Open Thank-You Letter To California Senate Education Committee For Inclusion
The Senate Education Committee has sent AB2064 to the Appropriations Committee on a 5 - 0 vote. I had a very nice experience last weekend to become reacquainted with my State Senator (District 11) Joe Simitian. He held sidewalk office hours at the Farmers Markets in Palo Alto and Menlo Park to hear from constituents about things that interested them.
I didn't learn much about the Vietnam War at UC Berkeley, even though I attended in middle age during the1980s and students who were refugees from South Vietnam were already attending--and succeeding. With the help of Amnesty International they gave a poetry reading and the first English translation of the dissident poet Nguyen Chi Thien, imprisoned in his native North Vietnam.
Therefore I was teaching what I didn't know from the textbooks as a guide. Then I began to learn from community college students. The first lesson occurred at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. A student told the story of his father, who was celebrated in the local papers when he volunteered to serve in Vietnam on the same day that he achieved U.S. citizenship, having immigrated from Portugal. When his father returned he wore his uniform and medals proudly around town until the family went to the corner market, where he was spit on by the owner. This man was not an antiwar activist. In fact he was quite disreputable, having a shop that sold things to young people out the back door that could not be properly purchased in the front. He was loud and belligerant. He spit on my student's father in American uniform because "you lost." We talked in class about this quite a bit. I was shocked because I thought only antiwar activists spit on U.S. soldiers, calling them "babykillers."
The next lesson occurred at De Anza College. De Anza College is in Joe Simitian's Senate District 11. A student in my U.S. History class stood up in tears and told me and her classmates (only about 10% of whom were of Vietnamese ancestry) that the textbook was wrong, and that Ho Chi Minh was a war criminal. Shocked again, I asked her why and she talked about the imprisonment of the entire South Vietnamese officer corps and civilian government after the Communist victory of April 1975. Over a million people were imprisoned in "reeducation camps" which had been named by Ho Chi Minh when establishing them in North Vietnam in June 1961. This was 2003, and I had never heard of reeducation camps. Political imprisonment by the Socialist Republic is the primary reason for the largest immigration of Vietnamese to the U.S., through the H.O. program of the early 1990. The children of the prisoners were my students, and that is why they were here. I have since learned that Marianne Brems, at Mission College, began assigning experience stories from students in 1993. The essays are online.
I learned upon talking with people who immigrated to the United States and with further study of established historical sources that when Ho Chi Minh's government, when handed the country of North Vietnam by the Geneva Accords of 1954, had systematically killed nearly 200,000 people who were landowners. It was only necessary to own a small bit of land, less than 1 acre, to be denounced and executed. This was all in North Vietnam. The South Vietnam middle class was protected by the Diem government and gradually by the U.S. forces whose presence was initiated by President Eisenhower.
The purpose of U.S. forces was containing Communist aggression. The issues and materials about the Secret War in Laos and the Hmong who fought on the side of the United States that is the subject of AB2064 are growing as the people immigrate to the U.S. after being in refugee camps in Thailand for many years, only to face deportation to Laos --and sure death-- in 2004. Not a typo, 2004. This is the infusion of new immigration that has resulted in the demand for historical recognition in textbooks.
Duc Nguyen, a filmmaker, has been coming to meetings and encouraging the application of Vietnamese American education professionals to the California Dept. of Education. He testified to the Curriculum Framework Committee public session in San Jose on May 30 that the current textbook on the Vietnam War for middle school students in Oakland contained 31 first-person essays. None of them were by a Vietnamese American.
The significance of AB2064 is that it is inclusive of all immigrant groups and their experiences as they related to the Vietnam War. This is not only who came, and what they left, but why and how and what happened after they came to America. The Digital Clubhouse at the San Jose History Park has been doing an excellent job with this by having students interview immigrants.
I have learned from interest generated by AB2064 and the Hmong people who live in Fresno in Assemblyman Juan Arambula's District, that there is a memorial to the Laos soldiers-in-arms at Arlingon National Cemetery in D.C.
In examining the educational sites the clearest one that I have found is a Presentation Written by Txong Pao Lee and Mark E. Pfeifer at the Hmong Cultural and Resource Center, Saint Paul, MN
http://hmongstudies.org/BuildingBridgesGeneralPresentation2006Version.pdf This presentation is downloadable and can go to any classroom or meeting.
I have learned so much but the most valuable lesson is cooperation among the new and the old. Senator Simitian responded immediately to the idea that AB064 is based on the success of the pioneer Black Studies movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which we both remember well. All the groups -- Latinos, the Women's Movement, Asian Americans from 19th and early 20th century immmigration, credit the Black Studies movement for curriculum inclusion as paving the way for citizen participation in education.
Thank you, California Senate Education Committee for quickly sending AB064 to the Appropriations Committee.
Best regards to all,
Jean Libby, editor