My first hair appointment with Adam proved to be a “Universe Conspired” meeting. He is tall, handsome and half white and half Vietnamese. After the initial awkward, “we just met and now you are going to put your hands in my hair” (which is kind of intimate if you think about it) we fell right into a dynamic conversation.
I commented on his accent and asked him where he was from. He told me he was from Vietnam, but that his father is White and I was hooked! I had to know the story! I’m a therapist and that’s what I do. I love to dig into someone’s background and find all the tiny particles that make the whole. Generally, people do want to talk about themselves, but I have found that people in the service industry aren’t accustomed to people asking about them.
I led the conversation by telling him about a Vietnamese woman I met who experienced extreme hardship after the Fall of Saigon and made the life-altering decision to risk everything to escape with her two small children, husband and two young sisters on a tiny little bing (the boats that were intended to hold 20 people, but were often crammed with over 100 people). Her name is Charlie and her story absolutely moved me. After I told him all about Charlie Vo, he shared his story with me.
His mother was a “comfort woman” and became pregnant by a US soldier. They called these children, “Amerasians” and they were considered by many to be “leftovers” of an unpopular war. In a way, these children straddled two worlds, but belonging to neither.
After giving birth to Adam, she immediately gave him to her sister and didn’t want anything to do with him. I suppose that was a kindness, because many of those children were literally thrown in the garbage to die or left on the steps of an orphanage. Adam was raised by his aunt, but he always thought she was his mother. They lived in a shack, had very little food and were extremely impoverished, but they were family.
Being half White, Adam never really fit in and people always looked at him weird and treated him differently. Schoolmates taunted him and mocked his features; round eyes, light skin. Not his family though. His mother-aunt treated him like her natural son and showed him the same love as she did for her other children.
In 1987 Congress enacted legislation giving Amerasians special immigration status. The children of American Soldiers born to Vietnamese women would be allowed to immigrate to the United States. So, when Adam was 10 his biological mother decided she wanted him back. This would allow her, her husband and other two sons to immigrate to America.
Adam stoically told me about the day his mother-aunt took him to his bio-mother’s house. He had only met her a couple of times in his life, but he didn’t really know her and he was always told she was his aunt. When he entered her house, she came down the stairs and he vividly remembered her red lipstick and expensive clothes. That’s when he was told, “This is your real mother and you are now going to live with her”.
Can you imagine what that must have felt like for that small boy? He said he would just lay in his bed and cry. He missed the only family he had ever known, was living with strangers that treated him horribly and he was very aware that they were just using him to get to America. The process was long and there were a lot of meetings at the American Consulate. Rather than keep Adam at their house, his mother and step-father sent him to a boarding school. They would pick him up to go to the meetings with the Americans and then drop him off immediately after. For all intents and purposes, he was alone. Discarded. Unwanted. But he was their ticket to America, so they pretended to be a family.
Two years after the process began, Adam was finally on an airplane heading to America. At first, life in America was a struggle. He didn’t speak the language, was mixed race and for many, he was a reminder of a war that nobody wanted. His home life was toxic, they treated him like a servant and verbally and emotionally abused him. Adam decided that he would do whatever it took to be financially independent and move away from that family as soon as he turned 18. And he did.
Adam put himself through Cosmetology school and became a hair dresser, eventually owning his own salon. He was successful and made a really good living. Later in life, Adam went back to Vietnam to visit in mother-aunt, cousins (who he thought of as siblings) and grandparents. The family was still incredibly poor, but they were happy to reconnect. Adam was in a financial position to have a big house built for his family in Vietnam. For the first time they had electricity, running water, floors (real floors, not the dirt floors they were accustomed to). He built them a house!
This man, who had nothing from the start and lost even that to live with strangers who didn’t love him, somehow made his way in life and had everything (by material standards) and turned around a gave the gift of comfort to the very family that saved him from the streets in Vietnam or a worse fate; he gave them a home.
All of that was told in my first hair appointment with Adam. I mean, I don’t think we ever paused to take a breath. I had to know more and I really liked how he did my hair. Our relationship was sealed. I booked my next appointment before I even left the salon that day.