The Background

Before I returned to Canada, one of my cousins (Ching), gave me a small magnet, as a souvenir to take home. It was made of clay and featured a grey building with the Vietnamese flag. I thanked her, wrapped it up in some tissue paper, and put it safely in the pocket of my carry-on.

After we got home, I’d all but forgotten about that little magnet. We were so busy unpacking (and recovering from jet lag). That is, until my dad called me down.


And Then, Trouble

“Denise, what’s this?” Somehow, from the tone of his voice, I knew I was in big trouble. But why?

He gestured to our coffee table. And there, lying neatly on top of all the tissue paper, was the magnet.

“Did you buy this?” I glanced at my mom, across the room, hoping to get a hint on what this was all about. Her expression was grave.

I replied, “No. It was… Ching got it for me. As a souvenir.”

My dad continued, “Do you know what this is?” I shook my head no. He began to explain.


A Picture Paints 1000…

I discovered that the magnet was a depiction of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Vietnamese: Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh). It’s the tomb and memorial place for Ho Chi Minh, the Vietminh leader and chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam. (I imagine most of you are familiar with the Vietnam War, but if you’d like more info, check out the History Channel’s page on the subject, here).

To my parents, it was a representation of the oppression they’d faced, the horrors of the Vietnam war, all the suffering the Vietnamese people had to go through.

Keeping the magnet and placing it in an openly viewable spot “would be like glorifying the tomb of Lenin,” my dad said.

It’s the same reason my parents call Vietnam’s previous capital “Saigon” and never “Ho Chi Minh City.” Any reference to Ho Chi Minh is essentially honouring him.

Why had Ching given me that magnet? Maybe she hadn’t paid attention to the details on it. Maybe she didn’t know what the building was. Or maybe, having been born after the war, she didn’t associate the image with anything negative.

After the explanation, my dad asked me to throw the magnet away. Without a moment’s hesitation, I tossed it out immediately.

Such a strong reaction to a little magnet. What are your thoughts?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons