By Farah Farouque
April 26, 2006

From 1976 Australia welcomed Vietnamese asylum seekers as they arrived on beaches (and airports) fleeing communist rule. Son Nguyen led the way for his family, which includes nephew Kenny and his wife Cindy, at rear, and Kenny's brother Dean, with daughter Yasmine.From 1976 Australia welcomed Vietnamese asylum seekers as they arrived on beaches (and airports) fleeing communist rule. Son Nguyen led the way for his family, which includes nephew Kenny and his wife Cindy, at rear, and Kenny's brother Dean, with daughter Yasmine.
Photo: Eddie Jim

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KENNY Nguyen's journey to Melbourne — he arrived at Tullamarine by Boeing — was a relatively seamless one compared to that of his uncle Son, the first of the close-knit extended clan to arrive here.

In the familiar trajectory of Vietnamese refugees, Son travelled by sea to an Indonesian refugee camp before being granted asylum in Australia in 1984. Not long afterwards, he sent money to help 11 other members of his extended family leave their small rural town in South Vietnam. They too travelled by boat.

Now the clan — including Kenny, who is helping plot a family tree — numbers more than 100. "I believe I am one of the lucky ones because I did not have to take the risk of going on the boat," says Kenny. "Many people died on those journeys — no one much talks about that."

Today notches another anniversary in the turbulent history of the Vietnamese exodus after the takeover of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese communist government in 1975. It was on this day — April 26, 1976 — that the first boat, a 17-metre fishing vessel carrying five Vietnamese, landed in Darwin Harbour.

But contrary to the popular mythology of the "boat people", this method of entry was confined to a small number, just over 2000. The vast majority of the 90,000 Vietnamese refugees who came here by the mid-1980s were processed offshore in camps in South-East Asia.

Today, a community that numbered a few hundred in the early 1970s is estimated to be about 200,000, counting the second generations.

Kenny Nguyen, 27, falls somewhere in between. Arriving as as 12-year-old with his parents — they were sponsored by older siblings who had come in an earlier wave — his experience of migration has been characterised in some places as belonging to a "1.5" generation.

Indeed, he exemplifies this group: equally fluent in English and Vietnamese, he traverses the world of work — as an engineer — and the traditional values of his parents.

Every Sunday, the family — five of his six siblings live in Australia — gather at their parents home for a traditional lunch. At their communal table you will find pho, congee, , spring rolls and sometimes a goat dish.

The legacy, however, goes far beyond the food. At his north-western suburbs high school, Kenny braved the usual insults of the schoolyard. "They used to call me Dim Sum, but I just ignored it."

Instead, mirroring the success of large numbers of young Vietnamese today, he absorbed the hard-working ethos emphasised at home. "I had zero English when I came here," Kenny recalls, but high marks got him to RMIT.

Melbourne University researcher Nathalie Nguyen (no relation) says the story of Vietnamese migration has not been an easy one — entrenched pockets of disadvantage persist, but it is a story reflecting the experience of other refugee groups. "Things do work out," she says.

A STORY OF MIGRATIONNATHALIE NGUYEN, BOB BIRRELL

■Early 1970s: Vietnamese here numbered fewer than 1000.

■Now: 200,000 — 1 per cent of the population

■A quarter are ethnic Chinese by descent.

■A quarter born in Australia

■More than a third live in Victoria, mostly in Melbourne. Settlements in Springvale, Richmond, Sunshine and Footscray but also dispersed around suburbs.

■Arrivals peaked in 1979-80 at 12,915 and 1990-91 at 13,248.

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Recalling fall of Saigon

April 30, 2006

 

 

 

Poetry and music mark the 31st anniversary of the day that changed their lives.

Sunday, April 30, 2006By Frederic Pierce

Staff writer

Black-and-white slides showing the fall of Saigon were projected above six memorial candles Saturday evening, while Vietnamese lyrics from a soulful song of remembrance haunted the room.

For many of the 40 or so people gathered in the second-floor offices of the Center for New Americans, the memories of that day, 31 years ago today, were painfully real.

For others – the Syracuse sons and daughters of Vietnamese refugees who escaped to Central New York after surviving harrowing ocean voyages and years in refugee camps – the words and images were a reminder of a past they don't want to forget as they move into the future.

<A xHREF="http://ads.nj.com/RealMedia/ads/click_nx.ads/www.nj.com/xml/story/poststandard/n/nesreg/@StoryAd?x"><IMG xSRC="http://ads.nj.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_nx.ads/www.nj.com/xml/story/poststandard/n/nesreg/@StoryAd?x"></A&gt; "Each of us has different emotions and perspectives on this day," said Ahn Nguyen, a program coordinator at the center who was a child when Saigon fell to communists two years after the pullout of U.S. troops. "We wanted an event where we could all examine our feelings."

Nguyen's band, The Home Gardens, provided the music as poetry by survivors of the fall was read and songs remembering hardships after the fall were performed by members of the local Vietnamese community. The gold flag with three red stripes of the former government of South Vietnam served as the musicians' backdrop.

The day is generally remembered privately by survivors and their families, Ahn said. For decades, it has been a somber time.

"We didn't want to dwell on just that day," Ahn said. "We wanted to remember what happened after that: the ocean crossings, prison, the re-education camps, refugee camps, coming to America for the first time. And we wanted to look to the future."

The center is a program of the InterReligious Council of Central New York.

The fall of Saigon is considered by many to be the official end of the Vietnam War, marking the day when the communist army of North Vietnam overran the capital city of the south, forcibly reuniting the country.

Frederic Pierce can be reached at fpierce@syracuse.com or 470-6062.

Hoa Hao Americans impressed with home welcome
   03/21/2006 — 20:44(GMT+7)

Ha Noi  (VNA)- A Vietnamese American couple that follows Hoa Hao Buddhism expressed wishes to revisit their homeland following a warm welcome by authorities during their first return after 30 years abroad.

Mr. Le Phuoc Sang told President of the Viet Nam Fatherland Front Pham The Duyet during their recent meeting in Ha Noi that he and his wife were impressed with rapid growth of the national economy, especially in his native town of Long Xuyen in the southwestern province of An Giang. Sang also said it touched his heart to see the local administration’s great efforts to improve the material and spiritual living conditions of people from all walks of life, including Hoa Hao Buddhists.

For his part, Fatherland Front Leader Duyet said that the Government has issued a number of policies in favour of overseas Vietnamese and ethnic minorities as well as to encourage freedom of religion.

Duyet said he expected that the visit would help the couple better understand the national situation, especially the Government’s non-discriminatory policies for Hoa Hao Buddhists.

“You are always welcomed here in Viet Nam,” said the chief of the nation’s largest mass organisation.

During their return home, Sang and his wife were warmly welcomed by representatives of the Hoa Hao Executive Committee in An Giang province, visited the Hoa Hao Buddhist Holy Temple, and went sightseeing in HCMC, Ha Noi and other places across the country.

The couple expressed their thanks to the Government and local administrations for creating favourable conditions to make their stay in Viet Nam comfortable.–Enditem

A History Left Behind…
by Peter Nguyen, Contribution Writer

Over forty years ago , in 1964, there were only 603 Vietnamese living in the United States. They were students, language teachers, and diplomats. Over a decade later, the 1975 wave of Vietnamese migrants did not choose to come here unlike the other Asian groups already in America. In fact, they had no decision to make because they were driven out by powerful events surrounding them. During the last days of April, 86,000 Vietnamese were airlifted out of Vietnam.

“On those last days of April,” remembered a refugee, “[there was] a lot of gunfire and bombing around the capital. People were running on chaotic streets. We got scared…”

During the next few weeks, forty to sixty thousand Vietnamese escaped in boats to the open sea, where they were picked up by American navy ships and transported to Guam and the Philippines. Many did not even know they were leaving or where they were going. Later some said, “We did not plan on taking this trip.”

Altogether some 130,000 Vietnamese refugees found sanctuary in the United States in 1975. The first-wave of refugees generally came from educated classes: 37 percent of the heads of households had completed high school and 16 percent had some college. Almost two thirds could speak English well or with some fluency. Generally, the refugees came from Saigon, which was more westernized than the general population. About half of them were Christian or Catholic, a group representing only 10 percent of the group in Vietnam. After their arrival in the US, the ’75 refugees were initially placed in processing camps like Pendleton in California and Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

Thousands did escape soon after — 21,000 in 1977, 106,500 in 1978, over 150,00 in 1979, and scores of thousands later. Two thirds of the boats were attacked by pirates and each boat were attacked an average of more than two times. Most of the times, the men were tied up or thrown overboard and the women were raped. In 1985 there were 643,200 Vietnamese in the United States.

In the 2000 census, Vietnamese has reached 1.2 million and the fourth largest Asian group only behind Chinese, Asian Filipinos, and Asian Indians in the US. Vietnamese America will continually grow and hopefully our beautiful culture will never be left behind.

*Reference, statistics, and facts were sited from “Strangers From a Different Shore”, by Ronald Takaki