New Year, Old Unresolved Passion: Vietnam and its Diaspora

New America Media, News Analysis, Andrew Lam Posted: Feb 07, 2008

Editor's Note: It's been more than three decades since the Vietnam war ended and there are now over three million Vietnamese living abroad. While new economic and cultural ties are being built, politically, the Diaspora and its homeland are still feuding. But NAM editor, Andrew Lam, says that it's time for those living abroad to engage, and not just denounce and protest.

Is the Vietnamese Diaspora still in exile? Judging from the ads in the Vietnamese-language papers in San Jose, Orange County, and Houston, the answer is no. Selling phone cards, money orders, variety shows featuring young singers visiting from Saigon and Hanoi, cheap flights back home, and the latest satellite connections for TV shows in Vietnam – advertising seeks to tell the story of deepening ties: The Vietnamese Diaspora, no longer unmoored, is steadily reintegrating with its homeland.

Each spring, 200,000 Viet Kieu – Vietnamese nationals living abroad – return to Vietnam to spend their Tet holidays. The bulk of this reverse exodus is from Texas and California, home to the largest and most prosperous overseas Vietnamese population.

Not so long ago, a Vietnamese in America had little more than nostalgic memories to keep cultural ties alive. During the Cold War, letters sent from Vietnam could take half a year to reach their recipients in America, and they unanimously told of tragic lives: Auntie and her family barely survived; Uncle is incarcerated in a re-education camp; and Cousin has disappeared somewhere in the South China Sea. There was a time when leaving meant risking losing their lives in the turbulent sea, and, if they made it to foreign shores, they would not expect to ever see their homeland again.

These days, however, Vietnam is but an 18-hour flight from California, and Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans chat online, text one another, talk on skype. Many Viet Kieus have returned to work, live, invest, and retire in Vietnam while many Vietnamese nationals are coming to the United States as brides, tourists, foreign students, and, in smaller numbers, businessmen. Hanoi is even considering granting dual citizenship to Viet Kieus to spur further repatriation.

Yet while the Tet holidays are a time to forget old troubles and celebrate newness, deep fault lines remain for many of those who live abroad.

Economies and culture may be fluid, and bridges are being built, but long-held political tensions remain unchanged on both sides of the Pacific. The Vietnamese Diaspora, even as it is falling steadily into Vietnam's orbit, publicly denounces the regime. Through routine rallies and protests against human right abuses, the Diaspora hopes to bring democracy and freedom to the country. Yelling in Vietnamese and waving banners and flags on America's streets for three decades, however, has failed to translate into political action – or a coherent foreign policy.

Little Saigon's political concerns and extraterritorial passion rarely reach the prominent ears of Washington, D.C., not to mention those of the general public. Moreover, it increasingly fails to reach members of its own community, especially its disenfranchised and disengaged younger generation.

Lan Nguyen, writing for Nguoi Viet, the largest Vietnamese paper in Orange County, noted that, “While the younger generation of Vietnamese Americans shares with elders a general concern regarding human rights, democracy, and freedom in Vietnam, they are not as invested in the cause.'' Nguyen, who lives in San Jose, cites language barriers and lack of experience under communism as the factors that help widen the generational gap. "The Vietnamese American youth… often are disillusioned as it seems their every effort to help Vietnam is met with criticism by those older than them. The elders in turn are horrified to see young people organize philanthropic missions to Vietnam.''

There is also a sad practice within the community called chup mu, or "putting the communist hat on someone.” Those who have any dealings with Vietnam are automatically suspect; those who show any political disagreement with the unconditional anti-communist stance become pro-communist – a reverse of the political paranoia of the cultural revolution.

But those who seek to isolate Vietnam have become isolated themselves. Over time, the business of regime change has turned into the business of keeping Little Saigon from changing, and the bulk of these efforts are in the realm of the symbolic: flying the flags of South Vietnam in shopping malls, erecting war memorials for fallen soldiers, organizing anti-communist protests and, lately, renaming business districts – actions that have no apparent effect on Vietnam itself.

maiVietnam, meanwhile, which has joined the World Trade Organization and been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is rapidly integrating into the world economy and can no longer be isolated. Nor can regime change occur from the outside. Vietnam's population is young and optimistic, and with an average of 8 percent Gross National Product since 2003, an entire urban population has fallen under the spell of materialism. Vietnam may wear the hammer and sickle on her sleeve, but her heart throbs with commerce and capitalism.

To be sure, Vietnam is a regime that is seriously in need of change. While it makes economic reforms, it continues to crack down on political dissidents, monitors its clergymen and intellectuals, and controls political thought by controlling the press. Most worrisome, it continues to give away land to China – recently ceding the Spratly and Paracel islands, and thereby a large bulk of the South China Sea – in exchange for political support, which has spurred mass protest overseas and spontaneous protests in Vietnam.

Vietnam has reached an ideological dead end – but in the private sphere, new political thoughts are being formed. There is, along with a fledgling civil society, a growing middle class, and a slow erosion of the political barricade as the pressure rises for political reform, transparency and pluralism.

The return of the Diaspora to the homeland is a double-edged sword: Many bring back financial investment and technological know-how. Yet with the presence of so many vocal Viet Kieus in Vietnam, a complex narrative is being formed, one in which knowledge and ideas of the outside world permeate the local culture and society. In this private sphere, and on the Internet, the din of political debate and exchange can loudly be heard.

The question is whether the Vietnamese Diaspora can be an effective agent of change and find new ways to influence the future of the country. To do so, it needs to ask tough questions regarding freedom and democracy.

Is there real freedom for those who give into their hatred and are ruled by it? Is democracy for Vietnam possible when those who live in America often fail to understand and practice it? And what does it take to move beyond anger and lust for revenge, and create space for constructive discussion and dialogue and spur new political thoughts?

The Vietnamese living abroad is no longer exiled from his homeland, but he risks being sidelined if he doesn’t adapt to the new realities of 21st-century Vietnam.

Andrew Lam is author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora". His short story collection, "Birds of Paradise," is forthcoming.

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User Comments

Saigon tex on May 20, 2008 at 21:46:28 said:

Vietnamese version of Andrew Lam's article

Năm Mới Và Nỗi Niềm Khôn Nguôi:

By Andrew Lam
New America Media

Chủ Nhiệm Xin Gởi Độc Giả: Đă hơn 3 thập niên từ khi chiến Tranh Việt Nam kết thúc và bây giờ có hơn 3 triệu ngườI Việt sống ở hải ngoại. Trong khi ṿng đai kết nối mới giữa kinh tế và văn hóa đang được xây dựng, một cách chính trị, những người tị nạn và đất nước của ḿnh vẫn c̣n trong thù hận. Nhưng bây giờ, kí giả của New American Media, Andrew Lam, thấy là đă đến lúc những ngườI sống ở hải ngoại cần phải hành động, không phải chỉ phản đối thôi.
NgườI Việt ở hải ngoại vẫn c̣n năm trong cảnh tha hương? Qua những quảng cáo trên các tờ báo ở San Jose, quận Cam, và Houston, câu trả lời là không. Bán thẻ điện thoại, phiếu tiền, và những sô diễn ca nhạc của những ca sĩ trẻ từ Saigon và Hà Nội, vé về Việt nam giá rẻ, và những kết nối chương tŕnh Satellite cho những chương tŕnh TV từ Việt nam, những quảng cáo cho thấy câu chuyện bên trong: Những ngườI Việt Nam tha hương, không c̣n như trước nữa, mà đang dần dần ḥa nhập lại với quê nhà của ḿnh.

Mỗi mùa xuân, 200,000 Việt Kiều, trở về Việt Nam để ăn Tết. Hầu hết là từ Texas, và Cali, nơi có đông đảo kiều bào ở hải ngoại nhất.

Trước đó không lâu, một người Việt ở Mỹ không có nhiều kỉ niệm quê nhà để giữ vững mối quan hệ văn hóa. Trong suốt Cuộc Chiến Tranh Lạnh, những lá thư gởi từ Việt nam có thể mất gần nữa năm để đến Mỹ, và những lá thư thường kể lể những chuyện đau buồn trong cuộc sống: cô và gia đ́nh của cô đang sống rất khó khăn, chú th́ ở trong tù cải tạo, và anh em họ mất tích ở biển Trung Quốc. ThờI gian đó có lúc đi vượt biên là có nghĩa nguy hiểm tới tính mệnh, và nếu như có thể tới được bờ biển của nước ngoài, họ không bao giờ muốn gặp lại đất nước của ḿnh nữa.

Ngày nay, đi Việt Nam từ Cali chỉ mất có 18 tiếng, và ngườI Việt ở hải ngoại có thế nói chuyện qua mạng với người ở Việt Nam. Nhiều người Việt Kiều đă trở về làm việc, sống và đầu tư, về hưu trong khi đó th́ có nhiều ngườI đến từ Việt Nam như cô dâu, khách du lịch, học sinh du học, và một số ít nhỏ, đó là doanh nhân.

Hà Nội c̣n định cho phép Việt Kiều có 2 bằng quốc tịch để khuyến khích việc hồi hương.

Tuy Tết là thời gian để quên đi những đau buồn cũ và chúc mừng những chuyện mới, nhưng những vết thương vẫn c̣n hằn sâu trong tim của nhiều người ở hải ngoại.

Văn hóa và kinh tế có thể là đang trôi chảy, và những chiếc cầu kết nối đang được xây dựng, nhưng sự căng thẳng vẫn c̣n tồn tại ở hai bên Thái B́nh Dương.

Những người Việt tha hương, mặc dù đang dần dần ngă vào quỹ đạo của Việt Nam, vẫn công khai tuyên bố ủng hộ chế độ dân chủ. Qua những lần phản đối những vi phạm nhân quyền, những ngườI tha hương hi vọng đem lạI dân chủ và tự do đến với đất nước. Kêu gọi bằng tiếng Việt và phất cờ trên những đường phố của Mỹ qua ba thập niên, tuy nhiên, chúng ta đă thất bại trong việc chuyển biến thành hành động-hoặc là một chính sách đối ngoại mạch lạc.

Những quan tâm chính trị và ngọai giao của Little Saigon ít khi được tới tai của Washington D.C. Hơn nữa, cũng thất bại trong việc tuyên truyền trong cộng đồng, đặc biệt là trong giới trẻ. Lan Nguyễn, kí giả cho báo Người Việt, tờ báo tiếng Việt lớn nhất ở quận Cam, nhận xét như sau, "Mỗi khi giới trẻ người Mỹ gốc Việt chia sẽ sự quan tâm về nhân quyền, dân chủ, và sự tự do ở Việt Nam, họ không muốn biết về nguyên nhân." Lan, nguời sống ở San Jose, nói tiếng Việt không nhiều và ít có kinh nghiệm ǵ về chủ nghĩa cộng sản và đây là yếu tố làm cho khỏang cách giữa hai thế hệ lớn hơn nữa. "Những người trẻ bên đây, thường bị chỉ trích bởi những người lớn tuổi, những người này thường không thích thấy những người trẻ tổ chức những công tác thiện nguyện về Việt Nam."

Có một hành động đáng buồn trong cộng đồng thường gọi là "chụp mũ." Ai mà có qua lại với Việt Nam đều được t́nh nghi; ai mà có những bất đồng ư kiến chính trị với những tổ chức chống cộng đều được coi là cộng sản.

Qua thời gian, những việc làm như phất cờ Việt Nam ở những trung tâm thương mại, tưởng nhớ tới những kỉ niệm chiến tranh, tổ chức biểu t́nh chống cộng, và gần đây đổi tên quận của cơ sở thương mại đều không có ảnh hưởng ǵ tới Việt Nam.

Việt Nam đă gia nhập Cơ Quan Mậu Dịch Quốc Tế và đă được chọn là một thành viên chưa vĩnh viễn của Ủy Ban An Ninh Liên Hợp Quốc, và đang nhanh chóng kết nối với kinh tế toàn cầu và không c̣n có thể bị cô lập. Chế độ cũng không thể bị biến đổi từ bên ng̣ai. Việt Nam th́ trẻ và lạc quan. Việt Nam có thể đeo búa liềm trên cánh tay, nhưng bên trong th́ lại là thương mại và chủ nghĩa tư bản.

Việt Nam là một chế độ thật sự cần phải thay đổi. Khi Việt Nam cải tổ kinh tế, Vn tiếp tục diệt bỏ những ai bất đồng chính kiến, kiểm soát giáo sĩ và trí thức, quản lí tư tưởng chính trị bằng cách quản lí báo chí. Điều đáng quan tâm là Việt nam tiếp tục dâng đất cho Trung Quốc, gần đây là quần đảo Ḥang Sa và Trường Sa, để đổi lấy sự hậu thuẩn chính trị, điều này đă gây lên sự phản đối mạnh mẽ ở hải ngọai và Việt Nam.

Những tư tưởng chính trị mới đă được h́nh thành ở Việt nam. Đi theo một xă hội mới non nớt là sự h́nh thành một giai cấp trung lưu, và sự nổi lên từ từ của áp lực muốn cải tổ chính trị và thuyết đa nguyên.

Sự trở về của người Việt tha hương là một thanh gươm hai lưỡi: Nhiều người đem tiền bạc về để đầu tư và kỹ thuyật tân tiến. Với sự hiện diện của nhiều nguời Việt Kiều có tiếng nói ở Việt nam, kiến thức và ư kiến từ thế giới bên ng̣ai sẽ thấm vào xă hội và văn hóa ở trong nước. Và trên mạng, sự kêu gọi đấu tranh chính trị được nghe một cách rơ ràng.

Câu hỏi được đặt ra là Những người Việt tha hương, khoảng 3 triệu, có thể t́m ra được những đường hướng mới để ảnh hưởng tới tương lai của đất nước hay không? Để được như vậy, những câu hỏi liên quan đến tự do dân chủ sẽ được đưa ra.

Tự do có thật hiện hữu khi những người mới cầm quyền? Dân chủ cho Việt nam có thể có hay không khi có nhiều người bên Mỹ thường không hiểu và làm được? Cần phải làm ǵ để vượt qua sự giận dữ muốn trả thù, để dành chổ cho những cuộc bàn thảo có tính xây dựng và khuyến khích những tư tưởng chính trị mới?

Andrew Lam là tác giả của "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora"
Tuyển tập truyện ngắn của anh, "Birds of Paradise," sắp sửa xuất bản. Nếu như các bạn có ư kiến, xin vui ḷng viết thư hoặc gởi e-mail cho Saigon Tex và chúng tôi sẽ đăng câu trả lời lên báo.

Cecilia F. on Mar 17, 2008 at 22:27:50 said:

Dear Mr. Lam:

You asked some questions about what it would take to actually bring an end to communism in Vietnam and ultimately a form of democracy, and economic prosperity (presumably without destroying what's left of the Vietnamese environment).

In 1989, because of my family backgrounds, on both sides (Hungarian on one and Southern-Midwest mainstream "American" on the other), I was nominated for and elected General Secretary of the Northern California Chapter of the Americans from East Central Europe Coordinating Committee. This was an evolution of the old Captive Nations Society whose membership came largely from refugees from communist countries, mostly European communist countries. We had the same goals as many Vietnamese. We also had a common background in many ways. We eventually succeeded in getting rid of communism as the form of government and restoring a lot of our former culture and dreams. Many of our countries have already made it into the EU and NATO and now enjoy a high standard of living--and a much cleaner environment.

Here is how it was done, and maybe there are some lessons for the Vietnamese.

First, we our refugees rapidly became American citizens and chose to mostly enter high paid positions in wealthier industries. We felt betrayed by both Republicans under Eisenhower and Nixon in 1956 and Democrats under Johnson in 1967 (the collapse of the Prague Spring) and by God and everything and everyone else we were not going to let that happen again. We understood we had to become an important part of the system to make sure no one who stood up against tanks for democracy would be ignored or sold out again. Sold out is the real operative phrase. We learned that as early as the 1960's the big American banks were already making indirect investments and direct loans to communist ruled nations regardless of the likelihood that they would see a real (objectively defined and measured) return on investments or payback of loans with interest. They were lobbying Congress to loosen import and export restrictions as well. Low cost labor and lack of safety and environmental standards even then causing a perceived potential for bigger profits and keeping the uppity blue and pink collar rabble in the U.S. under control, were still prime motivators. The real fundamental though, then, as now was the pure insatiable greed of the financial corporation and other major corporation executives.

For that reason we entered the industries we did: auto, communications and military. A lot of our people also sought and obtained state department and defense department employment. After all, Hungarians in particular had kept the entire Soviet land army at bay for 10 solid days with ZERO help--not even bandages being flown in from any other country. We destroyed almost one half othe Soviet tank force with nothing more than imaginative guerilla forces of mostly teenagers and home-made bombs--as much made from palinka (Hungarian brandy) as gasoline. The Soviets thought they could cause us to surrender by cutting our oil supplies. If they had ever noticed and studied an economic anomaly in Hungary--the actual quantity of cars and lower than normal imports to actually run them, particularly in the rural and small town areas, they would have realized they had a problem. Hungarians, as part of an economic rebellion were running their cars on mixtures of up to 80 or so ethanol from palinka--and they knew the cars, and other vehicles, like many military vehicles, could run on 100% palinka if they needed to do so. Like the Chinese we could also, and did, make natural gas from biomass (animal manure, vegetable and other wastes, etc.). Hungary was always energy limited and if it wanted any industrial base at all and not to pay a fortune in imported fuel it had to have some renewable domestic production. The palinka also made dandy Molotov cocktails to hurl under the Russian tanks were they had an opening to the drivers.

This meant after 1956, the Hungarians and others had credibility. Not only did they "know the enemy" and could convince the U.S. it was an enemy, they quickly had jobs to influence political decisions both inside government and out. The high paid jobs in industry meant they could raise significant campaign donations if they wanted and needed them. We also insisted our children learn English and adults eventually as well, reading and writing, as well as speaking. We formed organizations with chapters everywhere there was a concentration of our people--and kept those chapters in communication and coordination with one another. We understood and used the importance of having majority votes in a few districts and enough numbers to be a good swing vote in others. As late as 1992, we delivered 5 states to Bill Clinton and sank George Bush's hoped for re-election.

Now that itself wasn't quite what it seemed. We'd Americanized very well, and although Bush's acquiescence to Serbian hard-line communists and genocide in the Balkans was an issue, a bigger issue was NAFTA and how unlike the way the EU was run, NAFTA under Bush was turning out. In the EU, nations have to achieve a high degree of parity in wages, social services, environmental standards, safety, well run and accountable financial institutions, etc. before they can even become associate members. Full membership means they have to be so close to full parity and with enough momentum behind steady political will and progress that full parity is inevitable within a very few years upon being granted full membership. There is a range of acceptable wages--tied to costs of living across the EU and all member nations respect that. There aren't huge disparities in member wages. Also investments are limited to junior/associate partners to prevent low wages in those countries being used to lower wages elsewhere. The Republicans with George Bush seemed to think the profits and wealth of the financial corporations and their executives were the only issue of importance. The automobile and appliance workers, the communications products workers all feared, quite rightfully, job loss to low-wage few environmental standards and safety standards Mexico.

Clinton promised to amend NAFTA (he eventually sold us out, also but at least was willing to make the promises in public and in writing and thus offered some degree of interest and accountability). Bush did not. Large numbers of the affected workers were East Central European Americans in the states with those industries. We put it all together and simply told all our member organizations and their members the difference and they did the rest. Word of mouth and local language and geographic mini-papers showed the differences and people voted their wallets--and threats to the wallets. The ethnics provided the organization to make it happen, the leadership understood the American economic needs of these people as Americans and used the organizations to influence the vote. Five critical states: Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania went for Clinton on the basis of a change of about 10% of the perspectives and related votes in these states. You can do the math on the number of electoral votes we handed him.

The Vietnamese have large numbers of votes in several districts in California, Minnesota, the deep South and elsewhere. If not near majorities, they can comprise 5-10% blocs of swing votes in tight races. Use them--and remember to acknowledge the interests of your people as American citizens and residents trying to make a living here, as well as their usually secondary foreign policy interests--but work to align them. Also don't be seen as too strongly favoring either political party chronically. The party leadership and politicians will take you for granted if you do and just say to you and your media what they think you want to hear without acting on your issues. Keep somewhat neutral. Look at the candidate what he or she does, and has done, not what he or she says. Look at with whom they mostly associate--who gets their ear and is able to influence their actions most. If it's the large financial corporations (the old investment banks now merged with credit card and mortgage companies), then you have a big problem. These people have never seen a dictatorship that oppresses its people, of either the political left or right, that they haven't liked. They are NOT pro-democracy, pro-accountabilty, pro-decent life for the majority of ordinary citizens anywhere. They simply want to accumulate more money and power than anyone else. They are not loyal to ANY government, any nation, even.

We figured this out and for that reason we boycotted certain banks, and their credit cards and loans in the late 1960's and 1970's and even stood outside the banks picketing them for their loans to and investments in communist countries. Chemical Bank in Chicago and Bank of America were two such targets and we did maul them. It needs to happen again. The communists in Vietnam who get to choose who and what gets business investment and economic development funds, get the money to put into enterprises they control from primarily U.S. financial corporations: Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase (and its BankOne subsidiary), Citicorps, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Merill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. Several of them, thanks to losses in communist countries like China and Vietnam on investments--and take overs of joint ventures, and losses in the speculation on subprime mortgages here, now have part ownership by communists from China. Communists from China will eventually have board seats on several U.S. financial corporations--and access to the White House and most leadership offices of Congress that most Americans never have. Think about that. Every time any Vietnamese American, or any other American uses a credit card issued or managed by any of these companies you support those who feed the communist monster that runs Vietnam, keeps its people earning next to nothing, and wrecks Vietnam's environment. Every time you solicit or accept a mortgage issued or managed or securitized by these companies you do the same thing. It's your interest payments that go to support the communist governments in China and Vietnam. It's all the toys, clothing, entertainment electronics, athletic shoes, fancy home furnishings, jewelry, etc. that you buy with credit cards that keeps the communists in power.

It's running cheap Vietnamese fast food places and nail salons who pay workers here next to nothing instead of developing manufacturing and high technology and related services companies with well paid workers who need to use credit cards less and can afford to donate to political campaigns that helps keep the need for credit cards going, and the interest going to the banks that support communists.

In 1998 and 1999, when many East Central Europeans were retiring from government, some were dying off of old age, and others were retiring from active leadership in their organizations and the organizations like mine were sinking into dormancy, the bankers saw their opportunity for unlimited investments in and loans to communist China and Vietnam. They lobbied for the ability to combine investment and lending corporations and removal of ANY cap on foreign investments and loans (it was 25% of liquid assets up until 1999). They made campaign donations to the Republicans who held both houses of Congress, and then to developing Gore presidential campaign, and Hillary's senate campaign. Guess what happened! They got their bill, exactly as they wanted it. It was called "The 1999 Banking Reform Act" (aka Gramm-Leach Bliley; Senate Bill S.900 in 1999). It allowed combination of normally competitive industries (savings and investings vs. credit and loans) with only a scant mention of any allowed conflicts of interest were acceptable so long as they weren't abused--and no provisions for monitoring to prevent such abuses and punish them, much less to be in place before the financial industry was allowed to engage in them. The caps on investment and lending outside of the U.S. were also completely removed--no caps at all! This led directly to the stock market frauds and losses of savings of 60 million ordinary Americans and the first gargantuan investments in China and Vietnam. This then included loss of jobs as these new financial corporations advised and paid for U.S. companies to move manufacturing to China and Vietnam and engage in joint ventures, or build subsidiaries entirely under communist control. Revenues for the Federal and state governments dropped and the need for and costs of services went up because there were no longer enough jobs to sustain our costs of living, and pay taxes.

These jobs were replaced by mostly retail store sales jobs and food service jobs--jobs that in many areas are not paid enough to pay rent, let alone mortgages, and not enough to also allow people to pay cash or 90-day lay-away for goods. It made more people dependent upon credit cards and subprime mortgages to have the means to buy homes, or rent, pay for fuel, groceries, clothing and anything and everything else that they NEED to survive.

The interest, for a time, provided another large stream of funds to invest in or lend to communist China and Vietnam.

It's finally collapsing--but would collapse even faster if more people understood the relationships of their low wages and heavy use of credit cards and home equity here with the money that sustains these abusive dictatorships and made greater efforts to create and sustain well paid jobs here and avoid using credit cards and home equity.

Finally, it's not enough to bring about the collapse of communism. You must have something that works to put in its place. Like East Central Europe, Vietnam has in its culture religion that has a fundamental belief that when applied to politics does bring about a working democracy. Vietnam has this fundamental law of humanity in BOTH its major religions: Christianity and Buddhism. That principle is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It needs to begin with every person-to-person transaction of any and every kind, and the smallest organizations and then to political parties themselves before it will work for a nation. Democracy is only really built from the ground up--not the top down. We had to teach our cousins again in East Central Europe, after 1989, how to treat one another with mutual respect and end the name calling, profanity, verbal and physical abuse that had become the commonplace behavior of communists in a heirarchical system. Remember civility, being polite to one another and giving a service or product of equal value to what you wanted from someone else was seen as bourgeousie and to be condemned and discouraged. Communists were superior to former elites and could and did take what they wanted and abuse others to get it. The differences between communists and non-communists never ended. It was not in the interest of people who had obtained absolute power by being against and bringing down or controlling those who came before to end those differences and finally decide that ok, one or two generations later everyone is equal and now we can open up the government and the control of money and economic development, etc. to everyone. You were condemned, abused, denied opportunities for what your father or grandfather had been because it helped a new communist elite continue to justify its existence and control. All dictatorships are based on having an elite being held superior to and in control of and NOT accountable to any, especially not the masses, but itself. There can be NO single group of people not accountable to everyone else, not respectful of all others, in a democracy.

The U.S., itself is no longer a democratic republic but an oligarchy and headed toward semi-dictatorship. It is run by an unnaccountable financial elite and its campaign donations strung Congressional and Presidential puppets. The major parties do not even have elections of their central committee members in most states, yet these same parties collect millions in check-off donation revenues on annual tax forms and control how these millions of dollars are spent. The central committees are run by people who are friends to big money and candidates and incumbents controlled by big money. They are self-appointed or elected from among just the other committee members. A large number of delegates to each major party's conventions are the candidates and incumbents in political office themselves--every two years. The people elect them to serve the entire country, yet they remain active party members supporting party ideology in most things they do, unless bribed to do otherwise, every day they hold office. No wonder nothing of substance that answers the needs of the majority gets done for many years, if not decades at a time.

We cautioned our cousins in East Central Europe about this and told them to emulate the caucus states which required parties and party officials to be as democratic and accountable to registered members as members of Congress were expected to be to all their constituents once elected. We cautioned them to limit the influence of big money from financial or otherwise corporate entities that had no loyalty to anything but the extreme wealth and influence of their executives. Fortunately, the EU was already heading in that direction, also. We were the sole conveyors of that message, and our cousins and their newly freed nations wanted to be members of the EU, as well as NATO and never again be the "satellites" and "pantries" of anyone else and "second class global citizens."

Develop some global self respect and American self respect to provide decent companies and jobs among yourselves and democratic organizations of all kinds. Then lobby for restoring a cap on foreign investment and loans and make yourselves less dependent on pro-communist dictatorship American banks. Support candidates who will support restoring a cap and not feed a monster so it grows rather than diminishes. The key to the last is balance. You can't starve it so it ravages its own country and makes the plight of the people worse, but you can avoid feeding it so much that every benefit and development is seen as coming solely from the communists and those who clearly support communist dictatorshops.

By consistently insisting on "greater accountability" in standards and institutions, without mentioning the word "democracy" eventually even the communists realize that to achieve the level of accountability really needed to get the most benefits from trade and money exchanges with the rest of the world, they must democratize the government and get rid of single party rule. Andrupov and Gorbachev finally realized this, as did the leaders of the communist parties in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic (when it was Czechoslovakia) long before. Even Mexico finally realized this need, although the corrupt PRI still dominates far too many of the states. The Russians, and others were not allowed to starve or be destroyed by Nazi Germany, but they did not get full financial benefits or trade until one-party communist rule ended and everyone had a free voice again. The more they did to change, the more they got, but there was always a hard ceiling. In 1989, the communist party in Hungary itself called "goulash communism" a failure because "although Hungary made a lot of economic and social progress between 1960 and 1989, the western, free nations made much more progress to the point that at the end of the experiment Hungary was farther behind the west than it had been in 1960." This message was conveyed to Moscow and it was heard because they'd come to the same conclusion in Russia regarding the period of detente and glassnost. They and their people wanted to live as well as those in the West and that wasn't going to happen without full accountability to the west--and more importantly--to their own people.

So, that's the story of how East Central Europe finally got rid of communism and became full members of the EU and NATO and finally enjoyed first world living standards for the great majority of their people. Most of those who made it happen are gone now, I'm part of a tiny group of what was then the younger, and often more fully American part of the groups that still remembers, and we aren't getting any younger or more energetic. We've given a lot to the struggle--our lives, our hearts and souls, our fortunes, and many of us have very little left at this point. It's time for a new generation and new groups to finish the struggles that are left in Asia and Africa--and parts of Latin America still.

If anyone ever wants a REALLY detailed look at what happened and who some of the key players and organizations, and why East Central Europe succeeded and the so-called Chinese Democracy Movement of the late 1980's failed, I've got about 9 boxes of materials from both East Central European organizations--and the Chinese organizations. I was the only non Chinese to ever been a director of 5 different Chinese and Chinese American organizations, several all at once, including a mainland Chinese exile run organization. I know why one group succeeded and the other failed very intimately and well. I was there--in both "places." Ask Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. I provided a lot of information, analysis, etc. to her when Michael Yaki was her chief of staff--sometimes at their request.

My Chinese name was Li2n Xi1ng. That's a rough translation of my Hungarian name and nickname: Fabos Csillag. Fabos, by the way, is an old title that became my family's surname when my grandfather was sent into exile in 1906 (the communists weren't the first tyrants we stood up to). It was originally Fabos of the Szecsenyi with Szecsenyi as the family name. My family was banned from Hungary with the exception of a brief period in 1917-1918 from 1906 to 1990. My grandfather said on his deathbed to my father that "as long as a tyrant ruled in Hungary we will not be permitted to return." He was right. My grandfather, his sons and the children of the sons born to the end of 1949 were not permitted back until 1990. (1949 was the last year of the old dual national law of Hungary.) I was the first one of our family group to be allowed to be in Hungary for more than just a few hours in 1993--but we returned. We did return and did influence the development of the free and prosperous Hungary of today.

Long Le on Mar 16, 2008 at 09:58:39 said:

Andrew Lâm is, of course, a gifted writer. Perhaps, he’s able to ''speak to each of us'' because he is ''unresolved.'' That is, he is of and, at the same time, beyond, the Vietnamese diasporic community.

In his own words, he has written, ''I was born a Vietnamese. ... I am reborn an American. …I am of one soul. …Two hearts.''

In part, such ''unresolved-ness'' has made his essays reflective, compelling and even fascinating. So much so that he is able to connect and evoke emotions from both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese alike.

In his recent article, ''New year, old unresolved passion: Vietnam and its diaspora,'' Andrew has done just that by noting: ''The Vietnamese living abroad is no longer exiled from his homeland, but he risks being sidelined if he doesn’t adapt to the new realities of 21st-century Vietnam.'' Simply, the Vietnamese will be sidelined if he fails to go beyond ''flying the flags of South Vietnam in shopping malls, erecting war memorials for fallen soldiers, organizing anti-communist protests and, lately, renaming business districts,'' which ''have no apparent effect on Vietnam itself.''

But, to be fair though, if the Vietnamese diasporic community is merely just denouncing and protesting instead of engaging a Vietnam in transition, I believe Andrew is also merely journalizing by commentating on the relations between the Vietnamese diaspora and the homeland without complementing it with journalistic reports through interviews and other research sources.

Interestingly, in an earlier article on the 30 years after the Vietnam War, Andrew claims that Vietnamese refugees are able to do what F. Scott Fitzgerald stated as the test of a first-rate intelligence: ''the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.''

As a matter of fact, evidence suggests that caution should be used in assuming the anti-communist identity breeds intolerance of attitude toward other dislikes. That is, Vietnamese refugees, on the one hand, are indeed intolerant of communism, but they are committed to political rights and civil rights as other immigrants on the other.

My own empirical research in Houston’s Vietnamese community also reveals that the older generations, with time, are more likely to agree that there is too little done to protect the environment and to make improvements for the poor, to volunteer for a non-Asian charity, to supportgays in the military, and to approve relatives marrying non-Asian. In fact, when I compare Vietnamese immigrants to other Asian immigrants of the same age and time in the U.S, Vietnamese immigrants have a better score on these acculturation indicators.

In fact, the characteristic of the Vietnamese diaspora is that of being physically, psychologically, culturally and intellectually displaced from one’s native land and culture by communist rule after the fall of Sài G̣n in 1975. Moreover, their experiences of war and its aftermath are sometimes further marginalized in the U.S. For example, in my research on how the Vietnam War is taught at the collegiate level, I found the vast majority of courses focus on the ''American Experience in Vietnam.'' When the Vietnamese experience is covered, the focus is on nationalistic narratives of the communists and of the ''Vi?t C?ng'' in order to explain how the communist north, as a bearer of country’s national resistance against foreign invasions, defeated the most technological advanced country in the world.

This is in essence intellectual displacement in which the views of the former Republic of Vietnam are often buried and disqualified in the teaching of the war. Andrew’s father, along with others of the same generation, has written unbiased work that does not hesitate to self critique, condemn the South’s problems or its Western allies, and provide unique insights on why the South lost and why the North won. But these works more often than not never see the light of day in the classroom. And it is not just American professors who perpetuate this intellectual displacement, but also many of the younger Vietnamese American professors who teach courses on the Vietnamese American experience but who choose not cover the war or when they do, they don’t include the views of the former Republic of Vietnam.

As a result, like Andrew who began to write in order to deal with his displacement, his father’s generation created the ''Little Saigons'' to put back the ''place'' into displacement. The ''Little Saigons'' are not just economic or cultural necessities. They are also intellectual necessities to maintain the collective memory of their experiences and never more passionately than when the collective identity is believed to be attacked.

Nevertheless, the Vietnamese diaspora’s claims and negotiations of its rights to place and space do have its hardliners and extreme reactions. To be sure, the fervent anti-communist sentiment has resulted in several murder cases of Vietnamese American journalists that remain unsolved; restricted personal freedoms of which may attribute to why a number of the young and the more independent-minded have left or are alienated from the community; and have steered demonstrations of making claims to focus primarily on homeland concerns.

Yet, at the same time, it is often overlooked that the anti-communist identity is also a process of ''meaning making'' in which members of the community can access, use, and alter the ''meaning making'' activities. This would explain why currently, within the community, activities now include provisional return and repatriated return, without any backlash so long as these activities do not ''betray'' the anti-communist identity. Cases, such as Nguy?n Cao K?, that apologize or become ''spoke persons'' for the regime’s ??i m?i reformers can ignite fervent protests. In my opinion, I believe such actions that are not independent or not willing to critique the shortcomings of the current regime cannot be considered a form of effective engagement.

Worthy of note is that, within the community, there are already discussions about new ways to engage Vietnam. At a conference in 2000, Lâm Lê Trinh argued that what’s at stake is the ''rebirth'' of Vietnam in which the younger generations of overseas Vietnamese are the responsible for the reconstruction of Vietnam.

There are also discussions about the role of the Vietnamese diasporic media. Ngô Th? Vinh has argued that because there is no freedom of the press in Vietnam, the diasporic media should tailor and disseminate ''timeliness and a measure of content in news items'' related to ''the future of the people, not of a temporary political regime.'' So that when ''information is complete, generally speaking the Vietnamese will no longer maintain a passive stand which American people refer to as the 'wait-and-see' attitude.''

The above I believe is more reflective of the realities, as well as the negative and positive externalities, of the unresolved anti-communist passion.

In conclusion, if it is fair that Andrew Lâm asks the community to resolve its ''old unresolved passion,'' then I think is also fair to ask him to use his talents to provide ''reports'' about these discussions that may reconstruct, and may bridge the divides, in order to usher in a ''rebirth'' of Vietnam.

Dr. Long S Lê is the director of international initiatives for the Global Studies Program and also a lecturer of Vietnamese studies at the University of Houston. He has a blog on the global Vietnamese diaspora at

Thanh on Feb 22, 2008 at 17:20:17 said:

I think Mr Lam is right on target. Of course, we Viet Kieu (old and young) agree that Vietnam's regime is corrupt and oppressive. The real issue is what is the most effective means for overseas Viet to effect change. It requires a balance of calling them out when on their crimes. But it also means engaging them. They are now vested and dependent on integration into the global economy, but terrified of that foreign 'illness' called democracy. They are most vulnerable right now. If overseas Viet were smart and organized, now is the time to spread that 'disease' like a virus. We can be most effective be marshaling our combined economic power and overseas connections...and practicing liberal democracy by example.

brandon bui on Feb 08, 2008 at 07:46:58 said:

Vietnam, a normal country who is currently the non-permanent member of UN Security Council and a member of the World Trade Organization, is not worthy of those membership. The facade that you see is full of corruption and lawlessness on the background. The "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" that Mr Ho Chi Minh paraphrased from US's Declaration of Indenpence has never been materialized one bit. To forge tie with a bunch of hoodlums and thieves, I prefer not to do that.

Vern on Feb 07, 2008 at 23:51:49 said:

I should hope that the Viet Khieu never forget how the Hanoi communists deceitfully conquered a free nation by force of arms and thrust its narrow mindedness upon a decent people. You can never trust a communist. For the Hanoi regime, The End Justifies The Means no matter how deceitful it may be. Lies, Lies, and Lies is the mantra for Hanoi.

Ka Wah Chan on Feb 07, 2008 at 14:53:09 said:

Vietnamese-Americans are no longer a "refugee" status but they are US taxpayer-citizens. We wish this year or someday, the Paramount will giveaway the Great America Theme Park to the Vietnamese children as our American goodwill, relocate the Great America Theme Park from Santa Clara, California to City of Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon). The US-Vietnam foreign affairs as a good beginning to promote American commerce and Southeast Asian tourism in Vietnam to compete with the present French investment and exports in local.

Sidney Tran on Feb 07, 2008 at 11:39:51 said:

I respect some of the old folks who still have a passion for Vietnam. Some of them do get carry away with their hatred. But it is not like they have no reason for feeling the way they do. The US is still a free country where various opinions are tolerated even from the most extreme views. I'm glad this is not Hanoi's world of one, single solitary voice.

Tolerance of diverse opinions is a sacrosanct principle of a free, democratic society. These people have a right to their opinion just as I have a right to not listen or pay attention to what they do.

All of this still do not take away that Vietnam is still run by a Stalinist regime that does not respect universal human rights and decency. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House among others still classify Vietnam as a particularly nasty regime. To classify Vietnam as a normal, civilized country as the US would do a disservice to all Vietnamese still living with this reality.

wright gregson on Feb 07, 2008 at 05:39:34 said:

as one who has many ties to vietnam, i have a deep interest in that country and the viet kieu in america.
i fear that the old guard is going to cause a small segment of viet kieu in america to become ossified the way that the older generation of cubans has become ossified and entrenched in their out-dated ideas. the small number of old-guard cubans have a huge, disproportionate influence in washington that is very destructive and is doing more harm than good. i hope the viet community does not fall into that trap.
in boston, where i worked with the hoi viet my, i watched that sort of damage occur as the younger, educated viets were working toward improving the lives of the community, only to be stymied at almost every turn by the older refugees who were still fighting the war. and yes, the younger ones were castigated as being "commie lovers" who didnt "understand" what the parents had been through. while the most of the younger ones truly could not comprehend totally what their parents had suffered, the younger ones were far from "commie lovers". they simply were recognizing the facts of life and the realities of the PRESENT world, and wanted to work in that context. they also recognized that as the older generation of government leaders in viet nam died off, a younger, more educated, more world-wise group would probably come into power.




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