What are some challenges Ha and her family face when finding a home in Inside Out and Back Again?

Some challenges Ha and her family face when finding a home in Inside Out and Back Again include a dangerous voyage, being ostracized in their new community, and having to come to terms with the fact that their father has died.

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All of the many challenges faced by Ha and her family ultimately stem from their being forced to leave their war-torn homeland of Vietnam.

They live in Saigon in the south of the country, where Ha’s mother and father originally moved to escape the Communists. Now that the Communists are closing in on Saigon, and the city is ready to fall at any moment, Ha’s mother makes the fateful decisions to up sticks and leave the country. Clearly there is no future for the family in Vietnam.

Although Ha and her family have escaped the clutches of the Communists their problems are far from over. Once they’ve completed a long, arduous sea journey—which itself something of a challenge, especially during the early stages of the journey—they go to the United States, where they will face their biggest challenge of all: assimilating into American society.

Ha finds it difficult to adapt to her new school, not least because none of the other students looks like her. She’s seriously not exaggerating when she says that she would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama. Ha’s estrangement from her new environment is further heightened by her lack of English.

To make matters worse, Ha’s family are generally not welcome in their new neighborhood. There’s obviously a great deal of prejudice against them, as can be observed when a brick with a threatening note attached to it is thrown through the family’s window. In order to counter the prejudice that exists against them, Ha and her family start attending a local Baptist church; it is hoped that this will facilitate their assimilation into the community.

But this presents a further challenge to Ha’s mother, who still feels the need to maintain traditional Buddhist religious practices at home, especially as she needs the comfort it provides due to the painful absence of her husband, missing and presumed dead.

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When war forces Ha and her family to flee their home in Vietnam, change comes abruptly. The first challenge they face is getting space on the rogue Navy ship which takes them away from Vietnam. The ship winds up being so crowded that people are scared it will sink, but then a second boat shows up to take some of the people who made it onto the first boat.

After facing challenges such as slow movement and boredom on their long voyage to Guam, Mother was required to single-handedly make the challenging decision as to where the family should go—and she chooses the USA.

The next set of challenges presented themselves to the Ha family when they arrived in Alabama. As the only child of Asian descent in her class, Ha is immediately picked on by a boy who she describes as having "pink skin and white hair." It takes Ha a long time to make friends or develop any kind of sense of belonging. All of this, of course, is extremely exacerbated by her lack of proficiency in English. Over and above Kim Ha's personal difficulties in being accepted at school, the entire family comes face to face with being ostracized by their community when their home is vandalized, and a threatening note attached to a brick is flung through the window.

The family also eventually has to come to terms with the reality of their father's death back in Vietnam.

In a nutshell, the family faces a year of immense challenges when they are forced to relocate from Vietnam to the USA. It is when Tet rolls around again, with its renewal of luck, that the worst seems to be over.

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After having left Vietnam because of the Communist take-over, Ha, her three brothers, and her mother arrive at two immigration camps, Guam and then Florida, where, in order for them to leave, they must be sponsored by an American. After a while a man called "Cowboy" comes from Alabama for them on August 7.

  • While he is friendly, his wife is not, and she tells them to stay out of sight
  • They are then taken to the basement, but mother tells her family there is more room there than on the ship. Mother tells the children, "Until you children master English, you must think, do, wish for nothing else."
  • The food is not to their liking. When Cowboy brings them fried chicken to eat, Mother is unable to eat it because she and the others are used to free-roaming chickens that are "tight" in texture, not like bread as is this chicken.
  • Because they live in the basement, there are high windows only for them to look out; consequently, they cannot see much and Ha writes that they live in "Clean, quiet, loneliness."
  • After a while Cowboy rent a house for them on Princess Ann Road, but the furniture is ugly and the dishes do not match. Ha misses the pretty things they had back in Vietnam.
  • When Ha registers at school, she can feel the pity of the woman who writes things down, but she does not want this pity.
  • When she meets the class, a heavy boy with pink skin makes fun of her looks.
  • Ha tells her brother Vu that the other children pulled her arm hair, threw rocks at her, called her names, and promised to stomp on her chest, calling her Ching Chong
  • Her brother relates that someone bothered him, so he fought back by drop-kicking him.
  • Ha endures more name-calling and insults, such as asking if she eats dog-meat.
  • The family experiences terrible homesickness; mother prays and talks at night to the father about how hard it is to live in America.
  • Cowboy thinks they should be baptized in the local Baptist Church, but privately Ha's mother still lights candles to Budda.
  • To avoid the insults, Ha eats her lunch hiding in the bathroom at school. Miss Washington arranges for Ha to eat in the empty classroom at lunchtime.
  • Pink Boy calls her "pancake face" and insults her with other name-calling
  • Children make fun of Buddha, shouting "Boo-da" after her one day.
  • The schoolchildren threaten to flatten Ha's face further. 
  • The family must accept that Father has died in the war.
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