Daughter From Danang

root - Posted on 01 January 2000

A Critical Analysis (Media Reading) by The Poverty Studies Institute (PSI) ‘daughters’ on The Documentary film Daughter From Danang by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco

by Poverty Scholar/Facilitator; Dee Gray, Teaching Assistant;Alex Cuff

1st ‘reading’ by PSI Poverty Scholar; Jewnbug

1). What was the transubstantive error in the movie?


Hedi would have a better life in so called “America.”
Hedi takes her Vietnamese family’s behavior about money as rude.

Hedi is conditioned to view things from a (KKK) white racist perspective and very Americanized not embracing the interdependence in her family in Vietnam.

But wasn’t there transubstantive error on the part of the Vietnamese family? What is it? Explain.


The Vietnamese family I think interpreted Hedi’s gift giving and her living in ”America” as her being wealthy thus why wouldn’t she help her family out with money and/or because “America” is capitalistic upfrontness about money wouldn’t be taken as rudeness and she wouldn’t be so emotional about it . However Heidi may not be hella wealthy she is still I feel in a financial position she can offer her family the support they are asking. The Mother however did make a comment about how she understood that Hedi has been raised in a different culture(lifestyle) and this talk of support for the family is something she is not being understanding too, but I feel that the Mother is still hurt by her daughter’s response even though she is trying to understand the conditioning that has influenced her daughter’s behavior.
The Mother showing Hedi the shrine for her grandma/ancestor/elder expecting her to understand/value/honor death in this same manner.

2). What was needed in this situation to have not made the ending so hopeless?


The daughter brings her Mother with her to meet her grandchildren and stays for a while.
Heidi goes to Vietnam and brings her husband and two daughters to meet their family.
Heidi stays in regular contact with her family and rediscovers and embraces her Vietnamese heritage and educates her children, husband and the family that adopted her. She doesn’t deny her heritage to the adopted family and they are confronted about their racism and classism. She builds a very strong bond with her family in Vietnam. She learns and realizes the lies of the American government and the truth, that her Mother never gave her up. She also is reducated about the war from the Vietnamese perspective and reality.
Heidi helps her family in Vietnam every month and understands the upfrontness about money is her family keeping it real. (In my family we discuss money openly and honestly we have to, it’s the way we survive. It really upsets me she isn’t supporting her family who really loves her and shows it and here she is with all this food etc...and she can’t even give anything. I am on welfare and will still try to help my family out.) Furthermore she is grateful for the constant affection from her Mother and family because she didn’t get that kind of affection from her adopted family she adjusts without being turned off by the physical closeness. She leaves the audience with her brainstorming about moving to Vietnam with husband, daughters or stays every summer in Vietnam.

3). What did you most empathize with and why?


I cried and cried about (Operation Babylift) children, babies taken away from their family, their Mother. I cried at the end because Hedi don’t even write her family back that’s beeped up. The lies the Mothers were told and this white woman trying to take childern to “America” really angers me.
I am happy she was reunited with her Mother but angry, frustrated with her attitude towards her family in Vietnam. I am sad for the Mother her pain her mourning over her daughter.
I dream and cry to meet my family one day. My family in Hawaii who are in contact through letters, pictures and phone but to touch them is something I hunger for. Many people who aren’t even Hawaiian get to travel, live, go to school in the home of my Ancestors my family. I didn’t even have money to go and over a year ago my grandpa died me and my dad, my brother couldn’t afford to go to the funeral. It hurts. I got two brothers who I haven’t even met who live in another state of colonizing and dream of meeting them. Heidi to me had the opportunity of a life time and she acted like a beep.
I think she acted like a (beep) and still is because she is not writing back and basically it looks like she has totally written them out of her life. I think that her behavior is a result from the following:

