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Teacher’s Voice

What Troy Van Learned from His Mother’s Legacy

By MINA WONG - June 20 2024
What Troy Van Learned from His Mother’s Legacy

Two summers ago, painter Delia Ku-Van succumbed to complications from pneumonia. Mourning her were husband Edward and son Troy, who’ve been sifting through Delia’s legacy with many surprising discoveries.

Beginning with her eulogy, Troy was startled by major gaps in his knowledge of Delia’s life. Once circulated to family and friends, the obituary was contested by her cousin Mai Ku, who texted Troy from Hanoi: “Why did you write Delia was the oldest of three children? She was the second of four children from her mother and one of eight children from her father.”

To family and friends in Canada, Delia had just two younger brothers. But Aunt Mai texted again: “Delia’s older brother had polio and died of meningitis at age seven in 1960, when she was five. Her father had two wives, Delia’s mother the tailor, and a schoolteacher who gave him two boys and two girls.”

Edward scratched his head: “That’s news to me.”

Soon, photographs, letters, official documents, school transcripts, and bank statements began to reveal Delia’s past quite different from that known to her husband and son.

Troy asked Edward: “You’ve always said you and mom met in college. Is that still true?”

“True enough. I knew mommy from a mall where she worked weekends. Then we met again at Fanshawe College. We became closer when she joined my church. We married in Toronto in 1980 and had you a year later.”

Edward also said, “I heard about a man who’d reported Delia missing in London. Later, their friends told him she’d moved with me to Toronto.”

Troy and Edward also found photos of tiny Delia hugging a small boy in a wheelchair, dated 1959. If that was the older brother who’d lived till 1960, Delia hadn’t mentioned him even once.

Official documents confirmed Delia’s arrival in Canada as a convention refugee in January 1978. Name: KU, Thu Linh, age: 23, birthplace: Huế, Vietnam; profession: dancer, Bangkok, Thailand.

Delia’s college transcripts listed one first-semester credit but nothing more. Some letters and bank statements showed she’d lived with a London artist, the one who’d reported her missing when she vanished from his life.

Edward began to follow the dots about Delia before their marriage.

In college, where he’d got to know her, he always believed most of her family had perished in Vietnam. Before emigrating to southern Ontario, he and his family had fled Saigon to Hong Kong in 1968 when he was fourteen. Edward felt naturally connected to Delia and believed God had brought them together with solemn blessings: “As two of God’s children are joined in Christian marriage, may their love shine in honesty and grace. May they live eternally in God’s light.”

For Edward, marrying beautiful Delia and raising well-adjusted Troy were God’s miracles. Edward was truly a happy servant of his faith.

Troy also remembered Delia telling him, “During and after the Vietnam War, I was very depressed because I’d lost all my family. But since joining daddy’s church, I’ve found new happiness with God’s grace.”

Still, after learning his mother’s part-truths, Troy had to reconcile facts with inventions. Growing up, he’d asked Delia many questions that she’d answered with reticence: “I’ll tell you everything when you’re older.” Troy also imagined Edward getting some of that reluctance from Delia, but between father and son, he knew Edward was the more compassionate one toward her half-facts.

Two years after Delia’s passing, Edward sees why she insisted on leaving London together for Toronto in 1980: she needed a clean start with a trustworthy man, with whom she could build an honest future, far away from past polyandry. Privately, she wrestled with trauma, including losing the fragile brother she’d protected in childhood, being bullied for her father’s polygamy, and fleeing war-plummeted Vietnam, alone at seventeen. Secretly, she also suppressed lonely torment from entertaining American GIs in brothels, bribing her way in and out of Indochina, struggling with writing skills at Fanshawe College, and rooming with a painter who wouldn’t marry her – before seeing Edward’s honor and decency, but never able to completely show him her bête noire.

Troy also understands Delia masked portions of her life to salve hard-to-heal wounds. But he still wonders if he now has all the facts about his adorable mother or if he’s still in the dark.

Reflecting on his own life, Troy acknowledges the immense privilege of security and prosperity. Born to loving parents who prioritized his happiness and success, he was always free to choose his hobbies, friends, studies, and career. He’s bewildered by anyone narrowly escaping napalm infernos, being trafficked across conflict zones, serving lascivious customers, or suffering deceitful beaus — for survival. In his heart of hearts, he feels twinges of sorrow for Delia’s dilemmas in a chaotic world.

But as a historian, Troy upholds the importance of untainted facts that history takes pains to observe, document, and defend. What do Delia’s partial facts mean to world history, including his own field of modern international relations? The more Troy unearths Delia’s legacy, the more concerned he feels about dubious or incomplete information.

To teach international relations with renewed integrity, Troy needs a more discerning socio-cultural lens, a more critical eye for human details in global affairs across privilege, equity, inequalities, injustice, crime, and the complexities of kinship in world politics. If Troy’s always felt confident about his expertise, he’ll now learn to be a more vigilant, honest, credible, and responsive historian and teacher.

As a silver lining, Troy looks forward to sharing new insight at the right time, perhaps at an upcoming historical research conference this summer after his students’ final exams.

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