On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam fell to Communist rule.
It’s been 38 years since the day everything changed for my parents, relatives and the people they love. The country they called home turned into something unrecognisable.
My father was a soldier in the South Vietnamese army, among the medical ranks. He spent three years in a prison camp after the war. In 1980, my parents escaped on a tiny boat, hardly seaworthy, with dozens of other refugees. My father looked to the stars to map their way out. Though luckily there were no fatalities on my parents’ boat, others weren’t so fortunate. Many died. Women were raped. My parents’ boat was hijacked by pirates seven times.
They arrived in Malaysia after several days at sea and were met by Australian delegates. When they came here, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs. My mother, a classically trained pianist, worked a menial job as a cleaner in a hospital to get by. My father already had a medical degree, but it wasn’t recognised in Australia so he went back to university to do it over again. They worked exceptionally hard to get back on their feet, and had the help of some incredibly generous Australian people - who we remain close family friends with today - to settle into their new life.
My family’s story is not unique. This is the story of millions of Vietnamese people.
This is one of the countless reasons why I cannot for the life of me fathom those who are so against asylum seekers and refugees. When you insinuate that people desperately wanting a second chance at freedom are lesser than you, you’re insulting me directly, because that’s exactly what my family did, and they’re the hardest workers and most passionate people I know. It’s a hard thing to go through and the least you can do is open your heart.
My father has actively and tirelessly fought for the rights of refugees since he immigrated to Australia. Every year, to mark the fall of Saigon, thousands of Vietnamese people gather at the embassy in Canberra to voice our discontent with the current state of the government.
There is no democracy in Vietnam.
There are restrictions on how you can practise your chosen religion in Vietnam.
Freedom of speech is a dream - bloggers have been imprisoned without a fair trial in Vietnam, simply for speaking out against the government.
The press is closely regulated in Vietnam - currently, legal scholar Cù Huy Hà Vũ is serving seven years in prison for “spreading anti-state propaganda”, or giving interviews to foreign media.
Sex trafficking of women and children in Vietnam is a major problem.
I desperately want to taste and smell the air of the country where everything I am began. I want to walk down the streets my parents travelled when they were children, see the places where they played, sit in the music hall where my father first fell in love with my mother. But my parents have vowed to never step foot in Vietnam again until things change and life becomes fair for the people left there. We could visit as tourists, get dresses made for cheap, eat and drink to our heart’s content - but it would be all wrong. I’ve never been to the country where my roots lie. My heart breaks daily.
I want to educate people about the current state of Vietnam and make them see that it’s not just a rosy holiday destination. There are countless problems with the government and it won’t be right until all of that is fixed and the people left behind in Vietnam can enjoy true freedom.
So if there are two things you can do - tiny things that would make a world of difference to me and others whose families have gone through the same plights as mine:
Please don’t refer to Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City. That man committed countless atrocities and left the country in the state that it’s in today. To use his name when talking about the place that my parents (and others) once knew and loved is an insult.
Please don’t use the Communist flag. The true Vietnamese flag is yellow with three horizontal red stripes. The red flag with the yellow star is representative of the current regime, which has hurt so many people. Like the use of the name Ho Chi Minh City, displaying the current Vietnamese flag is offensive and insulting to those who went through so much at the hands of the Communist government.
My heart hurts every day for my country, and my greatest wish is for things there to change. It would mean the world to me if people made the small effort to read about what’s going on in Vietnam, to alter their language to be sensitive to those who suffered and are suffering. Please open your eyes and hearts. Please stand with us.
Đả Đảo Đảng Cộng Sản.