Linh Dinh reflects on the current refugee crisis, refugee movements of the past, and how we should accept our inevitable ‘refugee future’.
During the current refugee crisis in Europe, it is said that there are many imposters among genuine refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, all countries, incidentally, that America and its allies have destroyed. Too many of them are men, it is pointed out, and they’re generally not dressed badly enough. Many have smart phones.
When the Vietnamese boat people fled Communism after the Vietnam War, the percentage of men was also extremely high. Many families could only afford the smuggler’s fee for a single member, and so often the oldest son would be dispatched on the arduous and perilous journey. It was hoped that this individual might become a stepping stone to get the rest out, or he can send desperately needed money back home. There is always an economic reason behind a refugee crisis. People flee because they can no longer make a living due to a tyrannical government, foreign intervention or evil ideology, not just bombs falling.
During the Vietnam War, Vietnamese only became internal refugees, but after Communism had triumphed, they fled overseas because many could not tolerate living under a twisted ideal concocted in Germany then refined in Russia. Their society had been deformed to an unrecognizable degree, just as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and the Ukraine have been violently made over by American aggression disguised as high-minded rescue. Judeo Christianity has bred a perverted mindset that defines the wholesale destruction of a society as its salvation. The Western world view rests on a messianic foundation. When a white family in Minnetonka, say, adopt an Asian or African orphan, they’re acting on this impulse, but this can also be used as the rationale for the US bombing of the poor kid’s country and all of his extended family. We’re here to save you.
France completed its conquest of Vietnam in 1882. During World War I, it brought 92,000 Vietnamese to France to help it fight Germany. Around 30,000 of these died in the trenches. Though most survivors returned home, some stayed to work in factories, and thus, the first overseas Vietnamese community was formed. The invaders are often invaded by the invaded. There are now 300,000 Vietnamese in France. Moreover, nearly 10% of France is Muslim, most of whom are derived from its former colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
There are Pakistanis in Europe posing as Syrian refugees, it is observed, but if a Pakistani is from a region attacked by American drones, shouldn’t he count himself as a war refugee? Of course, this doesn’t mean his next address should be in Berlin. He can just move to Lahore. For the last several centuries, however, the West has been busy remaking the rest of the world in its image, and so every black, brown or yellow man is also a bastard Westerner.
Already wearing a T-shirt flaunting some retarded English, sporting a Cowboys or Yankees cap, listening to Hotel California or Lady Gaga and mispronouncing phrases of the lingua franca, your average car mechanic or street peddler in Ranchi or Accra will see the West, all of it, as a locus of power, opportunity and wealth, as an ideal, so of course many wouldn’t mind moving there if given a chance. Still, it is quite an exertion to do so, and the ties to one’s homeland are not something to sever so casually. It often takes extreme violence to eject a person from all that he’s known and loved, and here is where the United States most eagerly jumps in. As the world’s foremost purveyor of war, we will provide.
The West violates borders, then cringes when its own are ignored. Of course, no one wants to see his society turned upside down. This upheaval could be arrested if only the West would stop wrecking other peoples’ homelands, but this won’t happen. On a planet of exploding populations, dwindling resources and contracting economies, war will only become more pervasive. Many players, Western or otherwise, will instigate it in all corners of this exhausted earth. Massive refugee flows will be the wave of our near future. The mess in Europe is only a preview, so you better get used to it, and you should also consider the likelihood that you yourself will become a desperate escapee who must risk death to start all over in a strange land. Border walls will go up, but there are always ways around walls. Guards can be bribed.
I’m a refugee, and so are my entire family. My parents became refugees twice. They fled North Vietnam in 1954, then South Vietnam in 1975. By early April of that year, Hue, Danang and Nha Trang had fallen, and there was much panic in Saigon, where I was living. On April 8th, the Presidential Palace was bombed by Nguyen Thanh Trung, a renegade South Vietnamese pilot whose given name actually means “loyal.” A bomb hit the terrace, another landed in the garden. I was downtown that day and saw the commotion.
Days later, my grandfather placed my 11-year-old ass on his lap and rather testily said, “Who cares if other people are leaving, you’re staying here with grandpa, right?”
