I went to Rite Aid this afternoon to purchase a Mother’s Day card for Me Gia (old mommy in Vietnamese). We are an Asian family that displays little affection so finding an appropriate card took about 30 minutes. Other Mother’s Day card shoppers came and went as I scanned practically every single card. The funny ones with animals turned out to be for kids to give their moms. The cards with music had American songs that my Vietnamese mother wouldn’t identify with. I finally found a simple one that spoke to her willingness to sacrifice and support her children – martyrdom is her motherly mantra.
As I drove home, I thought why not drag out some of her old photos and share them? Most of these are neat shots from Vietnam. My mom, Tuyet Thi Nguyen (Nguyen Thi Tuyet for purists who like to see the correct Viet ordering of a person’s name) was a real babe born in 1935 in Hai Duong, a town near Hanoi.
She and her most of her siblings migrated to Saigon in 1954 after the country split into North and South Vietnam. That’s her (on the right) in the above photo walking with her older sister in 1955 Saigon. They looked like they had a bit of attitude.
In 1958, she married my father, Hoang Quoc Nguyen (Nguyen Quoc Hoang) in Saigon at the Notre Dame Cathedral in District 1. The church looks very much the same today as it did over 50 years ago. Yikes, my parents have been married for a long time.
During Me Gia's first years of being married, she was a 'first lady' of sorts. My dad was the military governor of Phan Thiet province (renowned for its fish sauce) in the early 1960s. They lived in the governor’s home where Mom directed a staff that included two cooks, oversaw state dinners, and mastered Vietnamese and French cooking. She also had my three sisters. My dad retired from military service in 1963 and the family returned to Saigon. Below is the young family in Phan Thiet.
From there on in, my mother was a model superwoman before the term was ever coined. She worked at USAID, sewed her own clothing, and managed a household that included five kids, a cook, nanny, and driver. Back then, Mom drove a car through the streets of Saigon too!
As you may know, things got extra rough for Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. My father planned an escape by sea so my mother stayed up late at night, secretly sewing life jackets for each of us. They were not sold in Vietnam at the time so she acquired the materials and made them herself.
We ended up leaving by plane so the jackets were not necessary. We arrived in California in April 1975 and my parents have stayed there ever since. My mother is one of the most determined, straightforward people I know. She’s a no-nonsense and no-apologies kind of woman. She maintains all of her grace and dignity through thick and thin. To this day, she wears her hair in a complex bun that echoes the style worn by traditional Vietnamese woman. She’s worn it that way ever since she got married.
My mother’s adherence to food traditions is what influenced me as a young cook. Learn and understand the basics before you get to fool around – that’s what she taught me. Nowadays, we trade cooking techniques and share knowledge. Every time I come home, she’s got some nifty dish that’s she’s keen on serving me. So while she champions traditional Vietnamese foodways, she’s always looking out for modern flavors.
So that’s my mama. Who’s your mama? Tell us a little something about your mom — whether she is Viet or not!
HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY TO EVERYONE!
A few past posts involving my mom:
- Mama Says: Collection of Viet cooking tips (from none other than my mother)
- My mother's kitchen quirks
- Mom's obsession with ice cream scoops and industrial cooking
- Vietnamese Rice and Pork Pyramid Dumplings (banh gio; my mom gives a little video cooking lesson; this post resides on AsianDumplingTips.com)