I reblogged something a while ago, which was a quote from a Vietnamese-American from her mother about the importance of learning Vietnamese as a language. Someone reblogged back with a response.
The gist of the quote is much to do with the attitude of the Vietnamese diaspora as a whole, which is: We lost our country, South Vietnam, and in order to remember the sacrifice the older generation made, the younger should maintain that cultural link.
I understand this, because my grandfather still sends emails with the automatic signature:
Không Nói, Không Viết, Không Làmnhững gì có lợi cho cộng sản
“Don’t say, don’t write, don’t do, anything which will help the Communists.”
Indeed, when he was here in Switzerland he met another Vietnamese fellow who had done very well for himself, so much so that he built at his own expense of some 15,000 Francs a statue of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem.
And while these kinds of exuberant expressions of fighting old wars are kind of silly, people do generally still feel strongly about it.
You can go to communities of Vietnamese people, particularly in the US, where they fly the old South Vietnam flags, are unashamedly Conservative, blame hippy liberals for abandoning their country, and still talk as if Communism were the great enemy.
But perhaps my dad put things best into context: We won. Vietnam today is not the Vietnam of 20, or even 10 years ago. It has opened up, is increasingly modernizing, and has embraced capitalistic development. American companies are investing, people are running private businesses, and all those various things that the rest of Asia started doing 20-30 years ago and China started 10 years ago, Vietnam is doing. The Vietnam War was, for Vietnamese, a war of ideology, and the ideology they practice now is definitely not Communism.
It’s still a country with a notoriously corrupt government and is definitely not democratic… but frankly, find me a government in South East Asia which is a real democracy and is without rampant corruption. Vietnam is no real exception to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia or even Singapore.
Sometimes I see the South Vietnamese diaspora and it reminds me of a commentary I once read about the Armenian Diaspora. In a lot of ways, Armenians around the world today define themselves by their tragedy/genocide. Without it they would have assimilated further into their resident countries, but the shared experience of their forebears brings them together as a community.
Is it the same with South Vietnamese? Personally, I argue not.
South Vietnam was a creation of the Cold War, it had a short lived existence as a nation founded on the whims of the US wanting a bulwark against the perceived spread of Communism in Asia. The only difference between it and North Vietnam was political ideology, which was propped up by the US, anxious as it was then to support anything that was anti-Communist. But culturally Vietnamese people in either state still shared that heritage. There are cultural differences between the regions of Nam, Bac and Hue, but the overall nation of Vietnam has roots much deeper than political ideology.
And so, what defines South Vietnamese people, still talking about fighting the Communists? Conflict defined them, and loss. But I don’t think that’s enough, and I don’t personally feel that any person or people should really define themselves by wars and conflicts, even if it happens often.
Yes, we should remember wars and their legacy. But we should also celebrate peace. One of the great wonders of travel is the opportunity to see the humanity of people you didn’t previously understand. But I feel like the people who still act like the world is in a great ideological battle with Communists are sticking their head in the sand hiding from the winds of a world which is changing.
And like my dad said, in all the ways that matter, the political ideology that South Vietnam stood for won. Isn’t it great that you can go back to Vietnam, go back home? You can, if you can afford the flight. That’s all you need.
I went back with my parents 3 times, and they showed me the places of their childhood. My dad showed me his school. My mom showed me the house her dad worked all the time to be able to afford. To my parents, those roots aren’t lost at all. No one’s stopping any other Vietnamese from going back.
So, in summary, South Vietnam is only glorified because it was lost, and I don’t think that Vietnam is lost at all. If anything, it’s open, inviting, and waiting for you to come back and see it.
But you should still learn Vietnamese, for all the reasons other immigrants in the US should maintain their languages, which is to keep a link with their elder family. And then there’s the practical reason: it’s always good to learn more languages. Indeed, there are 80 million people in Vietnam you can speak to, if you can speak Vietnamese.
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