The adopted family never encouraged her to be proud of being Vietnamese/ mixed.
Believing that her Mother gave her up and probably being taught that by her adopted family.
Not being able to really identify with anyone or anything as a person who’s a mix of Asian and European heritage in the environment she is being raised in.
Not gonna be accepted in this society if she represents her Vietnamese heritage therefore assimilates to be an all “white American”. ( I myself as a mixed woman who’s mix is not your so called average mix and being someone who is non white but could pass if I chose to has dealt with white youth only wanting me to represent white and being attacked as a teenager by a white guy who called me a nigger and told me to leave the Sunset and go to Hunter’s Point . I tried to hang out with white youth at one point in time and felt so out of place I stopped hanging out with them but did make connections with youth who were non white who were hanging out with the same crowd. Here I was taking two buses from my hood to go kick it with white youth with the exception of a few youth who were non white. I felt so uncomfortable a lot times that I stopped. When I look back I feel the reason I did this was because I at 16 for the first time had been exposed to white youth who were well to do on a mass level and I was curios plus the parties the houses the cars the drugs the money appealed to me a mixed lite skinned young lady who’s poor, wished at one point could have their life with the exception of some things.) Heidi having this opportunity to not wish but actually was living the life as a youth in a white community who didn’t go with out food, shelter, clothing and could pass chose to for reasons of protection, acceptance and access.
Heidi didn’t get physical or verbal affection on a daily basis from her adopted family made her in ways a non touching feeling person. She is encouraged not only through lack of affection but the mannerism of this white community to be separated from family to succeed. When she left home she didn’t go live with anyone else in her adopted family not even the grandma. At the end of the movie you see her talking with her adopted grandma saying she knows her best but yet this family didn’t work together to intervene when the adopted Mother kicked her out of the house nor did anyone in the community. She did stay I believe with friends but it seems no one helped restore the relationship with her adopted Mother. This is another example of separatism which influenced her to not empathize with her family in Vietnam’s need for her intervention and support to help them survive. She was taught she had to survive on her own by this white community’s separatism.
The school she attended spoke on the war in Vietnam yet did they even discuss Operation Babylift and did they educate her on it with a prejudice towards Vietnam. I think perhaps they did therefore she is being conditioned to blame her Mother for having made the decision to have her adopted in “America” not the facts of who the oppressor is in this situation but she takes it out on her Mother. ( Myself can recall being upset with my Mother and Father of why were poor but as time went on I learned my parents are being oppressed and that they are trying to do what they can so we survive. I at that point in time had been conditioned to take it out on my parents instead of the welfare system, capitalism etc… I everyday must unlearn oppression and it’s conditionings.)
I think that Heidi is part of a community that is based on lies and teaches lies such as racizm, classizm and that individuation is a good thing. She lives around people who aren’t keeping it real who aren’t teaching the truth. Her family in Vietnam keeps it real in terms of where they are coming from and what they need. I think she ain’t used to such honesty and openness.


2nd ‘reading’ by Poverty Scholar Valerie Schwartz

1. What was the transubstantive error in the movie?

I believe there were several transubstantive errors in the movie. Beginning with "operation babylift" it was more than evident that the whatever they called themselves, representatives of the American government and adoption agencies. They did not seem to care that they were taking children away from their mothers and brothers, sisters, families and culture. They just knew they were "doing the right thing" without considering the ramifications of their of the program they were implementing and the long range effect it would have on the people involved. They were just doing their job for America is what they probably tell us. Another great American faux pas...

The second transubstantive error is made by Heidi herself, this was as crippling as "operation babylift" itself. She went very impulsively into finding and meeting her mother. I don't believe that she took the time to consider the contrast of culture and life between Viet Nam and the USA . I don't think she put forth much energy thinking about anyone other than herself and perhaps an unrealistic view of how her renuion would go her vision was myopic if not blinded by the thought of how she dreamed it would be.

The third transubstantive error was with her siblings and relatives in their thinking that Heidi would understand the concept of being responsible for her mother, family, and elders. I am sure that they were unaware of how many American treat they parents, siblings, and families in general: they don't understand that Americans have been brought up to believe in individuation and are basically brought up in the school of thought that we have come to know as "me, me, me, mine, mine, mine." I am not suggesting that they
disregard Heidi's behavior but unfortunately it wasn't considered.

