If anything that a war, the financial crisis and cancer have left her, it’s love and caring

Growing up with a Vietnamese mother who always brings the family the highest spirits and wildest smile despite having lived through the worst possible time, Ichiro Kubozono thinks the view that Asian mums are “overly strict and conservative” is stereotyped.

Kubozono’s mother Hong was born amidst the Vietnam war. After having lost all her family members to the war, she packed up and moved to Saigon to start her own life at the age of 11.

Without a high school or college degree, she taught herself English and was able to work on a cruise ship when she was in her 20s as the manager was impressed by her English. That’s where Hong met her Japanese husband who was 50 at the time and was traveling to Vietnam to volunteer. “It was a love at first sight”, as Kubozono said. After five years of being in a relationship and exchanging letters, they got married in 1995.

Kubozono’s mum in San Francesco when she was young. She was told that she only has 3 to 6 months to live after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer last February. Courtesy: Ichiro Kubozono.

The couple opened one of the first souvenir stores in Saigon with many branches that were going well until 2007 when the financial crisis struck the world, and the store was forced to close. Things seemed to be getting worse before they get better.

Kubozono’s father had a heart attack following the store’s closure and since then, his mum has been taking care of his father on top of two children. “Because she lost all her families at such a young age, she loved us with her whole heart because she was finally given the chance to experience what a lovely family is like for the first time in her life,” Kubozono said.

“She just truly cares and accepts me fully for who I am.”

“Being a gay, I was nervous about coming out to my mum because she came from a generation and society which is not exposed to or educated on the LGBTQ+ community.” When Kubozono decided to tell his mum when he was 16, what his mother told him was truly a “surprise” to him.

Kubonozo’s mum lost all her hair after she started receiving brain radiotherapy treatment and had to wear a scarf to protect her head from the UV rays. Courtesy: Ichiro Kubozono.

“It was after I went to my first Pride parade and came out to all my friends. I thought if I can be open to my friends now, I should be open to my mum too.”

He was hugged with a smile and told, “Ichiro, this is great news. This means we can talk about boys then,” he recalled.

“She knows about all my crushes and boy problems because she just truly cares and accepts me fully for who I am,” Kubozono continued, “I truly think I am this confident today because I have such a supportive mother like her.”

Deprived of education herself in wartime, Hong wanted her children to receive the best possible education. She walks the walk but never wanted to talk the talk. Kubozono went to a secondary school in Canada and stayed there for five years, and is about to start college in the United States this autumn. But there is no time for him to celebrate.

“She was looking forward to traveling the world once I graduate from college and have my own job.”

Without any smoking history, Hong was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer last February and it has spread to the brain due to a gene mutation and was told she only has 3 to 6 months to live – a “secret” Kubozono was only told of after he was accepted to university.

“I know she was super devastated because I’m just 18 years old and about to go to college,” said Kubozono, “she just basically works hard her whole life…and really hasn’t had the chance to enjoy her life fully.”

“She was looking forward to traveling the world once I graduate from college and have my own job. But this prognosis meant there was a high chance this will never come true.”

After losing her hair, instead of getting a wig, Hong decided to rock her new hairstyle. Courtesy: Ichiro Kubozono

“I saved up so that I could take her to travel, but then a month after her diagnosis, COVID hit the world, making traveling impossible.”

But rather than be dragged into the dark, Hong chooses to embrace every day with a smile. Although she was admitted to ICU in December due to a stroke caused by the swelling of her brain and was given a low chance of surviving, she made it through and was out of the hospital in just 5 days.

Three months ago, she lost all her hair due to the whole brain radiotherapy treatment. Instead of buying a wig, Hong said, “This is the only chance I get to rock this hairstyle, so why not?”

Hong was admitted to ICU last December due to a stroke caused by the swelling of her brain. Courtesy: Ichiro Kubozono

Now, it is only two months before Kubozono leaves Vietnam for the US. Rather than excitement, it is the worry and guilt driven by the fact that he would have to leave his mum that get stronger by day as the days passed. “It has hit me that the next two months could be my last time with her since with her illness, we don’t know what will happen at any time.”

“Knowing that…breaks my heart,” he added, “because I really want her at my graduation ceremony, my wedding and I really want her to enjoy life fully, for once.”

When Kubozono apologised that he couldn’t be next to her, surprisingly, yet not surprisingly, in one of the hardest times in her life, Hong said, “Ichiro, you’re giving me the best present by going to the States.

“By going to college and showing me that my son is doing what he loves and thriving, you’re letting me know that I have done my job and nothing makes me happier than that.”

“I want to leave this world knowing that I was able to give you everything that I never had. Thank you, Ichiro, for showing me that.”


This story was originally posted by Ichiro Kubozono. It has been edited for length and published here with permission.

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