Born on November 8, 1956 in Hue, Sinh Thi Vo is a survivor ofthe tragic military overthrow of the Republic in South Vietnam. Raised as animpoverished child, she was deprived of toys, clothes, food and an education. Tosurvive, she quickly learned to adapt to the hardships of a life on the streets.Her knowledge did not increase from books or teachers, but as a result of herstruggles and the basic survival skills she learned on the destitute streets.After living in a world she believed had no hope, she found happiness in herfamily and the opportunities of which her children cannot bedeprived.
What was it like to live during the Vietnam War?
To live during the Vietnam War is an unforgettable experience that is notto be boastful about. In fact, it was horrifying. Before the war, when I awokeeach morning, there were sounds of birds chirping and people rising early to getto the market. The war dismantled anything in its path, dancing like a flame. Iawoke to the broken tranquility of fear and destruction that was about to come tomy village.
My family and I had little to eat. Being the second oldest ofeight children in my family, at ten years old, I was forced to wake up at fouro'clock in the morning and make sweet desserts. With two bundles of sweets, oneon each end of my shoulder, I walked miles and miles into the city trying to sellthem in order to have food on the table for another day. There were times when Icame home without any money when my bundles were stolen. I felt scared because Ididn't know where the next meal would come from. Of course my siblings had towork too, but my parents were dependent upon me. Even though we went through alot of hardships, my family and I were one of the few lucky families who survivedthe Vietnam War.
How did you and your husband meet?
Inever actually thought about marriage, because I didn't want to leave my family.I always thought I wanted to become a nun, so it came about unexpectedly. In themidst of the war, my father met a kind-hearted man. Since my father thought thatwe were well-suited, he arranged our marriage. We had never met, and I didn'tknow who he was. Being an obedient daughter, I carried out his wishes.
What did you have to go through to get your family to America?
I had to work many long, hard, agonizing hours for enough money to buy myfamily's safe passage to America. At that time I was pregnant with my fourthchild, and my husband was in the war fighting the guerillas. When my husbandresigned from the military, he had to find work. With both of us working, we wereable to save up what little we earned to take our three daughters, Han, Hanh andHuyen, my two younger sisters, my cousin, and the two of us to America.
I remember those hard times when we had so little to live on that my husbandwould go fishing for hours only to bring home two small fishes for the five of usto eat. We were so happy because we didn't go to bed hungry that night. With ourhard-earned cash we set sail in a little boat hoping to God that we would notdrown. Our passage wasn't as safe as we hoped. We were caught up in the middle ofa terrible storm. However, that was not the worst problem; our small boat wasloaded with people and it was easy to get sick. I didn't want any of my family toget sick. Fortunately, our prayers were answered and we arrived heresafely.
Was finding work hard for you when you first reachedAmerica?
Yes, it was very hard. My greatest concern was where my familywould live. We didn't know English very well so we didn't know what to do.Fortunately, my husband had friends here to get us temporarily settled in. Mynext concern was what kind of job I could do. I didn't know any English. I heardthere was a factory job, so I took it. My pay was not great, but I accepted itanyway because I wanted to help my husband make money to buy our own home someday. I eventually learned to speak a little English and got myself a better job.This is why I always tell my children to do their best in school because it willhelp them in the future.
What dream do you want for yourfamily?
I want my family to stick together always and never to give up. Iwant my children to have a good future; that is why I'm always pushing them to dotheir best. My husband and I don't want our children's future to be likeours.
Did you ever regret leaving your country?
I won'tever regret leaving my country. I really do miss it though, but my children'sfuture comes first. I want the best for them.
How did your lifeturn out when you reached America?
Well, when I got here it was a veryhard struggle to keep my family together, but we managed somehow. I gave birth tomy fifth and last child here. Now there are seven in my family, not including mytwo sisters and my cousin. I somehow have managed to give my sisters and mycousin an education. They all graduated high school and soon one of my childrenwill also. I am very happy to have accomplished all these things.
Do youever plan to go back to your country?
I did go back to my country threeyears ago with my only son and my husband. I wanted to show my son, Huy, hisheritage and where his parents came from. I wish that I could haven taken my fourdaughters too, but unfortunately we didn't have enough money.
Whatdo you wish had happened to you when you were in Vietnam?
I wish my fatherhad given me the attention that I give my children now. I wish he had at leastgiven me money for an education. I love to learn and yet that was one of thethings that my dad failed to give me. He said, "Education is for my boys andwhat do you need one for? To raise your own family in the future? Stay home andlearn the basics." I often wonder what the differences would be if I had aneducation, but I guess that is in my past and I can't change it. Even though Ididn't get the proper education then, I am teaching myself grammar with the helpof my kids.
What do you want most of all right now?
Rightnow, I would like to see all of my children graduate from college. I want to seethem find happiness like I did. Most of all, I want to see them succeed. I thankGod every day that I am able to watch and help my children grow.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.