The way people refer to the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 epitomizes the difference in how the historical narrations of the Second Indochina War have evolved inside and outside of Vietnam.
Those in Vietnam commemorate April 30 as Liberation of the South Day (Giai Phong Mien Nam).
Those outside, overseas Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans, call the Fall of Saigon: “The Day we lost our country” (Ngay Mat Nuoc), “Black April” (Thang Tu Den) or “National Hatred Day” (Ngay Quoc Han).
Vietnamese refugees came from the former Republic of Vietnam (RVN, South Vietnam), which was annexed by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam at the end of the Second Indochina War. The Fall of Saigon to these refugees symbolizes the fall of the Republic rather than the reunification of North and South Vietnam.
To many Vietnamese Americans, the Fall of Saigon represents the loss of their homeland as they knew it, the commencement of life under a communist government in southern Vietnam, and the beginning of a journey to find political refuge abroad.
The ability of Vietnamese refugees in America to survive the Fall of Saigon and find new opportunities in the United States has shaped their collective identity and has come to illustrate their tenacity of spirit.
In order to understand the significance of the Fall of Saigon to Vietnamese Americans, one must also understand that a shared military experience comprises a fundamental part of Vietnamese American culture. Many Vietnamese immigrated to the United States through special political asylum programs in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s reserved for former South Vietnamese military officers and their families.
Widespread empathy exists among overseas Vietnamese for former South Vietnamese officers who defended South Vietnam. Many of the officers who did not leave for the United States immediately after the Fall of Saigon were sent to re-education camp under the new Vietnamese government.
“The wound of losing Saigon lives on and we will never meet again our fathers, our brothers, those who died in the camps, and those friends who still remain in Vietnam, after Saigon fell,” said Hoa Nguyen, a former low-ranking officer in the RVN army who was on the battlefield during the Fall of Saigon. Hoa Nguyen spent twelve years in re-education camp.
The loss was lined with new opportunity for many Vietnamese. The Fall of Saigon also marked the first in several waves of Vietnamese immigration to host countries such as the United States.
Long Nguyen, a former officer in the RVN police corps, said the Fall of Saigon represents “much unhappiness, but at the same time, it was like a door opening.”
The commemoration of the Fall of Saigon reminds Vietnamese Americans of the origins of their immigration to the United States. It also serves to remind the overseas Vietnamese community of the struggles of their countrymen in Vietnam.
“The overseas Vietnamese community has become a huge force around the world,” said Long Nguyen. “We are working to bring down communism in our homeland.”
Le Vinh, a business woman who immigrated to Seattle in the 1990s, said, “The job of fighting for democracy and freedom in our homeland is every Vietnamese’s duty.”
The experience of shared loss has empowered Vietnamese Americans to strive for a better future not just for their countrymen in Vietnamese, but also for themselves in the United States.
“Among the younger generation, we have to worry about ourselves, about our community, about preserving our heritage,” said Le Vinh. “As for the Fall of Saigon, we will never forget that wound, but we must look toward the future.”
Thirty five years have passed since the Fall of Saigon. Many Vietnamese Americans have shifted their focus from mourning the loss of their country to building their lives in their second homeland.
Each year since 1976, Vietnamese across America have commemorated the Fall of Saigon. This year, several organizations in the Greater Seattle area will put on events to commemorate the 35th year after the Fall of Saigon, with an estimated 500-1000 people who wil be in attendance.
4/24/10, 12 p.m. Van Asselt Community Center, 2820 S. Mrytle St., Seattle, contact (206) 724-6996.
4/25/10, 12:30 p.m. Gatzert Elementary, 1301 E. Yesler Way, Seattle, contact (206) 973-6874.