Adopted Vietnamese daughter returns to roots from France

By Pham Nga   March 22, 2024 | 03:17 am PT
Eight years after “finding” her biological parents online, Hoai Thu returned to Vietnam for the second time, wanting to let her mother know, in Vietnamese, that she’s not angry with her at all.

Lam Thi Hoai Thu, 28 years old, surprised her mother when she could speak a few sentences in Vietnamese.

"The first time we met, because of the language barrier, we could not speak to each other, even though I have a lot of things to say to my daughter," said Lam Thi Vinh, 61 years old, in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.

The mother thought she was dreaming when she first saw her daughter return "home."

Twenty-eight years ago, Vinh was a road worker in the northern province of Thai Nguyen, living with her 9-year-old son and husband. Following their divorce, she fell in love with a colleague and had a daughter, Thu, with him. However, a series of challenging life events led to their eventual separation.

The mother had to raise two small children alone and was in a dire financial situation. In 1996, when Thu was two years old, a friend introduced Vinh to a French couple looking to adopt a child.

"She said they were teachers and didn't have children. If Thu were adopted, she would have a good education. I wanted my child to have a better life, so I agreed," Vinh said.

Vinh holding her daughter Hoai Thu alongside the future adoptive parents in 1996. Photo courtesy of Auriane Allaire

Vinh holding her daughter Hoai Thu alongside the future adoptive parents in 1996. Photo courtesy of Auriane Allaire

Before welcoming Hoai Thu, the French couple took photos of Vinh and wrote down her address to keep as a souvenir for their newly adopted daughter. They renamed her Auriane Allaire. True to the couple’s promise, the Vietnamese girl lived a good life with her new parents and graduated with a master's degree in arts from the University of Rennes. In addition to Auriane Allaire, they also adopted another Vietnamese child.

Vinh then married a man in Dak Lak, had another daughter, and returned to her husband's hometown to live. Seven years later, she received a letter from the couple with a photo of Thu standing with her Vietnamese adoptive sister.

"Missing my child, I brought the photo out to look at it, but I didn't know French so I just left it there, and didn't know how to write a response letter," she said. That was the first and last time she received news from her daughter. Occasionally, she told her youngest child and daughter-in-law about the child that she gave away. She would sometimes open up a little box of letters and photos to show them.

"My mother rarely mentioned it, but I knew deep down she was sad," said Hue, 24, Vinh's youngest child.

From France, with love

Living in the small village of Bouffry, a two-hour drive from Paris, Auriane Allaire grew up healthy and happy in the love of her adoptive parents. Since childhood, she always knew she was Vietnamese. "My adoptive parents showed me pictures of my birth mother so I still knew about her presence," she said. She was happy with life in France, but from a young age, she always thought she would one day have to return to Vietnam.

"At the age of 22, I began to wonder about my origins. I needed to know who I was and where I came from. That's why I decided to return to the place of my birth," Auriane Allaire said. She wanted to explore Vietnamese culture and wanted to know whose blood was flowing through her, even though there was very little information about her mother.

In September 2017, Auriane was booking a ticket to return to Vietnam in November of that year, when in October, she received a message from her sister named Hue on Facebook.

Having always heard her mother talk about her sister, Hue had always been curious. Not knowing the language, all Hue and her sister-in-law could glean from the letter they still clung to was that their French sister's name was now Auriane Allaire. Using the name and picture her mother kept, Hue and her sister-in-law found Auriane's Facebook account.

Reading the message, the Vietnamese girl living in France burst into tears out of joy. "I believe fate has allowed me to meet my blood relatives again," she said.

Auriane Allaire, formerly known as Hoai Thu (right), with her mother and youngest sister during Lunar New Year Festival (Tet), February 2024. Photo courtesy of Hue Duong

Auriane Allaire, formerly known as Hoai Thu (right), with her mother and youngest sister during Lunar New Year Festival (Tet), February 2024. Photo courtesy of Hue Duong

In November 2017, Auriane set foot on Vietnamese soil. Her family brought her back to Bac Kan to introduce her to more relatives and friends.

And thanks to the help of another Vietnamese friend she met in Ho Chi Minh City, she also connected with her biological father, who lived in Thai Nguyen.

Not knowing Vietnamese and being a vegetarian, it was difficult to adapt to life in the mountains of Vietnam, but Auriane, who could now be called by her Vietnamese name Hoai Thu while she visited, still stayed for three months. She visited her mother's hometown, lived with her brother in Dak Lak, and then went to Thai Nguyen to visit her father.

Having already watched half his life pass by, Tran Phong did not expect that one day he would meet his daughter again.

"I was emotional, I didn't think my child would come back to see me," said the 58-year-old father. He is married in Thai Nguyen and has two sons. Hoai Thu is his only daughter.

For help with all of her activities in the foreign land, Thu enlisted her friend Nguyen Thuy Giang, a 36 year-old Ho Chi Minh City resident.

"Her biological parents are poor, and live in the highlands," Giang said of Thu. "And her being a vegetarian made it difficult for her to integrate. However, she still found her way home in order to be close to her family, to be with her relatives."

Over the past three years, in addition to focusing on her work in the field of art, Hoai Thu has studied Vietnamese to better understand her family, learn more about Vietnamese culture, and practice eating food from her home country.

From her life experiences, Auriane Allaire-Hoai Thu wrote a memoir titled Racine (origins) in French. She said she wrote it because she wanted to share the experience of an adopted child finding her biological family with everyone.

"I have mixed emotions inside. I was happy when I found my blood relatives, but because of language differences, misunderstandings sometimes made me feel hurt," she said.

Thu with her father in the northern province of Thai Nguyen on March 2, 2024. Photo courtesy of Hoai Thu

Thu with her father in the northern province of Thai Nguyen on March 2, 2024. Photo courtesy of Hoai Thu

This spring, Vinh's family welcomed her daughter from France to celebrate Lunar New Year festival (Tet). Hoai Thu went to Dak Lak alone and was finally able to speak some Vietnamese to her mother.

Vinh had the opportunity to explain to her daughter why she let her go. She asked Thu if she resented her for giving her away as a baby.

"I shook my head and said no," Thu said.

Thu also spent the weekend with her father in Thai Nguyen. Phong said he was very surprised when his daughter picked up chopsticks to eat rice and could eat beef and chicken dishes with the whole family, instead of making her own vegetarian sandwiches and eating alone like the first time she came.

Before that, the father fell and broke his leg, so when he heard that his daughter was coming to visit, he refused to see her, fearing that she would worry. But Hoai Thu persuaded him and asked Giang to help translate.

Knowing that her father couldn't go anywhere because of his leg, she texted: "I'll stay home with you!"

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