The Political Arena
The Vietnamese perspective
The view From Washington
Ambassador Peterson's perspective
The Vietnamese-American dilemma
The San Jose Mercury News, bridging two worlds.
In April 1975 after the fall of South Vietnam, the United States extended
to all of Vietnam the trade embargo that had been in effect against The
Democratic Republic of Vietnam since 1964. Four U.S. presidents renewed
the embargo leaving it essentially unchanged until 1991 when President
Bush lifted the ban on travel to Vietnam and authorized a $1 million aid
package -- the first official U.S. assistance for the country since 1975.
In July 1993, President Clinton ended U.S. opposition to IMF and World
Bank. In February 1994, the embargo on U.S. trade with Vietnam in place
since the war was finally lifted. In 1995, Secretary of State Warren
Christopher visited Hanoi, the first Secretary of State to do so since
Henry Kissinger visited in 1973, and opened the new U.S. Embassy. The
final step came with the official exchange of ambassadors in May, 1997.
At the same time Pete Peterson greeted crowds at Noi Bai airport, Vietnam's
ambassador to the United States, Le Van Bang, was being received in Washington.
In the past two years
additional significant steps have been achieved on both sides: A copyright
agreement has been signed; the waiver of Jackson Vanik was agreed to by
the U.S. Congress in both 1998 and 1999; and the "agreement in principle"
on the Bilateral Trade Agreementhas brought an outpouring of optimism
from all involved. Economic barriers that seemed insurmountable even five
years ago have come down.
For the Vietnamese, accepting reconciliation has been difficult, even
painful. Many in Vietnam are still not comfortable with the renewal of
ties to a country they see as responsible for the war which left 3 million
Vietnamese dead, and thousands more killed or maimed by landmines, unexploded
ordnance and the residual effects of Agent Orange; as well as a thirty-year
embargo that handicapped the country economically. But all realize that
to insure the health and future of Vietnamese people there can be no stepping
back. Vietnam must take its place in the world arena.
view from Washington:
There are also those in the United States for whom the Vietnam War still
smolders. Senator Jesse Helms, who fought against reestablishing diplomatic
relations with Vietnam, still wears a POW bracelet. Some MIA/POW groups
still claim that Vietnam is holding American prisoners. Many Vietnamese
Americans still refuse to accept the current communist government of their
former homeland. Change happens slowly; but with time even enemies can
Will there ever be a final handshake between the two former enemies?
"I would have to say an unqualified yes.
Not only will we be good friends in the future but we will be strong
allies in this area of the world. There is no doubt in my mind. As to
when that comes? Will it come during my tenure here? I don't know. The
passage of the trade agreement will bring us full circle in normalization
between our two countries in the sense of economics and diplomacy. And
we will continue to work on the MIA/POW question. Hopefully, one day
in the future we will be able to declare fullest possible accounting
For North Vietnam, April 30th 1975 the day Saigon fell was a moment of
triumph in its single minded pursuit to unite Vietnam. But for many in the
South, it meant the division of families and the beginning of life as a
refugee. North Vietnamese forces placed hundred of thousands of southerners
in prisons, re-education camps and economic zones in efforts to remove subversion
and consolidate the country. Throughout the late 70's and early 80's, famine
and the fear of persecution prompted over one million southern Vietnamese
to flee; many of them found passage on overcrowded boats with no idea of
their destination. Over 500,000 of these refugees often referred to as
"the Boat People" ended up in the United States. These Vietnamese
Americans are now into their third generation and number over 1.5 million.
have sprung up all over the United States. Orange County, California is
home to the largest Vietnamese American population. Other sizable communities
exist in Northern Virginia and Texas. Vietnamese businesses have drawn together,
forming community centers and rallying points for those who had to rebuild
San Jose Mercury News: bridging two worlds.
ten percent of San Jose was Vietnamese Americans, The San Jose
Mercury News decided to send a permanent reporter to Vietnam
in 1994 to send back stories of particular interest to this community.
The reporter returns to San Jose each year to participate in a public
forum with readers. Kristin Huckshorn, the Mercury Reporter
from 1994-1998 said, "We have seen an incredible growth in
the numbers of people who come to the town meetings. It's been standing
room only for the last couple of years. Vietnamese actually came
to the paper to protest when we opened the bureau. They thought
it showed support for (Vietnam's communist) government. They didn't
understand that a paper like the San Jose Mercury goes into
a country to provide unbiased information. The questions have changed
from very anti-government comments to 'What's it like doing business
there?' I think more and more people in the community now accept
that the war is over and it's time to focus on Vietnam today."
A totally separate Vietnam language paper, Viet Mercury,
is now published weekly by the San Jose Mercury.
Visit the San
Jose Mercury News at: www.sjmercury.com
The pain, anger, and
hatred felt toward the communist regime that forced them into exile remains
fresh for many Vietnamese Americans, and is expounded on daily in cafes,
local Vietnamese newspapers and town meetings. Demonstrations that erupted
in Orange County, California in April 1999, when a
shopkeeper put up a picture of Ho Chi Minh and the flag of The Socialist
Republic of Vietnam, reflect the incendiary atmosphere. Fiercely proud
of their heritage, yet left without a homeland, many Vietnamese Americans
have vowed never to acknowledge that Vietnam is now one communist country.
For some Vietnamese nationals,
the presence of Viet Kieu brings mixed feelings. On one hand, the Viet Kieu
bring much needed capital and business know-how. On the other, they have
garnered a reputation for being arrogant and for flaunting their American
dollars. For more than twenty years, Viet Kieu have lived in and enjoyed
the freedoms of America. When they return to Vietnam, where per capita income
is about $30 a month, it's not surprising to hear criticisms of arrogance
New Generation of Vietnamese Americans Returns to Vietnam
Many Vietnamese who fled their homeland are returning. They are called
Viet Kieu "overseas Vietnamese" by Vietnamese nationals.
Some are reuniting with family members after more than two decades of
separation. Others come eager to invest in a country that has opened its
doors for business.
The Vietnamese word "Tiên" roughly translates into English
as a movement upward and forward in both time and space. Many young Vietnamese
Americans are following that movement. For them, Vietnam has always had
a strong, yet remote, presence in their lives. More and more they're going
back to Vietnam not only to find their roots, but to help the nation move
forward. Like their counterparts in Vietnam, they are turning their eyes
to the future.
Trinh Nguyen was two
years old when she and her family left Saigon. In 1993 at the age of 20,
she returned to Vietnam to visit the relatives she had left behind. The
short visit was a profound experience for her. Two years after finishing
college she left her home in Massachusetts to return to Vietnam. She is
working with a Canadian agency that helps small and medium scale farmers
improve their efficiency and work together to become self-sufficient communities.
Her sentiments and motivation are shared by many of her peers.
of us came here because we wanted to learn, or re-learn, Vietnamese
and learn more about our culture. Growing up in the States I tried to
figure out where I belonged and where others thought I belonged. I felt
like there were pieces of the puzzle that were missing. Now I've returned
to find those pieces. My motivations for coming were personal but I'm
also very happy to be making a positive impact. Almost every day brings
both rewarding and stimulating experiences and in those moments I often
step back and think how grateful I am to be here."