Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Last Day of April

April 30, 1975, USS Midway

In the several Southern California communities, an unfamiliar visitor in the last week of April, would be surprised to find the streets decorated with two flags, "Old Glory" and the yellow and red flag of former South Vietnam. The purpose of this patriotic display marks the day that Saigon fell to the forces of North Vietnam in 1975. For over one and a half million Vietnamese-Americans and tens of thousands of others, who can trace their roots to Cambodia and Laos, the spring of 1975 forever changed not only their lives, but the face of America.

Prior to the spring of 1975, immigration from Asian countries to the United States faced exclusion, restrictions and finally mandated inclusion that still only saw a small flow of new immigrants from the whole Eastern Hemisphere. April 30, 1975 changed that flow forever as over 50,000 Vietnamese fled to ships off shore, followed by scores of thousands who have been dubbed the "Boat People". Another half million, braved the jungles to flee the "Killing Fields" and find refuge in Thailand, and eventually for some a new home in America.

The path to assimilation for this latest group was strewn with many stones, not unlike the path taken by other newcomers who faced prejudice and fear from established communities. In a fit of irony, it was an immigrant from one of those previously scorned groups that led the opposition against the Chinese in the 1870's.
My own path away from my service in Vietnam was one of transition and acceptance of the newcomers in our midst. I can recall one particular incident that sums up my own feelings after the fall of Saigon and finding newcomers whose very presence brought back unpleasant memories of the previous decade. I was working as a manager for a trucking company in Los Angeles in 1978, and one of our drivers called in to report that he had been in an accident with a kid on a bike. Fearing the worst, I drove to the scene, thankful to discover that the child appeared to have only sustained a nasty cut to his head that might require stitches, and needed to be checked for further injuries. His parents had refused to let him go in the ambulance, and had retreated to into their small store with the boy in tow. As I stepped inside, the smell of Vietnam wafted into my senses and all the negative memories flooded back. I found myself insisting that the boy be allowed to be treated. Frustration grew and I began to think about why we gave these people refuge. Every negative memory of Vietnam began to crowd out my civil tone and I began to conger up old Viet curse words to add to my arsenal of how I would humiliate the father into relenting. Just then, the teenage daughter appeared home from school and assumed the role of translator and in effect, a peacemaker. After a short conversation with her father and mother, the boy was bundled off in the ambulance along with his mother and sister. His father, now understanding that we meant no harm to his family eyes glistening, grasped my hand in thanks, as I was left to reflect upon my own bent attitude.

As I drove back to the office, the one thought that stayed on my mind was how that young Vietnamese girl, wise beyond her years, was going to make a difference not only for her parents, but in contributing to her newly adopted homeland. That one encounter has been repeated countless times over the years, as I see the children of those whom joined this union beginning in 1975, grasp the meaning of the promise that Thomas PM Barnett so aptly describes in his book Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, as one of "..equal opportunity, not equal outcome."

The theme of those first generation Americans has resonated on this blog since its earliest days and will continue to resound as long as I am able to pound the keyboard.

The winds of change that began on that spring day long ago, still echo and course among the mil-blogs and in a few newspapers that still mark that date.

This brief collection of links look and add prospective and reflection.

Black April at the Washington Times

From the Blogosphere: The Armorer Reminds Us

Operation Frequent Wind April 29-30 1975

1 comment:

mark said...

First rate post.

Props, also to Representative Cao for telling Hanoi last week that the way to reconciliation with America's Vietnamese community lies through a freer society in Vietnam.