The First Letter from a Former Political Refugee (Nguyễn Văn Sở)

Dưới đây là  tóm lược của Seth Daugherty về bài viết  The First Letter from a Former Political Refugee do Cựu GS VHV  Nguyễn Văn Sở viết nhiều năm về trước.

Bài tóm lược này được đăng vào trang 2  của IMC Newsletter số Mùa Xuân 2012.

Quý thân hữu và các bạn có thể đọc nguyên văn bài viết tại đây:


Imagine you’re a political refugee known simply as an HO1. You’re leaving Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), packed in a Russian-made Tupolev-134 airliner with your family and the few possessions you own. You were a captain in the former Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces before the fall of the Republic in 1975. You are a 2nd class citizen in your home country and your only options are to be locked away in a re-education camp or sent away.

You’re called an HO1 because you’re one of the first batch of former re-education camp prisoners allowed to immigrate to the United States as part of the Humanitarian Operation (HO) program following an agreement with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1989.

It’s January 5, 1990 and you’re headed to a new land to build a new home. You’re leaving behind friends and family because you want your children to have more opportunities than you did. Opportunities they won’t get in your home country; a country that has made you the person you are today; a country you love with all your heart. This was the decision made by So Van Nguyen and this is the story of his first day on the long trip to America.

At 5 a.m. the bus arrives on schedule. When they arrive at the airport they get their eyes examined and receive a large nylon bag containing the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) medical records and name tags to be worn on their left breast pockets. A CBS news team moves in to interview them but So is not interested in talking with them yet. He spends time with his family. At 6:45 a.m. they check in for departure. The family answers a few questions and moves to the next room where their luggage is scanned, and then one more room where the luggage is scanned again. So suspects the customs officers don’t trust each other to scan bags correctly. At 7 a.m. they say their final goodbyes, head to the platform, wave goodbye once more to distant figures, and find their seats in the Tupolev 134. So’s family was the first to arrive so they are forced to sit in the back. There are 75 total passengers that day. The Tupolev seats 76. At 7:17 a.m. the plane takes off. His children are sad because they are leaving their friends behind. They are not interested in looking out the window at their motherland one last time. They do so anyway on So’s insistence. So is hoping the old plane doesn’t fall apart during the flight. At one point he gets up to go to the bathroom and discovers there is no flushing water and no running tap. At 8:15 a.m. the plane lands at Don Muong Airport in Bangkok. Leaving the plane they head to the Refugee’s Terminal, a short distance from where the plane is parked. At 9 a.m. So is interviewed by local reporters and various news agencies.

After he answers their questions he has a statement to make: “I don’t have much to say at the moment, except that I, or more exactly we, all feel very happy that finally the time has come for us – former political prisoners from various re-education camps scattered all over Vietnam — to leave for the United States. On behalf of the other members in my family as well as the families of those lucky ones who join me in the first batch allowed to leave, I’d like to say thanks to all those who have patiently concerted their efforts and contributed their valuable time on both sides of the Pacific Ocean in order to bring about this happy day by carrying out the agreement that has been reached between the U.S. government and the SRV government. Our feelings are kind of mixed. We are happy, of course, but we don’t forget that thousands of us long-term detainees –as you call us— are still left behind, waiting to leave or wishing to leave. We wish them all good luck and hope to see them again soon in the near future.”

After the press conference So meets with two high-ranking officials from the U.S. Embassy. They tell him all the HO’s will be staying at the Suan Phlu Immigration Center for 8 to 10 days while awaiting travel arrangements to San Francisco. At 10 a.m. they turn in their passports, sign an inbound immigration form, have thumbprints taken and are assigned new serial numbers. At noon So tries to lie down in a stuffy and secluded corner of the building. So observes the efficiency of the airport with its airport personnel, shuttle buses and forklifts going to and fro, a place where everyone seems to know what they are doing, a place unlike his own country, which seems outdated and prosaic. At 1:30 p.m. So receives a foam box containing his lunch. At 2:50 p.m. they check to make sure their luggage is in one piece.

At 3:30 p.m. they have their pictures taken for entry visas, and this time all ten fingerprints. At 3:40 p.m. a second plane carrying another group of 75 HO refugees arrives. At 6 p.m. they load their luggage onto a truck. At 6:20 p.m. they are on a 10-lane freeway. So is impressed by the luxurious cars rushing by on the freeway, the glamorous storefronts and exotic food restaurants, industrial commercial buildings and gigantic billboards advertising McDonald’s burgers and Toshiba electronic equipment. At 7:10 p.m. So and his family arrive at the Immigration Division. This building is part of a city prison, one wing of which ICM uses as a transit center for immigrants and refugees. They are quickly briefed on the center’s regulations and each family is issued nylon mats, blankets and mosquito nets and assigned to a corner on the ground floor. They unload the trunks and suitcases and move them inside. They take turns taking a bath before finally lying down to rest. The regulations say everyone must go to bed by 9 p.m. but the lights are still on past nine. So shuts his eyes, covers his face with a newspaper and begins counting his breath, going over the day’s events and wondering what his new life will be like. His mind is tired, but the thoughts keep rushing in like a broken dam. In ten days he’ll be in America to start a new life without discrimination and fear. He knows he is doing the right thing, and he also knows he will miss those he had to leave behind very, very much.

By Seth Daugherty


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