2. What was needed in this situation to have not made the ending so hopeless?

I think that Heidi should have taken the time to find out more about her people and culture and especially done a lot of correspondence with her family before going. Americans don't even consider the idea that people in other countries live very differently than we do. Heidi regretfully I think entertained an "orphans dream" meaning that her life was gonna be wrapped up in a wonderful little package once she and her mother reunited that all her life she had wanted a June Clever type mother...ya know the loving TV mom who is always there, knows just what to say, and is very loving and nurturing. Nice thought, but not too real. Not that it couldn't be accomplished with some understanding, love, and work. I believe her mother truly loves her very much and really thought at the time that she did the right thing by giving Heidi up especially with the rumor of the burning of all the Amer-Asian children, but Heidi needs to get real and get off her pity pot. At times I had the definite feeling that her siblings were of little importance to her. I was disgusted by the way she reacted to the thought of helping out financially, she never even seemed to consider how good she has it, that she doesn't struggle from day to day. I guess I feel that Heidi should have put forth a lot more effort and it wouldn't have been so hopeless. She did initiate the reunion therefore I think she should have put more into making it work and tried to be aware of the cultural differences.

3. What did you most empathize with and why?

I can only empathize with Heidi on a small scale. The person or idea that I empathize with is probably with Heidi's mother. She was left with children to care for during a war, her husband gone and she did what she had to do to see that her children/family stayed intact, safe, and alive by being a G.I.'s consort. I know the reality of having to compromise yourself to feed your children. She then thinking she was saving Heidi from death at the hands of Vietnamese soldiers/ new regime, thinking that all the children would be rounded up and killed. What a horrible decision to have to make to make and then wonder for decades if she had done the right thing. I also caught a deep feeling when her family was asking her to help care for her mother and her mother explained to them that Heidi didn't understand, that it was too soon, and they shouldn't make her feel forced. That was truly a mother's compassionate and genuine love even though she was disappointed...she did not give up hope.


2nd ‘reading’ by Alex Cuff

1. what was the transubstantive error in the movie?

...there were so many. first of all, the vietnam war itself – or most wars, i
think. then, "operation babylift" – assuming that the vietnamese children were
better off with american parents. i feel that both heidi (i can’t remember her real name) and her mother are victims of the transubstantive
errors mentioned above. As far as their own transubstantive errors – yes, they both made the errors. The family asking for money is sort of a cross cultural “error” because americans don’t usually do that but I don’t think it’s a major error as in it didn’t really have much of a negative impact on the receiver of the error, heidi. If anything, getting upset was probably good for her in that it broke the comfort bubble she arrived to vietnam in. Okay so heidi’s transubstantive error was taking something as huge as a reunification with her mother very lightly. She made an error is getting personally insulted by the asking of money instead of learning more about the culture before her arrival. The family laid off when she got upset and didn’t press. They didn’t hold anything against her when she reacted to the request for help.

although i was appalled by heidi’s behavior when she went to visit her family in
vietnam, i can not find a way to blame her except for being super selfish and
badly educated. the latter probably contributing to the prior. i wonder why she
wanted to back to vietnam to meet reunite with her mother. If anything, she wasn’t prepared for what the trip meant.

2. What was needed in situation to have not made the ending so hopeless?

I really don’t know. Maybe more support and education and encouragement from the Filipino woman who escorted heidi to the village and acted for part of the time as translator. Really heidi needed to be different. I don’t want to come down so hard on her and say that she needs to follow through with the entire thing (which is what I feel) but she could have at least continued correspondence with the family, sent pictures of her children, maybe even gone back over with her family or something.

3. Who did you most empathize with and why?

Certainly the mother. Her emotion was so real to me as where heidi seemed cold and disconnected. The mother waited so long to see her daughter – the scene on the beach in the beginning, memories of heidi’s father was probably painful and of course the regret and guilt she probably felt for letting heidi go to the US. I empathize also for the family because they see and live with the mother’s pain and don’t really have a way to console her. The mother is strong through and intelligent, she seems to understand where heidi is coming from SO much more than heidi even tries to see where the mother is coming from. I can empathize with heidi if I try to put myself in her position – her life back home seemed so stale and I feel bad for her cause I feel she’s scared and wants to be comfortable even with the grandmother who doesn’t seem too warm. Heidi doesn’t get the richness she is missing in vietnam.

All in all it’s really a terrible situation. It’s hard to point blame on the victims which I think all of the characters in the movie were. Our invasion of vietnam and the post-transubstantive error of stealing children from their families is the underlying blame.


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