The letter written by Hieu Nguyen and Quynh-Tram Nguyen about the plan of the Vietnamese American community (Letter to the Editor, Sept. 2 – Sept. 15, 2009, Vol. 36, No. 17) to take a lead in American civics soon is one I have heard expressed only much more discretely in the past, and it was a fulfilling experience to read these gentlemen.
The prospect of the complicated, fierce, devoted, interesting, sometimes wild, occassionally treacherous Vietnamese community of Seattle’s Little Saigon getting intensely involved in politics, particularly locally is stirring and very exciting. They are an uplifting spirit.
What I would like to see is for the Vietnamese to cut out an identity for themselves, among the identity politics of minorities, that establishes an embrace of comprehensive, multiple partnerships, a leadership knowledgable not only about how they interact with other groups but how other groups interact with each other, a partnership identity with cultural integrity that avoids the special pleading note which dogs most grievance-centered constituencies, without misunderstanding those grievances, which are often legitimate.
Seeing the difficulty of assimilation has caused me heartbreak and grief. This has been an isolated, banished, doom feeling. When I heard that Mayor Nickels had only visited just this once, it infuriated me – pointing, I feel, to a disturbance of mind that often keeps me away from politics when possible due to the agonies of fury. After all those years of protests and leaflets, I have yet to see one of those awful kids from Capitol HIll make it a point of pride to get involved in Little Saigon. How that hurts me. I don’t mind telling you that I am still hostile, if non-violently so, about what Johnson and Nixon did. I am not amused by reconciliation speeches by American Nam Veterans, as though what we did by aborting their crazy, misconstrued war, was to hurt them and betray them, rather than bring them home and as many of you with them as we could bring.
I was thirteen years old as I watched the hell of the helicopter evacuations and every step of the way I saw it coming and knew it was the only outcome we were inviting, as all those moral loafers in the Pentagon knew. Both Johnson and Nixon simply prayed it could fall to the next guy as they lied through the teeth.
I am of course also terribly aware of what befell Vietnam in the guerrilla aftermath. I can understand some of them hating me. The iron box of madness left no way out and once so confined life doesn’t afford a lot of redemption.
It would relieve me of some of my lifelong pain and the ravages of tears and poetry I have shed over the crucible of Vietnam to see your spirits rise with the healing of rainforest vibrancy, because what the Vietnamese offer at their best comes from deep, deep inside. That is why writing poetry always comes so much more easily for me in Little Saigon than anywhere else in the world.
Vietnamese people, many of them, have lived pained, shell-shocked lives, but for a people who seldom make it their boast or their rallying cry, out of humility, they certainly do indeed know what love is. In my hopes to see Little Saigon become the Capitol of Seattle, I can only add that I also know what love isn’t. Resilience will work better than meanness, and because America has given every conflicted reason under the sun to the Vietnamese to hate us, it is an issue that needs to come out in the open. I have seen it myself walking alone with a placard in Little Saigon protesting the Iraq War. Some of the anger directed at me is a feeling that keeps me personally begging out of politics because I feel it, too.
Lead by what is best in you and you will not be defeated. Lead by the medium of enemies and you will be. You will take us all down, too.
International District Resident.