Today marks the 39th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which led to the end of the Vietnam War. My friend Tom and his family fled the country to the USA as war refugees. He marked the anniversary with a lengthy post on Facebook describing in detail his experience as a refugee and immigrant.
He gave me permission to repost it and I present it here in its entirety. I took the liberty of editing it into separate paragraphs:
I always have mixed emotions today.
I remember fleeing with my mom & my 2 toddler brothers. How she kept us together & alive in the mass exodus from Da Lat to Sai Gon I’ll never know. I remember us getting on the last US military flight from Tan Son Nhat already under bombardment from the approaching Communists, the day before the country fell. We were far luckier than the million who would flee afterwards on boats, with daughters & mothers raped & sold into sex slavery by Thai pirates, whole families perishing, and those who made it, committed to concentration camps in foreign lands for years.
We were greeted here as “gooks” and told to go “back home”, my ex-girlfriend’s cousin, studying to be a lawyer, murdered in OC by white supremacists, my brothers and I witnessing homicides from Vietnamese gangs, my parents working their way up from menial jobs, while on welfare, to learn a new language, new vocations..to be able to go from nothing to put us all through college is testament to their sheer devotion & sacrifice for us…and resulting pressure that would lead me to suicidal thoughts in my school years. Because being held up as this Model Minority, silent, obedient, smart, destroys so many of us and makes those who aren’t poster children for success, as invisible and worthless, in a culture that only worships success as money.
The one valuable thing I did learn in college was the history not taught in schools…that the US illegally started the war & dropped more bombs on my country than all of WW2, while illegally doing the same to the Lao & Khmer people. That they were more concerned about Communism that if they had to kill every Vietnamese to achieve that, they would have. That they perfected torture campaigns against civilians in VietNam that would later go on to be used on Latin Americans in the 70s and 80s, and now in Iraq & Afghanistan.
Vietnamese left behind fared far worse. Re-education & labor camps. No opportunities because of guilt-by-association with the former regime. No freedom of speech, press. Massive corruption and a growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, rural masses, the very same people the Communists convinced they would help when put into power.
In coming full circle, my father retired & moved back to Sai Gon to watch as the VN govt suppresses democracy and farms out rural workers to other “free, Western” countries as slave labor.
Today I don’t mourn the loss of a country, headed by corruption & abuse. We’re taught in US schools, the US fought in Vietnam to contain the domino effect of Communism. Instead, they unleased a domino effect of not just 2 million Vietnamese lives lost, tens of thousands of Lao lives as well, the 1 million Cambodian deaths in the genocide, and tens of thousands of their own deaths. Lao are still killed today by US cluster bombs purposely dropped to maim civilians, Cambodia still hasn’t recovered from the legacy of genocide, Vietnamese babies are still born today with birth defects from US chemical weapons, and US veterans still suffer from Agent Orange with no help from the VA. So today cannot simply be remembered as a mere passing of South Vietnam. It is but one point in a larger tapestry, a convoluted web of colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, communism, whatever name you want to put on power structures to dominate the masses of people who just want to live in peace.
All I can take away from this is no matter who is in power, and how the political tides turn, it is the ordinary people on all sides who suffer at the whims of the powerful & wealthy and it is the ordinary people who must rely on themselves for their own ingenuity, grit & survival in desperate times.
And that is my American story.