AN INTERVIEWS ON NPR'S "TALK OF THE NATION" AND CNN INTERNATIONAL
Washington, D.C. - On Thursday,
April 28, 2005 at 2 pm EST on NPR's "Talk of
the Nation," and Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 8 am EST on CNN
the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans (NCVA) President Hung Quoc
Nguyen and Secretary Anh Thu Lu will appear live as guests on NPR's "Talk
the Nation" and CNN International, respectively.
Listeners can participate in the live discussion on "Talk of the Nation"
calling (800) 989-8255. Consult your local listings for actual program air
time as they vary throughout the United States.
Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Lu will be discussing the significance of April 30,
often referred to as the Fall of Saigon. This date also marks the
of the Mass Diaspora of the Vietnamese community throughout the world.
Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Lu will share their views of the Vietnamese American
community as it has unfolded over the past 30 years. Over the past 30
years, the majority of Vietnamese Americans came to the United States with
nothing more than their internal desire to live free and productive lives.
Today, members of this community are elected officials, business owners,
sport stars and individuals helping to shape and defend the future of
Hung Nguyen, NCVA President, states, "For the past 30 years, Vietnamese
American contributions are often forgotten because Vietnamese Americans
mostly referenced in terms of a war. More than reminders of a war, we are
refugee community that has built new homes in a country of opportunities."
The Vietnamese American community is no longer a community with a tragic
history. It is a community rich in culture and heritage. Vietnamese
Americans are modern-day pilgrims in a land of opportunities.
April 24, 2005
ON BEING VIET KIEU (VIETNAMESE AMERICAN)
By Katherine Nguyen
The Orange County Register
I went out to dinner with Co Thuy and the family last night. I was hoping
would just be a simple dinner with Co Thuy, Trinh and her dad, but nine
people wound up showing up, three of whom weren?t even relatives. Earlier
the day, she had asked me what I wanted to eat and I told her that I?d
the decision to her.
She chose a Chinese seafood restaurant. When I asked her if she regularly
ate there, she cooed, "Of course not, we?ve only come for big occasions
weddings, but otherwise, we could never afford it."
While I looked around incredulously at the fancy banquet hall with hanging
glass chandeliers, Co Thuy gave a quick laugh and said, "Oh, I only chose
this place because I wanted you to feel comfortable in a nice surrounding,
know you probably wouldn?t like the normal places we go to, it would
probably be too dirty for you."
We sat down and my uncle ordered a round of Heineken beers for everyone. I
tried not to gape as Trinh downed several glasses. I never drink in front
my dad. At family dinners, when I try to order a beer, my dad gives me a
stern look and I settle for lemonade instead.
Throughout the course of the night, they ordered 12 beers.
While everyone dug into their sauteed crab and coconut steamed shrimp, I
tried to inquire about their lives, how their day went. I got one- or
two-sentence responses, everyone was too busy eating. Nobody asks me about
my life. They ask me how much cell phones cost in America because it?s the
status symbol these days in Vietnam. They comment how great it must be
the government in America takes care of public school costs and that the
parents do not have to pay for tuition for public elementary and high
education. My aunt then launches into a spiel about how she has to pay
tuition for each semester of school, about $100 a year from the time the
children are in first grade to 12th grade and also college.
All this makes me distinctly uncomfortable and it makes me realize that,
come to think of it, in the few conversations we?ve had, my aunt has spent
considerable amount of time lamenting the myriad of things she can?t
It?s like she is so bent on showing me how poor they are. She tells me
have only the most beat up Honda (motorbike) and that it?s so old compared
to the newer, more expensive models that they want but don?t have the
Her son, Nhan, 18 just enlisted in the army. She says she couldn?t afford
pay the $200 a year the government demands in order to keep him out of
military service. That it?s so hard for him, he has to scoop manure with
bare hands and they have to bribe the authorities there to make sure he
the proper food rations. That she wished she had the money to keep him out
of such a harsh existence.
It becomes painfully awkward for me, because I have no idea how to reply
that. "Um, I?m sorry, that must be rough?"
When the bill arrives for dinner, my aunt and uncle make a grab for it.
only to see how much the entire meal for nine costs. Then they smile and
pass the bill to me. It?s $100, extremely extravagant by standards in
I am shocked to look up and see blank looks on their faces as I slowly pay
the bill. Nobody says thank you. By now it is painfully clear: I am just a
cash cow to them, they do not care to get to know me. They are happy with
what they presume: That I?m a rich Viet Kieu living in the States and I
should be obliged to pay for them because I owe it to them, because
to me, they live in such obvious poverty.
Later, my cousin Trinh invites me to go to a club with her and a friend. I
find out that what that meant was a night on the town on Kat?s dime, er,
Just before we leave the restaurant for the club, Aunt Thuy says to me,
"This probably means that Trinh should sleep with you in your hotel room
tonight because you will be out so late."
I politely inform her that the hotel prohibits any guests not registered
with the hotel inside the rooms. Her face falls.
At the club, my cousin moves her body on the dance floor, provocatively
swaying her hips and rubbing her body suggestively against her female
friends. She is freaking on the dance floor and that totally freaks me
She laughs at me and asks why I?m dancing so stiffly and so far away. She
tries to pull me in and I clumsily shy away.
When the bill arrives for our cocktails, Trinh slides the bill over to me,
"Do you need help counting out the money?" she asks.
I force myself to laugh. Again, not a word of thanks.
April 25, 2005
For immediate release
Contact: Top Media Advertising (Press only) 1 800-803-4845
JOURNEY FROM THE FALL COMMEMORATES 30 YEARS THE FALL OF SAIGON
Limited Screenings in Orange County, Arlington, and San Jose
April 30th: Orange County, CA: Regal Cinemas Garden Grove, 3:00 P.M. &
May 1st: Arlington, VA, Regal Ballston Common 12, 7:00 P.M.
May 8th: San Jose, CA, Camera 12, 7:00 P.M.
Ticket price: $20 pre-sale; $50 at the door
Tickets available for purchase: Nguyet Cam Music (714) 934-6200
Washington Music: (703) 538-4979
Senter Video: (408) 298-1854
Duration: 135 min (Thailand/USA), in Vietnamese/English, with English
WESTMINSTER ? Journey from the Fall, directed by Ham Tran, starring Kieu
Chinh (The Joy Luck Club, Face, Green Dragon), Long Nguyen (Green Dragon,
First Morning, Coyote Waits), Diem Lien and introducing Nguyen Thai
will be specially screened in 3 cities that have a large Vietnamese
population to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. After these
three limited special screenings, the film will be shown at festivals
to wide distributions.
Set in fractured moments of war-torn Vietnam, re-education camps, and the
journey to a better life, Journey from the Fall follows one family?s fight
for freedom. In April 1975, against his wife?s wishes, Long Nguyen chooses
to stay in Vietnam and fight for his beloved country. He urged his wife,
Mai, to leave their homeland for safer shores. Together with her son and
mother-in-law, Mai reluctantly boards a tiny fishing boat bound for
They begin a perilous journey, across the sea with nothing but hope to
Meanwhile, as Saigon falls under communist rule, Long is captured and
imprisoned in a series of re-education camps. There, he endures solitary
confinement and witnesses the death of his friends. Believing his family
dead, Long?s faith is revived when a mysterious visitor brings news of
survival in the new world. Long sets a dangerous plan to escape and join
family in motion.
?In our vision, Journey from the Fall is to the Vietnamese community as
Schindler?s List is to the Jewish community. It is a tale of faith
triumphing over tyranny,? Ham Tran wrote in his Filmmaker?s Statement.
?There is a pattern of war and silence that occurs with any generation
informs us of our present, and guides us forth into our future. For this
reason, we feel that this part of Vietnamese past must be reclaimed in
for Vietnamese-American to move forward.?
Journey from the Fall is dedicated to the millions of boat people and
survivors of the communist re-education camps.
Ham Tran and his producer, Lam Nguyen, spent 3 years researching books,
films, photos, and interviewing families who have survived the war. ?We
collected personal recounts of political camp imprisonment and familial
memories about ?the boat experience,? and we know what it was like to grow
up as refugee in the United States. These stories are part of the history
that has made us who we are, a history too young to remember, but too old
forget,? Ham says.
Ham Tran graduated from UCLA with a Master in Fine Arts Degree in Film and
Television from UCLA. Ham?s short films won him numerous accolades
the title of National Finalist for the Student Academy Awards 2 years in a
row for his shorts ?The Prescriptions? and ?Pomegranate.? Last year, his
thesis short ?The Anniversary,? which was also produced by Lam Nguyen,
earned over 30 domestic and international awards.
For more information on Journey from the Fall, please visit
30 YEARS LATER, IMMIGRANTS SHED VIETNAM WAR'S BURDENS
By Phuong Ly
Washington Post Staff Writer, Page A01
On humid Washington days, after thunderstorms churn up the smell of fresh
earth, Sandy Hoa Dang remembers the war. When the bombs fell on Hanoi, she
was a little girl, cowering with her family in a hole in the ground.
Hundreds of miles away, as victorious North Vietnamese soldiers stormed a
beach town near Saigon, 5-year-old Phuong Nguyen's mother stashed her in a
concrete cistern. Her fair, freckled face and uplifted nose were evidence:
Her father was an American.
Kara Mai Delahunt, an infant then, was buckled into a seat of a 747 on one
of the rushed flights that brought more than 2,000 orphans to the United
States. Her new parents discovered that their child reacted strangely in
their arms. She stiffened. She was not used to being held.
Thirty years have passed since Saigon fell April 30, 1975, time enough for
these three women and a generation of Vietnamese Americans to come of age.
Thirty is now the median age of the 1.2 million people of Vietnamese
heritage living in the United States. Thirty is young enough to be haunted
by Vietnam, old enough to have created new lives.
The war brought the three women to the United States under starkly
circumstances: one as a baby adopted into a Massachusetts home; another as
teenager escaping with her family on a fishing boat; the third as a mother
granted a chance to immigrate because of her American blood.
They are connected by the past they left and the lives they lead here:
is the founder of a social services organization in Washington for
families, Nguyen is a client there and Delahunt is a volunteer mentor for
Nguyen's teenage son.
Yet in their own way, they are defying the war's hold on their identity.
A Sought-Out Heritage
"Lovely with rosy and chubby cheeks," was how the adoption papers
Nguyen Mai Tai Trang, abandoned by her mother two days after her birth in
She is now Kara Mai Delahunt, and the description is still apt. Even after
long day of work at a downtown Washington public relations company, she is
poised and polished--hair in a neat bun, makeup fresh and clothes
professional. She has recently returned from a seven-month business trip
Madrid. Tucked in her black purse is a travel book on Peru, her next
She sometimes wonders, though, what price was paid for this life.
"My mom would always say, 'Say a prayer for your birth mother,' " said
Delahunt, 30. "I was always told that she loved me so much and cared for
so much that she was willing to give me up."
Delahunt arrived as part of Operation Babylift, conducted in the frantic
weeks before North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. The U.S.
commissioned jetliners to ferry hundreds of orphans to new homes here.
Vietnamese parents, learning of the flights, left children at hospitals
orphanages. Advocates called it a humanitarian effort, and critics decried
it as ripping children from their homeland.
Delahunt was adopted by Kati and William D. Delahunt, now a Democratic
congressman from Massachusetts. The couple tried to make their new
comfortable with her heritage, taking her to Lunar New Year events, buying
her Asian dolls, introducing to her to another adopted Vietnamese girl,
hopeful that the two would become friends.
She resisted. "The Vietnam War to me is exactly that -- it's history," she
said. "I just wanted to be American."
She learned German -- her adoptive mother's native language -- and took
summer trips to Germany. Her master's degree is in Spanish from Middlebury
College in Vermont, her father's alma mater. After school, she moved to
Washington and landed a public relations job specializing in Latin
Only then did she begin thinking about Vietnam.
"As you get older," she explained, "your history becomes more important."
Five years ago, Delahunt accepted an invitation to travel to Vietnam with
group of adoptees and officials from Holt International Children's
an Oregon adoption agency that placed many of the children from Operation
This trip was dubbed a homecoming. It didn't feel that way.
After mastering two foreign languages, Delahunt thought she could learn a
few Vietnamese phrases, but the unfamiliar tones overwhelmed her.
Everywhere, she saw young children. Some sold chewing gum; others held out
empty plastic bowls.
Delahunt had seen poverty on trips to India and Chile, but this was
different. "That could have been me," she said, shaking her head. "I could
be in Vietnam on the streets right now."
What Delahunt found on her trip, she said, was a comfort with other
Vietnamese Americans. After the trip, she attended a conference with other
adoptees, and some became her close friends.
"For the first time in my life," she said, "I was with people who were
A friend introduced her to Asian American LEAD, a nonprofit group in the
District's Columbia Heights neighborhood serving disadvantaged immigrant
families. Delahunt became a mentor and eventually, a member of its board
Almost every week, she meets with 15-year-old Man Pham, who immigrated
his family in 1997. He gives her advice on computers, and she helps him
his Spanish homework.
During the visits, Delahunt sometimes sees his parents, Minh Pham and
Nguyen. Their exchanges are short and awkward because of the language
She is more comfortable with Man, who like her, thinks of Vietnam as only
part of himself. Once, when Man asked, Delahunt told him that she left as
baby and was adopted. His response: "Cool."
Different but Determined
In this city, Phuong Nguyen is nearly invisible.
At a hotel in downtown Washington, she cleans empty rooms. Customers at
U Street nail salon where she works part time barely acknowledge her,
to pick their polish. In the international melange of her Columbia Heights
neighborhood, Nguyen's looks attract little attention. She doesn't mind.
In Vietnam, she was singled out for her pale skin and faced discrimination
for it. Here, she believes her opportunities are limited only by how hard
she can work.
"This is nothing," she said, doing laundry in the bathtub after a 12-hour
workday. "In Vietnam, life is much harder."
Her ticket out was her face.
The Amerasian Homecoming Act, passed by Congress in 1987 after much
allowed children born in Vietnam to American service members to come to
United States with their families. Few people had documents to prove their
heritage, so U.S. Embassy officials based their decisions, in part, on
whether they looked "American." About 26,000 eventually immigrated.
Nguyen, 35, said she knows little about her father. He left in 1969,
she was born. Her older half-sisters told her that he was a doctor for the
military. Her mother never spoke of him.
Early on, Nguyen realized she was different. In a culture that values
background, Amerasians were considered the products of shameful liaisons.
Nguyen recalls the taunt from her classmates, con lai -- half-breed.
"I would beat them," she said, her voice rising at the memory. "Boys, I
would beat, too. They called me names. How dare they?"
Still, even a determined girl who towered over her classmates -- thanks to
her "American" size -- could do only so much in Vietnam.
Shortly after the war, the communist government ordered her family from
seaside city of Vung Tau to the remote highland. Accustomed to city life,
the family had to pick coffee beans and pepper on collective farms. Nguyen
dropped out of school after the fourth grade and settled for what was
expected of her: marriage, children and work.
When news of Amerasians being able to emigrate reached the countryside,
Nguyen said she didn't hesitate.
"Older people always said, in America, everything is possible," she
remembered. "They said people even had fish in cans."
She lives with her husband and three children in a studio apartment that
cramped but spotless. Canned fish is no longer a novelty -- they've moved
onto bigger things: two televisions, a desktop computer and a sport
Nguyen has changed, too. When Man, her eldest child, was having trouble in
school, she sought help from Asian American LEAD. She has worked with
caseworkers to learn more about American schools and how she can help her
son and daughters.
A couple of years ago, she accompanied a social worker to a conference in
San Diego, leaving her husband to care for the children for the first
Nguyen said she has no desire to find or meet her American father -- "I
don't need him. He left." She only wants his citizenship.
She has struggled to learn English and fears that she cannot pass the
U.S. law usually allows citizenship for children born overseas to
but Amerasians don't qualify. A bill in Congress that would have granted
that right to Amerasians living here died last year in committee.
"I want to be an American," Nguyen said. "I don't want to go back to
In 2002, Nguyen returned to her homeland for a visit and, as usual, she
Friends envied her smooth skin and confident walk. They were tanned and
from farm work.
In the cities, when shopkeepers noted she was a bit taller, paler and
plumper than typical Vietnamese, they quickly fingered her as a Vietnamese
who lived in the United States, a Vietnamese American.
The strangers, she recalled with a shy grin, never called her con lai .
In Community, a Mission Emerges
Sandy Dang keeps the letters of complaint in a white notebook.
They are dated from 1998, after she founded Asian American LEAD, and were
written by Vietnamese Americans to officials in the District government.
"Sandy Dang cannot speak Vietnamese correctly," wrote an older woman
questioning whether Dang could properly represent the community. Several
others accused her of seeking publicity. A few called her a communist,
probably the worst epithet among Vietnamese Americans.
"Can you believe this?" said Dang, 37, a petite woman with a loud voice.
was really disappointed. But I am stubborn."
She persisted, determined to challenge what she said is the patriarchal
tradition that dominated Vietnam and immigrant circles here. "We have to
rebuild," Dang said. "You can't call yourself a community and just have a
group of old men sitting around the table."
Dang was 7 years old when the war ended. She only knew that the bombs had
stopped falling and she would never have to hide again.
The conflicts within a community, Dang soon learned, never end.
In Hanoi, her ethnic Chinese family members were never considered "real"
Vietnamese. They didn't fight in the war. When fighting later flared
Vietnam and China, they fled north. In China, though, they weren't
considered "real" Chinese. The Chinese government sent them to labor on
sugar cane plantations.
In 1979, Dang's family bought passage on a fishing boat crammed with more
than 300 refugees from Vietnam. The family spent three years in a Hong
refugee camp before immigrating, eventually landing in New York.
Her father worked as a janitor, her mother as a seamstress. Dang was the
eldest of four children and served as her parents' translator. For 10
the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment.
Dang escaped through her studies, excelling in school and winning
scholarships to Duke University. She arrived on a Greyhound bus. Her
classmates drove luxury cars.
When she came to Washington to earn a master's degree in social work from
Catholic University, she found a Vietnamese American community of 50,000
still governed by rules and hierarchy from the old country. Elders have
priority, and men are the leaders.
Many families from the elite social circles in South Vietnam -- who
the country as soon as Saigon fell -- had little interaction with the
poorer, less educated families who came later. Such as those in the
of about 5,000 Vietnamese living in Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights.
These immigrants, who arrived in the 1990s, were the last significant wave
of refugees. Many were Amerasians. Others had been imprisoned for years in
communist "re-education" camps and immigrated under political asylum.
service agencies in the District were ill-equipped to help.
Dang found her mission. "I know this as an extension of my family. I know
how difficult it is to be in this country and come here with nothing."
She started Asian American LEAD as an after-school program, and it has
into a nationally recognized group with a $1.2 million budget. President
Bill Clinton invited her to the White House.
The number of Vietnamese immigrants in the District has dwindled to about
2,000, Dang estimates. Many families have moved to the suburbs; Dang jokes
that some of them now drive cars fancier than her Honda Civic. Those left,
including Phuong Nguyen's family, are planning to follow soon.
Dang, too, is moving her life beyond the organization. For years, she has
been so consumed with work that friends worried about her. Last year, she
married, and her husband, Sanal Mazvancheryl, has no connection to
He was born in India to an upper-class family and is a business professor
Dang returns to Vietnam every few years. Her Vietnam no longer is bombs
falling from the sky. It is fresh, ripe mangoes, she said, firecrackers
exploding at Lunar New Year and quiet, green vistas.