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.]
A good case can be made for this song to be ranked higher than the ninth spot, maybe even in the top five. But I’m going to keep it in this spot because it provides a sort of continuity from the #10 song, Quê Hương Chiến Tranh or Country At War.
The title means eight urban roads or ways. While nẻo đường is used enough in writing and speaking, it isn’t clear why Hoài Linh, author of the song, chose eight instead of four, six, or nine – all of which have the same accent tone as eight in Vietnamese, which is dấu sắc. In an online analysis last year, Cao Đức Tuấn makes the argument that the phrase tám nẻo đường thành is particular to the city of Saigon. He suggests an association to the old octagonal Citadel of Saigon – Thành Bát Quái – constructed in the late eighteenth century with crucial engineering assistance from French allies to the first Nguyễn emperor Gia Long. The evidence on this particular point is thin. But the larger point that the title refers to Saigon is plausible, if for other pieces of evidence in the lyrics.
What did the first waves of Vietnamese refugees in America think about themselves? What was their mindset regarding their place in the world? Is it possible to write a coherent literary history of their experience?
The search for answers can take different directions and have different starting points. In my opinion, it isn’t a bad idea to begin with a collection of poetry, essays, memoirs, and fiction entitled Tuyển Tập Thơ Văn 90 Tác Giả Việt Nam Hải Ngoại 1975-1981: Selected Poetry and Prose from Ninety Vietnamese Writers Abroad, 1975-1981 (Missouri City, TX: Văn Hữu, 1982). KEEP READING!