Regarding the Title “Terror in LittleSaigon”

To Frontline ProPublica and Mr. Thomson

The film “Terror in Little Saigon” has stirred up many doubts, discussions and commentary in the Vietnamese community overseas since its release, reporting about the deaths of five Vietnam journalists in the early 1980s . Numerous organizations have been discussing, speculating about the motive and forces behind this whole documentary. In this article, as a greatly concerned Vietnamese American citizen who have lived in the US since 1975, I just want to bring up two issues that necessitated an insightful, careful analysis:

  1. The exploitation of American audience’s curiosity by the filmmakers when they use the title “Terror in Little Saigon” and especially,
  2. The “wonder” as to  why the former Vietnamese refugees still feel the pain, the anger regarding the loss of their country in 1975, why we can not forget the yellow flag with three red stripes, and the inference to why we “nourished” and supported these anti-communist movements in the 80s, to the point of turning a blind eye to the deaths mentioned in the film(?!)

Regarding the first issue, it would be difficult to convince us that you did not intentionally try to link the murders of five journalist killed in the ’80s with millions of Vietnamese refugees, portraying, branding that period collectively as a time of instilling horror, terror, through the video clips of former South Vietnamese soldiers, saluting solemnly the yellow flag that has represented the Vietnamese diaspora all over the world for the past forty years.

The title alone indicated the willful abuse and exploitation of the audience’s curiosity, without any concern for accuracy: there was no “Little Saigon” in the 80s! The general, average American audience with limited knowledge, if any, about the implications, and plights of political refugees after the Vietnam War, would be easily manipulated into believing that all organizations and associations honoring the yellow flag of South Vietnam, had ties with what they saw in the film as “horror” in Little Saigon!

The Vietnamese Community has never organized, plotted bombs, killing innocent American people in their daily lives or attacked public buildings. Thus the killings of these five journalists were never considered “terrorists’ acts” in the eyes of law enforcement agencies in the United States. The title of the film exploited the curiosity of the American audience and that’s it. The authorities who worked on these cases only regarded them as murder cases  resulting from conflicts of interests between “colored” gang members extorting, killing each other . To them, we were merely non-white newcomers without any power or influence of any kind, and we certainly posed no threat to the mainstream American society.

As for the second issue, in my humble opinion, it is past due time for us to speak out, so the American people can understand this important fact: “ that the majority of us had departed from our homeland with bleeding, broken hearts, swallowing bitterness and homesickness, so that we could live with our conscience, with the truth, with the idealistic vision of freedom and basic human rights. We did not give up the place that held our precious memories since childhood, our roots, our language, culture, our familial ties to get a  life deemed “better”materialistically. We had to leave because we could not live with the cruel, cunning, phony regime that betrayed and enslaved our country to the Communist Ideology. Yet we did not want to live in exile forever. Many of us, even now, still look back to our homeland poignantly since our ancestor’s morals, ideals and humanity have been demolished, adulterated beyond comprehension. And yes, as futile as it seems, we still wish to do something to help eradicate the brutal, corrupt filth that has plagued Vietnam entirely since the end of the war.

And thus, it is ignorant at best,and downright cruel at worst, to criticize, question, ridicule and especially vilify us, when we express our views, concerns and commemorating our collective anguish.

After more than 40 years, there have been anti-Communist Vietnam groups, demonstrating their fight for liberty loudly, consistently. There are also more discreet, unveiled small groups/organizations and individuals fighting quietly, passionately. Additionally, many people have silently sacrificed, suffered, and disappeared under unknown graves, in their quest for freedom in Vietnam. The desire for a brighter day in VN, and the return to our homeland in a truly just, prosperous, democratic society, have been and will forever be a dream, however unattainable,  for the majority of Vietnamese overseas who came here as political refugees. Truth be told, before 1975, how many Vietnamese would want to leave our beloved country and live in exile?

It is only natural, therefore, that we speak up against cruelty, inhumanity, corruption, treacherous and treasonous acts of the current Vietnamese  rulers. And thus there is no need to apologize to anyone, or to be ashamed of. Some have expressed their resentment with  inspiring songs, fueling slogans, while waving proudly the yellow flag. Some just quietly reflected their thoughts in poems, essays, in their daily interactions with the mainstream community. Whatever means of expression and however effective/ineffective they might have been, these actions should be regarded as perfectly natural: like plants needing light, nutrients from the earth, and water. The murders that resulted from people having opposing political interests- deduced, inferred in this documentary- were carried out by the Front. If that is the case, the culprit must be brought to justice and I believe that is only natural and just. But why do you have to link, equating “the Front” with all of the Vietnamese community overseas who have remained undaunted in instilling the desire for freedom to the Vietnamese  in their beloved country?

The fact that “The Front” was rather murky in its financial accounts- money it collected from supporters- as well as in the number of members who actually went to fight in Thailand, not VN, is old news. Tragically, it was the journalists, like Dam Phong, who criticized  the “Front” and were killed for voicing their concerns. For whatever reason, the FBI could not identify the killers. But it would  make sense to assume that the culprits were not those who trusted and donated  their hard earned money to the “Front”, especially when they started to doubt, resent, and/or get depressed because their love for the country was exploited, and abused.

There were questions, doubts among the Vietnamese community that went unanswered when the journalists were killed . The failure to bring forth the criminals and eventual closure of the cases caused a lot of discontentment and sorrow among people in the community, not just families of the victims. Thus, the “perceived” connection of the “Front” to the Vietnamese community, accidental or deliberate, demonstrated ignorance, contempt, and injustice to the anti-communist Vietnamese. Although Mr Thomson later apologized to the Vietnamese community, but the film was already screened nationwide. The body languages spoke volume as seen in the interview with Ms. Claudia Kolker . Her facial expressions, her tone, her gestures… portrayed the disdain, and horror (at what is only natural to us) : the homesickness and longing for the old country is regarded as non-sensible, and insignificant, to the larger American society (?!).
This film, thus, has not only provoked the Vietnamese community but also aggravated the prejudice, the discrimination against the Vietnamese, especially those who do not speak fluent English in Little Saigon/ Bolsa, resulting in increasing criticism, libel that Vietnamese engage in “ridiculous” things, “evidenced” by their continued practices of  raising and saluting the  yellow flag in Vietnamese public ceremonies!

With the full knowledge that our efforts might be fruitless, we are still trying to find a new direction for ourselves.  We have persisted in our unifying assistance efforts to the current Vietnamese citizens, who wish to fight for justice, freedom and democracy in Vietnam, the values well understood and enjoyed by Americans. And we will keep doing so perhaps until our last day on earth. We understand that our voices and wishes have never been seriously taken into consideration by those making decisions in US foreign policies. We thoroughly recognize that Communist Vietnam’s rulers, having the power, guns, money will have much more advantages over all of the groups of Freedom loving Vietnamese diaspora globally combined. And thus, not just a year, a decade, or a century, but the remaining lifetime, we will not forget.

Whether any “light” will be shed from this “investigation documentary”, or the true intentions of the A.C Thomson and the film’s funding organization would ever be revealed, the documentary has been very successful in one aspect: it has caught the attention of many Americans. If not outwardly condemning and judging, the inevitable perception from the audience have been reported to be shocking, or wryly curious about why the Vietnamese community still clutch at the old flag, preserving our memories about the Southern Republic of Vietnam which, in their mind, had died more than 40 years ago .

Ascription, deliberately linked through “terrorism proof” of the “deviant thinking, extremist” by overseas Vietnamese are weaved into the passages in the film showing how the yellow flag with three red stripes were solemnly saluted in random community ceremonies by various organizations in commemorations such as 30/4 or our traditional celebration of Tet, etc ..

The Vietnamese Refugee Community from South VN had lost everything after the war . A war that was severely, unfairly assessed, vilified and then crucified at the end. Hundreds of thousands of people died on their journey for freedom in the sea, in “reeducation camps”. The pain, the indignity, the humiliation and the immense loss inflicted upon us were so deep and raw that nothing can truly erase all those horrific memories. This was especially the case in the 80s, when many of us had come to realize how our country was sentenced into evil darkness, resulting in so many deaths and broken lives. Yet we swallowed the bitter tears, and overcame all hardships, while slowly reestablishing a new direction, new lives amid extremely difficult physical, psychological and mental conditions in a country still plagued with discrimination. As evidenced by the unrelated clips forcibly weaved together in this film, this is the image you would like to paint about our community?

And therefore, I must question the honesty, integrity, and the  professional responsibility of FRONTLINE and ProPublica in your effort of researching and presenting the “contents” in this film.
Phuong Vo



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