Vietnamese Student Union Marks Anniversary of Saigon's Fall

The Vietnamese Student Union is hosting the 2011 Black April commemoration this week, reports The Daily Bruin. It continues Wednesday evening from 6:00 at the Fowler Museum on campus.

By Stephen Stewart for The Daily Bruin

Van Huynh’s parents had kept their plans secret for three years after the fall of Saigon to North Vietnam in 1975.

The night they began their attempt to escape, they immediately faced a possibly disastrous obstacle – their boat had no gas.

Frantically, the couple searched for fuel and encountered a lady they knew, who gave them fuel. While on the boat, they ran out of food until a naval ship gave them food.

After a harrowing week, the couple landed in Hong Kong. The couple would later immigrate to the United States and marry.

Twenty years later, they returned to Vietnam and found the woman who made their escape possible, thanking her.

“My parents were boat people, but they never talked about it that way,” said Huynh, a fourth-year Asian American studies student. “If (Black April never happened), Vietnam would be very different. Our family would have never come to America.”

Huynh is the president of the Vietnamese Student Union, which is hosting the 2011 Black April Commemoration this week. Black April remembers the fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, which ended the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975.

“For people who have never heard these stories, I hope it will begin the process of their curiosity and willingness to learn about it,” Huynh said.

Dieu Huynh, a third-year political science student who is not a relation to Van Huynh, is one of the artists who gave a spoken word performance Tuesday at VSU’s Expression Night, an event that also showcased an art gallery.

Dieu Huynh said his piece is more about the effects of war on family and how the Vietnam War continues to affect his life today.

“I want to bring a slightly different voice,” Dieu Huynh said. “Most art about Black April has been about mourning South Vietnam. I want to also bring in the voice of more contemporary Vietnamese Americans and the voices of others lost in the war.”

Dieu Huynh’s family moved to the United States from Vietnam in 2002. However, his parents’ move to the United States came after two failed attempts to escape from Vietnam.

After the second attempt, Dieu Huynh’s father went to jail and his mother was stripped of her position as a nurse.

His family then worked odd jobs until they were sponsored to immigrate to the United States, Dieu Huynh said.

Dieu Huynh first spoke with his parents about their experiences for a school project in eighth grade.

“It’s not something we would normally talk about,” he said. “I ask questions, they give a watered down version and sugarcoat it. … In order to survive, they have to have optimism.”

The trouble speaking to the younger generation about Black April is something with which Associate Professor Thu-huong Nguyen-Vo is very familiar.

Nguyen-Vo was 12 years old when Black April took place. She declined to comment about her experience, saying that she has a hard time reliving it.

Like the difficulty Van Huynh and Dieu Huynh experienced speaking with their parents about Black April, Nguyen-Vo feels the same difficulty with her own children and students.

Nguyen-Vo will deliver a speech today at VSU’s Black April Commemoration Event at the Fowler Museum about the difficulty of remembering the past, and will discuss her mother’s experience in Vietnam.

“It’s traumatic. How do we address the past and stay open without reliving it?” she asked. “I am hoping for an opening into this history without provoking further trauma.”

Published: Wednesday, April 27, 2011