This film is much deeper than policy and culture. It's a "human experience" documented over a course of years and truthfully expressed. Thavi, I applaud your candor and your transparency. Few are so willing to share their life experience with others out of pride or shame, and miss that deep bond of connection with the whole human race. I embrace your sorrows as my own and carry the losses as my own. I bear your burden with you as a fellow sojourner on this 'home' we call earth. My deepest prayers go with you and all of your family. My husband was German-born but raised in America from the time he was 8. His parents came to America after WWll after the fall of Germany. Seeing the sorrow expressed by Thavi's mom reminded me of my own mother-in-law's sorrow that she carried her entire life here in America for the loss of her brothers, sisters and parents who were still in Germany. My husband and I were married in Germany during the '70s while he was stationed there during his Army tour. I learned deep compassion for my mother-in-law by experiencing what she had lived as an adult here in America. Even though the Germans were of the same race, same look and dress as my own culture, having that language barrier while living there, created within me such a loneliness and loss of my family, all I could think about was going back home to my family and a culture that I could relate to. I was only there for 18 months, but those 18 months gave me a taste of what my husband's parents had endured for all of their adult life, and that was with both parents staying together. I cannot imagine the depth of pain the Phrasavath family has experienced with their father marrying another woman and having two more children. Even a documented film cannot express the depth of that kind of pain that can only be understood by the bearer of the heart.
As a Lao American watching this documentary I was very proud. Proud of a more honest portrayal of the Lao experience in America and how it differs from the stereotypical "model minority" image many have of a common Asian experience. Overall it was touching but was the experience of one family. Although my own family went through a very similar experience, it doesn't characterized the whole experience. Only each family can speak to individual experiences. The movie does somewhat portray the secret war in Laos as being an American backed conflict. This is not entirely accurate. The war can be most truthfully described as a civil war. As its neighbors sank into conflict, elements in Laos developed that wanted to create a communists nation in Laos. The Democrats and Royals fought back to retain freedom and independence. It's true they were trained and backed by the U.S. but the reality is they would have fought regardless of any foreign intervention. Many Lao, including the Royal Lao Soldiers, of which my Grandfather was an officer, did not believe the war to be the "American" war, but "our" war, the war for Lao freedom. They considered themselves the main resistance with Americans just as support. My point is they were fighting for their own freedom, their own interest, not necessarily US interest. These were very proud Lao men and women who wanted to preserve their country and their lifestyle. If you ask my grandfather about the war, he speaks of his Lao spirit that obligated him to fight, not his American allegiance. With that said, he was grateful for the US support and is a proud US veteran now. The Betrayal is as much an American experience as it is a Lao story. Many who came before, and many who will follow will go through this experience. It is an experience of triumph over adversity.
I can't remember when I have seen something like Betrayal and was moved to tears. I can't describe whether I was angry at the US or just the fact that as an American I could realize the full impact of our putting troops in Laos. The Vietnam War, Cambodia and Laos seem much more comprehensive to me than when I was a child watching the war play out in our living room. The fact that the main character has lived in both cultures helped me a lot. For me he became a symbol of an "everyman" and his family "every family" faced with such decisions. I wasn't looking at someone who was different but just the contrary someone whom I could relate to. Each person's feeling of betrayal on many levels I could identify with. Also now older I realize that life comes with its good and bad. In this case it felt tragic until the end. I was left with a sense of hope that these were survivors who had managed to not lose their dignity or faith in sustaining themselves. It is these images which [made me feel gratitude]. Gratitude that this family had not lost its inner compass and retaliated. Grateful to witness the human spirit and realizing it can be resilient in the face of insurmountable odds. What really struck me was how forgiving, compassionate and loving these family members are. I saw their flaws but also understood that in these circumstances I probably would have made the same decisions. What amazed me was how all the footage had been assembled over the years to present the narrative. It is a film I would recommend because I think it has so many qualities that are universal. I'm ashamed by my countries' past behavior and afraid that this tragic tale is probably still being enacted today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can only imagine the suffering of those families and children of Gitmo detainees. Thank you for showing this documentary. I feel it taught me a lot and I have nothing but admiration for the family and the film maker.
I'm a 40 year old man, and after watching this 1 hr movie, it has revealed huge insight to me about my parents and myself that I was oblivious to while growing up. My own family arrived from China in the '60s. I was born here so I have always been totally absorbed in the American culture while my mother especially always seemed to hang onto her homeland. I could never really understand the pain and suffering she described, almost like it trapped her and prevented her from moving forward. My heart is softened and I think I understand her better, but I guess I should ask her.
A poem inspired by the film...
If I could meet all of my ancestors
who came before me
on the many paths through Time
that led to my own path now∼∼
What would I ask them?
What language would we speak?
Would we walk together in understanding
on one path?
What would they show me as we walked
that our spirits are not ethereal essences
that we cannot touch
Our Spirits are born out of belonging
to a place
To where shall MY spirit return?
as I continue down this path
∼∼faithfully receiving guidance,
and yet groping blindly for that
that means Home
and affirmation of Life
as it should be
in praise and reflection of A∼∼∼
I pray that I learn
the language of my ancestors
so that I will remember how to tell our
∼∼for our stories guide our spirits
back to those places of belonging
that keep us strong
And in that place
where my stories meet and are one
with the stories of my ancestors
-----I am ready
to delve my hands and my Spirit
into fertile soil.
Yes, much of this film is sad -- war is a terrible thing and what the Americans did to Laos and the Lao people is reprehensible. I was in high school at the time of the Vietnam war and the secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia. A couple years ago, I travelled around Laos from the north to the south. Flying into Phonsavan (which was rebuilt in the same spot as Xieng Khouang, which was completely destroyed by the U.S. bombs), you couldn't help but notice the bomb craters from the air, which are still visible 30+ years later. Walking around the Plain of Jars you had to stay in certain areas because there were parts that have still not been de-mined. MAG (Mine Advisory Group), who spoke with our group, said people are still killed and maimed from these unexploded "bombies" today. Walking through the town of Phonsavan, you are able to see leftover bomb shells clearly marked "USA" in people's yards (they have found some interesting ways to put these to good use)... Walking through the area surrounding Phonsavan, you can't help but feel moved by what these people went through and sickened by how they were treated by our government...We had a local guide in Pakse in the south who worked for the Americans and his situation was very similar to the father in this film once the Americans left... The Hmong in Laos are still discriminated against today because of their support and assistance to the Americans. And yet, in spite of everything, the Lao people could not have been more friendly and welcoming. I was so glad that Thav was able to be reunited with his family in Laos and to see his grandmother before she died. Thank you to the film makers for making such a beautiful, moving film.
To read more reactions and reviews, visit The Betrayal overview page.