Anh Vu Sawyer

A Thanksgiving Letter to America

Dear America:

It was snowing, not heavily, but enough flurries to prevent many of my international friends from coming to our monthly International Wives Club. Most of them came from the other side of the world where the coldest temperature hovers above 60 degrees.

There were only 14 of us, half of the normal gathering. Six were Americans and the rest from different parts of the world. Together, we decorated our tables and spread out the food that everyone had brought. Our theme was American Thanksgiving, so I brought a turkey, my first attempt at cooking the giant "chicken." The American wives brought pies, and others brought fruit and salads.

Our group leader told us of the history of American Thanksgiving, of the 102 persons who first arrived in Plymouth, Mass., on the Mayflower, of the local Indians' kindness and of the many deaths that followed from the hardship of life in this new place.

When she finished, I asked everyone in the group to share their Thanksgiving thought, if they were comfortable doing so. Many of us don't speak English well, and besides, where we came from, we do not always share our hearts as readily as our American friends.

The American wives were thankful for God, families and friends. The foreigners, one after another, with their limited English, wanted to give thanks for this country, for the freedom and peace they have experienced here, for the friendship and unconditional love and help they have received from American friends and strangers. Several had tears roll down their cheeks as they spoke.

Tan, a lovely mainland Chinese visiting scholar, said: "I wake up so happy every morning. I cannot believe I am here in this country. I feel so free. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself."

Chin, a Taiwanese graduate student, young and gentle, shared with us: "Before I came here, I didn't even know how to open a can. I had a very sheltered life. So when I arrived here, I was very fearful for my life. But the Americans take care of me and teach me many things."

Sandi, a Korean nurse, thoughtful and wise, said, with tears in her eyes: "I want to give thanks to my parents who came here with absolutely nothing. They had to work very hard and sacrificed much for my sister and me. And this country made it possible for them to give us what we have now."

There was more. I wish you could hear with your own ears.

As a former refugee, I, too, want to thank you, dear America, for your love for humanity, for the profound understanding that liberty is indeed the core of genuine humanness, and for sharing your resources, your opportunities, and your heritage with the refugees and immigrants of the world.

You also impart to us a willingness to love and to forgive. These are very vulnerable concepts for many of us foreigners bound by traditions of getting even. You know, my mainland Chinese and Taiwanese friends told me that they don't really get along well with each other, but it was Tan who reached out to Chin and invited her to our gatherings. In our international fellowship, I've often seen Croats break bread with Serbs and people from all over the Middle East -- people who would be each other's enemies if they were still in their countries -- befriend one another.

After 30 years of living and breathing freedom in this country, I am still going through a healing process to really believe this freedom is a real thing. It continues to be a long journey for me to unlearn the fear in which I grew up in war-torn Vietnam.

I have been struggling to write this letter because deep down I am afraid of being retaliated against for using my freedom. You have never been afraid to express your thoughts freely, have you? I think the most wonderful gift you are given is to be free of fear. For several days now, I have had the thought of writing you anonymously, but I finally saw that that is like turning my back on God's love and faithfulness for me and compromising what you have been teaching me: to be true to myself and not to be a coward. By writing to you, I will, I hope, be one more step away from that bondage of fear, and one step closer to knowing how freedom really feels.

Dearest America, I am the daughter you have adopted and raised to become someone who has a faith in life and lives with a real purpose.

Where I came from, the most important wish is to bring honor to our parents. I wish the same for you, that I will bring honor to you, and from what you have given me, I pray that my life will bear glorious blooms and an abundance of fruits that will bring gladness to your heart.

Selected Works

Memoir
Song of Saigon, Warner Books, 2003.
"A poignant…moving story…readers will stay with it to the end."
Publishers Weekly
Magazine Article
Resurrection and the Gift of Creativity
in Wheaton College Alumni magazine, Spring 2005
Op-Ed Essay
A Thanksgiving Letter to America
in The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 25, 2004.
Essay
To Philip With Love
in Warner Books’ Authors’ Lounge