Viet Le’s Response to “Terror in Little Saigon”

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To the producers of “Terror in Little Saigon”:

I felt compelled to write to you regarding your film to share my thoughts as a second generation Vietnamese American whose mother came to the states after the war in 1975 as a teenager and- more importantly- a political refugee. Her lifelong story, like many others in the Vietnamese community, consists of broken dreams, of intense love for the country she lost and above all, the lingering hope that somehow, someday, she’d get to return and help repair her long-lost country.

I take umbrage with the editorial decision to title your production “Terror in Little Saigon”. I understand that such a story is a hard sell to an audience that ultimately could not care less about the plight of Vietnamese-Americans, but it stands to reason that such stories ought to stand on their own merits as opposed to association with the current, exigent war on terror – a connection which is tenuous at best and wholly deceptive at worst.

I understand that long-form journalism in the present time is a difficult sell and I can empathize with the need to pay the bills, however I do feel a need to take issue with a few more things as presented in the report.

First and foremost: the tone. There is a sense of wonder, discovery, fascination, blithe and pure that is taken with detailing the passion of the Vietnamese-American community. More than any slander against the community itself, it is the fact that this condition of homesickness – presented in association with violence – is presented as  that which is alien and undesirable to larger society: as deviant.

To larger society, yes, this passion is deviant. The dominant narrative presents one in which the immigrant possesses no love greater than that of America. Vietnamese- Americans have traditionally subverted that expectation. But rather than explore the ramifications, motivations, humanity of that divergence, the producers have instead decided to present it in association with base barbarity.

You might understand why this has upset more than a few people.

I feel of course compelled to respond to this sneering supposition, this re-assertion of the necessity of the compliant, grateful immigrant narrative as presented in questions such as “why do Vietnamese-Americans still hurt of a lost country?”, “Why can they not let go of an old flag?”, “How could these nominal “model minorities” give host to a bevy of anti-communist movements?”, “Why can’t they let go?”, “Why can’t they be happy?, “Why won’t they be ‘model’?”

I respond by saying that when one shatters a country – one which one had never had any regard for – then picks up the remnants in flotsam and jetsam and asks them why they long for their home, I respond by saying that words do not exist for loss that defies the capacity of words to express them.

And notably -thoroughly absent throughout the entirety of the report is any rumination on the nature of love. Love is the only condition that would make sense of any of the occurrences as depicted in the report, but it is thoroughly absent because the very idea of there being a non-American national love is so thoroughly anathema to American narratives of “city upon a hill” that it must be dismissed out-of-hand as criminal, deviant, and unsavory.

It is none of these things.

More than anything, the Vietnamese diaspora of the late 70s and early 80s was awash in expressions of love. Love of a country lost, love that hung pining atop a drifting memory, fantasies and dreams in fish sauce bottles and hung atop the lips of stories exchanged between families. That love buoyed the community up and siphoned its money into charlatans and hucksters who took advantage of the scarcely-cogent grief of a community, of the castaways of the consequences of American foreign policy, of people who felt something in obscurity that Americans never once felt for the freedom they were supposed to be defending: a love for somewhere other than America.

Love transforms the narrative present in the film from criminal deviance into criminal tragedy. The murderers and victims are joined in their mutual affection and loyalty to the dream of a re-liberated Vietnam. Their disagreement – ended in bullets – were in the details and ended in murder, but they were connected by a now-flagging but still-present heartbeat of the Vietnamese-American community that more than anything, more than any other immigrant group in America, just wants to go home.

How can you understand their struggles, their crimes, their community, when you can not even understand their love? And how great that love moved them when that love was lost, as limbs hacked wholesale from them. And every bitter stab of a know-nothing friend who ever uttered the words, “why won’t you stop dreaming, of ever going home?”

And that’s what the issue at large is.

Viet Le

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One Response to Viet Le’s Response to “Terror in Little Saigon”

  1. Pingback: Thư gửi Frontline-Propublica về “Terror in Little Saigon” cuả Việt Lê | VTMP

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