When Liberti jewelry brand reached out to me, I was deeply moved to learn that the company provides opportunities for resettled refugees by employing them to handcraft jewelry in America. As you might remember, my own family fled Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon. I love the sentiment and meaning behind all of Liberti’s classic pieces, but the limited edition Liberti Coordinate Ring really caught my eye. As part of Liberti’s Less Than 1% Collection, the 14K gold coated silver temp wire ring is engraved with the longitude and latitude coordinates of a real refugee camp, formerly home to some of Liberti’s creators. It’s the perfect everyday ring, yet it holds such a feeling of power—wear this ring and carry in your heart all the refugees left behind. You can read more about Liberti jewelry here and their awesome mission.
For the very first time, I’m sharing my entire refugee story here on the blog. As a child, my parents never openly told me what they went through in order for us to find freedom. Recently I gathered bits and pieces of it from them, but I could tell they were hesitant to talk about it in full. Perhaps they don’t want to relive the pain, or maybe they don’t want me to know about they went through? Can you imagine what it’s like to flee a country with three kids and nothing on your backs, not knowing where you’ll end up? I’m grateful for my parents’ perseverance to seek freedom for our family. Because of them, I am free to live the dream, which is Liberti’s empowering creed.
After fighting a nasty war against North Vietnam for almost 20 years, South Vietnam lost the battle despite help from the United States. About 2 million South Vietnamese fled by boat, including my family. Refugees like us were later labeled as “boat people.” October 1978 is the year our life changed.
My parents fled with me (then 16 months old), my newborn brother, and our 16 year old cousin. We all crammed into a very small, overly crowded fishing boat with 193 others and very little food or water. After a few days, the engine stopped working. We were floating in the middle of the ocean, starving because everyone had run out of food and water. There were MANY stories of families being robbed and raped by pirates. Fortunately, my family was amongst the first wave of refugees that fled so pirates hadn’t caught wind of the movement yet.
After floating at sea for 10 days, Thai officials found us and brought us to Singapore. Unfortunately, Singapore couldn’t take us in for reasons I still don’t know. Politics is my only guess. Fortunately, they fed us and sent us on our way. Thai officials then brought us to the Songkhla refugee camp in Thailand. My parents said the boat was so cramped and that everyone had to sit crossed legs for so long, and when we finally got off the boat, had a hard time standing up to walk. Like, in pain and with knees buckling. I can’t imagine any kids sitting for that long. My own kids can’t even sit still for more than a minute without running off somewhere. It brings tears to my eyes just imagining everyone helplessly floating at sea.
We lived in the Songkhla refugee camp in Thailand for two years. When we first arrived, there were less than 100 refugees at the camp. My mom and dad said the conditions at the camp were extremely rough and filthy. All five of us lived in a tiny makeshift “tent” with no roof over our heads. It was the size of a tiny closet. My dad recalls us getting severely bitten by bugs in the middle of the night, every night. My dad’s brother was able to afford what they called a house. This was a straw hut but at least it had a roof! During typhoon season, my uncle and his wife would carry us over to their house so we could stay dry. There was constant fear every night because Thai police would sneak into the tents to rape women and children.
My family relied on UNHCR for food. My parents remember lining up daily for food. They were given one small serving of fish to feed a family of five. My dad would be in line every day at 2am to wait for water which we used to drink, cook, and bathe. The Thai government allowed everyone two hours each day to swim in the ocean. My parents said that both my baby brother and I caught the chicken pox at the camp. Despite the hardship, we managed to survive for two years here before being sponsored by the Jewish community in Chicago. In February 1980, my family witnessed snow for the first time. The rest, as they say, is history.
Check out more of Liberti’s beautiful jewelry here and help bring awareness to inspire hope and positive change worldwide.