I sat and watched them, a mother and daughter. The twelve year old stood nearly a head taller than her mother and possessed a youthful beauty that betrayed her origins. Five years in the United States had given the child a completely new diet compared to her parent’s routine of fish heads and rice or occasional Ca Cuon – a spring roll with some shred of meat. Now the young woman was consuming hamburgers and steaks, and only rarely dining on her parent’s former dishes.
Her mother told me that cooking in America was so different from their life in the hills of Vietnam and Malaysia. I can well imagine. Mother, father, and two daughters had escaped Vietnam after the U.S. involvement. They had, until five years ago, lived in a resettlement/interment camp in Malaysia. This twelve year old had never known her native country, because she was born in the camp.
The younger woman held her mother around the shoulders. The twelve year old was getting help with her middle school English class, while her mother was my charge. The U.S. State Department offered no training for the adult women. In the interment camp any language education was reserved for the men, although missionaries had visited and worked with the children.
The mother watched me carefully as I wrote on the board, “Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves us. Jesus loves them.”
Suddenly, the daughter began to softly sing. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
I glanced at my student. Her eyes glistened with pride. I was choked up too. Mother/daughter bonds are often rare in our Western culture and nuclear families. But, just for an instant, I got to see a deep love of a mother and her daughter, which is apparently common in a Vietnamese family.
According to a respected attorney and published author, Huynh Dinh Te, the (Vietnamese) mother is the embodiment of love and the spirit of self-denial and sacrifice. The family, according to Dinh Te, is a highly connected and interwoven matrix, built on love and respect. Multiple generations live under one roof. Rest homes and senior citizen centers are unheard of.
It is no wonder that the daughter held her mother’s shoulders and sang to her. The young woman left our room to go to her own class. My student took a small Kleenex box from her bag and wiped her eyes. She watched her daughter all the way down the hallway. I borrowed a tissue from her package and also wiped my eyes.
“Dau-ter.” I pointed down the hallway as I pronounced the word.
She looked up at me, smiled, and whispered, “yes.”
Writer's note: Translation of the title of this piece (accents not included): A mother's love for her children.
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