This is my 8th tattoo and it’s the most important one. It is the only tattoo I have in color and will remain the only one.

This is the heritage flag of Vietnam and the only flag that all Vietnamese expats will recognize. The three red bands symbolize the unity between North, Central, and South Vietnam – that we are of one blood, one nation. If you have no concept of my personal history, here it is: my parents and I fled our homeland in the aftermath of a civil war. My father is exiled; he can never return. My mother misses it, she will never say it aloud. My heart beats for my birthright, I rarely talk about it. It hurts too much. 

But the fact of the matter is, our home doesn’t exist anymore. If you were to visit Vietnam right now, the mountains are still standing – the rivers are still flowing. It is history that has changed. It’s been rewritten. The libraries have erased all evidence of a South Vietnam. It’s the red Soviet flag that flies. 

What must it feel like to return to a place that looks like home, but isn’t? Do I trek to my ancestral home and stand at the graves of my forefathers and be glad that they never lived to see the fall of Saigon? 

I carry my parents’ history, our country’s history. I carry it in the heart that beats within me. I carry it in the blood that runs through me. And now I carry it on the skin that covers me. I can never look in the mirror and deny where I came from, but I can tell you that so many do. They equate assimilation with survival. They have never been back. They can’t speak the language. America is the only home they have ever known. 

But I have loved another before. I can never go home, but I can never forget.

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