diaCRITICIZE: My Black April

diaCRITICS editor Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses the significance of “Black April,” or what the South Vietnamese in exile call the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.  

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Black April is the term that Vietnamese Americans have come up with to name the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, April 30th, 1975. This is the day when South Vietnam disappeared forever from the maps of the world, if not from the maps of many hearts. On that anniversary day, if you happen to be in the ethnic enclave of Little Saigon, in the cities of Garden Grove and Westminster, in the County of Orange, in the State of California, in these Altered States of America that are no longer the same because we came, you will see the last remnants of the Republic of Vietnam gather in a dazzling array of military uniforms and ao dai as they mourn their lost country, South Vietnam. There, on All American Way, these patriots sing their two national anthems, salute their two national flags, and proclaim South Vietnam’s American afterlife in their own Communist Free Zone (also known as the Zone of No Free Speech).

Black April commemoration at the Vietnam War Memorial, Orange County, 2010

Black April stirs mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, it is important for people to have their rituals and ceremonies, which allow them to build communities and pass on traditions, memories, and cultures. If Southern Vietnamese people in exile don’t do this for themselves, who will? The Southern Vietnamese community in exile reminds the Communist government of a history and a people it would rather forget. The Southern Vietnamese community also reminds fellow Americans of a history and a people that they would rather forget, or at least remember in ways that are self-serving to American interests. For these reasons, maintaining Southern Vietnamese memory remains a crucial kind of cultural work.

On the other hand–do we have to call this anniversary Black? Really, Vietnamese people? Is that the best we can do? After all, isn’t White the color of death in Vietnam? Don’t we, on funeral days, strap around our foreheads a White scarf of mourning? Didn’t we, when we first came to America, think that we had come to a White country? A country of indistinguishable White people who liked White bread, which was a problem because we liked French bread, which, if you think about it, is a problem in and of itself? A country where, in certain states, snowfall would turn the land White in the most evident sign that this country was not like our country, where it never snowed, although that would have been nice if it did, given how hot our country was, which we only discovered on our return many years later? A country that had produced some clever fellow who, in planning for the demise of our country, decided that the song with which to warn fellow Americans in Saigon that they should run for the helicopters was White Christmas? A country where the best thing one might say was that the rice was, at least, White, even if it was instant and made by a Black man called Uncle Ben, until about the 1990s, when all of a sudden large numbers of White people began proclaiming that what they really liked was Brown rice, if not necessarily Brown people? Was this not a country, then, where it would have made sense to use the word White as often as possible, in the hopes that Whiteness would stick to us, as in the expression White on rice? What does that even mean, White on rice? The point is—shouldn’t Black April be White April?

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But of course Black April will never be White April because one of the first things we learned in coming to this country was that it was not really a White country, or not only a White country. Rub the White off this country and you’ll see: it’s actually non-Black beneath. When we first came to this country, not enough of the White had been rubbed off for us to really see that yet. At first, back then, White people did not know what to make of us. Yellow was a perplexing color, even though some of us were really closer to Brown, and a few of us weren’t far from White. Not that it really mattered, because we were still Gooks to a number of Americans, except for the liberal ones, to whom we were Orientals. Some good White people welcomed us, but most White people did not want Gooks in their backyard. They checked their gates to make sure they were secure, kept a closer eye on their pet dogs in the not-so-mistaken belief that we might mistake them for hot dogs, and protested to newspaper editors and political representatives that they did not want their taxes going to pay for rescuing Gooks whom good American boys had died for, spilling their Red blood in the fight against the Reds. Some Black people undoubtedly felt the same way, which was not surprising, as they were still Americans, which possibly made them feel better when they compared themselves to Gooks. Everybody knows in America that if you’re white, you’re alright. And if you’re black, you better step back. Even if you’re brown, just go around. But if you’re Yellow—Hell no!

South Vietnamese and American soldier, Vietnam War Memorial, Orange County

In this situation, at least the Yellow people already here should welcome us. Thus it was surprising to discover that some of the Yellow people already in America also did not want us, because, ironically, we were not Red. For these Yellow people who had spent the Sixties carrying around Mao’s Little Red Book, it was annoying to discover that the Vietnamese people they had been rooting for—to the chant of Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win—were not the Vietnamese people who showed up on American shores. In any case, the Little Red Book was a book that we knew a good Gook was not supposed to read, and some of us quickly set out to prove that we could read every other book that was put before us. We wanted to be those people at whom not a second look was cast. We soon enough figured out that if we could not be White, we could at least not be Black. This was not a lesson that we learned only on coming to America. Even in our country, we knew the difference between White and Black. Americans had brought everything from America to our country, including segregation and the Blues. In Saigon, Khanh Hoi was for Blacks, who called it Soulsville, and Tu Do was for Whites, who may or may not have known that it meant Freedom.

