Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Big show for NINE Vietnamese artists at San Jose main library


More than 100 people showed up at the reception for NINE, the exhibition of nine Viet-American, Bay Area artists on Nov. 19 at the shiny, new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Downtown San Jose. The nine artists are part of a vibrant, new cultural community growing in San Jose, the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area. The artists (left to right) are Dao Hai Trieu, Trinh Mai, Lam Quang Kim Phuong, Truong Thi Thinh, Nguyen Thi Thanh Tri, Jenny Do, Le Que Huong, Henry Trinh Nghiep. Not pictured is Ha Cam Tam.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Art exibit Sunday at main library



You are invited to an art exhibition of 9 Viet-American artists of the Bay Area at the Dr. Martin Luther King Library, Downtown San Jose, CA. The reception is on Sunday, November 19, from 2-4PM. Second floor. There will be refreshments. The exhibition will be open during regular library hours and will continue until December 19, 2006.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

OneViet links worldwide Vietnamese


It's in beta, or the testing stage, but OneViet already shows a lot of promise as a way to link all Vietnamese in the world.
On it's Web page OneViet says that it "is a network of city portals for all Vietnamese around the world.
"Our individual city portals are maintained by local editors and feature news, blogs, interviews, community announcements, event photos, directories and classifieds.
"Each city will have its unique content and everything that relates to Vietnamese. SanJoseViet.com will be launched in mid-May and followed by Oakland, Sacramento, Houston, Orange County and Seattle in the summer and fall of 2006.
This is historic. For its 5,000 years of history, Vietnamese, for the most part, stayed in Vietnam. There were no mass migrations until 1975 when the North Vietnamese
seized the South ending the long American war in Vietnam.
A couple million Vietnamese poured into the South China Sea to escape the communists. (See earlier posts for the stories of the diaspora.) Only about half of the escaping Vietnamese survived and these survivors are the heart of the Vietnamese communities around the world and here in New Saigon.
In this Vietnamese diaspora, the survivors sought freedom all around the world.
Now with OneViet, they can comunicate with each other as never before. Check out OneViet here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Vietnamese hui enters American mainstream


Yep, that's right. The hui, a form of private financing long a Vietnamese favorite, is the latest Vietnamese contribution to American culture. The San Jose Mercury News reports that debtors, facing the high finance rates of banks, are turning to the hui where they can get much lower rates.

Monday, February 06, 2006

New Saigon's Vietnamese are flexing political muscle


It's campaign time in San Jose as candidates line up to run for mayor. And the candidates have made it clear that San Jose's Vietnamese population can make or break a candidate. Read about it in today's Mercury News.

(Photo: Dai Sugano -- Mercury News)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Blast from the past: How San Jose became the New SaiGon


By Dennis Rockstroh

The following is from a speech delivered at the San Jose Museum of Art on August 29, 2003. It was on the occasion of the art exhibition, Flights of Dreams, a show by Vietnamese American artists:
Tonight I want to tell you how San Jose became the New SaiGon.
I left Old SaiGon in October 1971 after spending a total of five years in South Vietnam, first as a soldier, then a teacher and later, a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review.
Two years later, in 1973, I came to San Jose where I went to work as a reporter for the San Jose Mercury.
There were only a handful of Vietnamese students and expatriates in the Valley at the time.
I thought I had left Vietnam behind forever.
But Vietnam was about to follow me to San Jose.
Two years after I arrived in San Jose, old Saigon died.
It passed into history soon after the North Vietnamese conquest of the south on April 30, 1975 when the communists renamed SaiGon Ho Chi Minh City.
Little did I know that in the years to follow a New SaiGon would grow all around me.
It started even in the days before the fall of SaiGon.
In the weeks before the communist conquest, Ed Daly and World Airways of Oakland was ferrying food from SaiGon to Cambodia.
When it became clear that South Vietnam was falling and people were fleeing the communist advance, Daly ordered his two 727 jets back into Vietnam and up to DaNang to begin his dramatic rescue of people there.
In San Jose I watched much of this on television.
The images of the panic on the DaNang airfield and the pictures of bodies hanging from the 727 are seared into my memory.
I began to write stories about the reaction of the small group of Vietnamese here. Most were horrified.
One, Dr. Nguyen Ton Hoan, a former vice premier and owner of one of three Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area, urged American leaders to prepare for an onslaught of new Americans – the leaders of South Vietnam and their families and others who had sided with the U.S. and who faced peril in the aftermath of a communist victory.
Within days, shocked and weary Vietnamese started to arrive here aboard Daly’s 727s when they flew into Oakland. First, it was babies from Vietnam.
I was sent to cover their arrival and I noticed that there were many Vietnamese adults among the babies. Most of the new arrivals were taken to America’s first Vietnamese refugee camp - – the Los Gatos Christian Church. There I discovered and reported that among the 154 newcomers were some of the leaders of South Vietnam, among them former economics minister Nguyen Kim Ngoc and former assemblyman Ngo Trong Hieu. In the confusing, heart-wrenching days and months to follow, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled by ship, by helicopter and by aircraft, anyway they could.
Forty-one American warships and other ships from around the world helped rescue the fleeing Vietnamese. In all, I think, more than a million Vietnamese made their escapes safely.
It has been said that only about half of the Vietnamese who fled into the South China Sea survived. The surviving Vietnamese scattered all over Asia, Europe and the United States. President Ford’s plan was to take many of the Vietnamese and spread them evenly all over America so that they would not overtax social services. I remember our then-congressman Norm Mineta telling me that he expected at least half of these new Americas to eventually end up in California. It was a place they would like, he said, because of its pleasant weather and a custom of welcoming newcomers.
One of the first Vietnamese pioneers to find her way to San Jose was Nguyen thi Hoa, onetime owner of a SaiGon shopping center. She was part of the vanguard of business people, government and military leaders, doctors, lawyers, writers and others who had made old Vietnam function.
They became the pioneers of New SaiGon.
I first met Hoa at her restaurant at 13th and Empire.
It was called Rico Taco. There she cooked hamburgers, tacos and fries. One day she heard some of her customers speaking Vietnamese.
"Come back this evening,’’ she told them. "I will cook you a Vietnamese meal." Rico Taco became San Jose’s first Vietnamese restaurant.
Hoa had arrived in San Jose in 1976. Under Ford’s plan she and her family first were sent to Grand Forks, N.D. Now I’ve got nothing against North Dakota. But it’s not a place you send people from the tropics. One winter there was all she could stand.
She quit her job as a maid, packed her children into an old green Pontiac and, she told me, "I went looking for the Promised Land.’’
A month later, after wandering through Kansas, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Arizona and points in between, she found the promised land.
It was called San Jose. The weather was perfect and its old downtown district was depressed and had an abandoned look with many unused storefronts.
Rent was cheap and it became a magnet for Vietnamese all over America.
By the time I met Hoa, she owned 14 businesses, a dozen of them on East Santa Clara Street.
"The city was dead when I came here, ’’ she told me in 1987. "Now it is coming back to life.’’
Multiply the story of Nguyen thi Hoa by thousands and you have the story of San Jose’s New SaiGon.
Just recently the New York Times reported the success of the famed Lee Family of San Jose, whose sandwich shops are now found on both coasts of the U.S. The family’s patriarch, Le Van Ba, started the business in San Jose in a catering truck. He, too, was one of San Jose’s Vietnamese pioneers.
Word spread quickly in the late 1970s of the opportunities in San Jose, and Vietnamese flowed into the area. Today, one in 10 residents of San Jose is of Vietnamese origin. While Southern California is home to more Vietnamese, San Jose has the largest population of Vietnamese of any city outside of Vietnam. The Vietnamese impact in San Jose can be seen everywhere – they have helped turn mediocre schools into excellent ones, they have rejuvenated the old downtown San Jose and have moved eastward buying up land and building new shopping centers. The 2003 Vietnamese telephone book for this area is two inches thick. In here are the listings for 417 Vietnamese physicians, 457 attorneys and 556 Vietnamese restaurants. In this book are listings for 58 Vietnamese tailors, 19 magazines and 10 newspapers, including five dailies. In all, there are more than 5,000 Vietnamese-owned businesses in Santa Clara County. The three most common names of homeowners in Santa Clara County are Nguyen, Tran and Le – all Vietnamese. Old SaiGon may be gone. But a new one has risen. Many Vietnamese tragically lost everything, even their homeland.
But in the tradition of America, people from other lands brought not only their families, customs and cuisine but familiar names of the old country – New Hampshire, New England, New Jersey, New York, New Orleans and New Mexico.
The Vietnamese lost their old homes but they have gained a new one here. They breathed new life into downtown San Jose and are rapidly building a new, vibrant economy on the city’s East Side.
The Vietnamese have helped make San Jose what it is today – a New SaiGon.

Happy Spring


Spring-like weather? Early blossoms? Not really, because the first day of Spring for New Saigon and San Jose's Vietnamese (and Chinese and Koreans) this year was Jan. 29.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Welcome Year of the Dog ( Bi'nh Tua^'t)


Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shame on Microsoft and Yahoo


These two American giants are aiding the Chinese in its crackdown on dissent and free speech. Shame.
Read this New York Times editorial:

Beijing's New Enforcer: Microsoft

Microsoft has silenced a well-known blogger in China for committing journalism. At the Chinese government's request, the company closed the blog of Zhao Jing on Dec. 30 after he criticized the government's firing of editors at a progressive newspaper. Microsoft, which also acknowledges that its MSN Internet portal in China censors searches and blogs, is far from alone. Recently Yahoo admitted that it had helped China sentence a dissident to 10 years in prison by identifying him as the sender of a banned e-mail message.

Even as Internet use explodes in China, Beijing is cracking down on free expression, and Western technology firms are leaping to help. The companies block access to political Web sites, censor content, provide filtering equipment to the government and snitch on users. Companies argue that they must follow local laws, but they are also eager to ingratiate themselves with a government that controls access to the Chinese market.

Such obvious disregard for users' privacy and ethical standards may make it easier to do business in China, but it also aids a repressive regime. Some in the American Congress are talking about holding hearings. Microsoft has responded to criticism by saying, "We think it's better to be there with our services than not be there." This is a false choice. China needs Internet companies as much as they need China.

A decade ago, consumers began to rebel against the sweatshop practices of Western manufacturers that made clothes and toys in China and elsewhere. The smart businesses cleaned up. They formed associations to adopt codes of good labor practices and set up independent monitoring.

Reporters Without Borders, a group advocating press freedom, recommends that Internet companies also adopt a good conduct code, pledging not to filter out words like "democracy" and "human rights" from search engines and maintaining their e-mail and Internet servers outside China.

Western businesses have always overestimated the price of defending human rights in China. Some have done it effectively - privately and respectfully - and paid no cost. But the beauty of such an industrywide code of conduct for Internet companies is that it would put no company at a disadvantage.

Western technology companies could have a powerful case if they acted as a group in telling China that they are under tremendous consumer and political pressure to stick up for free expression.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Secret Bay of Tonkin documents released


The National Security Agency, the U.S. goverment arm that listens in on communications around the world, has released fascinating documents relating to the Bay of Tonkin "incident" that led to the 1964 de facto declaration of war in the American war in Vietnam. This is a treasure trove for historians and those interested in studying the steps that led to war. As expected, the documents show conflicting images -- one, that the North Vietnamese attacks on the American destoyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy never happened and two, that they did happen. Interestingly, James Stockdale, an American pilot at the scene who had "the best seat in the house from which to detect boats," saw nothing. "No boats, no boat wakes, no ricochets off boats, no boat impacts, no torpedo wakes -- nothing but black sea and American firepower." The New York Times today notes that one of the documents written by a government historian said that the evidence of an attack was "deliberately skewed." As President Johnson himself summed it up in later years, "Hell, those damn, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish." An estimated three million people died in the subsequent war.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Viet Mercury sale is off


The Mercury News has announced that its sale of Viet Mercury "will not go forward." The reason remains a mystery. Publisher George Riggs said the newspaper and local investors who planned to buy Viet Mercury determined that ``current revenue and costs would not ensure the viability of continuing the publication.''
Translation: the buyers don't have enough money. Apparently, there is no other buyer. The landmark Vietnamese-language weekly ceased publication Nov. 11 as the Mercury News cut back on staff to reduce costs. The newspaper is part of the Knight Ridder chain that is up for sale as big investors seek to maximize their profits at the expense of the newspaper chain. Although the chain is making dramatic cuts, its profit margin is said to be about more than 10. Its profit margin once was closer to 30 percent. But the future looks glum for newspapers as we have known them. Viet Mercury was a leader in upgrading standards for Vietnamese-language newspapers. It was destined to become VietUSA News, but that plan now appears dead.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

On the American wars in Vietnam and Iraq



Newly-released
secret documents reveal that the Bush administration is struggling with the same issues that faced the administration of Richard Nixon. The similarities are eerie. There are big differences to be sure. But note the similarities:

In 1995, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the architect of the American war in Vietnam, looked back and listed the major reasons for the failure of U.S. foreign policy there. Here are some of them:
--We misjudged the intention of our adversaries and we exaggerated the danger to the United States.
--We viewed the people and the leaders in terms of our own experience. We saw in them a thirst for and a determination to fight for freedom and democracy. We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.
--We underestimated the power of nationalism to motive a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values – and we continue to do so today in many parts of the world.
--Our misjudgments of friend and foe alike reflected profound ignorance of the history, culture and politics of the people in the area and the personalities and habits of their leaders.
--We failed to recognize the limits of modern, high technology military equipment, forces and doctrine in confronting unconventional, highly motivated people's movements.
--We failed to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of the people from a totally different culture.
--We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement before we initiated the action.
--After the action got underway and unanticipated events forces us off our planned course, we failed to retain popular support in part because we did not explain fully what was happening and why we were doing what we did. We had not prepared the public to understand the complex events we faced and how to react constructively to the need for changes in course as the nation confronted uncharted seas and an alien environment.
--We did not recognize that neither our people nor its leaders are omniscient.
--We did not hold to the principle that US military action – other than in response to direct threats to our own security – should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces fully and not merely cosmetically, by the international community.
--We failed to understand that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems in which there is no immediate solution.
I am not the first to say this, but those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Viet Mercury -- R.I.P.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Is the Mercury News also for sale?


In the wake of the sale of Viet Mercury, is the mothership also up for sale? Knight Ridder's biggest shareholder says Knight Ridder, which includes the Mercury News, should be sold.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Viet Mercury's last issue is Nov. 11 after Mercury News sold the San Jose Vietnamese weekly


The last copy of the San Jose Mercury News' Viet Mercury will be distributed on Nov. 11. The name "Viet Mercury" will remain for a short time, but it will have to change under the conditions of the sale. Mercury News Publisher George Riggs said that Viet Mercury was sold because it had been consistently unprofitable. The company had previously said that Viet Mercury was profitable. However, with the deminishing number of Vietnamese readers, mostly the older ones, the company likely realized that the paper would not gain many readers from the younger generation. Although the company did not reveal the sale price, the word on the street the last few weeks was that the asking price was $11 million. It probably went for far less. Some are saying that money from Vietnam helped finance the purchase. Another story is that the purchasers are a group of older, Vietnamese-Americans businessmen. Rumor three says that the buyers are a group of young dot.commers. While the ethnic press seems to be doing well, most in the mainstream newspaper business have been painfully slow in recognizing that the news business is changing rapidly. Daily newspapers may become a vanishing breed if they don't re-invent themselves quickly. Most embraced the Internet too late while the likes of Craigslist and Google and blogs like this hit at their core businesses -- classified ads and news. Sources say that the mood at the Mercury News has been glum with the news of Viet Mercury's sale and the elimination of other publications. Adding to the stress are the pending cuts of the editorial staff by 52 people through buyouts and, possibly, layoffs. It is a continuing trend, and employees at the paper have been referring to themselves as passengers on the Titanic.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Madison Nguyen is sworn in


History was marked with a swearing-in ceremony and a rain storm. Check here for an inside story.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Come one, come all to the Children Moon Festival in downtown San Jose


The Children Moon Festival (Tet Trung Thu) will be presented by the Viet-American Cultural Foundation at Cezar Chavez Park, in downtown San Jose from 12 noon to 10 p.m., Saturday, September 17. Admission is free.
It is a Vietnamese event to celebrate the children and family spirit with the arrival of the harvest moon.
There will be food, games, children’s contests, raffles, entertainment and a lantern parade.
Many Vietnamese organizations and businesses will also participate in the festival to promote this cultural event which is expecting more than 10,000 people to attend.
At the park, the Viet-American Cultural Foundation will join in the national effort to raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Madison Nguyen: the torch is passed to a new generation of Americans


The election of Madison Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American to sit on the San Jose City Council, marks a dramatic changing of the guard for the country’s 10th largest city.
For the past 30 years, in the lingering smoke of the surrender of South Vietnam to the North and the flow of an estimated two million Vietnamese into the South China Sea, San Jose’s Vietnamese community was under the thumb of former generals, colonels and other former leaders of the south. Freedom of speech, press, association and travel often suffered under their required regime of rabid anti-communism. Nonetheless, the new Americans flourished under these fallen leaders of South Vietnam.
But with the election of a 30-year-old daughter of refugees, migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, there is fresh, vibrant leadership and a new energy pulsing through District 7 and the city as a whole.
Finally, there is one Vietnamese leader, the first elected by the people of New Saigon – San Jose, California. Nguyen is new blood, born as her old country disintegrated under the blitzkrieg from the North.
There is a feeling of newness and opportunity in the air, much is expected from Nguyen and this new tough, talented generation, the children of survivors (It has been said that only half of those who fled into the sea survived.) It is now up to Nguyen to unify the community, to show she can lead because next year she must face re-election.
But, for now, the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, as President John Kennedy once said. It was true then. And it’s true now. And it is especially true for the Vietnamese of San Jose.

Madison Nguyen Makes History

The 30-year-old Franklin-McKinley school board member far outdistanced her opponent, Linda Nguyen, for the San Jose City Council. It is history. The Vietnamese community in New Saigon -- San Jose, California has come of age.

(Photo: San Jose Mercury News)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Letter from the Gulf Coast; San Jose Vietnamese lend a helping hand



Here is an e-mail letter from making the rounds in New Saigon -- San Jose, California. It is a report of a Vietnamese group who traveled to the Gulf Coast to aid Vietnamese who had settled there and were victims of Hurricane Katrina.


Dear Friends,

As I sit here on the plane with my two other Viet-ACF members departing from Dallas back to San Jose to attend a family’s funeral, my heart aches for not doing enough for all the poor souls that we have met the last 4 days in Houston. These Hurricane Katrina victims have had their lives disrupted horribly since the Hurricane Katrina swooped down on them and took everything they own. My mind kept racing back to particular hard luck stories that consumed me, my team and the volunteers as if we have witnessed the disaster first hand. We need to come back and do more…one more FEMA application, one more phone call to the Red Cross, one more visit to the local hotels and apartments to explain the benefits of taking in a Katrina victims for temporary housing, one more hand holding session to tell the victims that it’s okay, help is on the way and we love them.

The Federal and State government have done their best under the circumstances, but they have totally neglected the Vietnamese part of town and have made us, as a community, rely on ourselves during this crisis. The Houston Astrodome, when visited by a local Vietnamese media reporter for Dep Magazine, was a site to behold. Yes, the living conditions were deplorable and the spirit was down. But our cub reporter was actually turned away as a volunteer because there is already one volunteer/social worker per household. That is one individual guiding the family through the FEMA application process and advising them of all the available services provided by all the agencies. There are social workers, foods- 3 meals a day, phone lines set up, American Red Cross as well as all available resources at the victims’ disposal. Housing assistance and advocates are there to place the victims into good apartments, homes and families. Family reunification and relocation services are indeterminately available……

On the other part of town, a Vietnamese Mall named Hong Kong V Mall at 11205 Bellaire Blvd; a new boat story chapter begins. Thousands from all parts of Louisiana poured in and congregate inside the hallway of this mall with small plastic bags of their belongings as if this mall is their boat of freedom. They hope that this boat would be the shelter and a promise of a new beginning from the horrible storm that has turned their lives upside down. Interrupted violently by this mass exodus, the Houston Vietnamese Community rose like a sleepy dragon awakens from its nap and roars with the spirit of courage and independence. Co Ha, "Princess Diana" as she is lovingly referred to by the victims, opened up her mall and her heart. Since Friday until the time I left today, Wednesday, makeshift "camps" are set up in front of her grocery store, Hong Kong Foodmart Houston. Here is a snap shot of all the Katrina camps:

* Camp Hong Kong Foodmart - Sandwiches, fried rice, hot food, cups of noodles, bottled water, snacks, and food coupons are being distributed and poured into shopping carts by the ton along with a compassionate smile from the tireless volunteer handing them out.

* Camp Katrina Care – Chinese-Vietnamese set up handouts, literatures, phone numbers, foods, and friendly chats and advice for Chinese speaking as well as Vietnamese victims.

* Camp Louisiana - This is a unique story in itself. The President of the Vietnamese American in Louisiana for 11 years, Mr. Quan Hong Huynh is leading his troops into combat. He may have lost the battle, but he must win the war. His small armies of volunteers are signing up people for FEMA assistance online, guiding them through the grueling task of starting over with unemployment, food stamps, reunification, medical help, temporary housings and shelter for the night. Not once did he mention his circumstances, unless he is trying to comfort victims, that he is one of them or an advocate for their help. He himself is a Katrina victim. He is also separated from his family- he sends them away before the storm and stayed behind to help. Well, his house according to his dry humor, still have 5 feet of space left. The five feet of roof above water with all his belonging below water. Yet, this De-Facto Mayor of the town he left behind and vowing to return someday, fights on with all the courage we see in our parents when they left Vietnam and landed in America. The fight continues, the war is not over…..

* Camp Vietnamese Veterans – dressed in their former military uniforms, the former military men sign and assist victims with food stamp, medical and other benefits while sharing a few war stories with their new comrades.

* Camp "Macy" – Clothing of all kinds are scattered everywhere and volunteers as well as a lone Buddhist monk sort them into neat piles of pants, shirts, shoes, children’s clothes using shopping carts as makeshift clothing bins.

* Camp Boat People SOS - The lines wrap around the office to the left and to the right with people sitting, standing, filling out applications, calling on cell phones to check on love ones, conversing with each other and sharing their lives…Frustration, sadness and uncertainties painted on their faces as they patiently wait for their turn. Volunteers inside filled up every available room with laptops and computers to process FEMA applications. One room to the left is used as a temporary clinic and another as victim advocate. In a small corner, several American volunteers call local housings and hotels to reserve spots for their clients. By Tuesday, they have gotten most of the Hong Kong Mall victims registered with FEMA, which is remarkable considering the 45 minutes application process it takes per family. Most volunteers as well as their staff attorney are in their 20s yet speak as best as they could in their broken Vietnamese to their elder clients.

* Camp Fundraiser: Mr. Tam Tran and his wife, Kim runs the local Dep magazine and is the Houston biggest fundraiser for Vietnamese events. He is organizing a one of kind concert that unite all factions of Vietnamese community organization the coming week to supplement the victims with "starting over" money so they can move forward with their lives. Local Houston residents come up to them and handed them checks, cash and envelopes all for the Katrina victims.

* Camp Gas cards – With proof of a Louisiana driver’s license, you get a $20 CISGO gas card to drive to and from the shelter while waiting for FEMA to show up.

* Camp Relocation - Volunteers take down information of loved ones and announce on Radio Saigon to their listeners to help relocate displaced families.

* Camp Legal Aids – Attorney Tammy Tran and her staff assist and answer all they know regarding legal issues, insurance claims and housing.

* Camp Entertainment – A tall young man that is not shy with the microphone kept the action going similar to a live auction. He announces job availability at Hong Kong markets in Texas, lost child, housing information, food stamps and the weather itself if you let him. All in loud English. A shorter, older man follows up with the Vietnamese version.

Other astounding "boats" navigating the rough water for our fellow Vietnamese "boat people" are local temples, churches, convent, and the homes of the generous Vietnamese people of Houston.

* Chua Vietnam (Vietnam Temple) - 60 people sleeping in the dining area with makeshift bed out of sleeping blankets. They are dropped off during daylight hours at the Hong Kong Mall to apply for assistance and to eat what is given to them free.

* Da Minh Convent - The sleeping conditions might be tight, but the food is great and the love these Catholic nuns showered on their 200 plus patrons it makes them forget their sorrow for a few hours a day.

* La Vang Church - The father showed the remarkable poise of a drill sergeant having dealt with crisis like this many times over. It is this quiet confidence that calms the victims and allow the largely Catholic victims the solace that they are seeking right now.

These uncharted waters are filled with unknowns. Unknowns that can only be solved in the coming days, weeks, months by FEMA, insurance companies, state and federal benefits and grants, jobs and the prospect of returning one day back to their homes. We need to actively bring our federal and state government to our "boatpeople’s" doorsteps by any means necessary. Call or write to your newspapers, congressmen, senators, politicians…Tell them to recognize us and our Vietnamese community. We have contributed the last 30 years and deserve the same rights and entitlements as our neighbors at other affected areas. Get them to send someone from FEMA, anyone from the federal and state level to tour, to assess the needs and to give, NOW.

All in all, this tragedy hits home where we live. We were these victims not that long ago. Just like before when we were in various resettlement camps in unfamiliar cities and spoke not one word of English, some remarkable person became our surrogate brother or sister and stood up for us. That person enveloped us with love and care and told us that it was OK when we were frightened of the future and when we cry. For some, it is that caring social worker, for others it is various charities, churches and that particularly kind American that we spoke years later lovingly as our second family. They gave without asking anything in return. Our welfare is their welfare. We could not have made it this far in America without them and we promised ourselves we would repay their kindness one day.

That repayment time is now. Please help. Find it in your heart to help in any ways you can. Sign up to volunteer. Do fundraising events. Send donation. If you are an adventurous soul, bring your wireless laptops to affected areas and fight this war together. Your brothers and sisters in the trenches appreciate you and welcome you with open arms as they did with us the last four days. Be a translator or counselor for FEMA and other agencies. Get our "family" all available temporary relief including the $2,000 FEMA debit card. Set up sponsorship program in your state to welcome victims that want to relocate. Learn as much as you can and educate the victims about their rights and benefits. Professionals are urgently needed right now. Doctors, lawyers, insurance agents or professional, social workers, please help. Let’s fill out FEMA and insurance claim forms, apply for food stamps, MediCal and unemployment, interact with all governmental agencies on our brothers’ and sisters’ behalf, locate housing anyway possible, help our young one with school, relocate them where it’s suitable, apply for emergency disaster relief grant and SBA loan, locate jobs, counseling, ………or simply hold their hands and assure them their lives will be normal once again. We need to fight for these victims during their weakest hours and stand up for them when they cannot…

Please help….

THANK YOU

Viet-American Cultural Foundation- Viet-ACF

Sunday, September 04, 2005

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Gloves off in historic District Seven San Jose City Council run-off race


That's what the San Jose Mercury News says about the historic race between two Vietnamese-Americans, Linda Nguyen (left in photo) and Madison Nguyen, seeking the District 7 seat on the City Council. They are playing hardball politics in a kind rarely seen at the municipal level. But then it shows very clearly that San Jose's Vietnamese community, the largest of any city outside Vietnam, is not monolithic. Quite the contrary. This is a community made of of people still fighting the war and those who would like to move on.

(Photo: Mercury News)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Blast from the past: 1987, Silicon Valley's Vietnamese generals

By Dennis Rockstroh
San Jose Mercury News


April 7, 1987 -- San Jose -- They no longer call the shots, but they still wish they could, those former generals and admirals of the defeated Republic of Vietnam. They meet regularly in the San Jose area to secretly map the political future of the Vietnamese, both here and in the homeland. Their meetings are private, and they prefer that they stay that way.
"We don't look for publicity," said Do Kien Nhieu, once a brigadier general, now a mail room supervisor at San Francisco's city hall. "Even the Vietnamese press does not write about us. No one in this office knows who I am."
Today a dozen of the generals live in the San Jose area selling insurance, investing in real estate and working at such diverse jobs as electronics technician, social worker and catering-truck driver. They live almost anonymously in two worlds, making a living in one and working behind the scenes to influence the future in the second.
The defeated warriors in exile, once leaders of one of the best-equipped military forces in history, meet to discuss their future roles in two areas a world apart: Vietnam and California's Republican Party.
Nhieu was a general in the South Vietnamese army and the last mayor of Saigon, a post he held from 1968 until his escape on one of the last flights from the U.S. Embassy in 1975. Shortly after Nhieu left, Saigon ceased to exist when the victorious communists renamed it Ho Chi Minh City.
For 12 years in Vietnam, from the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the generals ran South Vietnam. Sixty-seven generals and admirals escaped from Communist Vietnam. A dozen did not get away. Their fate is uncertain.
''A lot of them are in re-education camps. We don't know what happened to them. They are our MIAs," said Maj. Gen. Bui Dinh Dam, chairman of the San Jose-based Vietnamese National Military Academy Alumni Association.
Dam is a Santa Clara County social worker. He was one of President Diem's favorite officers and later was in charge of mobilization in the Ministry of Defense.
While some of the generals insist that they meet strictly to socialize, their real purpose is clear in the name they have chosen for themselves: Dien Hong, the name of the assembly of elders that fought the Chinese during the centuries when they occupied Vietnam.
Nhieu, the last mayor of Saigon and now the secretary general of Dien Hong, is also coordinator of the Indochinese Republican League.
''We (the generals) have monthly meetings in San Jose," Nhieu said. "We just sit together and talk together. It's a social gathering."
''We talk about the country (Vietnam)," said Lt. Gen. Hoang Xuan Lam, former commanding general of the northern provinces and the commander of the ill-fated invasion of Laos in 1971. When he first arrived in the United States, Lam sold insurance in Santa Clara. After his son was killed in an accident, he moved to Sacramento, where he still sells insurance.
''We're not political yet," Lam said. "We just stand together."
But Dien Hong is more than just an occasional social gathering of old soldiers, acquaintances of the generals said.
Dr. Nguyen Ton Hoan, one-time deputy prime minister of the Republic of Vietnam and a resident of Mountain View, has worked with and against the generals in and out of Vietnam for more than 30 years. Hoan said topic A on the generals' agenda is retaking Vietnam through political means.
Waiting for right person
''They study the issues and are ready to support someone serious," Hoan said. Today Hoan operates the Mekong Restaurant in Mountain View and said he helps run a clandestine resistance movement in Vietnam.
But Hoan said he is not ready to discuss his role in the resistance.
''Serious people do not talk about their movement in Vietnam, only later when they have strength," he said.
In this country, the Vietnamese who fled communism, sometimes at great risk, are staunchly Republican.
Nhut Ho, chairman of the League of Vietnamese American Voters in the United States, said an estimated 90 percent of the Vietnamese register with the Republican Party after earning their citizenship. He said there are about 7,000 Vietnamese registered voters in Santa Clara County.
Robert Walker, executive director of the Republican Central Committee of Santa Clara County, placed the percentage of Vietnamese registering as Republicans in Santa Clara County at 70 to 80 percent. Walker said the party welcomes the Vietnamese as "a potent new political force" that already is changing the political tone of some San Jose precincts.
Ho said most Vietnamese are more at home philosophically with Republicans.
Of like minds
''The Republicans are conservative and anti-communist. We are conservative and anti-communist," said Ho, a San Jose insurance agent who said he was a high school teacher in Vietnam.
''They are involved in politics," Ho said of the generals. "One goal is to liberate Vietnam. I have a lot of friends in that group."
Dam, chairman of the national military academy alumni group, said life for the generals, most of whom have settled in the United States, has been difficult. ''It takes time to adjust to a new life. I had to go to San Jose State to get a degree so I could be a social worker." He politely cut short a telephone interview, saying he had nothing more to say.
Most of the generals are publicity-shy, preferring to plan their strategy in private. None would allow his photograph to be published. They fear that a discussion of their efforts to once again influence Vietnamese affairs might spark unwanted debate, criticism or a backlash.
''They are the true cause of the loss of Vietnam," said Hoan, the former civilian leader.
Members of Dien Hong refuse to discuss its purpose except to say that it is social.
''Our meetings are private. It is a private group," insisted Lam, the northern provinces commander.
''I don't know anything. I'm just a member," said a tight- lipped Lt. Gen. Lam Quang Thi, who lives in Milpitas and said he works in real estate. Thi was the commandant of the Vietnamese National Military Academy, South Vietnam's West Point, near the highland resort city of Dalat.
Meeting place
The generals, usually 30 to 35 at a meeting, sometimes gather at Hoan's Mekong restaurant, said Col. Ngo The Linh, a Sunnyvale Realtor and former commander of a special operations intelligence unit. Linh is not a member of Dien Hong because he left Vietnam as a colonel, but he, like Hoan, still follows the ebb and flow of politics in the Vietnamese community.
''They keep ready," Linh said of the generals. "If the situation changes they are ready to move."
Meanwhile, Linh said, Nhieu and the other generals are a power bloc in the Vietnamese branch of the California Republican Party. Hoan said the Vietnamese Republicans are looking over prospective candidates to run next year in a state race.
Hoan, once head of South Vietnam's rightist Dai Viet Party, is a veteran of Vietnamese politics and intrigue. In 1955 he was exiled to France after scheming to unseat President Diem. He opened a restaurant in Paris.
In 1964 he was summoned back to Vietnam by Gen. Nguyen Khanh to become prime minister. But the general changed his mind, took the prime minister's job himself and appointed Hoan his deputy. Hoan felt betrayed and conspired to unseat Khanh. Once again, Hoan was banished, this time to the United States and Mountain View, where he opened a restaurant.
Hoan, a deceptively mild-looking medical doctor who no longer practices, continued to dabble long-distance in Saigon politics. In spring 1975, as communist forces moved on Saigon, Hoan offered his services as head of a coalition government. When Saigon fell he appealed to the U.S. government and the United Nations to establish a Vietnam-in-exile on a Pacific island.
Typical strategy
Here's what Stanley Karnow said of Hoan's 1955 banishment in his book "Vietnam": "Typically he opened a restaurant, meanwhile maneuvering from afar to influence events inside South Vietnam through a clandestine network of associates there."
Thirty-two years and one more banishment later, Hoan is still at it as the generals mark time.
The Vietnamese generals and admirals in the United States run the spectrum from top-notch battle leaders to the corrupt and inefficient.
There are at least 11 generals in the Bay Area and two in the Sacramento area, Lam and Brig. Gen. Nguyen Van Chuc, who was a commander in the corps of engineers. Chuc ran a gas station near Sacramento for a short period but now spends his time traveling around the country as head of one of the three main resistance movements.
Dam is a social worker and Nhieu a mail room supervisor. Air force Chief Lt. Gen. Tran Van Minh, Dien Hong's chairman; air force division commanders Brig. Gen. Huynh Ba Tinh, Brig. Gen. Nguyen Huu and Brig. Gen. Nguyen Van Luong; and artillery commander Maj. Gen. Bui Huu Nhon are electronics technicians in Silicon Valley. Lt. Gen. Nguyen Van Manh, former chief of the general staff, is retired. And the last navy chief of staff, Rear Adm. Diep Quang Thuy, runs a catering truck in San Jose.
Controversial figure
Other generals in the area include Thi of Milpitas and Maj. Gen. Nguyen Khac Binh of San Mateo. In addition to running the military academy, Thi served as commander of I Corps, the northern provinces. Binh was commander of the national police and was a controversial figure because he was responsible for keeping thousands of political prisoners.
While the generals talk of a return home or a return to power, time ran out for at least one.
Maj. Gen. Nguyen Van Lanh, former deputy chief of air force operations, died in 1983 of cancer.

Friday, June 10, 2005

It's a Win-Win Situation

The results of San Jose's District 7 election is a win-win situation. A Vietnamese American will be on the city council after Madison Nguyen polled 44 percent of the vote and Linda Nguyen got 27 percent. They will face each other in a September run-off. Thirty years after the Fall of Saigon, Vietnamese Americans in San Jose are steadily moving into positions of political power. It is a fascinating thing to watch. As the Mercury News headline said, No matter who wins, we all do.


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Saturday, April 23, 2005

Dance With the California Sun


San Jose-based artist Le thi Que-Huong's "Dance With the California Sun" is on display in the Senate building at the state capitol, Sacramento, California Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Kim Nguyen remembers April 30, 1975 and the 30 Years Since

By Kim Nguyen

And thirty years later…

I still remember clearly that fateful morning, April 29, 1975. We were listening to the radio announcer on the air. The government is telling us to stay inside the house, not to travel out on the street. There were curfews in place and we were not to leave the house after a certain hour after sunset.

My uncle and his family were visiting my family thinking that this would be the last time we see each other. My mother gives my aunt a set of rice bowls, which she had brought with her when she moved from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. Except for my mother, father, uncle and aunt, I don’t think any of us, teenage and younger; have any idea what was going on. I don’t think we realized the impact of the takeover by the communists that was in process. I don’t think this was the end of an era.

I remember my mother asked me to ride my motorbike to one of her friend’s house and check to see if they had left. I kind of hesitated to go out on an empty street, but if I don’t do it, who will! Half an hour later, I returned and told my mother that her friend’s family is packing up, but to go where I did not know.

My mother becomes greatly concernd. She ordered us to start moving toward Saigon port. On the way over to Khanh Hoi (a city has close proximity to Saigon port), my mother saw the gate wide open. She decided to go back to the port. There, she found a man whom she had known previously closing the big gate. She gives him some money and asked him to let us in. We walk an extremely long walk to one of a private boat docks at the pier. The walk appears to be long only because we want to reach the boat quickly before any shooting occurs.

I will never forget the image of my mother climbing from the back of the boat to the front of the boat where my father and us stood. It was so dangerous because the boat was moving away from the pier. One fall, she would have been cut into pieces by the engine rotor fan. The love of a mother has no limit and recognizes no danger. This is so true. The boat was so packed that we could not move one inch, even to turn around to face each other. Later on, we found out that this is a private boat. A person who comes on the boat early has to pay a certain fee either in gold or cash to get on the boat. We were very lucky to get on the boat. It is now 4 pm in the afternoon on April 29, 2005.

Nighttime comes and we were told to lie flat on top of the boat because communist soldiers may see us and fire at us. They did anyway but no one was injured. The next day, as if we were not put through enough hardship, it rains. Rain heavily pour down on us. We did not have anything to cover us. However, it was also a blessing because we did not have anything to drink for over a day, so we were getting our water from the rain. The rain is still pouring, so much that the captain and the owner of the boat decide to open up the storage area in the bottom of the boat for people to climb down and hide from the rainy weather.

Even though we were on the boat only for 7 days before we were rescued by a foreign ship, the loss of food for these days have made me look older than my mother. People who travel with us actually thought I am my mother’s mother.

And then we begin a new chapter in our life. We go through the immigration processing like the Italian, the Irish, the Jews and other national origin groups. We move from camp to camp. From Subic Bay, to Guam, to Pennsylvania and with my limited knowledge of the English language, I was able to communicate enough to find us a sponsor, the Johnsons and St. Patrick’s church group members.

July 12, 1975 at Bradley International airport, we landed and received the warm welcome of more than 150 church members ranging from a few months old to 80 years old. They all come to airport to welcome a new member of their family. We were so fortunate to have met the Johnson’s, the Mocarsky’s, the Kuntz’s, the Scully’s, the O’Malley’s, the Cocomos’ and many more. Words can not express our appreciation for what they have done for us. They have welcomed us and set us up to live in a strange land without any hesitant second thought. Their heroic act is what this country represents.

It was difficult for my mother and my father since they were not used to having pizza and grilled cheese for lunch in the beginning of our new life. In fact, they never have such delicacies as food. However, it was not difficult for us because we were daring and want to experience the finer things that life offers us now that we are in America and want to become an American. Luckily for me, I was offered a job the day after I arrived in this small town of Windsor, Connecticut. The job was making pizza and waitressing for a family restaurant named Jim’s Pizza. Jim and Helene are another two wonderful human beings. They take me in to work for them and treat me like I am one of their family members. Jim loves the Red Sox, and he still does. So when the Red Sox got into the World Series in 1976, we were having a ball. Jim treats us to a fine dinner at a fine dinning restaurant. See, I told you I am experiencing the finer things in life.

Later on, Jim also hires my younger sister to work for him. He realizes we work hard just like his people who come from Greece many years ago and immigrated into this country just like us. For that, we thank you.

My Mother and My Father have to work to earn a living so that we can concentrate on going to school for the first part of our residency here in the States. My Mother works as a caretaker for a little girl, and My Father works for maintenance company taking care of an apartment complex. We were so young and did not realize the difficulty we were putting our parents through. My Mother and my Father never complaint despite all the heartache we give them. They always love us unconditionally.

The day my Mother passed away, I think I have gone along with her. There was no present time for me any more. I lost my Mother and I lost everything. She was everything to us. She has to volunteer to work on the boat so that we can get some extra rice because each of us was only allow on tablespoon of rice a meal and she knows her children were hungry, especially me. She has to hold in her disappointment when I did not listen to her advice on certain things. Even though she was always proud of me and display my love for her to her friend, but no matter what I did, it would never be enough compared to what she had done for us. She decided to leave this earth on February 6, 1994 because she never wants to be a burden to any of her children. Now, I go see her and take care of her final resting place to pay the respect but Where Is My Mother!

My Father is an extremely rare person. All his life, my mother was his only love. There were many happy times and then there were some discussion when the thinking was not on the same line. My Father begins his raising grandchildren’s career when my oldest niece, Marie Pham was born in 1976. He enjoys his life with this tiny baby and it grows to a career because later on, he has helped taken care of 17 grandchildren during 27 years he lives in the States. Sometimes, we would feel guilty because we could not be home long enough to take the kids of his hand for a few hours, but I don’t think he minded because they become his life. The grandchildren, ranging from 6 years old to 26 years old, have made him proud. One after another, the older one attended university and graduated, just as exactly what he wanted for them to do, and the rest will follow. Until this day, I don’t think any of his grandchildren would ever, never forget the time grandfather has to chase them all over the house just to get them to finish a bowl of rice, and then he would smile so big because he has completed his mission by making them eat the food he made for them. Or, when he promised to buy them toys that they have seen on television, but never receive them because he would never want to leave the house. He just wants to take care of his grandchildren.

He also has a love for sports, particularly baseball. I do believe my father knows much more about baseball than any of us and maybe other people also, because he has watched baseball for 27 years while living in this country. He also likes the 49ers and other sports. He has never missed any occasion that involves his grandchildren such as graduation, grandparent’s appreciation day, confirmation, first communication and most important, birthday. The day my son graduated from Mitty High School is the first time my father missed the ceremony. From that point on, his health has deteriorated. We were worry and wanted to do something to make him feel better, but at the same time, I know truly in my heart that my father is tired. He has worked tirelessly all his life for his children and then for his grandchildren. During the last days of his life, I saw my father cry. A tear stream down from his face and my heart froze. Three days before Thanksgiving of 2002, I told my father that all of his grandchildren would come home to see him; he has given me the biggest smile I have ever seen. The day after Thanksgiving, he has decided to go to his father house in heaven. I believe he is happy because he has accomplished what God sends him here to do. Now, I go to see my parents and tell them everything that I could not express in words before, but Where Is My Father!

Today, I know that both of my parents are in heaven and looking down to guide their grandchildren, the second generation of an immigrated family to do the right thing and giving back to a wonderful country that welcome them 30 years ago. Today, our family has grown bigger than when we come. We are business people, we work in medical field, we work in engineering field, we work in legal field, and we will continue working to prosper and to return what we have received from the good heart of the United States. We also support good causes in our homeland, to provide sight for the blind, the smile for the youngster, to build school for the young generation and to take care of the orphanage.

Thank you America! Thank you for giving us the opportunity to appreciate what this country has offered. Thank you for giving our children a chance to grow up in a free environment. Thank you and May God Bless!

Saturday, April 02, 2005


Food was sometimes flying insects... Posted by Hello

Hidden Horrors of Vietnam's Re-Education Camps

By Dennis Rockstroh

So whatever happened to the losing side in the Vietnam War?
Whatever happened to those who were left behind?
In the years following the fall of Saigon, the communist victors exacted a cruel revenge on hundreds of thousands of its citizens in an extensive network of re-education camps.
Executions, torture and constant, numbing brutality were cloaked in a veil of secrecy manufactured by Hanoi.
It wasn’t until thousands of Vietnamese, including many escaped prisoners, flowed into San Jose and other U.S. cities, that the story began to emerge.
More than 100 survivors of the camps who now live in San Jose, Southern California and the Washington, D.C., area have told me of their ordeals. They told how military, government, business and religious leaders -- people the communists declared guilty of war crimes or who they fear could lead a counterrevolution -- lived out their lives in hard labor, humiliation, sickness and deliberately inflicted pain.
Their stories are backed up by the findings of scholars, government officials and human rights groups across the United States, Europe and Asia.
The Vietnamese government admits that the camps existed and said that it had the right to punish the inmates as war criminals and "enemies of the people." But Hanoi denied that prisoners were tortured or otherwise mistreated in the camps. However, I learned otherwise.
Hanoi:
--Executed thousands of its vanquished opponents. A report by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley estimated that 65,000 people were executed in the eight years after the communist victory in 1975. The U.S. State Department reported to Congress that "executions number in the tens of thousands."
--Consigned as many as 500,000 people to extended stays in the camps. Scholars believe that at one time there were as many as 300 camps throughout Vietnam, most of them near Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon.--Sent people to the camps for indefinite terms without bringing formal charges against them or conducting judicial proceedings of any kind.
--Subjected prisoners to intense political harangues and forced them to write detailed confessions of their supposed crimes. Many prisoners said they had to revise their confessions dozens of times before they were deemed acceptable. Some inmates said they were forced to betray other prisoners for imaginary crimes in order to prove their sincerity.
--Tortured prisoners in an attempt to get information about political opposition, military resistance movements and conspiracies to escape. According to the former prisoners, the list of torture techniques included ripping out fingernails with pliers, whipping prisoners with live electric wires, hanging inmates from the ceiling and beating them and forcing prisoners to drink water and then jumping on their bloated stomachs.
--Disciplined prisoners by locking them in metal storage boxes called connexes, where the temperature often soared above 120 degrees. Water was sometimes denied as punishment, and some former prisoners said they drank their own urine. Others reported that some prisoners were chained so long that maggots grew in the wounds on their wrists or ankles.
--Forced inmates to perform hard labor while providing only the most rudimentary food and medical care. Many prisoners starved to death, while others were left to die a lingering, painful death from disease. Conditions in those camps are so bad that discipline for even the most minor infraction "can result in acute suffering, permanent physical impairment and death," according to the State Department.
''The communists practiced a form of genocide," said one former South Vietnamese army colonel speaking in his Los Angeles home. ''The Vietnamese communists were too clever to kill us all in a bloodbath as the Cambodia communists did," the colonel said. "They decided who they wanted to kill, worked them very hard, fed them almost nothing and let disease do the rest. There were 300 colonels in my camp originally. When we were moved two and a half years later, we left 37 graves behind."
''The communists did not want to re-educate us," said another former colonel from Garden Grove. "They wanted vengeance."
In the Berkeley study, researchers Jacqueline Desbarats and Karl D. Jackson said the camps were a sophisticated form of "drip death" that the communist regime uses for "liquidating (its) class enemies."
I went to New York to ask the Vietnamese about this at their mission to the United Nations.Vietnamese spokesman Ha Huy Thong called the reports of brutality in the camps "distorted" and "fabricated." Thong answered the allegations of torture with a statement from Justice Minister Phan Hien.
''We pursue a benevolent and very humane policy toward (the prisoners)," the statement said. "There are, of course, regulations in any camp. If they are violated, it is necessary to ensure they are respected. But we are against torture. We punish torture. But, on the other hand, prisoners must be punished who try to escape or destroy discipline in the camp."
Hanoi officials said they could have tried the prisoners as war criminals, but chose to punish most of them without formal charges or trials "to save them from a dirty stain (that) might be brought to bear on their families and themselves."
''To re-educate them is to help them to realize their crimes, to offer them an opportunity to listen to reason and to reform themselves into honest-minded people, thus contributing to the common cause of national reconstruction," according to a statement issued by the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry.
The continuing agony of thousands of Vietnamese went unnoticed by much of the world for years because of Hanoi’s tight control over information and access to the country. Few Western journalists were given access to the camps. Former prisoners said that even journalists from friendly communist countries were permitted to visit only after the camps have been transformed into showpieces in which guards sometimes masquerade as prisoners and props are brought in to create a brighter -- but false -- picture.
As a condition of release, prisoners are required to swear that they would never reveal what they experienced or saw.
However, scores of refugees who have come to the United States over the years told me that conditions in the camps were so brutal that some prisoners taunted guards to shoot them to end their misery. In some cases, the guards complied.
''Often I wished I could die to end the pain," said one torture victim struggling to build a new life and erase old memories in San Jose, the New Saigon. He winced at the memory. "It was so bad, so horrible, I don't think I will forget it even after I am dead."
Even sleep was not an escape.
''They would beat prisoners at night. They made noise to keep us awake," said a former Special Forces operative who worked for the CIA and lives today in San Jose. "We all knew they could come for us at any time, and our sleep was always uneasy."
''The camp at Tay Ninh was very cruel," said a 54-year-old former Special Forces colonel who lives in Campbell. "I saw two executions. It was in 1976. . . . They shot a Ranger captain and a lieutenant by the name of Luong Thanh Tu. There was a trial, but they brought up the coffins before it started."
''I was a prisoner at Kim Son for five years. I almost died," said a former Qui Nhon police officer who lives in Santa Ana. "I was locked in a connex in the hot sun. They gave me rice but no water, and I had to drink my urine to survive."
''In 1980 at Thanh Cam I saw about 30 Buddhist and Catholic monks and priests chained in a special cell," said a 45-year- old former army major living in San Jose. "Some of them were kept in chains so long maggots hatched where the shackles rubbed their wrists and ankles."
''They went out of their way to degrade us in the camps," said a 46-year-old former political warfare captain living in Garden Grove. "I had to carry human waste to the rice fields to use as fertilizer. We could have used tools, but they made us use our hands."
''My arm was tied over my shoulder and behind my back during questioning," said a 50-year-old former non-commissioned officer from San Jose. "There is no way to describe the pain. I wanted to die."
''They ignored sick people and let them die," said a former helicopter pilot who lives in Los Angeles. "When I was in An Duong I slept near this guy whose whole body was infected. A million ants were swarming all over him, and he didn't appear to feel a thing. Later he died."
"I saw a man in 1976 at An Duong put in a barrel," said a 50-year-old former colonel in Falls Church, Va. "The guards beat on it and drove him crazy by doing this every day for two weeks."
''I think the mental torture was the worst," said another former colonel living in Falls Church. "They would humiliate us, forcing us to bow to them while they insulted us. They would wake us up in the middle of the night for this. This went on for years and it was very painful."
The residual brutality against the Vietnamese who supported the Americans and the Saigon regime may explain why the Vietnamese, who never left en masse during centuries of occupation by the Chinese, French and Japanese, today are pouring out of their homeland by the thousands.
Although the U.S. government knew of the suffering of the people who were its staunchest supporters during the war, it did little to spotlight the problem, relying on little-publicized reports, low-key, talks and occasional congressional resolutions.
When U.S. officials asked in 1987 that the re-education camp prisoners be released to settle here in the U.S. Hanoi finally agreed.But an official told me that Hanoi had done nothing wrong by imprisoning the losing side in the war.
"It is Vietnam's right to punish these criminals as the European countries did with the elements who had cooperated with Hitler. It is the legitimate right of all states to protect their national rights."


Not all work was in the classroom... Posted by Hello


Bad student? Posted by Hello

After April 30: the nightmare begins

By Dennis Rockstroh

Just days after the fall of South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, radio announcements across the country ordered the 2.5 million Vietnamese who had worked for the South Vietnamese government or the U.S. forces to report to local high schools for "re-education."The "students" -- from generals and ministers to soldiers and clerks -- were to receive instruction in the new socialist order. The instruction included lectures on communism and the history of the struggle for "liberation," as well as self-criticism and confessions.The re-education program, which had been used in North Vietnam on prisoners of war, "counterrevolutionary elements and professional scoundrels" since 1961, was redesigned in 1975 to emphasize the communist victory. It was designed to consolidate that victory by rapidly establishing control over the vanquished South Vietnamese.''Only if they are closely managed and profoundly educated and reformed can they rapidly have correct understanding of the revolution and of the people," wrote the official army publication Quan Doi Nhan Dan. "And only then will they be determined to completely abandon their mistaken thoughts and ugly way of life in order to rebuild their lives under the new social system."Enlisted men and low-ranking government workers were told to plan for a three-day stay, while hi
gher-ranking military and civilian officials were told to bring enough food and clothing for 10 or 30 days.Most people went home in the allotted time, but thousands of others were transferred to re-education camps or prisons. These camps, at first, were located in established prisons or military bases. Later the prisoners built new camps, some of which held more than 30,000 people. At their height in 1976, there were about 300 re-education camps. here were five kinds of camps: : day study centers near the cities, where the course was under 30 days; boarding schools with minimal security; "collective reformatories," where the emphasis was on self-criticism and confessions; and two grades of "reform" camps where the courses were set at three and five years.Each prisoner was required to write a detailed autobiography, emphasizing where his life had taken a wrong turn and how he ended up working for the Saigon government or the Americans.Most of the former prisoners I talked to said that they wrote their confessions dozens of times before they were accepted. Some were grilled and punished for inconsistencies.''I had to do my paper over and over again until I caught on," said a doctor living in San Jose. "I didn't feel I had done anything wrong. Finally I realized my sins, so I told them that I was wrong in treating wounded ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers because they could then return to battle and kill more communists. I was wrong in treating their families because they could give more support to the soldier so he could kill communists. It was stupid."Even after an autobiography showed the right attitude, several former prisoners reported, the student was often required to prove his conversion by turning in someone who was not showing a proper attitude or who had not adequately confessed his past.In the long-term camps, the prisoners were grouped together according to rank, with most of the higher-ranking prisoners shipped off to the north near the Chinese border, where they could have no influence outside the camps.Inmates were moved often to prevent them from making friends and hatching escape plans. The moves also made it more difficult for outside resistance groups to help prisoners escape.The long-term camps looked more like prisons than schools. One typical camp was Cay Cay in Tay Ninh province, west of Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. It was also known as Bau Co, Tan Hiep and Suoi Mau.The camp, which held 3,000 to 4,000 prisoners, was divided into five sub-camps, all circled with barbed wire fences. Beyond the outer fence was a 10-foot-wide mine field.Armed guards looked down from towers at the corners of the camps and searchlights swept the grounds at night.For the prisoners and guards, there were separate wood and thatch living quarters, mess halls, latrines, lecture halls and interrogation rooms. Large metal boxes called connex containers sat at the edges of the camps. These boxes were used as punishment cells.At Cay Cay and other camps, prisoners were required to do labor in quarries, in the fields or in the jungles felling bamboo for expansion of the prisons.Although the hours varied, it was not uncommon for prisoners to work 10 hours a day, six days a week.''It was always hot, and it was very hard work. We were always thirsty, always hungry, always weak," said a former colonel living in San Jose.Sometimes, prisoners were required to work in old mine fields. Many were killed or maimed when the mines exploded, former inmates said.Prisoners typically received two meals a day, consisting of rice combined with corn, sweet potatoes or sorghum. The average daily ration weighed about 15 ounces. Fish and fish sauce were occasionally provided. Prisoners also grew some of their own vegetables. However, food rations were so small that starvation was a real threat.''There was never enough food, except on holidays," said a former major in Garden Grove.A Hanoi spokesman scoffed at the former prisoners' complaints of near starvation.''We are a poor country," he said in an interview at the Vietnamese mission to the United Nations in New York. "These people were used to living in luxury. They received billions of dollars from the Americans. We have had trouble feeding our people and we have had trouble feeding the prisoners, too."


NVA tank on palace grounds Posted by Hello


Communist soldiers enter the presidential palace Posted by Hello

April 30, 1975

By Denns Rockstroh

North Vietnamese tanks led the final assault on the South Vietnamese capital city of Saigon 30 years ago.
As the tanks rumbled through the city, one tank commander hailed a man on the street and asked for directions to the presidential palace.
The city was encircled by about 250,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers, who periodically shelled the city and Tan Son Nhut airport as hundreds of thousands fled Vietnam any way they could – by air, boat, bicycle and on foot through Cambodia or Laos.
President Ford ordered American forces not to intervene.
Ford ordered the American Embassy to shut down and evacuate all personnel.
On April 30, 1975 South Vietnam surrendered over the radio and, soon after, a North Vietnamese tank smashed through the iron gates of the presidential palace.
The Vietnam War was over.
An estimated two million of South Vietnam’s 17 million fled the county. About one million of the refugees survived and went on to new lives around the world.
They established new communities in old cities.
In San Jose, California’s oldest city, they eventually formed the largest community of Vietnamese in any city outside Vietnam.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


South Vietnamese units block the North's blitzkrieg at Xuan Loc...


...while hundreds of thousands flee the North's advance

North Vietnam's blitzkrieg is stopped -- for two weeks -- at Xuan Loc

By Dennis Rockstroh

North Vietnam’s blitzkrieg down South Vietnam’s Highway One in March and April 1975 was reminiscent of America general George Patton’s Third Army race across Europe in World War II.
The North Vietnamese seemed unstoppable.
Until they met the 18th ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) Division at Xuan Loc, 40 miles east of Saigon.
The South Vietnamese division, fighting with a ferocity rarely seen, destroyed 37 North Vietnamese tanks and killed more than 5,000 enemy soldiers before falling to the massive thrust of PAVN (People’s Army of Viet Nam). Hanoi had dispatched 21 divisions, more than a quarter million men, to take Saigon.
Eventually, the north smashed through the south’s defenses at Xuan Loc, but the 18th Division had delayed the PAVN push for two weeks and allowed more people to escape Vietnam by sea and air and across trails in Laos and Cambodia.
But with the North Vietnamese victory, the stage was set for the final battle of the long war.
The big question was: Would America act?
Twenty-one North Vietnamese divisions massed outside Saigon.
A U.S. Navy cruiser moved to a position just off the coast of Vung Tau. It was armed with nuclear weapons.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Victor Charlie


More from the screenplay By Dennis Rockstroh: It is March, 1975


EXT. ALONG HIGHWAY ONE CENTRAL VIETNAM - DAY
Communist forces race down Vietnam’s Highway One. We see NVA trucks filled with soldiers and supplies moving along the highway.
In front of the military advance trudge hundreds and thousands of frightened soldiers and civilians, fearing what the conquering north will do.
Further south along Highway One we see this mass of humanity swarm out of the forested highlands and the shattered cities. The mass exodus goes as far as the eye can see. Hundreds of thousands are taking to the sea in all manner of boats or choking highway and buffalo trails that lead to the south — and safety?
Now we see the same scenes on television.

ANNOUNCER
In a sudden and stunning capitulation, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Thieu abandoned half his country to the conquering army of North Vietnam, and the great retreat that ensued may have signalled the beginning of the end for South Vietnam. With barely a shot fired, communist forces stood poised for the final push into the heart of Saigon itself. Meanwhile, the communist Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army are consolidating their victory in the conquered central part of Vietnam.
EXT. A VIETNAMESE VILLAGE IN CENTRAL VIETNAM - DAY
An NVA truck pulls into the village and green-uniformed North Vietnamese soldiers jump out of the truck.
Viet Cong cadre, dressed in black pajamas and carrying AK-47 assault rifles, rip the South Vietnamese flag (gold with three red stripes) down from the flagpole and stomp on it.
They raise the flag of the Viet Cong, the Front for the Liberation of Vietnam (blue and red with a large gold star in the middle) and smile.
Until a couple of NVA soldiers come over, push the Viet Cong aside, pull down their flag and hand it to them.
They then raise the new flag of all Vietnam, all red with a gold star in the middle
.
NVA SOLDIER
(to VC)
We are one, brothers.
EXT. A VIETNAMESE VILLAGE IN CENTRAL VIETNAM - DAY
A Viet Cong soldier is dragging the village chief out of his house by his hair.
VIET CONG SOLDIER
Comrades! This is the village chief, the running dog of Thieu and the Americans. What should we do with him?
NVA OFFICER
Shoot him.
The Viet Cong SHOOTS the village chief.
NVA OFFICER
Now, go shoot his family.
The Viet Cong rush into the house and GUN DOWN women, children, an old man and the family dog.
NVA OFFICER
Comrades, we leave this village in your hands. We must go.
The NVA truck and its soldiers leave. We see frightened people running through the fields. Viet Cong cadre round them up and march them back into the village square where the victorious Viet Cong have gathered the villagers.
BOSS VC
Some of you have been faithful to Vietnam. Others have been traitors. I see the cowards are gone but not all. I see policeman Toan. Come here. Kneel down. Confess your crimes.
The police officer, not in uniform, kneels and begs for his life. The Boss VC SHOOTS him in the forehead.
Just then, there is a scuffle and three Viet Cong push in front of them two ARVN soldiers, still partially in uniform.
VIET CONG SOLDIER
We found these dogs hiding under a bed.
BOSS VC
Well, for them we have a special treat. Bury this shit up to their heads.
As we begin to leave the scene, we see the heads of the two ARVN soldiers sticking out of the field.
The VC commander is talking to a peasant standing next to his water buffalo, which is pulling a sharp plow.
BOSS VC
You! Plow this field.


The first boat people

Countdown to Black April Continues

By Dennis Rockstroh

March, 30 years ago, 1975, was a month of horror for the South Vietnamese.
By March, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu knew that the fill-in American president, Gerald Ford, was not going to keep his predecessor’s pledge to strictly hold Hanoi to its promises. Richard Nixon had written Thieu that if the North violated the terms of the Paris peace accords, American reaction would be swift and severe.
It wasn’t at Phuoc Long and there would be only the slightest of military response from the Americans as Hanoi’s forces launched the final offensive.
Frightened and panicked Vietnamese clogged the highways and byways as North Vietnamese troops aboard trucks and tanks and over trails raced into the south from the north and west. The plan was simple – smash into the south with overwhelming force. What had begun as a guerilla war hadn’t been one for seven years, since the Viet Cong had been decimated in the 1968 Tet Offensive. Now, in March and April 1975, southern forces would find that they were outnumbered by the North five to one.
It was going to be a rout.
Without the promised help from the Americans and unable to stand along after a decade of sustained support from the U.S., South Vietnam would fall with hardly a fight.
As Hanoi’s troops rushed in from the north and the west, blocked rescue and escape routes, overran the South’s military positions and seized cities, President Thieu quickly and surprisingly abandoned the northern provinces and the highlands. He ordered his remaining military units to fall back and hold the line at the coastal cities and around Saigon and the Mekong Delta.
But already key South Vietnamese generals had hastened the panic by abandoning their posts, fleeing for their lives. Their soldiers and their families followed quickly. Hysteria and anarchy prevailed.
In Danang, South Vietnamese soldiers commandeered airplane seats from two Oakland-based American 727s sent there to rescue civilians. Instead of passing out drinks and food, stewardesses collected weapons.
For Vietnam, where warfare was part of life for more then 2,000 years, this war, known as the Vietnam War by Americans and the American War by Vietnamese, would lead to something that other wars had not caused – massive migration.
The Vietnamese Diaspora, an event that would change Vietnam and San Jose’s history, was beginning to unfold. In all, an estimated two million people, more than 10 percent of the south’s population, would flee.
Tragically, an estimated half of that number perished at sea.
More later.

Monday, February 28, 2005


From the exhibit... Posted by Hello

The Call of the Mountain

Here is an announcement I received:

GreenRice Gallery

proudly presents



The Call of the Mountain

Opening Reception: March 4th, 2005 – 5pm – 10pm

(food and wine will be served)

Exhibition: March 4th through April 30th



GreenRice Gallery, a new home for contemporary Vietnamese art located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, celebrates its grand opening with an exhibition titled "The Call of the Mountain. "

High in the mountains of Vietnam, far away from the cities, live various ethnic groups who are collectively referred to as the Dan Toc people (Dan Toc is a Vietnamese word that simply means "people"). The Call of the Mountain is a celebration of the Dan Toc’s way of life. They are simple folks who know how to live in harmony with nature. They live within the most pristine mountain landscape of Southeast Asia, covered by clouds and fog, where progress of civilization seems to freeze in time. The splendor of nature, the harmony of life and the wisdom of the mountain people are the underlying theme of this exhibition.

The Call of the Mountain features four artists: Dinh Thi Tham Poong, Kai Hoang, Vu Cuong, and Jenny Do.

Tham Poong traces her bloodline to the Thai and the Hmong, two among the many Dan Toc groups. Highly sought by collectors, her works pay homage to the harmony between humans (in this case, Thai people) and nature. Tham Poong recognizes the cyclical evolution of life: vegetations, animals, humans, and man-made environments generate from one another then degenerate into nature. In her paintings, elements of nature and man-built environment are intertwined and often imprinted on human shapes. It is this man-nature fusion that the artist’s eyes capture and her paintings convey.

Kai Hoang is a Vietnamese-American artist living in the Bay Area. Kai was born in Lao Kai, a northern frontier town, from a Nung (another Dan Toc group) family. Although his works are mostly abstract, there is a resonance of nature in them. Many of his paintings hark back to his days in Lao Cai. Others borrow themes from tales and folklores, while still others echo the vibrations of a world that is an ocean apart from his current home. The most obvious characteristic of Kai’s works, however, is the spirit of freedom in its most exuberant form. This is the spirit of the Dan Toc people that is calling to Kai from the mountains of northern Vietnam. Kai’s works have been exhibited in many museums and galleries, and is widely collected.

Vu Cuong, a Hanoi artist, went on a pilgrimage and found enlightenment in the mountain home of the Dan Toc people. Cuong’s most recent series is titled Calling for Love (Goi Tinh) and is based on a Dan Toc tradition. Once a year, men and women, who at one time were lovers but could not be joined in marriage, are reunited at a place called the Love Fair (Cho Tinh). Here, the men called to their former lovers through the sound of the Khen, a wind instrument made of bamboo. It is through the sounds and melodies of this instrument that former lovers sought out for one another and relived their love through the end of the day. For Cuong, it is a tradition that is most liberating with respect to a love relationship. It also reflects the spirit of freedom that is inherent in nature. People make rules and try to live by them, but at the end, they must be free. In that sense, Calling for Love is also a call for freedom and for liberation against rules imposed by people on people.

Jenny Do is another Vietnamese-American artist living in the Bay Area. A frequent traveler of the northern Vietnamese mountains, Jenny came to love the land and its people. She particularly empathizes with the Dan Toc women. Jenny portrays these women from different light and angles to show their strength and dignity, and by doing so captures the colors of Dan Toc life in the most intimate way. Jenny never goes on a journey through the mountains by herself. The Dan Toc women, whether in person or in spirit, always accompany the artist in her discovery of the land of clouds and fogs.

GreenRice Gallery also has the privilege to showcase the works of other well-known Vietnamese and Vietnamese American artists, such as Thai Bui, Le Thiet Cuong, Quach Dong Phuong, Nguyen Quoc Dzung, Hoang Dang Nhuan, Pham Hoang, Pham Minh Tuan, and Tran Huy Hoan. The gallery holds several exhibitions annually.

GreenRice Gallery is located at 300 South First Street, Suite 310, San Jose, CA 95113. For more information, please call (408) 292-2423 or visit the gallery’s website at www.greenricegallery.com