Remembering the 1996 ‘Hey Arnold!’ Christmas Special That Made Asian Americans Cry
Children’s holiday specials are usually filled with cheer, Yuletide mischief, and light-hearted conundrums. However, this wasn’t the case for the 1996 “Hey Arnold!” Christmas special that broke our hearts and still stays relevant today.
In the episode “Arnold’s Christmas,” Arnold was paired with his Vietnamese immigrant neighbor, Mr. Hyunh (deliberately spelled incorrectly by the show), and learned that Mr. Hyunh was separated from his toddler daughter during the Vietnam War.
Presumably during the Fall of Saigon, Mr. Hyunh and his daughter, Mai, sought to escape South Vietnam on an American helicopter. Fighting through a crowd of other citizens, Mr. Hyunh begged the Americans to take him and his daughter. However, the solider declared that the aircraft could only fit one more person.
Realizing what he had to do, Mr. Hyunh tearfully hugged Mai goodbye.
“I had to make the most difficult decision of my life and I had to do the best thing for Mai. I knew if I gave Mai to the soldier, they would take care of her. They would find a home for her. And then as soon as I could, I would come out of the country and find her again.”
Mr. Hyunh tells Arnold that he immigrated to the city they live in to find Mai, but was never able to locate her after coming to America. He had not seen Mai in over 20 years.
“Sometimes it is so difficult, I almost give up hope. But I never stop thinking about her. I will never stop trying. I would do anything to see her again, to know that she is happy.”
As a result of a Christmas miracle, and Helga’s sacrifice of her prized boots to a records official, Mr. Hyunh and Mai were happily reunited on Christmas Day.
Needless to say, this is one holiday special that always left us sobbing. It still jerks tears today, with many chiming in to say how it made them cry or reminded them of their own tragedies.
Mr. Hyunh, Mai, and Arnold had a happy ending, with many outlets praising how the cartoon portrayed an honest immigrant story. However, many also called out how over 20 years later, families are still being separated to this day.