In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we saw Vietnamese rapper Nah’s viral video for his new song, “Địt Mẹ Cộng Sản” (“Fuck Communism”), and his open letter to the Vietnamese government and the people, respectively. In this third and final portion of the post, Lac Su, author of I Love Yous are For White People, interviews the rapper about the trajectory of his career and the impacts of his recent revolutionary moves. At the bottom of this post, you can watch Nah’s interview on Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN).
Q&A with Nah
Lac Su: I’ve been following your music since the Myspace days. I’ve always known your music to be “Conscious” with records that tackle topics like AIDS, prostitution, inflation, pollution, corruption, poverty, etc. Until recently, specifically after the release of your full studio album “Viet Rap No1 Tu Lover“, you’ve been voicing a lot of concerns about Vietnam’s political situation. What’s the reason for your focus there?
Nah: I have realized that the Vietnam communist government is the root of all the problems. They brainwash the people, create poverty and corruption, take away human rights and political freedom, and punish activists, so that the communist leaders can maintain their power and live like kings and aristocrats. How do I know all that? I live in Vietnam for most of my life but I’ve also had the chance to be exposed to Western culture and education, so I can compare and contrast and see the big picture. I will break it down for you how the corrupted system in Vietnam works.
Let’s talk about brainwashing. The government controls the education system and the media. They teach and force people, especially young children, to believe in communism and Marxism. They demonize the U.S., the West, and capitalism. They distort history and hide the truth of the Vietnam War. War is a terrible thing, and both sides are to be blamed. However, most Vietnamese people in the motherland are only taught how evil the US is, how the US killed innocent Vietnamese farmers, but they are never taught about how the communists massacred thousands of people in Hue in 1968. They never know how Le Duan killed Ho Chi Minh to continue the Soviet’s plan, despite the fact that Ho Chi Minh realized how evil communism was and no longer wanted to kill his own people. People, especially young people, don’t know how Saigon was the pearl of the Far East back then. They don’t know how the communists came and robbed whatever southern Vietnamese people had and forced many people to flee the country after the fall of Saigon. Such truths are totally omitted from all Vietnamese history classes and media. The communist government creates firewalls to prevent people from accessing websites that talk about these truths. They ban whatever books that they deem “harmful to communism”. They even tried to ban Facebook a while ago. To distract the people, they use the media to spread the idea of consumerism. When people are poor, yet influenced by consumerism, they will spend all their lives trying to earn 200 USD/month, save up, buy iPhones, and care about nothing else. Politically, there is only one communist party that controls everything, so people, especially young people, don’t have any interest in learning about different political ideologies or voting. The result is that we have a bunch of uneducated, brainwashed zombies who drown themselves in money, consumerism, alcohol, drugs, porn (Vietnam has the highest number of people visiting porn websites, compared to the rest of the world), sex and parties, who blindly praise and defend communism, who don’t care and don’t want to change, even though they know something is very wrong with the system.
Let’s talk about poverty and corruption. The Vietnam communist government (and their Chinese friends) learned from the fall of the Soviet Union that a communist economy wouldn’t work, so they combined state-socialism and capitalism. Loyal communists own the biggest businesses. They keep all the money to themselves and everyone else is underpaid. People and business owners have to bribe their ways into existence. If you don’t bribe, the documents won’t go through, or it will be very slow. Most police officers are underpaid, and can be seen at every corner on the street, stopping vehicles for no good reason, trying to get bribe money to support their families. Most doctors and teachers are underpaid too, so patients and students will bribe them to get better treatment at hospitals or better grades at schools. Oh and instead of bribing, schoolgirls can trade sex for grades. At the airport, custom officers don’t even need bribes. They will steal stuffs from vacationers’ luggage. The bribery culture also helps organized crimes prosper. Pimps and drug kingpins are free to run their businesses as long as they bribe and maintain good relationships with the high-ranking cops. The illegitimate ways become the right way, every Vietnamese is a lawbreaker, and everyone is happy. Vietnamese people eventually learned that they would be financially rewarded if they comply with the corrupted norms of the communist system.
In fact, poverty and inequality is a direct result of this corrupted bribery system. The workers have to bribe the business owners to get promoted. The business owners then bribe the cops to keep their businesses free from harassment. The cops bribe the higher-ranking cops so that they can climb up the hierarchy. And so, the bribe gets bigger and bigger until it reaches the top, namely the communist leaders. They get richer and richer and become unbeatable aristocrats. The poor, having so many people to bribe, would be more likely to stay poor. The gaps between each social class widen with time. Social mobility requires not only education and hard work, but also a skillful practice of bribery that helps facilitate the necessary connections.
