Recording Our Family’s History

J Howard Jacobson Book Club Banner FL2W

After living in the United States for 39 years with her green card, my mother finally became a citizen over the summer.

She didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it was huge to me. She’s never been a fan of tests. I think that was the main reason she never expressed interest in becoming a United States citizen. Now that my sister is living in Louisiana again, she was the one the convinced my mother to apply for citizenship. It also helped that my mother could take the test in her native language: Vietnamese. My sister became her translator and had to learn some new Vietnamese words in order to help facilitate the test.

I remember helping my father study for his citizenship test, which he took when I was in grade school. I think I was also learning American history in school so it felt like double the work. Back then he was only allowed to take the test in English.

I wonder what it felt for my parents to officially let go of their Vietnamese citizenship. The Vietnam that exists now is so different than the Vietnam they had to flee from in 1975. I wish they would talk more about their refugee and immigrant experiences. They never really spoke of it except for references here and there. As if that experience was not good for young ears or minds. Now that my sister and I are older, we realize how important it is to capture our family’s history.

My kids are curious about my parents’ past and passage to the United States. I encourage them to ask their Ông ngoại (grandfather) and  Bà ngoại (grandmother) these questions directly. My parents have a soft spot for the grandkids (as they should).

How do you record your family’s history?

This post was inspired by the novel J by Howard Jacobson, about a world where collective memory has vanished and the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited. Join From Left to Write on November 20th as we discuss J. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.



  1. Alicia S November 20, 2014
  2. hbksloss November 20, 2014
  3. anovelsource1 November 20, 2014
    • ThienKimL November 20, 2014