Going Home, Coming Home
Childrens Book Press, 2003.
What happens when a person's home - that
very tangible, physical place, as well as the more
emotional, metaphysical place of belonging - is very
different for parents and their children?
This phenomenon has become more prevalent during
recent years, with the growth of cross-cultural adoptions,
international business opportunities, and the lure
of long-term travel. It is not at all unusual for
Mom from Canada to marry Dad from China, and adopt
kids from Sri Lanka and Korea, respectively.
Dad goes home to Beijing for Lunar New
Year and Mom takes the family home to
Toronto for the summer, while the kids return to a
different home each day after school.
Amid all this confusion, it is not surprising that
a child should ask the simple yet provocative question:
Where exactly is home?
In Truong Trans Going Home, Coming Home,
young Ami Chi, while visiting her parents childhood
village in Vietnam, grapples with this same question.
At first, she confirms her only version of reality:
...home has always been our little ruby red
house in America, where Mom grows herbs and flowers
in the backyard. Home is where you get to go to
the Grand Canyon on vacation, or ride on roller
coasters at an amusement park.
Then, she embarks on a sensory journey through a
very different world that her parents grew up in:
streets choked with motorbikes, rice paddies seeping
tranquility, and market stalls selling fried canaries
and fruit in the shape of dragons and stars.
Ami Chi meets new relatives along the way, finding
them full of the same warmth and joys of home. There
is Grandmother (Ba ngoai) whom she cannot converse
with, yet who has no problem doling out ladles of
affection, and Uncle Binh, who skillfully leads them
through the streets of Saigon to Cho Lon Market.
Among the endless market stalls, Ami Chi makes friends
with Thao, a girl her own age, who invites her to
play pick up sticks. The friendship makes a strange
place become more familiar, although Ami soon realizes
she has lost sight of her family. During an emotional
rainstorm, Ami Chi clutches Thao's hand and decides
to enjoy the moment:
The deliciously cool water mixes with the tears
on my face? Thao takes my hand. We kick puddles
at each other. We catch drops on your tongue. In
the rain we're sisters, very wet sisters.
When Thao's brother helps reunite Ami Chi with her
parents, she exclaims, "I thought I'd never find
my way home! Her dad is surprised at her choice
of words. Upon returning to America, she develops
an even more astute definition of the term home: ...
two different places, on the left and right sides
of my heart.
Coming Home is an artistic book, both
from the standpoint of Trung Trans lyrical prose,
and from Ann Phongs textured oil painted images
of bustling market scenes, quenching rainstorms, and
tender moments between grandchild and grandmother.
Truong Trans bilingual work is a welcome addition
to the slowly emerging body of Vietnamese-American
children's literature. Although Vietnamese is now
the second largest Asian group in North America, there
are very few works that represent this population
- and even fewer bilingual ones. When I taught in
Southern California's "Little Vietnam for
six years in the late '80's and 90's, forays into
Asian malls and led only to poorly-printed Vietnamese
versions of a few Disney classics, while scanning
the catalogues of English language presses was even
Although Troung Trans story is a largely personal
one (he left Vietnam at the age of five and did not
return for twenty-five years), it certainly has wider
appeal to a new generation of kids who like Amy Chi,
does not share the same cultural background as their
This is also a book for children who have moved to
a different city, state, or who perhaps have moved
in with a step-parent or new relative. It sparks the
important dialogue of, "Where is home exactly,
and how do we define it?
17 October 2003
Thong is author of Red is Dragon and Round
is a Mooncake, multicultural picture books featuring
Asian culture. She has also written numerous short
stories and works of non-fiction. She divides her
time between Hong Kong and Los Angeles.
Truong Tran was a 1999 Kiriyama
Prize fiction finalist, with The
Book of Perceptions.