Nga’s Second Letter
Good Morning Marie!
Thank you for opening the door to my memories!
I believe memory is a medicine that helps us focus on who we are and helps us see more clearly the challenges in our life.
As a child, my mind was watered by my parent’s stories. I can recite them even now. I remember particularly the story about my grandmother’s long white hair; it was the color of the Red River when the seasons changed and its whiteness reminded me of wedding and funeral customs in our culture.
A French researcher Edouard Hericot wrote “Culture is what is left when everything is forgotten.” I agree with this quote because I know who I am and what I need to keep. I don’t try to change myself while my friends change much. When they go abroad, get married to a foreigner or stay on the high corporate ladder, they try to change their voice, their figure; they forget their cultural roots and their childhood friends. I don’t want to criticize their behavior because it’s their decision and I respect them. But I believe they have turned their backs on the culture that nurtured them as children and I believe they have closed the door to their memories and to connections to our families and particularly to the importance and influence of the women in our lives.
A song all Vietnamese kids can sing by the time they are 2 or 3 years old speaks of the role of the grandmother:
“Grandmom, I love you;
Your hair is white as if it were the clouds.
I love that I hold your hands,
The image of a grandmother is an extremely beautiful one in our culture. We have no word that can truly describe a grandmother’s inner beauty and her place in the family. For the Vietnamese, women play an important role in the family and in the culture. They are mothers, grandmothers, fire keepers, and symbols of proliferation. We believe that their sacrifices make their children more responsible and more culturally aware.
My grandmother possesses a peaceful face with slanted eyes, high cheekbones and a nice smile. She eats betel daily for its medicinal value and as a result her lips are always stained red. I think this is more beautiful than lipstick and enhances her natural beauty and color of her lips.
My grandmother was a farmer and worked the fields. She planted mulberry bushes to feed the silkworms she raised and sold for income to help feed her ten children.
One story I remember vividly about my grandmother is when my sister and I almost fainted when we watched as she combed her hair and silkworms began to fall out. She told us this was normal – and that it happened all the time! – because she worked all day with the mulberry plants and the worms. She smiled as she gathered the tiny white silkworms and returned them to the mulberry bushes.
I’ll never forget this image. I think if I were her, I would have been faint!
Last year, I returned to my home along the Red River to visit my grandmother. Her back is bent now and she doesn’t move easily. But she is swift of thought and her memory is good and she knows the names of her thirty grandchildren.
Before I left, she gave me her portrait and told me It was to be used when she died. I tried to keep my tears away.
She spent her entire life for her children without requiring anything in return. She lives alone and her life is lonely because she doesn’t want to be a burden on her children and grandchildren.
I don’t know how I will be when I am a grandmother. But she has instilled in me a love for my culture, my family, my place in life, and my role as a woman.
I appreciate deeply my grandmother; I hold her image close to my memories for it is a medicine that helps me focus on who I am and helps me see more clearly the challenges in my life.
Hoang Thanh Nga University of Social Sciences and Humanities, HCM City National University VIETNAM