An Essay by Phạm Thị Nhí.
We, the victims of Agent Orange, have seen tears streaming down our faces for dozens of years now. Every single day, we cry tears of pain, and even when the pain subsides, we cry tears of despair thinking about a grim future awaiting us, a future filled with endless suffering from this wicked poison.
There’s nothing we can do about it.
Our tears did not make chemical companies–Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and others–think twice about producing the dioxin that was dropped on Vietnam.
Our tears did not make those calling the shots in the U.S. government even consider thinking about the responsibilities they should face after causing such catastrophic consequences to innocent citizens.
I’ve never met you, Mr. President, yet I could see in you a sense of affability, of friendliness. You’re a responsible man, a loving father and husband, and a compassionate leader. You’ve always valued peace, friendliness, and equality.
Because of that, I wish you could come to my hometown Quang Nam someday, or to Quang Tri, Hue, Da Nang, and many other provinces here in Vietnam.
You’ll enjoy the beautiful scenery here, and you’ll get to meet wonderful, hard-working Vietnamese.
But you’ll also shake hands with those who have lost a limb, exchange a smile with those with cleft palates, all because of one decision made decades ago by your predecessors.
I’m sure you will shed a tear while doing so.
Victims of gun violence in America, like those suffering from the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, are human beings. All of them have their own families and friends, all share the right to live and to hope, instead of having their right taken away from them, or having to suffer both physically and mentally.
Even though I am a second-generation Agent Orange victim, I cannot fully describe the pain that has persisted through half a century. Only by witnessing it first-hand will you realize that your superpower of a nation needs to take responsibility for the suffering of each and every victim.
3.000.000 victims in Vietnam (200.000 of those are second-generation like me, 80.000 are third-generation, and in some places there have been reports of fourth-generation exposure) have been waiting for that a long time ago.
This beautiful country has gone through more than its fair share of pain and suffering from war. The people of Vietnam care for each other, we care for the lives of the unfortunate, but no matter how much we care, our circumstances will always prevent us from easing the pain, both materialistically and emotionally.
The victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam are always fighting, to rise above hardships, and make positive contributions to the community.
But we say that mainly to comfort ourselves and ease the pain, because it’s impossible to stay positive when every day you go out there, you see images of handicapped fathers and mothers with their exposed children, whose faces are barely recognizable, as they struggle through their daily dose of pain, pitying themselves and feeling left out.
Even so, I and other victims always have one thing on our mind: that is to leave the past behind, and look to the future. We are all happy to see you come to Vietnam, to see the two nations building new bridges to move closer to one another.
I understand that your schedule is packed, and that we are not part of your agenda. Yet, I hope that you and your fellow Americans will show compassion, to listen, to share, to care, and to sympathize with our pain, and later converting that into real action.
When the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn dismissed our lawsuit, millions of Agent Orange victims once again felt the pain. But we will not give up: the truth lies in the lives of those directly involved, those who have gone through endless sufferring; the truth lies in humanity’s conscience.
Women like me, dying to love and be loved, will never get to fulfill our vocation of motherhood. The poor little souls who have their lives taken away from them even before birth: those are the most bitter and painful truths.
When you visit Ho Chi Minh city, if you can, please take some time to drop by Peace Village Từ Dũ. You will undoubtedly be struck by images of dead fetuses stored in tubes. Then you’ll hear normal, little kids talk about their simple dreams in the most innocent ways possible. I’m sure the stark contrast will reduce someone with a warm heart like yours to tears.
I have left my hometown, leaving behind my ailing parents to listen to my heart. I’ve made sacrifices on my quest to pursue happiness, yet for the past 20 years, all I ever receive was one burning question: why can’t the Americans stand up and take responsibility for what they’ve done?