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A Vietnamese American encounter in Little Saigon

A 1.5 generation Vietnamese American's encounter with a troubled Vietnam-era US Veteran...

I wish to relay my experiences of tabling in the local community in the hopes that others may be able to relate with my story and be compelled to become active while there is time to significantly affect the political process for the betterment of the land we call home. Before I recall my unique encounter with a Vietnam Vet who called himself "Billy," let me briefly introduce myself.

I am an early 80's child born in California of first generation Vietnamese American parents who immigrated to this country as a result of the political upheaval that the Fall of Saigon in 1975 presented. I style myself as the 1.5 generation (thế hệ nửa nạc nửa mỡ) because I still attempt to talk to my parents in, at times, broken Vietnamese especially when trying to speak about political topics with a lexicon that never developed beyond the names of the Republican and Democratic parties. I kept myself immersed in Vietnamese culture, becoming the VP for my high school's Vietnamese Student Association (an artifact of schools with cultural immersion concerns), frequenting the local Little Saigon area eateries and culture exhibits, and taking up an active interest in local entertainment culture and film festivals thereby masking that 'American' accent that plagues 2nd generation Vietnamese Americans. All throughout, the message of freedom was constantly reiterated in my mind as a member of the local community by various happenings from the 1990s' walk-a-thon events for Vietnamese refugee rights in internment camps abroad, to the curious 1999 Ho Chi Minh mass protest that stoke the fires of curiosity that later brought to a head the sensitive issues of free speech and community spirit akin to the Holocaust & hate speech, and to the hot topic of the day regarding the right to protest at home and abroad.

I started supporting Dr Paul in 2007 when I found him (by way of Thomas Woods) the most compelling of the candidates for president. I joined a local meetup and began doing the standard political activities like canvassing my neighborhood and grassroots impulsive actions like sign wavings and posting up homemade signs on walls and other fixtures. I ended up going to the 2008 Revolution March and the Rally for the Republic by way of a Ronvoy. My last act of political defiance for a time was slapping on a Campaign for Liberty bumper sticker on my car that I had purchased in Minneapolis during a freedom concert.

As Ron Paul declared he would run for a third and final time, I gladly laced up my political boots again and declared that I too would do as much as I could for the good doctor now that I had about four years to absorb the liberty message and to appreciate how profoundly it permeates the idea of freedom, that is, to invoke freedom means to revoke one's claim on another's freedom. Assessing the successes and disappointments of my first political theater tour and identifying my talents and assets I could use for Dr Paul's campaign, I made the conscious decision to forgo canvassing my particular local precinct and focus instead on the larger Vietnamese community that no one seemingly had made the concerted effort to reach out and persuade. To that end, I created a meetup group and a facebook group to bring together people locally and across the country with similar backgrounds and stories so that they could have a productive channel to work through and help Dr Paul win the presidency. One our major grassroots contribution to the campaign was mobilizing volunteers to reach out to the Vietnamese community at the annual Lunar New Year's Tet festival which is perhaps the largest in the nation; not only did we interact with Republicans, Independents and disillusioned Obama supporters but we had the chance to inform the local GOP booth that Ron Paul was still a candidate in the race (the regional coordinator had conveniently misinformed the booth operator) and we were able to get them to take our Ron Paul literature make it available in their booth. With the success of the festival, we continued our grassroots tabling and sign wave efforts throughout the Little Saigon area.

It was one particular encounter during the myriad of tabling excursions that stuck with me and inspired the writing of this post. The encounter happened several months ago. My mental capacity for recounting physical descriptions is famously bad and would frustrate a FBI sketch artist I'm sure but I do recall a few things; he had silver white long hair perhaps chin long, a white pair of glasses that you could mistake for some designer trinket, and a cowboy's gait as if he was packing on both sides with some heavy pieces. He came to me by way of a bus dropping him off in front of where I had set the table up. I got the impression that he was one of the many homeless vets that hang around the area, presumably because they feel safe and they can count the charity of an immigrant community beholden to fellow brothers at arms from a seemingly bygone era (at least to me), although in the end he asked for nothing perhaps satisfied that I had engaged in conversation with him for more than an hour bordering two. He called himself "Billy" and would refer to himself as such when he recalled of his strict military father and of how proud he was that Billy was able to make something of himself in the military. I forget which armed service he joined but Billy often boasted of how skilled of a marksman he was and that earned him extra privileges and favors as he moved in and out of the prison system in the ensuing years after his service. When I describe this man, I do not mean to discredit him or his service to the country but rather it is perhaps a candid take on the memory of the encounter. Billy went on to show me his doctor's prescription that was a VIP ticket to any drug he desired but he quickly pointed out the name written on it was different from his given name with the details obscured to me as I was zoning out as he continued on. Sometime during his various recollections and thoughts verging on conspiracy, Billy mentioned one incident that of everything he spoke to me seemed to be conveyed with the most clarity as if it had just had happened. He spoke of a moment during the war when a young Vietnamese girl, perhaps 5 years old, ran towards him and his company with live grenades tied about her body; he shot her dead straight in the forehead. It was either her or him and his company he said with stoic regret. I could only nod with resignation of someone too far away in time and place to pass any judgment or to convey "you shoulda done..." Shortly afterwards, Billy offered to show me first hand one of the techniques he used to disable and stab a man in prison. It took a telephone call (to me) to disrupt billy's compulsion to speak his story to me which seemed to have some sort of cathartic effect, and then he walked off across the street and to where ever freedom permits a man to go. Perhaps Billy was one of the lucky ones; someone truly decorated and took care of business as he was told and thereafter reaped residual benefits of privileged treatment whether in prison or through access to drugs, but all of which could be a result of a man's pride coloring his perspective especially if indeed he was a man without a home or family.

Unfortunately, Billy's story is not all too unique. I am sure many here at the Daily Paul knows of similar stories like from the father of a patriotic Army Ranger lost to the depravity of the military industrial complex or a mother's plight of her son, Pfc. Corey Clagett, getting shafted for following unlawful orders while his superiors get off with just a slap on the wrist, or the story from another vantage of Sister Dianna Ortiz who as an American missionary recalled her first hand account of kidnapping, rape, and torture all while under suspect CIA operations in Guatemala.

All of these stories seem to me to suggest that campaigns of aggression or occupation, left to the fog of war, surely leads to situations that should be untenable to the American conscience. And when the news media are in cahoots with the military industrial complex, one pursuing higher ratings and the other higher budgets, there remains no objective basis for militarism abroad and the common sense of Ron Paul's economic views should be plainly obvious.

Destructive spending, instead of capital savings, leaves us all worse off.




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Well IF he was really in

Well IF he was really in Vietnam and really did that to that little girl then I can imagine how messed up in the head that would leave someone. Like it or not people are built with a sense of guilt and a guilt ridden conscience is probably the biggest cause of those kinds of mental problems.

On another note, glad to see Vietnamese people getting the message of Ron Paul. I'm from the Texas coast and most of the freinds I grew up with are Vietnamese. In Texas they tend to be notoriously apolitical even in college and my best friend who is now a lawyer is just now learning about economic issues and Ron Paul even though he's two years out of law school. You should do a Tieng Viet version of a libertarian internet radio show or something. Do some local interviews with businesses and slowly feed them a little of the ideals of liberty!

reedr3v's picture

Thank you for this thoughtful post.

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