Who Are We?

Isabel Pérez-Albuerne

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I have a very detailed picture that sits in the back of my mind. Havana, Cuba, 2019, my abuela and three of her sisters step off of a plane in a Cuban airport, their first time stepping foot in their homeland in almost 60 years. Our trip to Cuba in January of 2019 was a sort of jumping off point for me to begin to explore my own heritage with the help of my abuelos’ recollections of their childhoods. Although talking about their lives in Havana still pulls up daunting and intimidating memories, being able to step back into a place that they had called their only home so long ago was a starting point on acceptance for them. Looking back, I can clearly remember just how beautiful the city was. Cuba was different than I thought it would be. Communism and dictatorship had always been taught to me as something that was clearly visible and could be noticed right away. Although it is far more different for me as a ‘tourist’ in the city, as opposed to actually living there, I did not see the tight grip and fear of government that I had expected to come into contact with. I then realized that being taught about a communist dictatorship was so different than actually being immersed in one. This is why I am so interested and passionate about not only how these things have affected me and my family, but how countries such as Cuba have been able to survive in a world that is filled with nations teaching its youth to be afraid of communism.

Kayla Vinh

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My whole childhood I thought that ‘communist’ was a swear word. I was told never to say it, especially in front of my Ong Noi(grandfather). It was never explained to me and up until recently, I had little to no concept of what it really was other than ‘bad’. My family were Vietnamese refugees who were forced to flee after the fall of Saigon in 1975. My Ong Noi was a soldier for south Vietnam and growing up my dad and uncle would tell me stories of his experience in the war. They were just stories when I was little, things that made me admire him and think of him as a hero. It became real when in 2011 the story of his bronze star came out. He had, apparently, received this honor during the war after saving American troops, but it had been lost when they were forced to flee. When I was six a senator in Minnesota succeeded in recovering the records and reinstated his bronze star. That was when I really became interested in the war and how it had affected my family. Communism Forced my family to flee their home, change their names, birthdays, and identities, seek refuge, and live a life of fear. Any time before we go back to visit my ba noi called and warned each of us to be safe and that it is not the same there, that it is dangerous. I want to understand what caused this part of my life and why people get so quiet when I say I’m Vietnamese. I want to understand the fear that is instilled in American citizens when communism is brought up. I want to understand my family.