The Last Boat Out of Vietnam: An American Success Story The Triumph of a Vietnamese-American Family in their Adopted Homeland
 
 
 
The legacy of the Vietnam War continues to resonate here in the United States. The current War in Iraq has rekindled debate and discussion about Vietnam, as people share memories and make comparisons. The war was certainly very tragic for many American soldiers and their families, but we don’t often hear stories about the South Vietnamese and their struggles against the Vietcong. After all this time, misconceptions still exist in the United States about what really happened over there.(PRWEB) April 6, 2006 — The legacy of the Vietnam War continues to resonate here in the United States. The current War in Iraq has rekindled debate and discussion about Vietnam, as people share memories and make comparisons. The war was certainly very tragic for many American soldiers and their families, but we don’t often hear stories about the South Vietnamese and their struggles against the Vietcong. After all this time, misconceptions still exist in the United States about what really happened over there.

“What many Americans don’t know is how grateful people in South Vietnam are to the American soldiers for giving their lives and helping to defend their country,” says Kenny Truong, a survivor of the Vietnam War and member of a proud Vietnamese-American family. Truong’s epic family saga is detailed in The Last Boat Out: Memoirs of a Triumphant Vietnamese-American Family (GasLight Publishing, 2006).

The book follows the struggles his family went through in Vietnam and also their triumphant rise in the United States. When he was only six-months old, Kenny and his mother were seriously wounded by shrapnel during a firefight. They endured the constant threat of the Vietcong for years before finally getting on the “last boat out of Vietnam” and coming to America.

“My parents fought all odds and obstacles, and they were determined to bring us to the United States,” says Truong. “I learned from Mom that we will never give up and we will never take no for a simple answer.” The book was written by Kenny’s parents and translated to English by him and his wife, Ton-Nu Phuong-Thao.

It’s the story of the family’s triumph over incredible adversity and the gratitude they feel toward the American soldiers and sailors who helped in their losing battle, toward the soldiers and sailors who helped them escape, and toward the American people who welcomed the with open arms.

“During our first days in the States, my family had to adjust to new faces, culture, and language, but I knew deep down this great country offered something that Vietnam could not, and that was freedom,” says Kenny’s father, Truong Nhu Dinh. “We speak for most Vietnamese-Americans when we say we are appreciative for everything the Americans have done for us, especially the soldiers and their families for making the ultimate sacrifices. We owe this country our gratitude and know it will be impossible to repay America.”

Here in the United States, hurt and bitterness remain due to the misunderstanding of what happened in Vietnam and misconceptions about the feelings of the South Vietnamese people. Many people still believe that the South Vietnamese didn’t want us there and didn’t help defend their country. The Truong family wants people to know the truth.

“The elders and babies were carried piggyback by U.S. soldiers,” says Kenny’s mother, Nga Truong-Nhu. “A young soldier held my hand to help me walk to shore. American soldiers also carried heavy bags for Vietnamese refugees. I was moved to tears by the help from Americans I’d never met before.”

It is the family’s fervent hope that their message will help to heal old wounds that have festered in the minds and memories of unappreciated servicemen, many of whom gave their lives, both literally and figuratively, to the war. They want to share their story with the world and let them know how their American dream came true.

“America helped strengthen our family values,” says Nga Truong-Nhu. “Freedom has eased the pain I felt during the Vietnam War. My children have better lives in America. Freedom and independence are priceless.”

For a review copy of the book or to set up an interview with one of the authors, please contact Sarah Van Blaricum at 727-443-7115, ext. 207

  Vietnamese flag display sparks controversy at UT-Arlington
Wed Apr 5, 5:49 PM (Star-Telegram News)

ARLINGTON — An annual festival aimed at celebrating international brotherhood sparked controversy at the University of Texas at Arlington this week when students disagreed with administrators over which flag should represent Vietnam.

Administrators would not allow the yellow-and-red flag of South Vietnam to be displayed at International Week. Instead, the current red flag with a yellow star was displayed to represent the southeast Asian country.

The yellow flag with three red stripes was banned by the communist government in 1975 in one of the final moves to solidify its victory of the American-supported South Vietnamese government.

University officials said they used Vietnam’s current flag to follow their policy of only using flags recognized by the United Nations.

Some Vietnamese immigrants and Vietnamese-American students said they are offended.

Tom Ha, a Vietnamese activist, said that members of the Vietnamese community might stage a protest on campus.

“Many students were very distraught over this, and two girls were crying [Monday] night during the emergency meeting of the community to get a resolution to this problem,” Ha said, adding that about 30 people attended the meeting.

He said that displaying the Vietnamese flag in front of people who fled the oppression of the communist government is like parading the swastika in front of Jews.

Ha was one of many who called the university to complain and who talked to Associate Provost Michael Moore.

“I understand it’s emotional,” Moore said. “None of us are denying the pain, the tremendous human rights violations.”

But, he said, the university has a policy of only displaying flags that are recognized by the U.N. at the festival.

“This is not a political issue for us,” Moore said. “We’ve got the Chinese flag and the Taiwanese don’t like that and vice versa.”

Huong Duong, a junior majoring in biology, said the International Student Office asked her to participate in International Week under the current Vietnamese flag.

“That offended me,” she said. “I’m incapable of doing that because that’s not what I stand for.”

Duong said that she will continue to participate in International Week, which ends Friday, but that she has distanced herself from the current Vietnamese flag.

Duong said both flags should be allowed to be displayed.

“Personally, I really don’t care what they do with their flag. I want to show my flag,” she said.

Saying the Magic Words

April 10, 2006

Saying the Magic Words

Some Orange County schools offer Vietnamese to help teens bridge the communication gap with their immigrant parents.

By Mai Tran, Times Staff Writer
April 9, 2006

Kristi Dinh left a note for her mother on the kitchen table. "I'm going to work. I'll be home late," she scribbled in English.

When she got home at 10 p.m., her mom greeted her with a slap in the face. She had no idea where her 18-year-old daughter had been.

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Like many teenagers, Dinh has trouble talking to her parents. But her problem goes deeper. Dinh, who emigrated from Vietnam when she was 3, has lost most of her Vietnamese. Her parents never learned English.

"If it's a prolonged conversation, we have problems," said Dinh, a senior at Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove. "We don't understand each other."

Mary Nguyen, 54, doesn't know where her daughter works. They don't talk about her education or her friends. They usually don't even talk about what's for dinner. She believes Dinh, her youngest child, has become too American.

"It's a hardship, and it's very frustrating," said Nguyen, who relies on her older children to translate.

But a high school class is helping improve the family's interactions.

Facing a growing cultural divide between immigrant parents and their children, the Garden Grove Unified and Huntington Beach Union school districts are offering Vietnamese classes to high school students, making Orange County one of only two counties in the nation with school districts offering Vietnamese as a foreign language elective like Spanish and French.

The program originated in San Jose in 1992 after Vietnamese parents complained that their children were becoming too Western and losing their heritage.

The language barrier had become so great that they couldn't carry on the most basic conversations.

In Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam, the classes are gaining popularity. Districts have had to add more teachers and classes as students enroll.

But they are also faced with challenges. There is no curriculum or textbook, teachers are scarce, and some students fluent in Vietnamese are taking it for an easy A.

Experts say there has been a gradual effort to add language classes at high schools to prepare students for the global market. In Washington, D.C., Arabic is an option. Korean and Tagalog are offered in Los Angeles; and in Palo Alto, Mandarin will be offered this fall.

"We learned a hard lesson after Sept. 11," said Marty Abbott, a director at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Alexandria, Va. "We couldn't read their language, and we couldn't find translators to help us figure out what was going on. We've gone into wars with Afghanistan and Iraq without understanding the language or the culture."

For many Vietnamese American teens who have rushed to embrace Western ways, the language barrier has led to family pressures and a backlash in such shopping districts as Little Saigon, where merchants are intolerant of their meager language skills.

They are ridiculed as mat goc, those who have lost their origin.

The miscommunication between Dinh and her parents has caused family squabbles. Nguyen wrote a letter to her daughter, expressing her sorrow — a note she needed her teacher to translate. Dinh said she had been tempted to run away from home.

"It's hard to be fluent in both languages," said Dinh, her ears double pierced, her belly peeking through her cropped T-shirt.

"I'm surrounded by Western ways. Everything I do is American stuff."

So Dinh listens to Usher and Ludacris, sends instant messages to her friends and spends weekends browsing the racks at Pac Sun and American Eagle. She changed her Vietnamese name, Kim Tuoi, to Kristi when she became naturalized in 2000.

Conflicts like these prompted San Jose to launch its program in 1992. There are now more than 800 students taking Vietnamese at six of the city's 12 high schools.

Hoping for similar success, parents and teachers in Orange County lobbied three years for classes.

Westminster High School first offered the classes in 2002, but high demand led to additional classes at Bolsa and La Quinta high schools. Garden Grove High School will start offering Vietnamese in September.

Lan Quoc Nguyen, president of the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Education, said learning another language would boost students' job skills. He is already seeing a shortage of Vietnamese translators.

"The political implications will be a disaster five to 10 years from now when we run out of Vietnamese speakers and we might have to import them," Nguyen said.

Students begin by learning sentence structure, vocabulary and Vietnam's culture and history.

In teacher Quynh Trang Nguyen's classroom at Bolsa Grande, a student read aloud a sentence, "Co ai nhin rat la dep."

Nguyen asked the classroom for a translation.

A student responds: "She looks hot."

"Really? Is it really sunny outside?" Nguyen asked, as the classroom filled with laughter. "In Vietnam, we use the word pretty, very pretty. She is very pretty."

Students in the class are mostly Vietnamese Americans who are fluent in English but speak halting Vietnamese. Some were born in the United States. Many have changed their names — Vy became Shayla, Thanh changed to Tiffany, and Tra Giang is now Natali.

When she was younger, Alice Pham balked at going to Vietnamese classes at her church. But her parents forced her.

And her parents made her sign up for the class at Bolsa Grande.

"I could never imagine how much the class has influenced her," said her mother, Dung. "She comes home a different person now."

Alice, 15, who was born in Los Angeles, used to like McDonald's and Hometown Buffet. Now she prefers Vietnamese food and attends Vietnamese Mass instead of the English sessions. She speaks Vietnamese at home and even reads Vietnamese newspapers for fun.

Reaching this point has not been easy.

There are not enough instructors certified to teach Vietnamese language, culture and history because the state does not offer a credential program. Many of the teachers, by default, are Vietnamese Americans.

"It's a handicap situation, but we have to start somewhere," said Nguyen, the school board president.

His district snatched up Quynh Trang Nguyen, a math teacher, and Dzung Bach, a former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army who teaches at La Quinta High in Westminster, where Asians make up 70% of the enrollment.

The program is so new that it lacks grants and federal funding, and textbooks have yet to be approved by the state and federal education boards. Teachers create curriculum and handouts on their own.

Teachers often use old college-level textbooks designed for native Vietnamese speakers that do not come with a teacher's edition.

Some are pro-communist, use antiquated terminology similar to Old English and lack crucial historical events or figures such as Tran Hung Dao, a Vietnamese hero who was said to have turned back two Mongol invasions in the 1280s.

"It's like not having Shakespeare in English textbooks," Bach said.

Teachers must also be creative to balance the range of skills in the classroom. Some students are taking the class because their friends are in it. Others are fluent.

A few, such as Jerry Hernandez, are enrolled because they see opportunity.

"I want to open my own auto shop near here, so I'm expecting that my customers will be Vietnamese and I have to know their language," said Hernandez, a 14-year-old freshman at Bolsa Grande.

Classes, Bach has learned, tend to be more like support groups at times, with fast learners helping out classmates who struggle. Sometimes the classes stray into cultural matters.

On a recent morning in Bach's class, students clicked off their favorite food. Some preferred pizza and bananas over pho and papaya, two of Vietnam's staples. Another chose sushi over braised chicken feet, a popular Vietnamese dish.

"On every occasion, I try to remind them of who they are," Bach said. "The students here are not 100% Vietnamese anymore."

For Kristi Dinh and her parents, the class may be one last chance at building a relationship.

Their misunderstandings had mushroomed into mistrust and, eventually, avoidance.

Mary Nguyen, a retired seamstress who acknowledges that she is hot-tempered, implemented a strict policy: Speak Vietnamese or don't speak at all.

Dinh won't eat Nguyen's braised caramel fish and pork dishes. Instead, she asks for $5 to run to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"She lives like an American, so I am always mad at her," the mother said. "How is she going to save money eating out every day?"

Dinh said she was taking the class in hopes of mending relations with her mother.

When she leaves the house, she says to her parents: "Thua ba me con di," a formal expression with a respectful tone, instead of saying "Bye," which is seen as informal and better suited for friends.

When she doesn't understand something in Vietnamese, she asks her siblings for help.

In the living room of her house, Mary Nguyen's eyes welled up. The class had already brought change.

In a letter to her mom, Dinh wrote in Vietnamese: "Mom, don't think bad of me. Believe in me that I will succeed. Rest assured that I will not let you down."

Her Vietnam

April 10, 2006

Sunday, April 9, 2006
Her Vietnam

By THERESA WALKER
The Orange County Register

JOURNEY HOME: Nancy Hoan Le chose 50 photos from among the thousands she shot on a journey to her homeland for an exhibit at Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.

LEONARD ORTIZ, THE ORANE COUNTY REGISTER
MORE PHOTOS

It took Nancy Hoan Le three months to copy onto CDs the more than 3,000 photographs she took on a trip to Vietnam in the fall of 2004.

The stunning pictures Le snapped evoke lives that seem to be frozen in time, bypassed by modern conveniences and carrying on generation after generation in villages where few outsiders venture: Thai women in Son La, Cai Chu, bending to wash their long black hair in the clear water of a river. Three generations of Hmong women weaving as they sit in front of their home, a wood-sided shack with a mud floor. A woman trudging behind a water buffalo as she plows a field.

It wasn’t until late last year that Le shared some of the photos with Diane Masseth-Jones, the executive director of the YWCA North Orange County. Masseth-Jones had granted Le a month-long leave to fulfill a lifelong dream of visiting her ancestral homeland in the highlands of what was once North Vietnam. Masseth-Jones knew in an instant that a wider audience deserved to see the hardships and the beauty in the photos taken by Le, a professional photographer turned Vietnamese Outreach Manager for the YWCA.

Masseth-Jones, who lost a brother in the Vietnam War, felt a connection to the women of the highlands who had captured much of Le’s attention.

“It was kind of a reflection of how much women have in common, no matter where they are,” Masseth-Jones said.

Masseth-Jones approached the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton about Le’s work, and the result is an exhibit at the center, “My Vietnam: A Photo Essay of Women in Vietnam.”

With the help of curator Matt Leslie and Muckenthaler Executive Director Pat House, Le culled about 50 color photographs from the thousands she shot to present the photo essay.

“We hope people walk away with the natural beauty of the country. The landscape is very dramatic,” House said.

“I don’t know that people in this country think of Vietnam that way. And we hope they walk away with an appreciation and compassion for the way the people work with the land. You can see that they are tied to the land.”

A $65-per-person reception benefit today from 1 to 4 p.m. will feature a fashion show of traditional dresses Le collected on her trip and serve as a fundraiser for the YWCA’s Early Breast Cancer Detection and Education Program.

Le’s photographs also are the kickoff for what is planned to be an annual collaboration between the YWCA and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in sponsoring artistic work by and about women.

Le, 60, said stories that her mother told her when she was a little girl growing up in Saigon fueled her desire to experience firsthand the lives of the highland people. Her mother never got the chance to visit.

“I always dreamed of my parents’ home, how they lived, how it looked,” Le said.

Her parents, farmers who raised pigs, had left their homeland near the Chinese border in 1940 to work for a relative in Laos who ran a grocery store. Dissastisfied there, they returned to Vietnam and settled in Saigon, where Le was born, the second-oldest of six children. Her father’s brother, a photographer, influenced what became first a hobby and then a career for Le.

“I’m little but I’m always watching him,” Le said, thinking back to her earliest childhood memories. “He was always taking pictures of me. When he developed them, I saw myself. I love it. I don’t know why, but I really love it.”

She saw, too, how hard her mother worked, raising the family, and knew that she did not want that same life. In her free time, Le often grabbed relatives and friends to pose for pictures she took with her first camera, a Canon Net that she bought in 1966. For fun.

She married and was working in personnel for an aircraft company when she and her husband fled Vietnam as Saigon fell in 1975. She was one month pregnant. They lived in Illinois for a few months, then came to the Los Angeles area.

Le found work helping to translate and collect rent for the manager of the apartment building where they lived. Then she went to work for a dry cleaner, a business that she and her husband eventually bought. They sold the dry cleaner after a few years.

Next, Le spotted an ad in a newspaper and trained to run a one-hour photo business, which she also eventually took over.

All through the years, whatever work she did, Le had continued to take photographs in her spare time. She had begun doing portraits and decided to attend Orange Coast College, taking all the photography classes offered. In 1980, she and her husband opened a portrait studio in Little Saigon.

Their studio was successful, but in 2001 Le and her husband divorced, and she left the business in his hands. She came to work for the YWCA by happenstance.

During a doctor’s visit, Le was told she needed to get a mammogram. She had never heard of breast-cancer detection before.

“In my country, we don’t know about mammogram. I said, ‘No, why do we have to do this?'”

But she went to a community center in Santa Ana where free mammograms were being offered through the YWCA. She was scared, yet ended up translating for the other Vietnamese women there. The YWCA asked her to continue as a volunteer.

“Then they said, ‘Can you work for us right now?’ I said, ‘OK.’ I love this, helping women. I know how they feel – like I did before. I want them to know how important it is to have early breast-cancer detection.”

Le feels that same bond with the highland women she photographed on her journey in Vietnam.

“When I see the women, they work so hard. I never saw anyone work that hard,” she said, looking at a photograph from the exhibit that shows women shouldering heavy baskets of salt collected from a salt field where they wade in the water among white mounds that look like snow.

“I wish I had money or some magic thing to change their lives.”

Classes
Nancy Hoan Le will teach two sessions of weekly classes in travel and landscape photography at the YWCA North Orange County, May 3-31 and June 7-28, from 3 to 5 p.m. Cost is $30 to YWCA members and $45 to nonmembers. For more information, call (714) 871-4709.

CONTACT US: (714) 796-7793 or twalker@ocregister.com.

30 Vietnamese 'brides' arrested at gaming den (updated 11:59 a.m.)

Altogether 31 gamblers were rounded up yesterday at a gaming den at Sanchung, a city opposite Taipei across the Tamsui river.All but one of them were Vietnamese "brides."

Some of them took their children to the gambling house, and many of them had stayed there for as long as three days and nights in a row.

The remaining gambler arrested was a Vietnamese worker.

Also arrested were the gambling house operator, Lin Shih-min, 26, and his errand boy, Lee Yu-min, 18.

Sanchung police raided the gambling den shortly after midnight.

They seized NT$670,000 in cash as bet money, IOUs totaling NT$1.65 million, and blank powers of attorney for real estate sales.

Lin asked the losing gamblers to sign those blank powers of attorney in exchange for loans with a high interest, police said.

Some of their husbands own real estate.

Investigators were surprised to find all but one of Lin's customers were Vietnamese women who are married and live in Sanchung and Taipei.

"We are not sure why their husbands did not raise hell when they were away from home for a couple of days without them knowing where their mates and children were," one investigator said.

A mountain of empty lunch boxes was found in the gaming house, the investigator went on. "These women just stayed there gambling, taking meals and feeding their children there," he added. 

Teaching the Beaucarnot Diaries: Vietnamese and French Culture and Society under Colonialism and Beyond

A Colloquium with David Del Testa, Assistant Professor of History, Bucknell University

A presentation of the website “Adieu Saigon, Au Revoir Hanoi: The 1943 Vacation Dairy of Claudie Beaucarnot” at http://www.bucknell.edu/Beaucarnot/ designed as a tool for students and teachers to explore the world of Vietnam during French colonialism. This on-line source presents a new primary source for French colonial Indochina while illustrating undergraduate research stemming from it.

David Del Testa is Assistant Professor of History at Bucknell University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, writing a dissertation on “’Paint the Trains Red’: Labor, Nationalism, and the Railroads in French Colonial Indochina, 1898-1945.” In 2000 he served as Director of the University of California Education Abroad Program in Vietnam. Before moving to Bucknell he taught at UCLA and California Lutheran University. It was a Cal Lutheran project that led him to return to Vietnam with a group of students and to retrace the route of Claudie Beaucarnot.

Date: Monday, April 10, 2006

Time: 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

10383 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Cost: Free and open to the public.
Special Instructions

Parking at UCLA’s Lot 3 costs $8.

For more information please contact

Barbara Gaerlan
Tel: 310-206-9163
cseas@international.ucla.edu
http://www.international.ucla.edu/cseas/

Posted by: Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Sponsor(s): Center for European and Eurasian Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies