Vietnamese gangster says punishment for shooting rampage ‘cruel’

By R. Scott Moxley
Thursday, July 27, 2006 – 3:00 pm

Si Tien Nguyen selected his gang nickname, Hitler, at the age of 12, after a family trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. It was twisted and frightening and, he thought, funny, so funny that he bragged about it, even around cops.

Like his namesake, Nguyen is diminutive—just five and a half feet tall and 117 pounds. Despite that, police say Dragon Family Junior, the gang he helped lead, was Little Saigon’s most active criminal street gang in 2002.

The most salient feature of his leadership profile might have been his hair-trigger temper. When he heard that a rival gang had surrounded his boys at Fountain Valley’s Mile Sqaure Park, he rushed in with a semi-automatic pistol, announced his gang affiliation, and began firing. He hit one man in the shoulder and sent scores of people—allies, enemies, picnickers, a park ranger—fleeing. And then his gun jammed and the rest of his life was pretty much established: rival gang members were after him—armed with bats, hammers and guns. Police got him first, arrested Little Hitler and brought him to trial. He was convicted, he appealed and, last month, he lost. He’ll get 40 years.

That’s a lot of time, but he’s got plenty of it.

The day he shot up Mile Square Park—Aug. 23, 2002—Hitler was just 15 and a junior at Westminster High School.

*   *   *

Hitler lives with 5,000 other inmates in Kern Valley State Prison, a maximum-security facility in central California. From all appearances (and limited correspondence, obtained by the Weekly) he seems very angry and hungry for revenge, blaming the Natoma Boys Junior and Young Locs for wrecking his young life. But it seems like the course of his life had been set long before. He abused alcohol and drugs and was prone to violent outbursts, once punching a middle school teacher in the face.

Westminster Police Detective T. Walker (he asked us not to print his first name), perhaps the top police expert on Vietnamese gangs in Orange County, says that many Vietnamese gangsters are polite, articulate, straight-A students—one convicted gang leader was valedictorian of his Orange County high school. Nguyen wasn’t one of those. Three months before the Mile Square Park shooting, he used a large wrench to beat the head, face and body of an unarmed Vietnamese teenager with ties to the Asian Crip Boys. Doctors used staples to reattach the victim’s scalp.

Nguyen and public defenders called his 40-year sentence “cruel and unusual” and asked the state court of appeal in Santa Ana to overturn it. They noted that people who’ve committed far worse crimes have received lighter sentences. They argued that nobody had been killed and that the defendant’s youth should be taken into consideration; after all, the day of the shooting, he had to get his older sister to give him a ride to fellow DFJ gangster Eric “Sleazy” Pham’s home because he was too young to drive. (Pham, a convicted methamphetamine dealer, gave Nguyen a ride to the park. He also gave him a Ruger 9 mm pistol.)

Last month, the three-member panel at the appeal court agreed with Nguyen—sort of: his prison sentence is severe, they concluded, but it was deserved. The justices also said the punishment did not violate sentencing guidelines. In fact, they pointed to a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sanctioned a 25 years to life sentence for a man who’d stolen three golf clubs.

According to the panel, Nguyen had “demonstrated a continual pattern of criminal behavior . . . The defendant’s sentence is unquestionably long and severe,” wrote justices Eileen C. Moore, William W. Bedsworth and Kathleen O’Leary. “However, under the circumstances presented in this case [the beating and shooting cases had been combined], it is not out of proportion to his individual culpability and does not shock the conscience or offend fundamental notions of human dignity. . . . Defendant not only put his friends in further danger by escalating the situation, but he also put numerous uninvolved bystanders and a park ranger in harm’s way.”

*   *   *

During his February 2005 trial, Nguyen portrayed himself as a hero. He claimed he’d gone to the park after a cell phone call from fellow DFJ members. They’d been surrounded by two rival gangs, the Natoma Boys Junior and Young Locs. Nguyen insisted that he drew his weapon only after a rival gang member reached for a gun. Even when he didn’t know deputies were recording him after his arrest, he told jail mates he had no intention of killing anyone.

But Nguyen’s story was self-serving fiction, according to Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, who specialized in Asian gangs until he was recently promoted to the DA’s homicide unit. In the last roughly 40 months, Baytieh won convictions against 22 gangsters, decapitating several of Little Saigon’s toughest gangs. He boasts that many of those gangsters are now serving life sentences in a California prison, a fate he says Nguyen deserves too.

“Here’s what happened: Hitler’s sister was driving him past Mile Square Park that day,” Baytieh told the Weekly. “He saw rival gang members there, decided with premeditation to kill some people and then went to get a gun to carry it out. He never got a call from the other DFJ because he didn’t own a cell phone. . . . He is as vicious as they come. He has utter disregard for the value of human life.”

Jurors agreed with Baytieh. After guilty verdicts, Superior Court Judge William Froeberg sentenced Nguyen to 40 years to life in prison for his gang activities, including the shooting. He won’t become a candidate for parole until 2040. He’ll be in his middle 50s.

“I have no sympathy for someone, whether they are 15 or 55, if they take a handgun to a public park in the middle of the day and run around shooting at people,” he said. “These gang members think there are no ramifications to their actions, but there are. By the time they get to 21, many of them are either dead or in prison. Before that, their lives are an endless cycle of violence.”

*   *   *

Normally tranquil Mile Square Park, the site of a wild gang battle in August 2002. Photo by Tenaya Hills
Normally tranquil Mile Square Park, the site of a wild gang battle in August 2002. Photo by Tenaya Hills

Detective Walker says much of his work involves crime investigation and gang intelligence. He also works to form non-hostile relationships with gang members. His hope is that he can steer some of them away from crime. “It’s really important to give them hope for a better life,” he said.

The personal contact allows the detective to see the characters as well as trends. His subjects are typically between 15 and 18 years old, although authorities have identified an 11-year-old gangster in Little Saigon. The Natoma Boys Junior and Young Locs are allied, while there is little distinction between Dragon Family Junior and Nip Family Junior (NFJ), and both are closely tied to junior members of Tiny Rascal Gangsters (TRG) in Little Saigon. There are many other local Vietnamese gangs (including VNF or “Vietnam Forever”), and they’re involved in everything from murder and graffiti to home invasion robberies, extortion and drug trafficking.

But Vietnamese gangs have unique characteristics in the underworld, according to Walker. They’re extremely secretive (read: hard to infiltrate) but not territorial (like Southern California Hispanic gangs). They often use or instant messaging services to communicate with each other about their criminal activities. Like all gangs, though, their world revolves around a single word: respect. Any sign of disrespect—however slight or imagined—from a rival Asian gang member can mean death.

“Violence is a tool they use to enhance their gang reputations,” Walker says. “The more violent the act, the more respect you get. Disrespect [from a rival gang] doesn’t go unanswered because if you don’t retaliate, you are looked upon as weak.”

That valedictorian gang leader once unloaded 30 rounds of bullets inside a restaurant, wounding four people.

“They lead double lives,” Walker said. “But don’t be fooled. They have no problem killing.”

*   *   *

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has primary jurisdiction over Mile Square Park, but it’s often county park rangers like Lorrie Zuczek who handle actual patrols, either in trucks or on horseback. On Aug. 23, 2002, Zuczek approached a large group of Vietnamese teenagers in the park. They assured her everything was cool.

But minutes later, five Vietnamese males between 15 and 16 years old—Nguyen’s DFJ associates—ran to Zuczek. She’d later describe them as “frightened and agitated.” One of them said, “Those guys are going to kill us. You’ve got to call the cops! We think they have guns.”

Zuczek then saw the larger group of gangsters—the Natoma Boys Junior and Young Locs—flashing gang signs. While the ranger made an emergency call to police, the DFJ members hid behind her truck. Five minutes later, everyone heard gunfire in a different section of the park.

The day of the shooting, Silvia and her fiancé, David, (we’re withholding their last names) went to Mile Square Park for a picnic. The 600-plus-acre, suburban park is normally tranquil. The couple found a spot on the grass with a view of a lake and spread a blanket for a picnic.

But they’d inadvertently chosen front-row seats for a shootout. Less than 50 feet away, a young Asian male with short, spiky hair, a white T-shirt and dark baggy pants climbed from the back seat of an Acura and began yelling at a crowd of Asian teenagers. Then the kid—he looked barely into his teen years—pulled a gun out of his waistband and started firing.

It was mayhem, and then it got worse.

“My fiancé told me to duck down and stay down,” Silvia later testified. She watched screaming people scatter. One fleeing teen took off his sneakers in hopes of running away faster. He got hit anyway, and from her spot on the picnic blanket, Silvia watched as the victim tore off his shirt, moaning, held his gunshot wound with both hands and ran at her. The angry shooter was running right behind him, still firing.

*   *   *

Leon “Tommy” Tran claims he didn’t know that he’d gone to the park that Friday afternoon with three carloads of Natoma Boys Junior and Young Locs. He says he’d merely wanted to go fishing with two of his friends, Kevin and John—admitted gangsters and sworn enemies of DFJ. Tran says he was retrieving his fishing pole from the trunk of his car when an Acura raced up and slammed on its brakes just a few feet away on Euclid, next to the park.

Tran remembers freezing when “an angry guy” emerged from the back seat of the car, walked in his direction and yelled, “DFJ! You got shit! DFJ! DFJ! DFJ!” The angry guy then pulled a pistol from his waistband and began firing.

Tran says the first two shots “whizzed” past his head. He ran, pausing only to take off his sneakers for additional speed. It didn’t help. A bullet hit his left shoulder, exiting through his armpit. He cried out in pain. With the shooter still in pursuit firing a half dozen more rounds, he ran directly at a couple lying on a blanket and jumped over them.

The surprise attack had originally thrown the Natoma Boys Junior and Young Locs into chaos. But as Nguyen chased people around the park, his rivals regrouped. They went to their vehicles and retrieved baseball bats, hammers and, according to at least one witness, guns. This did not escape Nguyen’s notice. Adding to the drama, his gun was misfiring. Nguyen turned and ran back to Pham, his getaway driver. He made a chilling discovery.

After hearing gunshots, Pham had sped off.

Silvia and David, the couple on the blanket, remember seeing a panicked Nguyen sprinting down the street after the Acura. At some point, he stopped in the grassy center divide on Euclid, believing—praying?—that Pham would make a U-turn to pick him up. Instead, the Acura drove out of sight.

*   *   *

Little Hitler had a problem.

Armed, angry Young Locs advanced in his direction, and it’s likely he heard the dopplering scream of police sirens. He hid his gun in the bushes of a house facing the park, ran through several yards and eventually crawled behind some bushes in a back yard. Fate was against him. The female homeowner spotted Nguyen and screamed until he fled. By this time, he could hear a police helicopter searching above. Minutes later, a Fountain Valley patrolman stopped him on the street. The gangster acted nonchalant, claiming he’d been shopping at a gaming store. The officer doubted the story. Nguyen was out of breath, his shirt and face were dirty, and dried leaves and twigs poked out of his hair.

Even in lockup, Nguyen stuck to his story.

But five days later, deputies put him in a bugged cell with Tony Van Nguyen, a DFJ member jailed on unrelated charges. They hoped Nguyen would confess and reveal the whereabouts of the hidden gun. He did. Nguyen bragged to his cellmate that the cops “don’t have shit” and then gave a detailed account of events, including the precise location of the gun.

“We were set up,” Nguyen explained in a mix of Vietnamese and English during the taped conversation. “I told my sister Han to take me to Sleazy’s house, coming to pick up a piece. Let’s do this! They got my homeboys trapped! I got out [of the Acura], shot [a guy]. Boom! Boom! Boom! I ran. I chased him!”

By the time he was done talking, prosecutors had a 40-page, self-incriminating transcript.

*   *   *

If the events in Mile Square Park or Santa Ana courthouse have changed Nguyen, it isn’t showing. Before he was transported to prison, he sent a letter to Nigger Nam, his DFJ pal. It read:

“None of ya’ll nikkas better let your guard down. I’m happy the war stopped, but I’d rather see them fuckers deceased or on their knees beggin’ for mercy. I want them to pay for all the times my momma cried when she came to visit my ass. I want bloods [sic] running out their mouth [sic] and skin. I want them handicapped, crippled, missin’ all fours. Fuck them, dog. I want to see them deceased, but that shit still won’t make up or ease the pain I go through.”

He signed the letter “Hitler.” Next to his signature, he drew a swastika. The Dirty White Boys, Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Riders at Nguyen’s new home might be both thrilled and puzzled by the sentiment.


BOSTON Connecticut’s two casinos say they’re aggressively courting Asian customers in Boston and New York.

