Monday, May 3, 2010
Who You Want to Be
To celebrate Mother's Day early, I took my mom to a matinee of Miss Saigon, which was performed at the San Gabriel Valley Music Theatre. I am familiar with the show's music, having bought the Original Cast recording in the early 90's (on not one but two cassette tapes!).
I can't believe it's taken me almost two decades to actually see it performed live on stage.
Although I am not Vietnamese, the story line is close enough to feel personal, focusing on the brief love affair between a young Vietnamese girl and an American soldier - and their young mixed-race boy. There is even a song titled Bui-Doi, pleading to Americans not to forget the plight of illegitimate half-breeds who were fathered by soldiers and left orphaned overseas.
Why didn't I remember to bring extra tissue? I cried almost from the beginning of the first act to the end of the show. The theme of abandoned war babies is heart tugging enough, privileged American-born though I may be. The fact that my upbringing in the U.S. is light years away from what happened in Vietnam only seems to emphasize the fact that everything is a matter of chance and determined by the luck of geography.
But the young mother's songs to and about her son are the ones that had me bawling the most, the lyrics of love and devotion, and of her willingness to literally sacrifice her life in order to ensure a better future for him.
I lost it when the small boy first ran out on stage, into his mother's waiting arms. Had I not been in the midst of an audience, sitting next to strangers, I would have been sobbing in uncontrollable falsetto tones.
I know what my crying is like. It's not pretty, both visually and audibly (I am ugly when I cry). But I am not ashamed of it.
My mom cried silent tears as well, sitting next to me. I almost forgot how appropriate it was to bring my mom to this particular show, my mother who had met a young American when he was in the navy and stationed in Japan. My mother who, after knowing this young sailor for only a few months, married him and moved to California where I was born.
I am not famous, and I am not rich. But I am the American dream. Many of the lyrics from Miss Saigon help me to realize this, including what Kim, the young mother, sings to her son:
I'll give you a million things I'll never own
I'll give you a world to conquer when you're grown
You will be who you want to be
You can choose whatever Heaven grants
I still believe that about myself, that it is still not too late (even at my age) to be - and become! - who I want to be.
And for that I thank my mother, for leaving the only life she knew to go to a strange country, where I was able to have a typical American childhood.
Happy Mother's Day to you, especially if you are one, and also to the the one that raised and loved you.