You may wonder where my interest in the Vietnamese came from. More than ten years ago in a sophomore literature class, I asked my students
to write about their relationship to the natural world. While many wrote about summer time at the beach, one Vietnamese-American wrote about
her fear of the sea. It signified for her "darkness, violence, and separation." Her paragraph was so moving I asked her to read it to the
class. Of course, what she told was of her "nighttime escape from Vietnam by boat" to Thailand. Later I had other Vietnamese-American
students who had their own stories to tell, and the idea emerged to put their stories together in a book. When I ran out of students, I
began to find older people, through agencies such as Catholic Charities, who were willing to tell their stories. These stories, based almost
entirely on interviews, and those added by Jade Quang Huynh, make up the nineteen narratives of Voices of Vietnamese Boat People. The
stories are linked by accounts of escape by sea.
I asked myself how I should spend the twenty minutes I have to speak with you. I decided that I must let one of your own people speak through
me. Here is the story of Lan Nguyen, one of my former students.
I don't remember much what happened before I was about seven years old. What I remember most is that a man had just come back to where we
lived in Saigon. He had all this beard, and he looked kind of unclean, and he grabbed me and kissed me. I said, "Who is this man?" When my
mom came out and started hugging him, I said, "Who is this?" Finally, she told me that he was my dad. I said, "It's my dad? I've never seen
him before." Because he had served in the South Vietnamese Army, he had been in a reeducation camp ever since I was born.
When my dad came back from the reeducation camp, he did not have a job, so my mom had to work very hard selling vegetables in the open market.
She had to wake up at 5:00 in the morning and didn't come home till 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I did not get the chance to see her until late in
the evening when we ate dinner together.