Lives remembered, lives rebuilt, attitudes changing -- 33 years after
For many in Little Saigon, memories of what they went through still shape their reality. Others -- many born here -- look to
By My-Thuan Tran,
Thirty-three years after the Vietnam War ended, the fallen country of
The memories of hardship are still so bitter for some that they continue to mount street protests, fly the South Vietnamese flag from businesses and lampposts, and rail against communism on radio talk shows.
Now there are signs of shifting attitudes in the historically anticommunist community, the largest Vietnamese enclave in the
Vietnamese Americans are beginning to see opportunity in their home country, and increasingly, people are moving back, expanding their business ties or starting humanitarian organizations to improve the lives of those in Vietnam -- actions barely imaginable a decade ago.
Though the change is subtle and those who associate with
"There is tension in the community," said Linda Trinh Vo, a UC Irvine professor of Asian American studies. "It shows the complexities of Vietnamese Americans in terms of their feelings against the current Vietnamese government. At the same time, we have to understand the personal experiences of these people and what they have suffered."
Bill Pham fled
He returned to
Pham decided to expand his Orange County-based clean-energy business to
Vietnamese Americans who conduct business in their homeland are viewed with suspicion, seen as traitors who help prop up the Communist regime.
Yet there are signs of change, even in the supermarkets and mom-and-pop stores in Little Saigon, where silks and fabrics, fish sauce, souvenirs, peanut snacks and pop music imported from
This month, Pham hosted a group of Vietnamese delegates trying to lure high-technology businesses in
"Forget the politics," Pham said. "What do you do to solve problems for people in
As ties between the
Not forgetting the past
Timothy Thieng Chi Ngo was among the hundreds who protested when Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet visited
He takes offense at Vietnamese government officials trying to reel expatriates back and doesn't believe a better economy will bring about democracy.
"I wish the people who rush to do business in
Ngo hasn't forgotten. He was a 25-year-old officer in the South Vietnamese Army when he fled
Ngo eventually came to
"For my friends who spent 10, 15 years in prison," he said, "their youth, that part of their life was gone forever."
In 1998, Ngo broke his vow and went to
He holds out hope the Communist government will one day collapse. Little
Linda Trinh Vo says the wounds of war have healed slowly in the Vietnamese American community.
"Especially for the first generation, they're still tied to what happens politically and economically in the homeland," she said. "That will always be a part of who they are, part of their history."
The strong emotions have fueled a grass-roots movement, a desire to show the Communist government that Vietnamese Americans have thrived in their new homes. Vietnamese American activists have lobbied cities across the country to ban the Communist flag from official functions. At the urging of the Vietnamese community,
Vietnamese Americans have transformed
Helping the people
Quynh Kieu started Project
In the past, groups such as Project
But in recent years, more organizations have been created to build schools, libraries and hospitals in
Today, Kieu is helping
"You hope that there will be a growing number of people who will start to see the suffering of people in Vietnam and start being more open," she said, "and that they will be able to sort out where the government ends and where helping the people start."
Leaving a legacy
Some in the first generation who fled
Tran is 27, the age her mother was when she escaped by boat in 1975.
"I try to imagine what it was like for them," Tran said. "Every year Black April is a commemoration of the past, of how we lost this country, of how our parents came here, of how
Tran has felt strong ties to
"I didn't lose what those in the older generation lost," Tran said, "but I am against the Communist government because of things they haven't done for our people."