Vietnamese refugees, who they are and what they stand for

by Tina Freeland

“Tina, wait up!”

Kurt, an associate called out and raced to catch up with me as I was walking on the quiet and leafy path, that we affectionately named the “luncheon corridor”, leading to a buzzing downtown Burbank.

I slowed down to wait for him. As soon as we were near enough to hear each other, he said, excitedly, still trying to catch his breath:

-“Tina, this weekend I saw a large group of Vietnamese people protesting in Monarch beach. I have never seen so many Vietnamese in one place…It was unbelievable! As soon as the motorcade carrying someone appeared, these Vietnamese protestors spilled into the intersection, blocking traffic, yelling, screaming, waving flags and chanting “Freedom for Vietnam. “Democracy for Vietnam”. Do you know anything about it?

I gazed at him, taking a good look at his face for the first time, even though we have been working together in the same company for nearly a year. An American in his mid 40s, his face wore an expression of genuine concern and interest. He would have been about 15 years old when it all happened. Too young too know, perhaps?

-“I know only too well”. I said. “The Vietnamese refugee communities have been planning for that protest for almost two months”

– “Really? What was it all about? Why so much hatred and anger against your own people?

-“Kurt, what you saw is not hatred at all! It is love, the love we Vietnamese all have for the country we left behind.” I told him quietly.

His question is not too different from what my dear 14 year old son asked me a few months ago: “M? oi m?, sao mình không ? Vi?t Nam mà l?i ? M?? T?i sao mình c? ph?i di bi?u tình?” (“Mom, why do we live in America? And why do we have to go to these protests”)?

Both of their questions made me realize something important: Not only our youth needs help in defining who they are, but our friends in the countries where we are now residing also need to better understand who we are and what we stand for.

Who they are

At the core of the Vietnamese refugees are nearly a million people, who fled Vietnam in terror, right after the Vietnamese Communists took over South Vietnam by force at the end of April 1975. They left by plane, by boat, some even on their feet, leaving the lives they had built up to that point behind.

They left in a hurry, bringing with them few possessions, for there was not enough time to gather more than a few pieces of personal documents or articles of clothing. They left, flinging themselves into the open sea, running through and hiding in thick jungles, not knowing where their final destination may be, just as long as they can escape from the jaws of a regime they know they cannot live with.

They were running for their lives, yet ironically, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones in order to do so. Many never made it to their destination. They were the people who have lived through the horrors of the Land Reform years of 1952 to 1956, and who have migrated from North to South Vietnam right after the Geneva agreement in 1954 like my parents did.

They were the people who have witnessed and survived the massacre of Tet Offensive, Mau Than 1968, of the bloody battle of Summer of 1972. They decided to choose either death or freedom, because they knew under the rule of the communists, they will have no freedom at all. No freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or even the freedom to raise their children according to the Vietnamese traditional values.

Like some of my uncles, they were the brave soldiers who were forced to drop their weapons and surrender at a moment’s notice, unable to fulfill their duties in protecting their country from foreign invasion, and to ensure that the Vietnamese people can enjoy democracy and freedom.

Like my aunt, they were the wives who had to leave their husbands still being tortured and incarcerated in various concentration camps. Urged by their husbands, leaving half of their soul behind, they left, in the hope that they can build a new future for their children somewhere outside of Vietnam.

Like my brother and I, they were the young teenagers who have never lived a day away from home, but during the chaos of that black April, left Vietnam unexpectedly. They left without their parents, losing everything at the blink of an eye: Their country, their family, their home, their school, their friends.

Devastated, broken, penniless, frighten about the future and worried about the ones they left behind, these lost souls managed to gather their courage, rebuilt their lives one piece at a time and eventually settled in their new home. But even in the lands of abundance, in the eighties, they still could never enjoy a good meal. How could they? They knew that their relatives in Vietnam were not having enough to eat. Food was hard to come by and people were starving, but there was very little they could do about it.

32 years later (today), these people have firmly established new roots in their second homeland. Some are now holding high positions in the local governments. Some are top executives in prosperous companies. Some own successful businesses. Some are scientists, doctors, lawyers. Some work in blue-collared jobs in factories, some are unemployed, some are between jobs… You will find Vietnamese people in all walks of life: The rich, the poor, the conservatives trying to hold fast to Asian traditions, the liberals trying hard to be just like a Westerner.

