April 30: Youth Perspectives on a Divergent History

Published April 27, 2015 in Episode 1

April 30, 1975 is a day that is seared into the memory of every Vietnamese who lived during that tumultuous time, whether they referred to it as the Fall of Saigon or Liberation Day.

On this 40th year commemoration, many older Vietnamese who lived through the war and its aftermath want to see their children remember Vietnam’s history. The elders share a hope that the younger generation will carry on the torch to build a brighter future for Vietnam. Below, five Vietnamese youths from around the world shared with Loa their reflections on April 30th.

(Photo: Loa/Kim Nguyễn)

(Photo: Loa/Kim Nguyễn)

For Kim Nguyễn, a community advocate from Boston, Massachusetts, April 30th was not a significant date growing up. Despite being exposed to the oral history of her family’s escape to Malaysia by a small boat, they never talked about the historical significance of the date. Kim says she “took for granted her family’s experience and accepted the norm of being a refugee.”

Having never studied the war, Kim started to learn through conversations with her family about the events surrounding her escape, an experience Kim realizes is unlike other immigrants. So much so, Kim is now involved with Boston’s Vietnamese community and is currently planning a big Black April event with the Vietnamese American Community Network in Dorchester.

Progress in their adopted homes

For most first generation Vietnamese refugees, the thought of one day being able to go back to their home country has always loomed in the back of their minds. But second generation Vietnamese Americans like Kim now call their new adopted countries home. For Kim, she wants to focus on the progress they have made and the lives they have built and not just during the commemoration events. She is not going back to Vietnam but instead want to make meaningful homes in her adopted country.

(Photo: Loa/Nina Tran)

(Photo: Loa/Nina Tran)

Like Kim, Nina Trần, also grew up not knowing much about the war except through bits and pieces she deciphered from family conversations of war stories. A youth organizer from Little Saigon, California, Nina joined the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California (UVSA) in 2011 to connect with her culture and her peers. But it was her first time experiencing a Black April event left an indelible impression.

Though many young Vietnamese living abroad come from families that have at least one member who served in the military, many say they didn’t truly learn about the war and the losses their families endured until they were older. Chiến Phạm in Adelaide, Australia, echoes that sentiment.

He remembers Black April as an annual event that coincides with Anzac Day, a national event honoring Australian and New Zealand service members. His earliest memory of Black April was of travelling on a big bus for 24 hours straight to Canberra, where Australian youths had gathered with their elders to commemorate those who passed away to defend Australia and those who fought in Vietnam.

But the annual gathering not only recall Vietnam’s past but also focuses on its present and future, particularly during youth nights where topics as varied as Vietnam’s current events, identity, and human rights are discussed.

(Photo: Loa/Chiến Phạm)

(Photo: Loa/Chiến Phạm)

While young Vietnamese living abroad learn about loss and identity, the perspective for those growing up in Vietnam is admittedly very different. Nguyễn Đình Hà and Nguyễn Trường Sơn from Hanoi says children are taught early on, not about Black April, but about Liberation Day.

Nguyễn Trường Sơn’s memory of his first Liberation Day comes from school, where “students wore wear nice clothes with a special red cap for primary students.” He says, “everyone gathered in the school's courtyard, listening to the teacher's speech about the importance of that day.”

But when asked whether he sees April 30th as a day to celebrate and rejoice, he shares that for him, “they have no choice but to celebrate it. It is not a festival for the people.”

Sơn and Hà both explained that the reason they and others have come to resent this day is precisely because of the messages they are being repeatedly fed.

Sơn added, “they [the authorities] talk about this every day, every year, every month. For us, it's like eating something everyday and now, you cannot eat it anymore.”

Outlook on the future

While young people in Vietnam are struggling with how the past is taught, in the United States, Kim says her challenge is to take the lessons from the past to help shape the future.

So many people have strong opinions about [April 30th]. With the strong veterans’ associations here, we don’t want them to be slighted when we choose not to focus on just the sad parts of losing Vietnam, losing our country. We try to explain that we are not ignoring their pain or their stories but we are acknowledging a second half of the story, the story that we are still building now.”
— Kim Nguyễn

Those inside Vietnam say a more inclusive commemoration would require a fundamental change, beginning with the name “Liberation Day." Sơn says this day isn't a “liberation or a victory. It's a sad day.” He hopes that the day gets a new name and a new way of being celebrated.

(Photo: Loa/Nguyễn Đình Hà)

(Photo: Loa/Nguyễn Đình Hà)

Hà also supports a name change and he wants to see Vietnam acknowledge both sides of the war.

“Don’t call it the day that It should be an anniversary of the deceased on both sides the war, as well as the Americans, the Australians, the New Zealanders.”

For these five Vietnamese youth, a strong desire for unity, whether it is to learn about Vietnamese history or to come together as a people, is =====

Kim wishes for the youth to embrace their Vietnamese American identity as it's important to acknowledge where they came from and to keep that going. Nina adds that she hopes the Vietnamese community would be more progressive in the future, allowing the youth to learn more about the history sooner than later. Kim and Nina both wish for the youth to embrace their Vietnamese American identity and learn more about the history, sooner or later, as it's important to acknowledge where they came from. Meanwhile Son has noticed the lack of interest about Vietnam's history by the young Vietnamese who live overseas after having a chance to meet them.

(Photo: Loa/Nguyễn Trường Sơn)

(Photo: Loa/Nguyễn Trường Sơn)

He wishes for them to care more about the country, the people inside as the current situation is really bad, especially for human rights and democracy. He expects people to care more about their country, , and to voice their thoughts to support the people living inside who feel lonesome there as nobody helps.

Telling the Vietnamese communities worldwide to unite, reconcile, so that they can together address the vital issues of the country is Ha's wish as well as Chien's to make Vietnam a better place.

Kim Nguyễn in Boston, Nina Tran in Little Saigon, Nguyễn Trường Sơn and Nguyễn Đình Hà in Hanoi, and Chiến Phạm in Adelaide… these youth grew up in different parts of the world learning about April 30 through different lenses.  hey all share the same desire to see their peers learn about their divergent histories and to engage more toward a united Vietnamese future.

On this 40th year commemoration, which marks a time of much reflection, through these youth voices, perhaps we do see paths forming for a brighter reality than what we have seen in the past.