Of course, it wasn’t my decision to make. My father, a lawyer and ex congressman, had already arranged for his secretary, me and my five-year-old brother to evacuate with a Chinese family. One of their daughters had been employed by the Americans, so they had a way out, but since they didn’t want to lose their considerable properties to lunge into the unknown, the parents and younger kids stayed behind, and that’s why they could sell three spots to my dad. It was the gravest of mistakes. Within weeks, they would lose everything anyway.
Giving me money, my father said, “Two thousand bucks should last you a year.” American bills, I noticed, were less colorful than Vietnamese ones, though longer and crisper. After sewing this cash into the hem of my blue shorts, made of rayon and extremely hot, my grandmother advised, “Whatever you do, don’t take these off,” and I didn’t for nearly a month. I didn’t trust the secretary. Later, this cantankerous woman would become my stepmother. Sickly birthed by history, it was a disastrous marriage.
Three of us, then, left with false papers, but no refugee ever gives a shyster about legal niceties. Before being bused to the airport, we stayed at an American compound for four days. Already, Saigon seemed very far away. On the evening of April 27th, just hours before North Vietnamese rockets showering on Tan Son Nhat disabled runways and killed scores of people, mostly civilians, I got on a C-130. No Vietnamese had an idea where it would land. My father was left behind, of course, but I was too dazzled by this strange adventure to even think about him.
The war had come to me only through the media. Open a newspaper and you would see VC corpses lying in disarray. Turn on the radio and you could hear how our side was winning. In the middle of the war, Saigon movie theaters even showed American movies of World War II. Sitting in air-conditioned rooms, Saigonese could enjoy elaborately staged scenes of diving jets, exploding bombs, burning houses, collapses bridges and incinerated cities. They could stare at mutilated corpses and hear the injured scream. On the big screen, Saigonese could be thrilled by a fake war, while a real killing war was raging and outraging about 80 miles from where they were sitting. Yes, I saw plenty of soldiers, tanks, military convoys and sandbags on the streets, and the twack twack sounds of helicopters were familiar enough, but I never witnessed actual fighting. Once or twice I heard the thumps of distant artilleries.
I had been on a plane just once before. A huge military transporter, the C-130 only had a handful of tiny windows and no seats. People were sprawled all over the floor. I saw a kid eat raw instant noodles. When we landed, it was pitch dark and I heard “Guam” for the first time, but this meant nothing beyond the fact that we were no longer in Vietnam. Where to go from there, then do what, no one knew.
A huge tent city was going up, and that’s where I stayed for a week before being moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas. There, a blue grass band showed up one day to play for us in the theater. When a Vietnamese guitarist tried to jam with the Americans, he was shouted down after two songs. The all-Vietnamese audience wanted to hear unalloyed blue grass.
On April 30th, my father fought his way onto one of the last two ships to leave Saigon. Carrying more than 3,000 refugees, the Truong Xuan [Eternal Spring] made it to international waters before stalling. On May 2nd, a Danish ship rescued everyone and took them to Hong Kong.
Forty-three-years-old when he arrived in the US, my father’s first job was as a janitor in a hospital. He spent three years studying for the bar exam but could never pass. By 1978, we had already lived in Tacoma, Salem and Houston before settling in San Jose. My dad ended up owning a series of grocery stores and restaurants. He also got a real estate license. My father made millions but died worse than broke at age 83 because he became addicted to betting on NFL games. On his death bed, he said to me with genuine astonishment, “That was pretty stupid.”
In 1975, a huge number of ordinary American families sponsored Vietnamese into their homes to assist them with assimilation. This extraordinary fact is totally forgotten, but just think about that for a minute. A black family in Mobile, Alabama sponsored my aunt, her husband and their four kids, so that’s six strangers they had to put up with and help for several months. The stereotypes of ordinary Americans as louts and racists are often pushed by the American media themselves to deflect blame from our evil elites. A doctor in Vietnam, my uncle continued to practice here and ended up working for many years in Angola Prison.
If mere immigrants can sometimes pose as refugees, many refugees are also mislabeled as just opportunistic fence jumpers. Near my Philadelphia apartment, there’s a Korean owned-bar, Wings and More, that caters mostly to Mexicans. A sign on its wall, “NO ESCUPIR EN EL SUELO GRACIAS.” There is no English equivalent asking patrons not to spit.
Recently, I met in Wings and More a 36-year-old Mexican. Humberto is a beefy dude with moustache, whisker and slicked back hair. On his arms are tattoos of the Virgin of Guadalupe, “Hecho en Mexico,” tragedy and comedy masks, a stylized puma and something I couldn’t quite see. On his neck is “El Rey.”
Leaving behind a wife and two children in Mexico City, Humberto came to Philly in 1998. By 2000 or so, his wife had found another man, but Humberto’s mom didn’t tell him about it until 2002, “When she said, ‘I must tell you something. I have something to tell you,’ I knew something was wrong. Then she told me. She said, ‘Do not drink.’ She knew I would drink to not feel the pain.”
In 2003, Humberto returned to Mexico to try to salvage the situation, but his wife wouldn’t even let him see their children.
“My wife, she was an angel. She still is. She was my everything. I came to the USA to make money to build us a house. Now I can’t even see my children.”
Humberto has spent 17 years in the US, nearly half his life, yet he has only been back to Mexico once. In Philly, he rides a bike to deliver pizzas.
“I said to my mother, ‘Don’t die before I can see you again.’”
Besides me and Humberto, there were six other men, all Mexicans, in Wings and More that day. “Humberto, there are never any women in this bar.”
“I know. They cannot come in because they get attacked.”
He didn’t mean that literally, of course. He just meant these lonely drunk guys would pay her way too much attention.
Fights do break out there regularly. Cops have been called.
When Vicente Fernández’ “Por tu maldito armor” came on the juke box, Humberto sang along with tremendous feeling, “Por tu maldito amor / No puedo terminar con tantas penas…”
You must be pretty desperate to leave your wife, kids and mother behind to work a series of low paying jobs in a foreign country for years on end, maybe for ever, but there are millions of people like Humberto all over the US and, of course, all over the world. With NAFTA, America dumped subsidized corn onto Mexico, bankrupting its farmers and forcing millions into American owned maquiladoras just across the border. When many of these relocated to Asia for even cheaper labor, the destitute of Mexico spilled over here, and just in time to fill construction jobs for our bank-inflated housing boom.
Just as “free trade” and Globalism have wrecked the American working class, they have also ruined the most vulnerable of Mexico. By subsidizing corn, we’re really giving money to Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell, etc. since they all use corn feed and/or corn syrup. It’s just corporate welfare. Humberto and those like him, then, should be seen as refugees from the economic war that’s being waged most ruthlessly by globalist elites.
Count yourself lucky if you’re allowed to thrive in your native environment, a place you’ve been groomed for since birth. Too many of us, though, have been forced to reinvent ourselves to somewhat fit into one or even several alien environments. There are those, though, who welcome being uprooted, and since this destiny is becoming increasingly the norm, it won’t hurt to consider some of their survival techniques. Two blocks from my door is The Dive, where Pascal bartends.
In his own words, “Pascal was born in 1965 in France and moved to the US in 1989 to escape the French Police, the street life and drugs.
Pascal has been working as: a sex worker, photographer, musician, cameraman, plumber, waiter, bartender, set designer, prop designer, costume designer, bondage master, actor, art restoration, social worker, heating technician, driver, radio and club DJ, music producer, master craftsman, guilder, painter, etc…
Dirty Frenchman, this bohemian, he traveled at an early age and lived in many European cities doing things most people would not do to survive. He always had an appetite for new and out of the ordinary experiences.
Today Dirty Frenchman is considered as a pervert by most of the people he talks to. He dislikes fake boobs, American porn, meat heads and women without natural smell. He loves to eat and sodomize a nice hairy butt hole.
So there you have it, to survive in the years ahead, you must be flexible, resilient and, when absolutely necessary, even illegal, but preferably without hurting anybody. You must also evolve a technique for dealing with assholes. They’re multiplying.
Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), four books of poems, All Around What Empties Out (Tinfish 2003), American Tatts (Chax 2005), Borderless Bodies (Factory School 2006) and Jam Alerts (Chax 2007), and the novel, Love Like Hate (Seven Stories Press 2010). His work has been anthologized in several editions of Best American Poetry and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, among other places. Linh Dinh is also the editor of the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (Seven Stories Press 1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (Tinfish 2001), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (Tupelo 2006). He has also published widely in Vietnamese. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America.
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