Politics or Generation Gap?

Editor’s Note:  Many mainstream Americans are just as baffled regarding the different viewpoints between the more open-minded young Vietnamese Americans versus their conservative elders.  The following e-mail exchange between a young college student’s and a thirtyish Political Science college professor at the University of Houston is a typical example. While the issues of what is good for Viet-Nam currently are more complex than can be summed up in a couple of emails, we invite readers to join in the debate and send in their responses.  –  T.A.

I thought I share with you an email from a young Vietnamese American about her thoughts/issues of the community. To some extent, I hear this perspective from a number of young Vietnamese Americans, who are interested in community involvement, but who, at the same time, see community politics as a detriment in addressing their issues of concern; and, perhaps, may impede their future involvement.  I also include my responses, but I really just want to know how others would respond.

The only thing I have changed in the below email exchanges is taking out the student’s name.

Take care,

___________________________

Dear Dr. Le,

My name is (name withheld).  I am a college freshman at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.  I was born in the U.S., and have always lived in Massachusetts.

Ever since I participated in a political rally in Boston to protest (prime minister) Phan Van Khai’s visit to the U.S., I have had many revelations about the Vietnamese community that currently confuse and baffle me. I have many questions, but I do not know whom to turn to since there are very little Vietnamese activists in my area. Also, I am afraid to turn to the adults who I respect because they will probably regard me as a “Communist” for my different views. When I came upon your website, I immediately found interest in your polls and thought that perhaps with your knowledge, I finally have a person to talk to about this.

In the past summer, I have tried to look up information online, educating myself further about the Vietnamese community elsewhere (Viet Kieu/expats), the Vietnamese society in Vietnam, Vietnam’s current economy, Vietnam’s education, the Vietnamese youth in VN and elsewhere, and various other aspects. I want to become a Vietnamese American “scholar” and do not want to make blind comments without knowing the problems and potentials of the Vietnamese people as a whole.

Although I’m not much a person of politics, I feel very strongly about Vietnamese global cooperation, regardless of political background. I support Vietnamese people working together to improve the homeland and elsewhere, regardless if they are Cong Hoa (RVN) or Cong San (Communists).  For example, if all Vietnamese people were able to focus on the larger goals, such as improvement for the people living standards in Vietnam instead of RVN/Communist flag display clashes, we would get more done. I absolutely agree with Dr. Doan Viet Hoat’s philosophy (1). Do you think this is wrong?

There are many things that I agree with the Vietnamese community elsewhere, and there are things that I do not. Most of all though, I am very much interested in learning about the work of young Vietnamese activists both in and outside of Vietnam.

If I write down all aspects of my view, this will be a very lengthy email, and I do not want to consume too much of your time. Perhaps I can reveal more of my view to you in later emails. I appreciate any help you can offer me in sorting out my thoughts and views.

Regards,

(Name withheld).

___________________________

To XXXXXXXX:

I’m glad to hear that you are so interested – and at a very earlier age – in promoting the common good for Vietnamese people in the United States and in Vietnam, as well as an academic career.  A lot of things can be said about politics in the Vietnamese -American community. One is that “anti-communism” means different things at different times.  For example, anti-communism in the early1980s was very rigid and a person could be “silenced” if he/she was not deemed to be anti-communist. Today, anti-communism has changed. For the most part, it’s no longer “fighting communism” but improving human rights in Vietnam, people could go back to Vietnam without any physical threats, do non-profit work in Vietnam, there’s a dialogue about how to engage with the VCP rather than to isolate, etc.  And as you noted, increasingly, many are doing such things.

It is also possible that “anti-communism” can mean strengthening the community and helping the less unfortunate, as was the case in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After Katrina and Rita, you see the community organizing and mobilizing to help their fellow peers (the same people who also campaigned against the communist flag, the visit of Viet-Nam’s prime minister, etc); hopefully this will translate more focus on domestic issues. Related is that Vietnamese -American communities, while similar in some respects, are also different in other aspects, depending whether the community is located in the south (like Houston), West (like Orange County and San Jose), north (like Boston) and east (like DC). That is, some communities like the one here in Houston have a younger, more Americanized leadership, and that the older leadership tends to be more tolerant of, and for, younger leaders/organizations. This brings to the point that progress in our community requires good leadership, one that not only see the divisions but can also bridge the divisions, both in the United States and in Vietnam.  On an individual level, you’re unlikely to change an adult’s sentiments against communist rule in Vietnam, the symbol of the South Vietnam flag or communist flag, the picture of Ho chi Minh, etc. but you can channel this anti-communist sentiment or energy to something else, like fundraising for Vietnamese classes at a university, which students at University of Houston have recently done.  Students were able to raise over $20,000 from the community to establish a Vietnamese studies program—soon there will be minor in Vietnam studies at UH as a result.  There are examples of this across our communities, although such achievements sometimes are not covered in the mainstream media. Regarding the transnational ties between Vietnamese in the U.S. and Vietnamese in Vietnam, there are major “barriers” due not only to language, culture, class, but also politics. While non-profit work and businesses are allowed in Vietnam, issues and policies that could better the lives of millions are off the table. It also important to note that issues such as human rights and democratic norms, as advocated by the overseas Vietnamese, are important to Vietnam’s development, achieving sustained economic development as well as allowing greater involvement for overseas Vietnamese.   This problem will also depend on good leadership, particularly in Vietnam.  There’s more to say, of course.  Though I may sound optimistic, I also see the difficulties among the young-generation of Vietnamese -Americans in participating and leading the community, sometimes because of the politics in our community. Keep in touch and feel free to email me anytime.  I’ll respond, though I may be slow.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Long Le

(1) Dr. Doan Viet Hoat philosophy is assumed to be of concord and reconciliation for the people of Viet-Nam, since most of the Vietnamese populace are held incognito from the free flow of information by their leaders, they may consider democratization efforts by overseas Vietnamese as reactionary.

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