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun together send 100 buses a day to bring in Asian gamblers from Boston’s Chinatown, Dorchester, Quincy and Lowell.Foxwoods says one-third of its 40-thousand customers a day are Asian. Mohegan Sun says Asian spending makes up a fifth of its business.Some say casinos are filling a void in entertainment options for Asian immigrants. Gambling doesn’t require language skills or a high upfront cost.The two casinos offer favorite Asian games, Asian food and special events featuring celebrities from Asia.Mohegan Sun’s vice president Anthony Patrone says the casino is interested in reaching out to the Latino market as well. The casino held its first Latino boxing match last week. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Hopes for a Vietnam Trade Shift

A proposal to normalize relations would benefit U.S. importers. Critics fear another China.

By Evelyn Iritani, Times Staff Writer
July 24, 2006

When Nghia Van Phi first returned home to Vietnam in 2003, he still carried animosities toward the Communist government he had fled nearly three decades earlier.

But Phi, president of a Santa Ana discount home improvement outlet, has since become an enthusiastic supporter of the economic rebuilding of that country. His company, US HiFi Inc., a scaled-down version of Home Depot that caters to the Vietnamese American community, imports 70% of its ceramic tiles, solid oak entry doors and other home products from Vietnam.


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That’s why Phi hopes Congress will act soon on a bill that would establish “permanent normal trade relations” with Vietnam, the final step in freeing up trade and investment between the former adversaries. During the Cold War, most Communist countries were denied that trade status, which meant they paid higher tariffs on goods exported to the U.S.

Supporters hope to pass the legislation before Vietnam joins the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based global trade group. Leaders in Hanoi want to finalize their WTO bid by November, when they host President Bush and Asian leaders for this year’s meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Vietnam hopes to replicate the success of China, which saw its global prestige and trade volume soar after it joined the WTO in 2001. To secure the country’s membership, Hanoi officials have agreed to lower tariffs, remove barriers to foreign retailers and banks, strengthen the judicial system and crack down on corruption.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders expect the Vietnam bill to be approved, given the bipartisan support from congressional leaders who served in the war, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). But it is unclear when the legislation can be squeezed into Congress’ crowded summer agenda.

Vietnam could still enter the WTO without the U.S. approval, but trade between the country and the U.S. would not be governed by global rules, putting U.S. firms at a disadvantage, the bill’s supporters say.

Passage of permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam wouldn’t have much of an immediate effect on Phi, because the goods he imports already have low tariffs and he hasn’t directly invested money there. But he says normalized relations would have the psychological benefit of clearing away the final barrier between the U.S. and Vietnam, plus it would encourage the Communist government to continue moving toward greater economic and political openness.

Phi also believes that full normalization between the two countries would lessen hostility among Vietnamese Americans toward the government of Vietnam, making it easier for them to do business with their homeland.

“The people in my country are very smart, very hardworking,” said Phi, 53, whose company imports as many as seven container loads a month from Vietnam. “If Americans give Vietnam the chance to open up and step into the WTO, the life of my people will change.”

Human rights groups, however, have raised concerns about Vietnam’s harsh treatment of political dissidents, ethnic minorities and Christians. Vietnam’s bid is also opposed by some U.S. textile and apparel makers, who contend that its entry into the WTO would reward another Asian exporting juggernaut that has used unfair trade practices to bolster its textile and apparel exports at the expense of U.S. competitors.

After the U.S. and Vietnam signed a bilateral treaty in 2001, two-way trade jumped from $1.5 billion to $7.8 billion. The biggest beneficiaries were Vietnamese textile and apparel makers, whose exports to the U.S. increased 6,000% over that period, according to the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, a domestic lobbying group. Over the last year, Vietnam shipped $3.1 billion worth of textiles and apparel to the U.S.

“We’re talking about making the same mistake with Vietnam that we did with China,” said group spokesman Lloyd Wood in Washington.

But Virginia Foote, president of the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council, a business lobbying group, said Vietnam wasn’t even close to having China’s clout in the U.S. marketplace. Even with its recent export spurt, Vietnam represents less than 4% of the U.S. textile and apparel market, she said.

The Vietnamese government has improved its business climate in anticipation of joining the WTO, said Walter Blocker, managing partner of Gannon Vietnam Ltd. and chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ho Chi Minh City. That includes the passage of more than 50 laws since 2004.

Blocker predicted that U.S. investment in Vietnam would rise sharply once WTO membership was finalized, given the country’s attractive domestic market and low production costs. More than half of Vietnam’s 84 million people are younger than 30, and they are enthusiastic consumers of U.S. culture, including products as varied as movies and mascara.

Blocker, who distributes a number of top U.S. brands including Maybelline and L’Oreal cosmetics, said the Vietnamese spend $350 million to $400 million a year on “non-shampoo cosmetics,” a market that barely existed 12 years ago.

“Now we have 20% to 25% of the women coloring their hair,” said Blocker, who helped launch the country’s cosmetics revolution by setting up lipstick counters in Vietnamese markets more than a decade ago.

Vietnam’s 90% literacy rate and low labor costs (as low as half the cost of China) also make the country an appealing platform for regional production, Blocker said. And for U.S. firms worried about becoming entangled in political disputes between the U.S. and China, Vietnam offers a more stable location, he said.

After considering sites in China, India and Thailand, Intel Corp. announced this year that it would build a $300-million chip assembly and test facility in a government-owned industrial park on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. Intel plans to begin construction on that plant by year-end and hopes to start commercial production in 2009.

Intel country manager Than Phuc said the Vietnamese government offered the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker an attractive incentive package, including cheap land and power, tax incentives and training subsidies. But he said the clincher was the government’s willingness to address the company’s concerns, such as the delays caused by the country’s antiquated customs processing system.

“The thing that impressed our management the most was the open and frank way the government spoke with Intel,” he said.

Than said one of the Vietnamese government’s priorities was creating jobs for the 1 million-plus people entering its workforce every year, which is why it has focused on attracting large foreign companies. Intel has said its facility, which represents the largest investment in Vietnam by a U.S. company, will eventually create 1,200 jobs.

But Than, who is based in Ho Chi Minh City, hopes Vietnam’s entry into the WTO will encourage more Vietnamese Americans to bring their talents and money to the Asian nation. He pointed to the success of Highlands Coffee, a Starbucks-style chain of coffeehouses started by a Vietnamese American.

“The U.S. is my home, but I don’t have a return ticket,” said Than, whose family fled Vietnam in one of the last helicopters to lift off from the U.S. Embassy rooftop in 1975. “Someday I will have a home here and a home in the U.S. I think it is most Vietnamese Americans’ dream.”

Some Vietnamese American leaders remain strongly opposed to lifting the final trade barriers until their homeland is “free and democratic,” said Hieu T. Nguyen, president of First Vietnamese American Bank in Westminster, which was set up last year to serve the 300,000 Vietnamese Americans living in Southern California.

But Nguyen said he, like many other Vietnamese Americans, views Vietnam’s entry into the global economy as inevitable, and hopes that the government’s embrace of free markets will eventually result in greater political freedoms.

Of Vietnam’s WTO bid, Nguyen said: “No one can stop it.”

03:18′ 25/07/2006 (GMT+7)

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VietnamNet – The Ho Chi Minh City’s Committee for Overseas Vietnamese recently submitted to the city authority a proposal asking to offer overseas Vietnamese full ownership of land and house, Vice Chairman of the Committee Nguyen Viet Thuan announced on July 24.

The proposal said overseas Vietnamese who were allowed to purchase and possess houses must have full rights of ownership in accordance with the laws. Accordingly, they must be allowed to trade in real estates in their homeland, transfer land use rights, and sell or rent land or houses instead of being allowed to buy houses only for living as under the existing regulations.

Currently, there are four groups of overseas Vietnamese allowed under the Land Law to purchase properties, effective since 2003. They are investors, who must obtain an investment license, scientists and experts, who must have invitations from Governmental agencies, and people having contributed to the country’s development, who must show certificates of merits signed by the Vietnamese Prime Minister.

The law pointed out in item 1 of clause 121 that the Standing Committee of the National Assembly (NA) will release criteria under which other overseas Vietnamese would be allowed to buy housing. However, there has not been any directive from the NA regarding this matter yet.

Thus, Mr. Thuan said that the proposal also included his request for a regulation from the NA that would allow other overseas Vietnamese individuals not included in these groups to purchase housing.

July 24, 2006, 10:41PM

Area businesses, many immigrants differ on support for WTO status



Exports of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, cattle and wine could soar if Vietnam joins the World Trade Organization, Karen Bhatia, the deputy U.S. trade representative, recently told the Senate Committee on Finance.

More than three decades after the U.S. withdrew from the bloody war in the communist-run Southeast Asian nation, Congress is considering granting Vietnam permanent normal trade relations status — a move that will help clear the path for the country to join the World Trade Organization.

The effort pleases officials at several Houston-based businesses but disappoints some Vietnamese immigrants in the Bayou City, the home of the nation’s largest Vietnamese community outside of California.

Supporters of the nation’s bid to join the global group are predicting increased sales for large companies and farmers in both countries, from Houston to Ho Chi Minh City and Hartford, Conn., to Hanoi.

Nations want to join the World Trade Organization because membership confers a special status and lets other nations know that they adhere to certain standards and are less risky to trade with, said Sheng Zeng, who is in charge of business development for the Asia Pacific region for Shaw Stone & Webster, a Houston-based division of Baton Rouge’s Shaw Group.

“The Vietnamese market is a hot market right now — one of the best emerging markets in the world,” said Andrew Tran, president of Asia Link, which helps facilitate corporate investment in Asia. “Maybe with the entrance of the WTO and agreement with the U.S., in five more years it will be a much different Vietnam, a much better Vietnam.”

Corporate benefits

He may be right, if China’s experience is any indication.U.S. agricultural exports to China soared to $5.2 billion in 2005 from $1.9 billion in 2001, when the nation joined the World Trade Organization, according to the Agricultural Coalition for U.S.-Vietnam Trade, and supporters expect similar increases if Vietnam joins the global trade organization.

“This legislation represents another milestone in a process that began over 15 years ago, when the United States restored diplomatic relations with Vietnam,” Bhatia told Senate members. “We believe that WTO accession for Vietnam will benefit the United States economically, will promote reform in Vietnam, and will support broader American interests in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia as a whole.”

Energy companies, retailers and technology firms were some of the 135 U.S. businesses, associations and farm groups that recently signed a letter urging Congress to grant the nation permanent normal trade relations, stating that the nation is “one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is the fastest growing market for U.S. products in Asia.”

ConocoPhillips, Chevron and BP America are some of the companies that support the move.

“We believe these actions will further strengthen the excellent relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam and will provide benefits for U.S. companies and workers,” said a spokesperson for ConocoPhillips, which has invested more than $1 billion in Vietnam in the past decade.

Immigrants’ hesitation

But textile groups such as the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, National Council of Textile Organizations and National Textile Association urge Congress to ensure there are textile safeguards before endorsing Vietnam’s bid to join the WTO. The textile industry faces competition from clothing made by low-paid Vietnamese workers if import quotas are dropped.In Houston’s new Chinatown district, some Vietnamese immigrants are quietly grumbling that their homeland should not be allowed to join the international organization until they stop committing what they view as human rights violations.

“There’s a group of us a while ago who lobbied against Vietnam joining the WTO unless they stop repression of religious freedom and freedom of speech,” said Binh Nguyen, a community activist and news producer for the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network in Houston.

More than 55,000 Vietnamese immigrants live in Houston, although leaders believe the figures are closer to 80,000. Vietnamese restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores line Bellaire Boulevard, catering to the burgeoning community.

Immigrants began to settle here because the hot weather was reminiscent of Vietnam’s climate, and because they could work as shrimpers, as many did in their native land, said Tran, who is also president of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce.

“Because of the background they have, it’s very, very hard for them to accept anything that enhances the strength of the Vietnamese government,” said Tran Van Hien, director of Vietnam Programs at the University of Houston’s Clear Lake campus. “It makes it difficult for them to accept a new Vietnam.”

the film is Khoa Do's second feature.No dummy run: the film is Khoa Do’s second feature.
Photo: Bob Pearce


Garry Maddox
July 26, 2006
THE list of Australian sports films is short. Fresh from winning Young Australian of the Year, director Khoa Do and his comedian brother Anh decided to add to it.

Not only did they want to tell a rugby league story, they wanted to set it where they came from, in the western suburbs of Sydney. And, unashamedly, they wanted to make it a positive film.

Footy Legends premiered last night, before its release next week. It’s a feelgood drama about six battling friends who enter a footie comp to get some respect in their lives.

Among them is Luc, a Vietnamese-Australian played by Anh Do, who is trying to find a job while bringing up his little sister alone.

The film also features Claudia Karvan playing a social worker and Peter Phelps as a coach, as well as cameos from such former rugby league stars as Brett Kenny, Brad Clyde, Cliff Lyons and Matthew Johns.

“It’s kind of an antidote to negative headlines about rugby league, about Sydney’s west, about people from different backgrounds,” said Khoa Do yesterday. “We live in a sports-mad country yet we don’t have many sports films.”

How the 27-year-old came to make Footy Legends is a feelgood story in itself.

Brought up in Yagoona by parents who fled to Australia from Vietnam, Do was an unknown actor and director whose life changed when he went to teach filmmaking to troubled youths in Cabramatta.

One was facing a jail sentence for armed robbery, another was on parole, a third was making daily visits to a methadone clinic. “I thought the best way for me to teach filmmaking was to go out and make a film together,” he said.

Without a script, crew or money at that stage, they collaborated to make The Finished People. It was such a raw account of life on the streets that it was released in cinemas and nominated for two Australian Film Institute awards.

“Guys who had not finished high school were now all AFI award nominees,” said Do. “I still remember walking the red carpet with these guys, next to people like Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett.”

The film’s success led to Do being named Young Australian of the Year last year.

“Lleyton Hewitt or Ian Thorpe – really well-known people – normally receive the award, so you’d never think someone like myself could receive it,” he said. “I spent the entire year travelling around the country and met a lot of young people – a lot of guys who’ve gone through tough times …

“That was one of the best things of the award – having the opportunity to travel round Australia and kind of inspire young kids.”

When it came time to make a film with a real budget – $2.9 million instead of $20,000 for The Finished People – the Do brothers drew on their experience playing junior rugby league for a perpetually hopeless team.

“I hope every kid from Yagoona to Penrith to Kalgoorlie will watch this film and think that all his hopes and his dreams are possible,” Do said.

08:06′ 15/07/2006 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet – More and more overseas Vietnamese (viet kieu) are coming back to live in Vietnam. But settling down means adapting to life in a culture that they haven’t called home in a long time.


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Le Trinh (middle) and her friends

Moving to America with her family when she was just child, Jacqueline Trinh’s memories of Vietnam are vague. To her, it was so far away, although she was asked to speak only Vietnamese to her parents and siblings back in the US. Vietnam in her imagination was a poor country, but she finally made the decision, initially just an experiment, to come back. As soon as she arrived at the airport, she says, she felt something of the home she once knew.


During the first trip, Trinh spent a lot of time visiting museums and relatives, and sometimes just walking along the streets of Saigon. All these things have helped her to understand more about living in Vietnam and the lifestyle. She then decided to settle there, a big change that required revisiting memories of the city form her childhood.


“Growing up in America, I was accustomed to American lifestyle, speaking English all day, eating Western food. Coming back here I had to change a lot, such as ‘scanty’ or low-necked clothes are put in mothballs, trying to speak Vietnamese colloquially, learning how to drive a scooter and so on. All of these things have helped me to adapt myself better,” Trinh recalled.


She is now director of Babi Company Ltd, running advertising campaigns and organising performances. She has organized many free performances for charity.


Elvis Phuong is a famous singer among overseas Vietnamese. Phuong and his wife, Le Hoa, decided to move to Saigon in 2001. “Though having better living condition in other countries, I still prefer to live here. Even if it is not a rich country or not as developed as others, it is my country,” he said. Now the couple live in a small house and every night they are busy singing to audiences.


Life for Dr Nguyen Chanh Khe in Japan and America was not as hard as it was for other Vietnamese. Khe used to work in the most modern research centres where he was provided with good working conditions. But he all that behind to work in a ten-by-ten metre office at the HCM City Centre for Hi-Tech Research and Development. The space isn’t large enough for his research documents and bottles full of materials.


After a long time living and working in other countries Khe says it is interesting to live an everyday life in Vietnam, eating Vietnamese food and speaking Vietnamese. His daily routine includes getting up early and exercising or going out to buy some flowers for the house. He says he has adapted the habit of going to market everyday. Ben Thanh Market, Ba Chieu market and many others are places Khe usually stops by. “It is wonderful seeing all the fishes like Ca Loc, Ca Tre and many more wriggling. In the US I could only see these fishes frozen,” Khe said.


Like a person who has been away from home for a long time, Khe has tried to visit many places in the Southern countryside, taking photos of the landscape in places he used to visit before leaving Vietnam.


According to Mr Nguyen Chon Trung, Chairman of the HCM City Committee on overseas Vietnamese, the number of people ‘repatriating’ is increasing. Most of them accept the more difficult conditions. The daily life here may be familiar to older overseas Vietnamese but totally new for many second generation viet kieu. Re-adopting old habits for the older crowd, and picking up new habits for the younger, though, still seem to be very interesting for many.


(Source: NLD)