Posted on Fri, Dec. 30, 2005

Refugees are a phone call away from a new life

By DAVID HALDANE
Los Angeles Times

MANILA, Philippines — Hanh Luong and her two young sons spend their time huddled next to a packed suitcase with their cellphone nearby.

For more than two months they have lived in a small dank room that a refugee organization leased in one of the poorest sections of the Philippine capital, awaiting a call they know will soon come.

Luong, who is Vietnamese, says she doesn’t mind the long hours of boredom sitting on the hard floor. Her family shares the room with seven others, who also use the same hot plate and toilet, but she doesn’t mind that either. For at the end of that coveted phone call, she says, lies fulfillment of a powerful dream: Escape, after 16 years in the Philippines, to a new life in the United States.

“I’m just happy that my family has a future,” says Luong, 48, who will join a sister in El Monte, Calif. “Whatever job is offered me, I will take it, even if it’s washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom.”

Luong and hundreds of her compatriots in the Philippines constitute the last group of unsettled Vietnamese refugees. Thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, most of them are at last proceeding to hopeful futures in the United States.

The less fortunate talk of suicide and weep over being left behind. Goodbyes are bittersweet.

“I feel lonely when I send some of my friends to the airport, because I don’t know when I will see them again,” Luong says.

Resettlement became possible only after American and Philippine officials hammered out an agreement last year. Until 1989, anyone escaping Vietnam was classified a political refugee.

Since then, however, the international community has screened refugees to determine whether they left for economic reasons, a finding that often bars them from legal immigration.

Having left their country about the time the policy changed, the Vietnamese still in the Philippines, many of them among the last who escaped their homeland by sea, have been living a stateless existence.

Unwanted by other countries and unable to own businesses, buy homes or hold most jobs, most have eked out sparse livings as illegal street vendors.

Many initially lived in a refugee camp on Palawan, a remote island about 360 miles southwest of Manila. In 1996, the camp was closed and the Philippine government, under U.N. supervision, began returning them to Vietnam.

Some refugees responded by attempting suicide, community workers say, and others rioted at the airport. Finally, after human rights groups and the Philippine Catholic Church intervened, the repatriation was halted.

Under the revised resettlement program, the first 229 displaced refugees left for the United States in September. By March, an estimated 1,600 are expected to have made the trip.

Nearly 500 refugees have been barred from immigrating because they married Filipinos who cannot legally accompany them under the program, or because they allegedly misrepresented their cases.

Among them is Hue Thi Le, 45. With her husband and six children, she lives in a small two-bedroom apartment a few blocks from Luong’s tiny room. Fourteen years ago, she says, desperate to leave Vietnam after the last of her Catholic-missionary husband’s stints in a communist prison, the family told a lie.

For years, her family had cared for the child of an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, she says. Such children are given special immigration status by the U.S. government. In their haste to escape, she says, the family falsely claimed the child as a relative. The child has since immigrated to America, but U.S. officials denied the family’s request to follow.

“I see nothing but pitch darkness,” Le says. “I’d commit suicide if it weren’t for my children and religion.”

Philippine officials did not respond to requests for comment about the refugee situation.

Similar stories of anticipation and dejection are heard on the island of Palawan. After the camp closed in 1996, at least 400 refugees were moved 10 miles to a site called “Vietville” that the Catholic Church built. Today about 40 remain, living in two-room huts made of concrete and bamboo.

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Agent orange

March 19, 2006

Ha Noi, Mar. 16 (VNA) – Thai Thi Nga, a 12-year-old girl from Ha Noi affected by Agent Orange, was selected for the second year in a row to sit on the international board presenting the Children Rights 2006 award.

The award, worth 100,000 USD and sponsored by Queen Silvia of Sweden, is granted to a person who has made great contributions to helping children who are refugees or victims of war or exploitation. Three million other children worldwide are expected to take part in choosing finalists by voting on-line at http://www.childrensworld.org.-Enditem

Vietnam Center Holds Lubbock Conference This Weekend

The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech is making history this weekend by adding something unique to its annual conference on the Vietnam War.
The center has been hosting conferences for more than 14 years, but this year is special because it`s the first academic conference to focus on the South Vietnamese soldiers who fought alongside American troops during the war.

Kiet Van Nguyen wanted freedom for his people, so he became a Navy Seal for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. He and other South Vietnamese soldiers were allies of the U.S. during the war.

“I believe Vietnamese and Americans fought together to bring down communism and I believe the U.S. wants to bring communists down,” he said.

Nguyen is a featured speaker at the conference. He is the only South Vietnamese soldier the U.S. government honored with a Navy Cross for his heroism during the war.

“He and a Navy Seal by the name of Tommy Norris went deep into enemy territory and rescued two Americans in a very dramatic battle between the Army of North Vietnam and South Vietnam,” said Darrel Whitcomb, a Vietnam Rescue Operations Expert.

The story of that rescue operation became a book and movie called “BAT-21”.

Other people attending the conference say highlighting the Vietnamese, like Nguyen, who fought with U.S. troops and why they did, is important.

“I think it`s important for Americans to understand their side because we live with them now as citizens of our country,” said Dr. Ron Milam, a Vietnam War veteran attending the conference.

“I think the attention the conference has gaine in the American-Vietnam community will mean further cooperation with them,” said Dr. James Reckner, the director of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech.

Nguyen lives in Seattle with his wife. He has become a U.S. citizen. He says if he wasn`t too old, he would be proud to fight for the U.S. against our current enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The conference continues through Saturday at the Holiday Inn Plaza. Organizers from Tech say this is the biggest turnout of Vietnamese veterans they have ever had at one of their conferences.

Filmmakers re-create tale of wartime courage
By Jennifer Modenessi
CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Eric Hayashi has led a life dedicated to service in the arts.

From National Endowment for the Arts theater program director to dramaturg, Asian American Theater company co-founder to film producer, the Walnut Creek resident has starred in a plethora of advocacy roles.

This time, however, Hayashi is nurturing a project that hits very close to home.

Hayashi is currently producing “Only the Brave,” an independent film that tells the story of the WWII-era all-volunteer Japanese-American 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. The film screens March 21 at San Francisco’s Kabuki Theatre as part of the Asian American International Film Festival.

For Hayashi, producing the film has been a labor of love. His involvement also carries much personal meaning. Both Hayashi and his longtime friend, “Only the Brave” writer, director and actor Lane Nishikawa, had uncles who served in WWII. In fact, Nishikawa’s uncles fought with the 100th/442nd unit, and their stories, particularly of the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” of Texas soldiers, served as direct inspiration for the complicated, layered and poignant film.

Q: It sounds like you feel very connected, personally and culturally, to “Only the Brave.”

A Very much so. For the last 30 years, ever since I started doing this creative work, we’ve always said there should be a story talking about the rescue of the Lost Battalion from Texas, because that was one of the penultimate stories for this unit. We would hear rumors that Hollywood was doing this and then something would fall through. Finally, at a certain point in time, Lane decided that he wanted to tell the story of the Lost Battalion.

We thought, “Do you really? Do you think we can handle this?” because we knew it was historical drama, costume — they’re all in military uniforms — people firing weapons, stuff that costs money. But we said, “We think we can do this.” After all, if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it? We’ve waited 30 years.”

Q: At times while watching “Only the Brave,” the staging and pace reminded me of theater. The focus seemed to be on characters and dialogue as opposed to scenery and context. Was that effect intentional?

A Deliberately so. Lane took his time in developing the journey that his and the other characters are on. It was a conscious choice because of the story of this military unit. And ultimately, Lane wanted to show the sheer love and sacrifice and trust that this squad of male characters have for one another. When you go into a dangerous situation and you’re in a combat zone like that, each life is so important, so the loss of one single person is going to affect the life of the whole.

Q: Can you describe your role in producing the film?

A Right now I’m one of three producers on the film. Each of the producers have their strengths and their contacts, plus Lane, who is the writer and director of this film, is also a producer.

Lane and I were doing the fund-raising, so we raised all the money. We traveled around the country, by phone and in person, to talk to small groups of people about the project and why the story is important and to solicit help.

Q: Has the film been screened by any veterans, and what has the reaction been like?

A There have been a series of mini-screenings to help raise money and finance the back of the picture, and it’s been phenomenal. You’re talking about a generation of people that are pretty stoic. They’ve been coming out wet-eyed and giving standing ovations. It’s amazing. In a way, we’re also doing it for our direct relatives. We’re trying to honor all of that. It’s also been very rewarding to me to meet the actual sources.

Q: So why do you think you’re drawn to the production and advocacy side of arts as opposed to the creative?

A I acted in one show, professionally with the Asian American Theater, but after that I realized that everyone wanted to act — nobody wanted to do the backstage stuff, nobody wanted to produce the business. It’s was an organic step that I took. I realized that I liked having the big view. Producing was challenging for me, but I’ve been a producer ever since.

“Only the Brave” screens at 6:30 p.m. March 21 at the Kabuki, 1881 Post St., S.F., and 6:45 p.m. March 25 at Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 South Second St., San Jose, as part of the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival. $7-$10. 800-225-2277.

Reach Jennifer Modenessi at jmodenessi@cctimes.com or 925-977-8483.