Thursday, August 26, 2010

MUM: Maigran

     Maigran is what they called her--Dao Mai and her three girls, Anh (Annie), Diep, and Jen.  Maigran: short for "My grandma."

     Mum didn't know she would become grandmother to three Vietnamese children when she met Dao Thanh Mai in Japan. Dao had come to Hiroshima from Saigon for plastic surgery on her face, badly scarred by French bombing in 1947.  For 30 years, scars on her mouth had made it impossible for Dao to open it wide enough to insert anything bigger than a straw.
     Dao was on staff at an orphanage for Amer-Asian children in Saigon.  Despite everyone's warnings that the city was about to fall to the communists, Dao flew back after the surgery, refusing to abandon the children until finally forced by the Khmer Rouge to do so at gunpoint.
     Then Dao grabbed Anh (Annie), whose father had been a black soldier--a big one, from the looks of her--and Diep, whose father was white, and fled.  She tried to hide and support them while Mum doggedly appealed to American members of Congress to let the three into the United States, offering to be their sponsor.  Some of them were sympathetic but the U.S. was admitting no one into the country from Vietnam, no matter how desperate their situation.  No exceptions.
     For five years, Mum received sporadic letters from Dao, addressed to "Mama." During that time a man "befriended" Dao, leaving her with a baby of her own.  So now there were four.  Once during that time Dao paid someone for a place on one of the boats slipping secretly out of Vietnam.  But the person took her money and the boat left without her.  She heard later that everyone aboard had died.  She tried to escape again and ended up in jail for six months.
     In 1983 the door to the United States was opened to Amer-Asian children and the children Dao had protected became her ticket to freedom.  Mum received word that the family was safely in the States.  They had been flown, for some reason, to Maryland.
     "That's a relief," I said.  I was relieved they were in the States but secretly I was also relieved they had overshot California.  Now someone else could take over responsibility for them.
     But Mum was already on the phone.  "Maryland," she said to the operator, and in an aside to me, "I know of a church in Maryland that works with refugees.  Maybe they can track the family down."
     I knew it was only a matter of time until we had the four Vietnamese in Long Beach and were finding a home for them, enrolling the kids in school, driving Dao to the Social Security Administration, including them in our family Thanksgiving and Christmas. 
     With a sigh I faced the inevitable and let the borders of our family enlarge.  Again.

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