This song is most interesting because the original lyrics were written in Paris by the writer Minh Đức Hoài Trinh: in 1962 or thirteen years before the Fall of Saigon.
Ask Vietnamese to name Vietnamese female singers that they love, and you can expect to hear many names. Ask them to name a Vietnamese female songwriter, and just about everyone will be stumped by the question. For there has been little recorded popular music written by Vietnamese women. I have no explanation for the wide discrepancy. But such was the case, at least in South Vietnam and the postwar diaspora.
This popular song did not cross my mind at all when I first conceived this list. A passing comment from Jason Gibbs, however, made me think more about it. Later, reading a published comment from the song’s composer prompted its inclusion. It is the least conventional choice for this list, since there isn’t anything overtly about refugees. Yet for reasons below, it speaks subtly about the experience of adjustment to the new land by Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere during the 1970s and 1980s.
This post is the only one in the series without a YouTube video. In fact, here is the only online link to the recording that I could find, and the upload is hardly perfect. It’s true that I’d like to throw in one or two obscure songs in a list of mostly well-known tunes. Even there I was quite surprised at the Internet neglect of this song.
December 1, 2016: The link above still works, but I’ve just uploaded the song on YouTube and it has better audio quality.
The lyrics of this song are simple: possibly the simplest from this list of ten. But at times simplicity is equivalent to power, and I think this song is quite powerful. The most interesting find during my Internet search for recordings is the following video of a performance by several Vietnamese American girls in the Seattle area. The young singer speaks in Vietnamese at the start: I love this song because through my grandparents, I understand the feelings of people having to live far from their families, friends, and homeland.
Knowing that I’d like to start this series with a song related to Saigon, I nonetheless had a hard time deciding from several choices. Travel turns out to be the decisive factor, and being in Houston this weekend prompts me to settle on Saigon, Farewell Forever My Love. Its authors were two refugees who settled in the Houston area: one not long after the Fall of Saigon; the other sometimes in the early 1980s. [Correction: Both came to Houston in 1975; see the note from Jason Gibbs among the comments below.]
Update Jan 27, 2016: I’ve reviewed the dissertation for the website Dissertation Reviews.
On New Year’s Eve, I finished reading a terrific dissertation about Vietnamese in the former Czechoslovakia. The author is Alena Alamgir (Rutgers 2014), and her work is about a bilateral labor program between the DRV and Czechoslovakia from 1967 to 1989 that sent Vietnamese from the European country for training and work in a variety of industries. The field is historical sociology – it won the Theda Skocpol Award from the American Sociological Association last year – and the dissertation utilizes a good deal of documents from the National Czech Archives, including materials from three governmental agencies in the Cold War era.