My father examined the calluses entrenched in his palms and remembered carrying no more than what he could clutch on his malnourished body, blistering under the hot sun in the open sea. He confessed to me about the guilt he felt for leaving behind his brothers in Vietnam, unable to think of anything else aside from the choppy waves crashing against the overfilled boat. I absorbed this all, awed by how my father reacted to such adversity, wondering if I could have done the same. Last year I sat down with my father to talk about his experiences coming over to the US because I needed to know why he risked the possibility of never being able to return back to the land she calls home even to this day. I wanted to know what motivated my father, a quiet traditional man, to forgo customary submissiveness to authority and risk everything he had in order to reach America. He chose to undertake the challenge of partaking in the unconventional, trading security for the chance to live by his principles of self determination. In this post, I will examine the similarities between the lyrics of M.anifest’s “Coming to America” and my father’s own pursuit of the American dream. I don’t have all the lyrics to M.anifest’s song, but I’ll do my best.
In his first verse, M.anifest spits out the following:
“You can never extinguish the flames/ Ever since they came in the name of King James /My people been crippled and maimed”
Although it’s not the same as Africa, Vietnam has been historically occupied by foreign powers from the Chinese to the French as a result of both exploitation of natural resources and the European desire to “civilize” the people with religion.
“My people came on boats and planes/
Some with passports, some stowaway”
My father was apart of the second wave of Vietnamese immigrants, basically he was apart of the group of Vietnamese that attempted to leave in the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon. Whereas the first wave were able to escape under the protection of the American troops, my father and others like him had to go at it by themselves.
“Insha Allah, things will be better/That’s what we say when we write our letters/Adwoa and Kwame must go, the family means a little dough/They got a little sister and a little bro/ Got to make sure they don’t grow up broke”
When my father left Vietnam, he was unable to return back to his homeland for over a decade, simply because of the resentment that occurred in reaction to his escape. The label of traitor was thrown around very easily. So my father never got a chance to write letters back home, but he was motivated by the desire to provide a comfortable life for his future children, that is, to provide a life he never really knew himself.
Now the chorus of this song is very short, but it’s meaningful.
“I’m going, going /I’m coming coming/ What tomorrow holds, nobody knows”. In my own interpretation, the repetition of going and coming represents to me the individual’s declaration to pursue a better life, but the deafening echo of this call. This journey is to be taken alone, especially since it is up to the individual to pave way for his own success in the land of success.
Although I grew attached to the song because of the message and connections I had with it, the song is still a great song to listen to. The reggae feel and the beat adds an authenticity to the artist’s roots, but works well in creating a sense of urgency for success, as it reminds the individual of what’s at stake.
Dad, you’ll probably never read this post (because you don’t know that this blog exists haha), and not many people will ever read this, but I couldn’t care less. What matters is that I’ve been able to articulate this message. Dad,it’s been an honor of mine to have you raise me up. Your pioneer spirit promoted a nomadic attitude of traveling from place to place in search of fulfilling the need for meaning and purpose. It is the very same approach I hope to embody in my search for intellectual integrity. Happy father’s day dad. Thank you.