My First Halloween: An Immigrant Story

Us kids had heard about All Hallow's Eve -- that it was a dress-up holiday and we could get free candy if we went door to door. Kids at school had been wound up tight, yapping away about it. All you needed was some imagination and a pillow case to snatch up the loot that seemed littered everywhere in the streets of America.

It seemed like a no-lose proposition.

On the appointed day, I dressed up as a pirate. I ripped up an old T-shirt and spent a dollar on an eye patch. I sketched in a nice five o'clock shadow and mustache with an eyeliner pencil. A red bandana on my head completed the look.

Both a sword and a hoop earing were impractical. I could not hold the sword, ring a doorbell and carry a bag. And I did not have a piercing. "We can make a piercing for you," my brother told me, describing the cork and needle that would do the job.

He liked yanking my chain.

My mom made me wear a jacket over the costume because, still, she thought the Los Angeles night was frightfully chilly. "You'll die out there in all this cold." I still remember the stony feeling of disappointment-the hours spent on my costume, now ruined. A hoop earing, catching the glint of a porch light, might have rescued the farce that was my get-up -- made it recognizable -- but, now, it was too late. We were already out the door, all six of us, a herd.

My mom had told me in great detail about Thai pirates who would board a ship full of Vietnamese refugees -- usually small vessels-and steal everybody's gold and rape the women. It had not happened to us but it did happen to friends of friends. That story took on that quality of the legendary and real so important for a truly bone chilling tale of terror.

Now I know that Thai pirates look nothing like those cartoon buccaneers that we think of as romantic. Modern day pirates are more likely to wear flip flops rather than boots. But in the stories my mother told me -- and for a long time thereafter when hearing of other Vietnamese people's encounters with pirates -- I could only imagine a man in a hoop earring, a bandana and sword, like that Captain Morgan who stands proudly on those bottles of rum.

No matter. You soon forget whatever you're supposed to represent when overwhelmed by the high fructose greed that comes of Snickers bars and gold wrapped Almond Rocas. Adults may ask you "what are you dressed up as" but you know that, in your heart of hearts lurks a green snaggle-toothed monster: a snatcher of candies.

There were six of us out there trick-or-treating and our hearts beat with that one thought of more and more and more.

After a half hour of trick or treating, my mom found us. She had a panicked look on her face. Our folks had not taken into account the fact that neighborhood kids would knock on our door, begging for treats.

From candy snatchers to candy recyclers, we became an engine of redistribution. While five of us trick or treated, one of us served as runner, bringing a sack of candy back to the house and pouring it out on the dining room table -- a motley of shine and glisten, foil-wrapped and bright. I can laugh at this now but it wasn't that funny at the time and I did not quite realize that fantastic cosmic joke that was embedded into my costume, which was, after all, a tribute to the fantastic thrill of piracy.