It’s been a rough week in the news, headlined by the ongoing Gaza Strip protests and the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Yesterday saw the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area. Then last night I read about the closure of another small liberal arts college, this one in Oregon. It was therefore a relief, even a kind of solace, to have finished reading the very beautiful study about conservatives in Louisiana by the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild.
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive. The event has generated perhaps more publications in the English language – government reports, media accounts, academic studies, amateur histories, memoirs, etc. – than any other from the Vietnam War. A sucker for anniversaries of publications and releases of films and music, I wish to commemorate it by inviting non-Vietnamese to listen to a very well-known song among Vietnamese.
Two summers ago, Vietnam was in the throes of another series of protests: this time, in reaction to the fish deaths along some of the coastal areas. Widespread, emotional, and nationalistic, the protests were nonetheless carefully monitored and even partially suppressed by the government. In the last two weeks, and especially since last Saturday (January 20), intense nationalism has again shown up on the streets of Vietnam, but for a different reason: the national men’s soccer team kept advancing in the third Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Championship tournament.
It is always tricky writing about “the best” or “the most XYZ” song. But this year marks the centenary of the Marian apparitions in Fátima, and more Vietnamese Americans travelled to Portugal than any previous year. It made me think of the song Lời Mẹ Nhắn Nhủ [Words of Our Lady], better known by its informal title Năm Xưa Trên Cây Sồi [Years Ago on an Oak Tree]. I’m not very keen on awards, especially awards of recent productions. But I’m more open to retrospective awards. Were there an award for the category “the most devotional Marian song or hymn written in Vietnamese in the twentieth century,” I’d vote for this song.