This month’s Q/A segment features Huy Anh Phan, who was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and migrated to America in 1975, She is currently a resident of San Jose, CA. Anh was married for 33 years. She has a 32-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son.
Although her husband was emotionally and mentally abusive, Anh strived to uphold the traditional Vietnamese manner in which the wife serves the husband. She tried to please her husband by doing anything he would ask of her. Even at times when she would disagree with his actions or requests, she would seldom argue. She felt this was necessary in order to appease him to keep the peace within the home. For years, she put his interests before hers, even if it meant losing a part of herself.
In order to cope with the hardships at home, Anh spent her mornings in church and became active in the choir. There, she became a part of a supportive, spiritual and uplifting community. Church was her outlet and the people were her buoys. Soon, her husband began complaining about how she spent too much time at church and that her place was in the home, serving him. She was appalled that he was demanding that she choose him over God—the very source of her strength who had carried her through the years of tribulation.
Anh then further recognized his strong desire to isolate her from family, friends, and social activities, and to have complete control over her. It came to a point when he even required that she choose between him and the children. This is when she knew she had to break free.
Huy: I found my strength in God, love in my family, and support in old friends, with whom for years I had not been allowed to socialize. I made new friends who listened without judgment and found comfort in knowing that I made the best decision for myself – that I was now liberated and finally able to claim my life as my own.
My husband also kept me from my passion – singing. He never allowed me to be happy. After we separated, I began attending karaoke events with my family and friends, and being able to reconnect with my love of singing assisted me in the healing process. It also helped rebuild my confidence. Being surrounded by people who sincerely cared about me helped me feel like I was deserving of happiness and that my company, friendship and spirit were appreciated by others.
My confidence was so shattered, that even long after the separation, I didn’t believe in the sincerity of other’s compliments. I thought every one was flattering me to make me feel better. It wasn’t until more people would compliment my singing, or my hair, or my dress, that I started thinking, “Maybe I do sing well. Perhaps I ampretty.” I once again felt worthy.
PBT: How did your friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors treat you during this difficult time?
Huy: My loved ones consoled me by consistently reminding me of my worth. They would take me out to spend time outside of the house and reminded me that I was making the right decision to leave my husband and that I deserved to be happy – that God wanted me to be happy. That I was capable of being happy, but it could only happen if I was willing to separate myself from the destructive force in my life that I had endured for 33 years.
PBT: How has your past influenced you as the person you are today?
Huy: I appreciate the simple things in life much more now that my eyes have been opened my heart freed. I no longer question my value. I am more forgiving, more appreciative of the things that people do for me, since for so long I was the one living a life of servitude. I am more at peace with myself, and therefore more at peace with others.
PBT: What drives you today and how do you maintain this drive?
Huy: My renewed life drives me. I feel like I have been given a second chance at life – to experience life the way the God would want me to, embracing every moment, every experience and every step along the journey. I am driven by my will to happy – to be at peace. To be true to myself and the person I want to be.
Huy: I think that some of the most difficult issues people deal with, just as I had, is the habit to dwell on the past. It’s common to look back at the way things used to be when they were bearable – sometimes even good. But we must realize that those days are no more. It’s easy to find comfort in the familiar, but it takes great strength to walk away from the familiar when it’s not a healthy lifestyle.
PBT: What advice do you have for those who are recently divorced, widowed, or separated to help them move on to the next phase of their life?
Huy: Do something that you’ve always wanted to do, but were restrained to do while you were married. This is your chance to follow your passions. It’s time. Every moment is a chance to experience something you’ve been waiting to do, but were never allowed to do or never had time to do. This is your time. All that energy which was once focused on that negative force can now be focused on you. Not only will you find joy in following your passions, but your confidence will be brought back to life. Most people excel in the things they love to do and this allows their confidence to grow and blossom into something beautiful.
For me, I found joy in the various expressions of music – singing, dancing and listening. Revisiting my passions and talents helped liberate me. I hope for others to find their passions and engage in positive activities that will bring joy to their lives.
PBT: Who has inspired or motivated you in your life?
Huy: My mother inspires me. Among the consistent advice she has given me throughout my life is to be more tolerant of others, refrain from judging others, and to remain faithful regardless of circumstance. Sometimes I feel that although wise, her advice is beyond what human beings can possibly perform. I always felt that some of her advice was virtually impossible to follow – that only a saint could uphold some of the values she has. But she always has been able to practice what she’s preached all these years. That could possibly make her a saint.
PBT: Do you have a motto or phrase that inspires you?
Huy: “Singing and dancing are vitamins to the soul.” Haha. That’s my very own quote that I would refer to while in the healing process…which is a process that continues as long as we are living.
PBT: Anything else you’d like the readers to know about you?
Huy: I grew up in Vietnam, where women are expected to be submissive. I know that if I had the strength to break free from the bondage that was passed down from hundred of years, and also after 33 years of a restricting marriage, that anyone can break free as well. I hope for others to find their source of liberation.