I am the weeper as I absorb the suffering of my bride and her family and millions of others
By John E. Carey
March 4, 2007
This is a story that starts in Saigon, Vietnam in 1975.Millions of people lost their country, their flag, their freedom of speech, their freedom of religion, their right to vote in fair elections, the right to protest or even complain, their right to privacy and many other rights all free people take for granted.
My wife voted for the first time in her life last November.
The people of Vietnam were not allowed to leave their new communist ruled country. Attempts to depart Vietnam became punishable by jail time.
South Vietnam Army soldiers and just about everyone else that helped the American were sent to “re-education.” Some spent six year in this brainwashing prison. Some as many as 12. Many died during “re-education.”
A Catholic priest told me just today that his father went in when the son was 3 years old. He came out when the boy was 9: but he was not the same. Once a calm, even serene man: he came out full of rage. He had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many of them did. Few were ever treated for this ailment that we in the US spend billions of dollars on for our war veterans every year.
Getting out of Vietnam went something like this. You had to go to the coast. You had to find a broker that would promise you a “seat” on a boat. You gave him around $1,000 US in gold (often times more): an exorbitant sum you’d heave to beg from wealthy relatives. Women would prostitute themselves in efforts to raise the cash.
In most cases, after you paid the $1,000, the “broker” generally turned you in to the police. You’d go to jail. My bride went though this 3 or 4 times: she can’t remember how many times exactly. Another Catholic priest told me he went through this NINE times: he is way too trusting!
Once in the boat, which may or may not have been seaworthy, the refugees were suffering the ravages of the sea and the environment. In my wife’s boat four people died of hunger and dehydration.
When the boat reached the Philippines, my wife was “detained” for ten years. After ten years, the Philippine government sent her back to Saigon where she was an enemy of the state with no papers.
Those that reached the U.S. faced new challenges. A new nation, a new culture, a new system, a new language. This was terrifying to many. But the only clear choice was to make all the adjustments. There was no going back: only ahead.
Today my wife took me to the Smithsonian Museum’s S. Dillon Ripley Center Concourse on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
The exhibit is called, “From Saigon to Little Saigon.”
We relived a portion of the Vietnamese American experience from 1975 until today.
And I wept. I wept tear for my wife, for every member of her family, for her brother Phuong who entered re-education and was never seen or heard from again.
I wept for those lost at sea. I wept for those killed or raped by pirates. I wept for every one of the Vietnamese Americans, and I know many personally.
But in the end there is joy: because today the Vietnamese communities all over the world are filled with survivors. Hard working, industrious, kind, gentle and loving, the Vietnamese are a productive lot, and the exhibit displays this.
People like comedian Dat Phan, CNN news person Betty Nguyen, and scores of others are famous successful Vietnamese Americans.
The Vietnamese have a very high percentage of business owners among their ranks. Not the least of these is my wife, Honglien (means “pink lotus”).
Honglien began her journey to escape communism in 1975. She got to the U.S.A. in 1998.
Today Honglien owns and operates her own business.
Get to the Smithsonian by the end of the month and experience for yourself the Vietnamese American experience.
And take some tissue paper. You’ll have tears of pain, and shame and joy.
Visit the exhibit:
See Honglien at the exhibit: