My family, one of my father’s younger brother, and I escaped Vietnam backing 1979. The Indonesian government took us in and we hopped from one refugee camp to the next until we could get word to my aunt and uncle in Washington. They sponsored us over in February 1980 and we started a new beginning in a small town called Prossor. Since then all of my father’s family have been sponsored over; there were eleven children on my father’s side. My father has one more sibling, than my mother; she only had ten.
My mother, on the other hand, still has three brothers in Vietnam. So when we were working out our invitation list, we had tough decisions of who to invite. Sure, we would like to have all the relatives attend the Vietnamese ceremony, but we would have to charter a small plane for everyone. We decided to invite the eldest of the brothers who is still in Vietnam (along with his wife). I refer to him as Uncle 7. In Vietnam, you address your elders by numbers rather than their given names out of respect. The number is associated with the birth order of that individual, however; the first born is referenced as number two; number one is reserved for the father (in a male dominate society, the father is considered number one). So if I have an uncle who’s the sixth sibling in the family, I would call him, Uncle 7. His wife would take on his number so I call her, Aunt 7. Now, if the same aunt was the eldest in her family, and she had nieces and nephews, they would call her Aunt 2 and her husband Uncle 2. Kind of confusing isn’t it? I can see why it’s not adopted in other cultures. Don`t ask me for their actual names because I do not know them… just their numbers.
Well, when it came time to invite Uncle and Aunt 7, I learned there is a formal process to undertake. I thought my uncle and aunt could simply get a travel visa and book their reservations; like how it is for me to go to Vietnam. Nope. I guess both governments restrict travel of individuals from Vietnam to the US for only justifiable reasons and just vacationing is not one of them… but attending the wedding of a family member is. The requirements included:
- Proof of the wedding - A formal document stating wedding date and location.
- Invitation to the wedding - We had to make two versions of our invitations using Vietnamese character software to create the ones for our Vietnamese guests.
- Financial records from the hosts - In this case it would be my parents, since they are hosting my relatives. I guess the US government wants assurance we can afford to host our guests.
- Applicants’ financial records - Probably both governments want to make sure they have reasons (assets) to go back home to their country.
Those of you who are inviting guests from Vietnam or other developing countries, consider looking planning into this far in advance. We just received approval for Uncle and Aunt 7. They will be coming one week before the wedding and will stay for 3 months before returning home.
Speaking of out-of-town guests, way out-of-town, inviting dead guests is much easier. This may seem odd, but from my family`s Vietnamese Buddhist culture, our deceased are still part of the family. So in addition to getting the blessings from our parents, we also need to seek them from our ancestors.
Here is an example of an alter, however those found in the homes are not as elaborate.
Typically, there are pictures of those who passed away (grandparents and great grandparents). The marriage ritual involves asking them to welcome and look over the new members of the family. The nice thing about inviting the dead is, is we don`t have to pay per head. In fact it doesn’t take much to please them; just a pot of tea, a bowl of fruit and incense.