year old Victorian style duplex, they showered us with incredibly generous Christmas gifts in brightly colored wrapping paper. They bought us our first fresh pine Christmas true. They clothed us, and welcomed us into their new society. Within a few months, they helped my parents get on our feet, and found jobs for both my parents, albeit low-wage jobs well below their capacities as college educated bourgeoisie from French schools in Đà Lạt.

Even so young, I understood I was very, very lucky–to have escaped something horrific back ‘HOME,” halfway across the globe, on the other side of the massive Pacific Ocean that we had to cross on big and little ships, on a complicated, blurry sort of journey.


Nam-Uy and Camilla get ready to decorate their gingerbread houses.

This year in 2016, my son Nam-Uy turned 6 years old. Around the world, there remains such intense human turmoil from Aleppo, Syria, to the Rohingyas in Burma. Similar to our family, children of war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq–countries the US once again had a hand in creating ‘war zones’ for over a decade–continue to face similar displacements and seek refuge in second/third asylum countries.
Here at “home” in the USA, we continue to be under a constant state of domestic turmoil: with Black Lives Matter fighting to matter, People of Color dying at alarmingly disproportionate rates due to gun violence, gangs or simply, because there remains such racial and ethnic disparities in accessing quality, affordable healthcare. For the first time ever, our great nation elected a new President, who strikes more fear and discord in the universe. For over 18 months, he has said and done things on public television and social media which are embarrassing and vulgar. He has proved time and again, to be a public figure exemplifying horrible human behavior and inhumane psychopathology–behaviors and words that we parents MUST work harder to protect our children from, and to counter-explain.
The ONE saving grace this year has been Nam-Uy’s amazing school, in this sleepy bedroom community “behind the Orange Curtain” of Orange County, California. And within this unassuming yet distinguished public elementary school, there is a even MORE amazing first grade teacher: Mr. Plummer. A ‘magician’ in his own right, Mr. Plummer creates a classroom filled with ‘order,’ love, wonderment and joy. He excites every child to optimize his/her imagination and he challenges them to rise to “Be their BEST!”
Mr. Plummer commands his students' attention to give them directions on gingerbread house decorations.

Mr. Plummer commands his students’ attention to give them directions on gingerbread house decorations.

Mr. Plummer is a second generation first grade teacher who learned from the BEST: his mother. Mrs. Plummer (senior) is a retired second grade teacher who now volunteers in her son’s class. She in turn provides infinite love, wisdom and attention to our school kids, collaborating with the son she helped raise to become an sought-after teacher.

Every time I step into the mother-son Plummer’s classroom, I am transported to a ‘SAFE ZONE’ and a safe sanctuary where No Child is Left Behind. There is no doubt the Plummers together, have created this drought-resistant ‘bubble’ that could withstand a magnitude 6.0 Earthquake, that would otherwise tear up the San Andreas faultline.

In this uncertain world we live in today, the one thing I know for sure, is that Hometown Heroes like Mr. Plummer and his mother–along with the platoon of teachers and administrators at our local school, are the BEST defenders of this great democracy. For they are teaching and cultivating the BEST future citizens of this planet by role modeling and motivating our kiddos to try their best.

Teaching and modeling LOVE, HOPE, PEACE and KINDNESS with their every word and actions, we parents are forever grateful for all that they do daily, to instill the best in our kids.

From Mr. Plummer’s 1st grade class to your homes, PEACE be with you! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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