"Did I pronounce ‘Mẹ’ correctly?” the daughter asks in her heavily-accented Vietnamese.
From then on, the daughter applied herself to brushing up her Vietnamese.
“In this country, the term American is applied only to: white Anglo-Saxons,” she explained. “It excludes Jewish Americans, Italian-Americans, Latin-Americans, African Americans, Asian-Americans and the rest. I'm a Vietnam ese-American. So I must learn about my culture, as other nonwhite Americans learn about theirs.” At the end of the third year, the daughter won a scholarship for a summer course in Việt Nam.
The girl wrapped her arms around her mother’s shoulders. Being held like this by her daughter, the mother found solace and confidence - less lonely as she sensed a companion taking shape in her daughter.
She could not tell exactly when the change of roles had happened, but she remembered when she was first aware the girl had become a woman.
It was last fall. They were shopping in preparation for the new school year. After loading the trolley with clothes, I skin lotions, shower creams, tampons and such, the girl stopped at a chemist’s counter and asked for condoms. She examined several brands before settling for ‘Pleasure for I Women.’ She made the purchase very naturally as if she were simply buying an ice cream cone, and when she saw the perplexed look of her mother she explained: “It’s better to buy these things yourself. Some boys don’t keep them handy, others just hate them.”
The mother was stunned; she felt a little sick. She knew her daughter had had a boyfriend at the age of fifteen and had met two others before sticking with her present one she had met at college.
When she broke with her first lover, the girl came home and launched herself into a monologue in English lasting more than an hour before crying her heart out. The mother could understand no more than one-third of what the girl said because of her rapid-fire speech and her frequent screams and groans, but she could gauge the suffering that came with a frustrated love and the sorrow a woman felt when she could no longer love the man of her heart.
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She pressed the girl to her breast and started her own lengthy monologue in Vietnamese. At the end of it, she realized that at least one-quarter of what she had said must have been incomprehensible to her daughter, not because of the language barrier but because of the sudden revival of long dead memories. This, however, had a soothing effect on the girl, who snuggled her face into her mother’s chest and fell into a deep sleep. She emerged from her sleep a changed person: cheerful, self-confident. She sat up, told her mother she was okay and went out. Not long afterwards, she had another boyfriend.
The mother did not mind her daughter having a boyfriend. It's better to have someone to love and to be true to, she thought.
Yet, the mention of “some boys” stunned her. She hoped the plural construction was not intentional, that it was only a generalization, as in “boys like sport.” Anyway, her heart was filled with sadness. The girl seemed to sense it. “Please, Mom, don’t look like that!” she said.
One day the girl took her mother to a seminar at her college. On the podium were a doctor, a woman minister and a professor of gynecology. Forty female students took part in the discussion. The mother could barely make head nor tail of what was being said, but she understood the two videotapes shown to the audience.
One described in graphic detail the male and female sex organs, copulation, conception and contraceptive methods; the other featured a girl seeking to give herself pleasure by touching herself.