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AAS 134: The Vietnamese-American Experience

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Katherine Vo

on 12 November 2013

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Transcript of AAS 134: The Vietnamese-American Experience

AAS 134: The Vietnamese-American Experience
The United States Government
Three Major Points
The United States did three things after the war:
“We Win When We Lose” Mentality
Americans reflect upon the Vietnam War as a good war because it was fought against enemies of freedom, and ultimately allowed for Vietnamese refugees to assimilate successfully into this anti-communist country where they are given opportunities that they never would have received in Vietnam (access to the economy and choice, and a chance at upward social mobility).
The Alliance
“Thirty years after the war, the US has also teamed up with Vietnam in order to strengthen security and anti-terror cooperation in SE Asia. To the US, Vietnam appears to be well on its way to become yet another “Satellite regime” of the ever expanding American empire. In this “new world order” Vietnamese refugees, and their insistent demand for history, are cast aside” (Espiritu)
Vietnam Government: 3 Points
1. The South Vietnamese people have been unable to mourn for their loss as a result of the actions of the Vietnamese government.
Unable to Mourn
“[The] government has encouraged the airing of war atrocities committed by Americans or South Vietnamese... but atrocities committed by northern troops and their allied forces in the south such as the 1968 Tet massacre in Hue have been entirely suppressed.”

“The monuments dedicated to the southern war dead, such as the statue of the southern Vietnamese soldiers at the military cemetery in Bien Hoa on the outskirts of Saigon were demolished.”
Loss of Identity
Sai Gon -> Ho Chi Minh City
The Vietnamese Diaspora
“There were many sides in that Cold War’s hot war which doubled as a civil war, many fates, many triumphs, many tragedies. Yet, when Vietnamese Americans reprise our history here in the US, only those of the most simplistic anti-communist and pro-empire view can come out” (Thu Huong)
Discussion Questions
As seen in both the Afghanistan and Vietnam wars, why do you think it is that we don’t recognize the civilian causalities within the wars and instead focus on military causalities?

How Do We Mourn?
The Vietnamese Government
Samantha Lewis
Nick Pham
Robert McCutcheon

Thanh Hien Ta
Garrett Cook
Katherine Vo

Thirty Years AfterWARd: The Endings That Are Not Yet Over
Forking Paths: How Shall We Mourn the Dead?
Major Themes
Upon reading both of the articles, our group has discovered one major theme:
the Vietnamese Americans and the Vietnamese were not able to mourn on account of the actions of both the United States and the Vietnamese governments.
Yen Le Espiritu

Nguyen-Vo Thu-Huong
1. "Forgot" the war.
2. Saw the Vietnam War as a "good war".
3. Allied with Vietnam and bluntly disregarded any attempts made by Vietnamese Americans to shed light upon the true atrocities of the dead and the living.
Did They Forget?
One such example can be seen when looking at the Vietnam War Memorial, “which was commissioned to commemorate and memorialize the US soldiers who fought in Vietnam. The very fact that this was even built provides support for the idea that the burdens placed upon the Vietnamese have been “forgotten” and instead we tend to remember the American veterans as the “primary victims of war” (Espiritu).

Although the Vietnam War remains one of the most
reported and documented wars in United States history,
the publicity it receives may actually cover the war’s true costs that affected the Vietnamese.
This memorial:
does not allow for discussion about the Vietnamese perspective of the war since it does not even reflect upon the countless Vietnamese victims.
silently demands that we forget the main participants and victims of that history.

Thus, the war was seen as “ultimately necessary, just, and successful” because it saved refugees and gave them the opportunity to live in a free country (Espiritu).

In order for this story to be told however, “the highly complex and contingent history of [his] people must be forgotten in a historical amnesia. More importantly, the agency of [his] people as subjects of their own history must be denied” (Thu-Huong).
Furthermore, when Vietnamese American political officials tried to set up a Communist Free Zone, banning officials of the Vietnamese government to visit these areas, American society took this as an expulsion from the American body and justified the statement: “If you want to be South Vietnamese, go back to South Vietnam.”
“Indeed some theorists have made explicit use of psychoanalytic categories in their search for a way to think about and out of the problems associated with immigrants insistence on keeping either their distinct cultural identity or their history alive” (Thu Huong)
Thus, in a sense the Vietnamese Americans and Vietnamese in Vietnam must mourn for themselves silently because no one else mourns for them. The traumatic things they have experienced have been their own and will stay that way because the society around them does not know about it and/or is not taught about it, and if they are, they see it as unimportant (or in Vietnam as a strictly forbidden topic)
Little Saigon
The unity of the Vietnamese-Americans helped them overcome the actions of both governments by creating a community that would allow for them to mourn safely.
Vietnamese Boat People Monument
Vietnam War Memorial
Sid Goldstein Park, Westminster 2003
Westminster Memorial Park, 2009
Garden Grove, August 2013
Vietnam War Museum (proposal)
In spite of both government’s absence of acknowledgment, how does the community mourn on a national and international level, if they do at all?

Unable to Mourn
2. Following the war, the South Vietnamese people have lost their identity.
3. Without any recognition there can be no reconciliation between the Vietnamese diaspora and the current Vietnamese government.
People were relocated from the cities to the farms.
Those associated with the former government of South Vietnam were unable to obtain a higher education or job under the new government.
Feelings of resentment toward the Vietnamese government's past actions.
Vietnamese government unwilling to offer condolences to refugees.
Memory Has Been Erased
Reeducation camps
By Education
students are taught about the good side of the Communist and about their victory.
Within the Family
by the adults (grandparents, parents, etc.)
Reeducation Camps
"Reeducation camp" is the official title given to the prison camps operated by the government of Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War. In such "reeducation camps", the government imprisoned several hundred thousand former military officers and government workers from the former regime of South Vietnam.
Through education, students are taught about the good side of the Communism and about their victory.
Memory Has Been Erased
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