Pham: Perspective … It’s All We Need

By Tony H. Pham, Esq.

I had the honor of introducing myself to so many neighbors during what was a brutal 2015 campaign.  Afterwards, I promised my family that I would do everything reasonable to shy away from public life.  I promised them that I would guard and cherish their privacy after having thrust them into the public eye in a countywide campaign.

However, after the last two election cycles, I am compelled to speak as a reminder to so many that we are connected by so much more than we are divided and to provide a bit of perspective.

April 19th has always been a poignant moment in my family’s collective history. I reflect upon this day with varying degrees of emotions which vacillate between happiness and sadness. On this day 43 years ago, my mother boarded a plane in Saigon with a wedding album, a bag of clothes, and three young children in tow, leaving everything and everyone we knew, including my father. Familiar surroundings, family and friends were all left to their collective fates as Vietnam fell to Communist control 11 days later and her children’s lives would never be the same. For a time, we had no home nor any country to call our own.

However, my family settled into a refugee camp in Ft. Chaffee, AR, where families lived in barracks styled accommodations in hopes they would be sponsored somewhere in the United States to begin their new lives in their new home. God granted us grace and mercy as we were reunited with my father, who was left behind during our evacuation.

We began our American journey in Henrico County where our poverty was real. It was difficult for my parents, who were in their 30s, to learn a new language and a new culture. A once accomplished engineer and educator were reduced to working three minimum wage jobs in a foreign land. Times were difficult. I remember waking up one night to use the bathroom  There was my father on the side of the tub, with his face buried in his hands, silently weeping from the frustrations of life. There was his only son silently watching his father’s soul slowly eroding.

But through it all, our faith and our Phamily carried us through. Our recognition of the fact that we had an opportunity to rebuild our lives formed my appreciation of America, when so many others were left behind to face the consequences of being on the losing side of the war. The pressure would eventually yield to magnificent moments of success. Ten years after we found our oasis of hope, we became United States citizens. My parents would regain their pride as they witnessed their daughter receive her Doctor of Medicine and their son a few years later receive his Juris Doctorate. Decades later, their entire community would hold their heads high as they witnessed their son’s name on a ballot … twice.

However, we did not get here alone. I grew up being reminded that so many fought and died in the very country I fled, so I could one day walk upright in freedom. Too many sons and fathers left families of their own to serve their country so that young children, who were born into war, could one day be educated at the finest institutions the United States had to offer. So many went missing in action in a foreign land, so those children could one day become a doctor and an attorney.

It’s not lost upon me that so many families have holes in their hearts while mine has been left intact. It’s not lost upon me that for the very seat we took on that fateful flight out of Vietnam, there were thousands of others left behind in despair. It is not lost upon me that while we received safe passage, thousands of others perished in the open seas as they pushed off in small boats hoping to receive a gift similar to the Phamily.

Where else than these United States could a family of hungry refugees arrive and survive? Where else on this planet could such freedoms and opportunities be so readily available? America owes me nothing. I have a debt which can never be repaid. I recognize that on April 19th, 1975, I signed a promissory note for freedom which I will forever be repaying.

So, I continue repaying my debt to those who gave everything. On their Spring Break, I took my children to visit the Vietnam War Memorial. It was time they witnessed firsthand the sheer magnitude of the sacrifice which occurred during the Vietnam War and how their own American experience began.  There were moments of joy and moments of sadness surrounding us. My children were able to see adults quietly weeping at the loss of their loved ones because of war. We visited many other memorials that day, but none as important as the Vietnam War Memorial.

We need to constantly be reminded about the frailties of life because tomorrow is never promised to us. By April 19th, over 58,000 servicemen paid for my journey with their lives. More than 1,200 are still unaccounted for.

So, I write this as a gentle reminder to folks of our good fortune living here in a free nation and to provide a little perspective on America. Some prefer to continue to divide this nation with heated rhetoric on immigration and xenophobia. Others wish to “resist” by shouting in anger. For me, I simply wish to love this nation for what it is, warts and all. Because on April 19th, 1975, but for the grace of God, life could have been tragically different for my entire Phamily.

Tony Pham is an attorney, former Republican nominee for Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney, recovering politician, and, most importantly, husband and father of two awesome children.

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