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The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Vietnam’s scars revealed on SE

EMBARGOED FOR USE UNTIL SUNDAY APRIL 23 AND THEREAFTER — KRT WORLD NEWS STORY SLUGGED: VIETNAM-KARNOW KRT PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE VIETNAM NEWS AGENCY VIA THE SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (KRT135 – April 19) Liberation troops arrive at the Presidential Palace in Saigon, South Vietnam in this April 1975 file photograph. Now, a quarter-century since helicopters precariously lifted frantic thousands to safety from the roof of the U.S. Embassy building in Saigon to vessels off the coast, Vietnam persistently haunts Americans. (SJ) PL BL KD 2000 (Horiz.) (kn) (B&W ONLY) —

By Linah Mohammad/se news editor

For Americans, April 30 marks the end of the Vietnam War. 

For northern Vietnamese, it marks the end of the American War.

Huong Dinh wears an ao dai, the traditional dress of southern Vietnam. The SE hospitality management student moved to the United States from Vietnam two years ago. Photo by Linah Mohammad/The Collegian
Huong Dinh wears an ao dai, the traditional dress of southern Vietnam. The SE hospitality management student moved to the United States from Vietnam two years ago.
Photo by Linah Mohammad/The Collegian

For southern Vietnamese, however, it marks their loss of a homeland.

When Americans think of the war, they often think of stories of men fighting over there, not the stories of the refugees among them.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has the fourth-largest Vietnamese population in the nation, and Vietnamese is the third-most commonly spoken language in Texas.

Long Nguyen, SE computer science student, said his family moved here two years ago from Vietnam because they wanted a better future for their children.

“It’s more fair here than in Vietnam,” Nguyen said. “When you graduate in my country, the degree is just a paper. It doesn’t really mean so much. It’s like a mousepad.”

Huong Dinh, SE hospitality management student, moved here two years ago, but she said the majority of the Vietnamese population moved here as refugees long ago, mostly because of the war.

“My parents tell me a lot about the war,” Dinh said. “But I don’t want to hear it because it is a lot of brutality.”

Dinh, similarly, refuses to talk of the war.

“We are newborn, and we are brainwashed,” she said. “We are brainwashed because under the communist party, they force everything into your brain. They just teach you that they are very good, that they do this good thing, that good thing, that the U.S. Army is wicked, stupid and dumb.”

According to her, the Vietnamese cannot find any evidence, any book or anything about a war.

“Everything disappeared,” she said. “You can only see the good things about Vietnam. You cannot see any bad thing about Vietnam. That’s how we are brainwashed!”

Two SE professors were some of the older refugees to the U.S.

James Dang, computer science associate professor, escaped the country by a sailboat while biology professor Hung Vu fled the country on his feet.

Dang left along with his pregnant wife during midnight of the Vietnamese new year.

“Before I left, they told me it’s a 50-50 chance. I took the risk,” Dang said. “I even have a friend who died while escaping on a boat. They got lost, they had no food and their boat sunk. As we boarded our small sailing boat with 79 passengers, I had nowhere to sleep or lay down, only to crouch.”

When their sailboat finally reached Malaysian shores, their story took another turn. The Malaysians wouldn’t let them in.

“They kicked us out three times,” he said. “With a sailboat that has no engine, we could only move with the current. After the third time, we destroyed the boat. We punctured it. Then, they let us in and allowed us to be residents.”

With the help of his sister who was already in America, Dang’s family could leave Malaysia and come to the United States.

“My family came as refugees 35 years ago, and like many of the refugees, we did not know what the future might hold,” he said. “But when I reached freedom’s shore, the country extended its generosity. America is a land of opportunity. The place has given me freedom, liberty and education.”

Dang described communism as similar to Catholicism. A Catholic himself, he said just like confessions are an important part in Catholicism, they are in a communist society.

“You need to confess every Friday about the wrong things you did,” he said. “It looks like you are confessing. Occasionally, you go to the father and talk about your sins. Over there, they do the same thing in front of everybody.”

Back in Vietnam, people who had any relation either to the previous southern government or to the U.S. escaped. Most of the ones who stayed were either executed on-site or persecuted.

One of them was Vu’s father, who went to a communist re-education camp. They told Vu’s family that he was to stay there for three days. He stayed for 18 years.

“They put him in jail. They called it a re-education camp, but it was a jail,” Vu recalled. “You see how clever they were? They don’t handcuff you and tell you you’re going to jail. They said, ‘Come to the school. We are going to re-educate you.’ They got everybody in that school, and they shoved them in a truck. I didn’t hear from my father until a year later.”

Re-education camps were a place where the government imprisoned officials from the former southern government.

They shackled the prisoners and in the daytime made them work on the farms. Many prisoners died of starvation, others were shot while trying to escape and many others got sick and died.

“It’s not like the U.S. [prison system] where there is healthcare,” Vu said. “If you got sick, you died. That’s it.”

The new communist government did not stop there. Little by little, they took over Vu’s house.

“One thing about communists is that they’re clever,” he said. “They are not going to come and say, ‘Give us your house!’ They don’t do that. They said they needed a table set in the front of our house. We said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ Eventually, our house was no longer our house.”

When fleeing the country, Vu took the land route because it was cheaper.

“I walked by land. There was eight of us, and I was 17 years old,” he said. “My family only sent me because they couldn’t afford to send everybody. It took me 12 days to get to Thailand. However, the story became more complicated because they closed their border. They closed the door.

“Seven months later, my brother followed my footsteps. He joined me in my jail — I call it. In the NW 82 refugee camp,” he said. “I was caught by the Khmer Rouge, the communist Cambodians, who hated Vietnamese and killed them like crazy. They had little kids who carried guns higher than them.”

Vu was caught in the no man’s land between Cambodia and Thailand. He wasn’t allowed in Thailand because they closed their border, and he couldn’t go back to Cambodia because it was a Communist country that Vietnam was trying to take over. It would’ve been as if he had never left.

“For the first six months, we didn’t have anything. We just lived in the jungle,” he said. “We built a roof on a tree. So it’s raining? Too bad, you sleep.”

The International Red Cross later found these refugee camps and brought the issue to the international arena. They also arranged for the U.S. embassy to interview them.

“I remember when I was being interviewed, the bombing was going on,” he said. “That’s why the Americans said, ‘We have to do this quick.’”

He later moved to the U.S. along with his brother settling in Houston. They reunited with their family around 1991 in Dallas.

“Vietnam now has a bad education system,” Nguyen said. “The government doesn’t care about our education.”

Vu added that Vietnam under the communist party is a corrupt land, controlled by favoritism and bribery.

“Vietnam used to be my home country. But not anymore,” Dang said while recalling his exodus out of Vietnam. “Vietnam once stood as a place called home, but now it only contains the memories.”

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