My wife and I have four children aged 11 to 3 of mixed Vietnamese and American blood. We have tried to educate them about their ancestors–where they came from and the lives they led– in hopes that our children would grow up with a keen understanding of their roots and a sense of gratitude toward long-dead ancestors who both suffered and thrived so that current generations could live better lives. We started out 11 years ago by naming our first child Hanh-Thien after the ancestral village of my wife’s mother’s family. Our second child was named Thai-Binh after the home province of my wife’s father. Our living room features a Vietnamese-style ancestral altar with pictures of deceased relatives from Hanoi, Saigon, Iowa and California going back generations. We live three generations under one roof, allowing my children to grow up close to their grandparents.
But I worried that lighting incense and listening to family stories here and there might not be coherent enough way for my children to grasp the complicated and fascinating merging of a Vietnamese and American families into one. That is why during my recent and ongoing period of unemployment I took up a side project of scanning old photos, attaching captions identifying each person in the photo and perhaps telling a story that dates to the period of the photo. The project was massive and time consuming. It took about three months to complete. I estimate that I thumbed through about 10,000 photos dating back about 100 years, scanned about 1,000 of them, and chose the best 430 to include in a 100-page family history book that I designed and wrote using free MyPublisher software. (more…)