News / Asia

Vietnamese Americans Save Memories For History

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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid