This month we see many articles in the English language media describing Vietnam as a must-see tourist destination. No doubt the writers had their trips to Vietnam subsidized by the Vietnamese government.
Decades after the war, refugees return to create U.S. businesses in Vietnam. What was known as “the American War” in Vietnam claimed the lives of 3 million Vietnamese and more than 58,000 Americans. Afterward, more than a million people were placed in re-education camps, where many died, while tens of thousands were incarcerated until the late 1980’s. Those who escaped on overcrowded boats risked pirate attacks, storms and starvation. Between 1975 and 1995, almost 800,000 Vietnamese boat refugees sought asylum in other countries, while as many as 300,000 Vietnamese died at sea. In the 1980s, Vietnam’s government considered the Vietnamese who escaped Vietnam as ‘traitors.’
So why do Viet Kieu return to live and work in Vietnam? First of all, the ones who return are not the ones who actually fought in the war, not the ones who spent years in re-education. They are the ones who left Vietnam at an early age and grew up elsewhere.
Some return to Vietnam out of a sense of longing for a place they may have known only a little because they left when they were children. One man said, “I wanted to come back to where I was from. Something was calling me. There were professional opportunities and a chance to rediscover your country, discover who you are.”
Between 2004 and June 2013 about 3,000 overseas Vietnamese returned to permanently live in Ho Chi Minh City, while another 9,000 were granted long-term residential permits for work and investment in the city, according to the Communist Party website.
One man fled Saigon as a teenager on a helicopter from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy just before the city fell. He returned two decades later as director of an American company producing goods in Vietnam. He said it was an opportunity to do something meaningful for the land of his birth, while also being an ambassador for the land of his adopted country.
A young Viet Kieu whose sister was killed by Thai pirates while escaping Vietnam, recently returned to Saigon and became a successful entrepreneur. Another Viet Kieu whose father was in re-education for a very long time, returned to Vietnam to spend his honeymoon. Another, whose father also spent many years in re-education, returned to Vietnam and now owns a popular bar.
One woman was forced to escape as a boat person with her family in the late '70s. She has returned to live in Vietnam to help create a program to prevent impoverished families in Mekong Delta from selling their children to traffickers. She's changing the destinies of many others like her, for the better.
The returnees have managed to re-make themselves and go on with their lives. By refusing to let rage and need for vengeance dominate their hearts, some have become active agents in changing Vietnam itself.
So in the end, perhaps the only thing that matters is the lives that we live every day. It only matters when we try our best to influence and create a better future for all of mankind.
A recent headline said, “Southern California Vietnamese forced to move location of commemoration after flag is barred from Marine base”: Vietnamese Americans cancelled plans to mark the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. The base informed them that they would not be allowed to fly the South Vietnamese flag.
The commemoration on April 25 will be moved to a new location in Orange County's Little Saigon, where community members can use the yellow- and red-striped flag and play the South Vietnamese anthem.
The event organizer said, "We know that without the yellow- and red-striped flag and the South Vietnamese anthem, our event would completely lose its meaning". "The event is for the community, and we need to think about them first."
A Camp Pendleton spokesman explained that officials at Marine headquarters in Washington said the pre-1975 Vietnamese flag cannot be flown at US federal facilities because the U.S. government can only recognize the current government of Vietnam.
It’s gone. It’s lost. It cannot be brought back to life. The pre-1975 days are now firmly implanted in history and no amount of wishing will bring them back. Either we reject the status quo, or accept the fact that the new Vietnam is here to stay, whether we like it or not.