News / Asia

Vietnamese Americans Save Memories For History

TEXT SIZE - +
Sarah Williams
On April 30, Vietnam will celebrate Liberation Day, a holiday marking the 38th anniversary of the reunification of North and South Vietnam following a 19-year conflict.
 
For Americans and their former South Vietnamese allies, that day in 1975 is remembered for the fall of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City,  the end of the Vietnam War, and a communist victory. 

Before those memories fade, a special effort has been undertaken to capture for posterity the stories of those Vietnamese who took refuge in the United States following the war.

Vietnamese boat people rescued northeast of Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, after spending eight days at sea. 15 May 1984. (US Navy)Vietnamese boat people rescued northeast of Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, after spending eight days at sea. 15 May 1984. (US Navy)
x
Vietnamese boat people rescued northeast of Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, after spending eight days at sea. 15 May 1984. (US Navy)
Vietnamese boat people rescued northeast of Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, after spending eight days at sea. 15 May 1984. (US Navy)
“The generation that can recall what Vietnam was like, what the war was like, and also what the experience of immigration, and then resettlement was like, are starting to pass [die], and so we desperately need to capture their stories now,” said Thuy Vo Dang, director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at the University of California, Irvine.

Located on a pleasant, leafy campus about 66 kilometers southeast of Los Angeles, California, the university is renowned for its Asian studies program.  That’s appropriate for a campus located in Orange County, which is home the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam, more than 180,000, according to the 2010 Census.

Two Orange County communities, Westminster and Garden Grove, are known as “Little Saigon,” and contain numerous Vietnamese restaurants, nail salons and other businesses.

The Oral History Project was launched in 2011, and is funded by an anonymous donor.  Researchers, including Vo Dang, interview participants about their memories of the Vietnam War and subsequent events. 

“I do many of the interviews, but I also train many of the students to do oral history interviews of Vietnamese Americans, who often are in their own families, or their neighbors or friends,” she said.

Thuy Vo Dang, Director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at the University of California, Irvine.Thuy Vo Dang, Director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at the University of California, Irvine.
x
Thuy Vo Dang, Director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at the University of California, Irvine.
Thuy Vo Dang, Director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at the University of California, Irvine.
Vo Dang was born in a small Vietnamese fishing village in the Mekong Delta, and arrived in the United States in 1984 as a child.  Like some of her interviewees, she spent time in a refugee camp, but she doesn’t remember the experience because she was so young. 

The participants have diverse stories to tell. “Many people have opened up to me about their private personal losses, the loss of children, what it was like to lose their homes multiple times, from 1954 to 1975, and having to rebuild,” Vo Dang said.

“These are the stories that really touch me, the ways in which people have persevered and tried to craft a legacy to the next generation.”

The final days of South Vietnam are recounted in the project’s archive. “A small number of my respondents left in 1975, and they could describe how the streets were filled with litter and guns, people had abandoned their ammunition on the side streets and the looting happened,” she said.

Some of the narrations concern those who had no way to escape post-war persecution except on the open seas.  Known as "boat people,"  the refugees had to face deadly storms, disease, starvation and pirates. The United Nations High commission for Refugees estimates between 200,000 and 400,000 died at sea.

“Something that’s not mentioned often is that people who left Vietnam by boat often had to do that many times,” Vo Dang said. “And they failed and they were in prison for that, because at that time in the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s people who tried to leave Vietnam were considered traitors, and so they would be put into prison.”

For those who made it to the United States, the new surroundings were often perplexing. “They were baffled by the grocery stores or how fast cars are going in the road,” she said.

The stories of endurance are particularly significant, according to Vo Dang.  She describes one woman who worked in a Los Angeles sweatshop for 30 years, and who agreed to be interviewed following her son’s urging.

“I told her, ‘how many people will share that experience in public, and what that was like to raise a family, a full family, where your children are going on to do great things, you have successes to share,’” she said. “Those struggles are great; those struggles need to be shared as well.”

The university’s Southeast Asian Archive is a leading center for stories of people from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Donated photographs and documents supplement the oral histories.

“This is the rightful place for this collection to be safeguarded for future researchers, for people who want to make a film or documentary, or students who maybe want to write a paper about Vietnamese Americans,” she said. “Certainly, I hope to see publications come out of this collection in the future.”

Vo Dang has returned to Vietnam twice since settling in the U.S., once for research, and once for her honeymoon. “My husband and I left when we were really young and we wanted to share that experience of discovering our homeland together,” she said.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
March 24, 2013 10:12 AM
No need to open old wound and lick. But our children and grandchildren need to know why we are here in the USA.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid