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Remembering April 30, 1975

Quyen Nguyen-Le |
May 1, 2015 | 1:01 p.m. PDT

Contributor

 

Today marks 40 years since the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

For the United States, it's a day that signified the end of the Vietnam War (which was also fought in Laos and Cambodia, though not often mentioned). It also signified the end of the American War for the victors in Vietnam and the day when millions in the Vietnamese diaspora lost their country.

In the United States, “Vietnam” is taught to us not as a country with people, culture, and history, but as a War: a War that the United States eventually lost, a War that perhaps we shouldn’t have been involved with in the first place, but a War, nonetheless, that the United States would just rather forget about. But for the millions living in the Southeast Asian diaspora, this war, the War, isn’t one that can be so easily forgotten.

I was born in the United States and I didn’t grow up in a Vietnamese community. It wasn’t very often that my own parents would, or could, speak to me about the trauma of growing up in War or in refugee camps. So while the bloody history of U.S. foreign policy and intervention is too intimately tied to my own family’s destiny to ignore, it was a history largely unknown to me for most of my life—unheard and unseen, but always present. I’ve always felt a grappling sense of shame because of it: not knowing enough of my language and not knowing enough about my history to have an opinion about how we, as a Vietnamese-American community, remain largely uncritical of, and even contribute to, a military industrial complex that perhaps put us here in the first place.

I learned about “Vietnam” mostly from English-language Hollywood films, like “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket,” from books like “The Things They Carried,” and from popular images of anti-war demonstrators putting flowers on guns and of young soldiers drafted and sent to a jungle called ‘Nam. 

But none of those stories were ever about people with faces like mine. We were merely backdrops in their heroic, albeit tragic, tales. Because while the United States technically lost the War, they were always the protagonists in these narratives. And I am the Vietnamese prostitute who said, “me love you long time.”

April 30 means different things for different people. Growing up, “Black April,” as some call it, was a day of mourning and a day to recognize and hear the struggles of loved ones, whose stories were largely ignored in mainstream narratives about “Vietnam.” 

Our story, however, is not just set in the past. Our story can be more than a story of death and loss. It can be a story of resilience, because our communities are alive and we are thriving, here and now. 

In commemorating our past this April 30, we can also honor our presents and our futures:

What does it mean for us to be Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, and Iu Mien—to be Southeast Asian Americans—in the United States today? What does it mean for us to be here as a legacy of U.S. military intervention, something that continues to create refugees around the world to this day? 

What does it mean to call this day, a day that is so crucial for the way we form our collective identity, “Black April,” especially when our traditional color of mourning is white? What does that mean when we consider this in the context of the Model Minority myth, which has been used not only to disappear us among other Asian groups, but also as a tool often used against Black communities? 

“Vietnam” is not over for the United States. We are not just the past. We are also the present and we do have stakes in how we form our futures in this country.

 

Contact Contributor Quyen Nguyen-Le here.



 

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