On top of all that, the Vietnam communist government takes away freedom of speech and freedom of press, and terrorizes human rights activists. Thanks to Facebook and other social media, and thanks to many activists inside and outside of Vietnam, more and more people know about the truths that I discussed above. However, the activists who spread the truths are thrown into jail one by one, some even got secretly murdered. While in the U.S. it is normal for one to disagree with the government, in Vietnam if you disagree or talk bad about the government, you are deemed a traitor. There have been countless cases of the Vietnam government violating human rights. And so, feared of being punished, imprisoned and killed, not many people dare to talk about political issues, let alone unifying to protest and demand a change in the system.
Lac Su: What epiphany have you received for you to write this letter and song? Why is now the right time?
Nah: Because I am a rapper, I got the voice to speak the truth, and the truth can’t wait any longer. The Vietnam government is selling our lands and seas to the Chinese government, our farmers and fishermen are suffering. Police officers are harassing and beating people for no good reason. Yes, police brutality is an everyday thing in Vietnam. Poisonous food is spreading on the street of Vietnam without any regulation, and Vietnam has one of the highest cancer rates compared to the rest of the world. Unemployment and inflation are rising, creating more crimes. At night, hungry people will chop your arms off to rob you, and that is an everyday thing, too. While the poor is suffering, rich people are so brainwashed and live only for superficial things. The downfall of morality. The lack of education. The lack of love.
If we don’t change now, then when? People everywhere are protesting, asking for a better system. How come Vietnamese people who see so many wrong things going on in their country stay silent? I shared the song and the letter, risking everything I have, including my own safety and my family in Vietnam, in hope that I can inspire people to find the courage to speak up against the corrupted government. That is the first step. If you don’t dare to speak up, how can you dare to change?
Lac Su: What are the reactions of your fans? Do you feel that they can relate, or are you preaching to the choir? And is preaching to the choir a way for you to get the congregation’s attention?
Nah: True fans will relate. The brainwashed ones will just have to get used to me being a preacher. Like I said above, the only thing I can do for my people is to spread the truth and inspire them to do the same thing. Shock value in my approach is definitely an important factor here. Brainwashed people have never heard of things like these before, so they are shocked. When they are shocked, they will pay attention. Whether they like or dislike what I say, they will have to think about it. And the more they think about it, the more likely for them to find the truth for themselves. The truth is the truth, like the sun is the sun and the moon is the moon.
Lac Su: What do your Viet rap peers think about your letter and about you voicing your concerns about the Vietnamese government?
Nah: A lot of rappers are pissing in their pants. They fear that the government will place more censorship on rap music. Those who fear don’t understand that the only way to stop the unreasonable censorship is to destroy that censorship. Rappers are the ones who need freedom of speech the most. How can you be a rapper if you’re not allowed to curse, let alone discuss politics? You don’t need freedom of speech to talk about the weather. You have it to talk about controversial things. They have to speak up. I remember how Bui Doi Cho Lon, a well-invested blockbuster movie, was banned just because the censorship department didn’t like it. Ridiculous. When the communist censorship is no longer there, arts and music and the movie industry in Vietnam will blossom, because they will have the freedom they need for creativity.
A few rappers joined the movement and already wrote their own disses to the government. I hope in time more rappers will find the courage to speak up. And then their fans will follow their lead, too.
Lac Su: It appears, based on the number of Vietnamese blogs re-posting your song and letter, that your concerns are being read/heard. Why it is as just important for Vietnamese American blogs and social networks to re-post and share your translated letter like what we’re doing here on Diacritics?
Nah: Because we have the same blood whether one is a Viet Kieu or someone who came from the same corrupt government. It must be quite inspiring to see changes in your home country, so we all need to make that change happen. I think most Vietnamese Americans have heard their parents talk about the Vietnam War and how they had to flee the country. So this is not only about themselves, but also about their past, their ancestry, their home country, and their bloodline. The Chinese government really wants Vietnam to become part of China, and the Vietnam government is helping them. Do we want our kids to be root-less, forget where they came from, and have no place to call home? If not, we all must speak up.
Lac Su is the author of the memoir, I Love Yous Are for White People (Harper Perennial, 2009). He has written for, or been covered by, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, AOL News, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Tribune, and NPR.
This post was organized by diaCritic, Jade Hidle.
Jade Hidle is a Vietnamese-Irish-Norwegian writer and educator. She holds an MFA in creative writing from CSU Long Beach and is working on a PhD in literature at UC San Diego. Her work has appeared in Spot Lit, Word River, and Beside the City of Angels.
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