They all have one thing in common: They proudly identify themselves as “Refugees”, because they left Vietnam in search for refuge against the Vietnamese Communist Party. They have another thing in common: They cannot forget their root or their own people. They are very serious about having a Vietnam free and prosperous.

And just as in the eighties they could not enjoy a good meal because their people in Vietnam do not have enough to eat. Vietnamese refugees today can’t completely enjoy their freedom because their people in Vietnam have no freedom whatsoever under a dictatorship regime.

The Vietnamese refugee community were able to finally help their loved ones put food on the table by sending home their hard earned money, as much as 5 billion US dollars a year. Unfortunately, they have not figured out how to send home some freedom.

What They Stand for

Many people wonder why Vietnamese refugees are still so full of hatred and anger after 32 years. Why couldn’t they just forget about the past? Why do they continue to oppose the Vietnamese Communist government? What for?

The answer is really very simple!

First and foremost, they are not motivated by hatred and anger at all. Their hearts are full of love for their country and their people.

Secondly, they are not clinging to the past. The same reasons that caused them to leave Vietnam back in 1975 still exist today.

For instance, the “Vietnamese Communist Party” (VCP) allow their members to confiscate farmers of their land and poor people of their homes. At this moment, in Saigon, hundreds of Vietnamese people, victims of these robberies protesting the unlawful seizure of their lands for development projects have been camping out in front of the local National Assembly office since June 22, 2007. The numbers of protesters are expected to grow since their grievances are not being addressed.

There are many other problems relating to human rights, democracy and freedom existing today: The VCP persecuted political protesters and threw them in jail for peaceful expression of their political beliefs. Their voices are silenced. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, and no rights to peaceful assembly. Of the nearly 600 newspapers existing in Vietnam, all are run by the communist party. These newspapers are only allowed to publish communist propaganda. None is free to report the truth.

The recent elections in June 2007 are neither free nor fair because all candidates were chosen by the VCP. The so-called government forces themselves on the Vietnamese people. Like gangsters, they work together to protect their power so that they can continue to sell the country’s resources for their own gain. Not only resources are being sold by the corrupted government, innocent Vietnamese people, including young children are exploited, being exported to child labor market and sex trade.

In Vietnam today, there are hundreds of new billionaires and millionaires that are all communist party members, most have been in positions of power for less than 5 years. They live in luxury, squander hundreds of thousands of US dollars a night at the gambling table. But next to them, Vietnamese people are mostly poor and are deprived of food, medical care and sheltered. Some Vietnamese children live in trash dumps, some are illiterate, and some are being sold into child slavery. Most Vietnamese women cannot afford to realize a dream that any woman in the free world takes for granted: To marry and raise a family with the man they love.

The Vietnamese refugees who love their country have no choice but to continue to fight and to criticize the VCP regime. They do it because the people inside Vietnam are not allowed to. They do it because they want Vietnamese political prisoners to be unconditionally released. They do it because they want to support the brave people inside Vietnam who have stood up for their rights. They do it because they want the world to know about the crimes the VCP are committing against their own people. They do it because the Vietnamese people deserve to have basic human rights and to have a government that cares about them.

I personally know of many Vietnamese refugees who spend every dime they have to fight for and support the democracy movement inside and outside of Vietnam. I know many who work tirelessly, writing letters, making phone calls, meeting people, lobbying for support, and they will not stop working until Vietnam is freed. The next time you run across a group of Vietnamese people in some other protests, take a closer look. They may be loud, they may look angry, excited, and/or worked up. But if you look into their eyes, you will see the love they have for their country. You will see the pain they feel for their people still suffering inside Vietnam today.

Now that you understand the pain hidden in every oversea Vietnamese person’s heart, please support our movement for democracy. Please help us inform your government about the corruptions and abuses in Vietnam. Email them, call them, write them letters, talk to the people that you meet. Please do all that you can to inform them of this cruelty.

If you feel that you are too young to be interacting with the government, a way you can help our democracy movement is to spread the word. Tell all of your friends and family about what is happening to millions of human beings that are deprived of freedom. The more people that know about it, the better it will be.

Please act now, there is not a moment to waste, for this is an ongoing problem that needs to be fixed.

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