Participants at the 35th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, Vietnam War Memorial, Orange County

So to name the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon we really did have to use Black April, even though I don’t recall seeing any Black people at a Black April anniversary. Although I have seen many White people at this anniversary, calling it White April would be a dangerous thing. White people would ask, Why are you calling it White? Would we really want to tell them that White is the color of death? Would we really want to point out that the Pentagon is White, and the White House is White, and the Washington Monument is White, and that while White people thought that White meant something pure, like driven snow or Colombian cocaine, some of us didn’t necessarily agree? Did we really want to say that if somebody who had been bombed by White people was suddenly teleported to Washington, DC, that somebody might think that White was really the right color for the Department of Death? Did we really want to have to explain to White people, and really even to ourselves, that even though Black, White, Brown and even a few Red and Yellow soldiers had all taken part in killing us, that it was all White men who made the really important decisions? It was White men who decided to drop more bombs on us than on all of Europe during World War II and it was White men who came up with real estate terms like Free Fire Zones, places where it was open season on Yellow people, and where the only good Gook was a dead Gook.

Veteran at the 35th anniversary

Some of us were so accepting of these White ideas that we would, years later, defend John McCain when he came to the County of Orange and used the word Gook. He didn’t mean us, some of us said. He meant the Communists. So we went on being the good Gooks, and some of us, perhaps vaguely remembering these Free Fire Zones that were reserved for the bad Gooks, came up with things like Communist Free Zones for the good Gooks. This really makes White people laugh at us, because they instinctively understand what it is that many of us do not. Communist Free Zones are those zones where White people don’t have to worry because the Yellow people are too busy hating those other Yellow people who might be Red. In these Communist Free Zones the good Gooks among us can hunt for the bad Gooks, which is preferable, for White people, to having any Gooks at all hunting for them. So much unnecessary noise and energy has been expended by the good Gooks hunting for the bad Gooks, when it’s actually very easy to find the bad Gooks. Just look at your own shadows, Vietnamese people.

Veterans at the 35th anniversary

If we really want to get into the subliminal, if we really want to be exegetical, we should point out that the war fought in our country (and in Laos and Cambodia) was carried out in the name of Domino Theory. Domino Theory is only a Black and White way of seeing the world. Did no one ever come up with the Mah-jong Theory of geopolitics? But even so, that’s Chinese, and while we like Chinese food, we don’t like Chinese people, even though some of us probably have Chinese blood. Now we’re getting too far afield! The point is: Why Black April, Vietnamese people? If you think I’m wrong, let’s call it White April, just for once, and see what White people say. Let’s call it White April just to remind ourselves of our own customs of mourning, since some of us are into preserving our culture. Let’s call it White April just to honor the White people who so often surround us and the White culture in which we so often find ourselves. Let’s call it White April just to remind White people that White has more than one shade of meaning and that some of us haven’t forgotten what some White people did. Let’s call it White April just to let Black people know that we’re with them, or, if that’s going too far for some of us, not against them. Let’s call it White April because, in the end, we can call April anything we want. Yes, Vietnamese people, if we have to call April anything—although who’s to say we have to call it anything at all—just for once let’s call it White.

Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Los Angeles-based professor, teacher, critic and fiction writer, author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America and numerous short stories in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative and other magazines. He is the editor of diaCRITICS. More info here.

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32 Responses to diaCRITICIZE: My Black April

  1. Robert says:

    This astutely-worded essay touches on many topics. White Americans, due to their anti-Asian bias, would rather deny or just forget many of the issues mentioned. Unfortunately, many Vietnamese Americans who have been brainwashed by Whites also perceive White as good, Black as bad, and every other color as subordinate and irrelevant. No, of course, we can’t called it “White” April. In America, it’s okay for White Americans to call non-whites by any pejorative terms. That’s freedom of speech, you know. But if a non-white person uses the word “white” negatively, then that person becomes a target of personal attacks. That’s (White) American freedom of speech, don’t you know? What the heck! Let’s go ahead and call it White April, and tell the White Americans that we are honoring them. Americans like it when non-whites honor them. Never mind the part about Americans committing genocide and ecocide in Southeast Asia and about their raping and murdering defenseless people. Denying and forgetting–that’s the Great American Way.

    • viet nguyen says:

      thanks, Robert. denying and forgetting–definitely American but not unique to America as well…most countries do exactly the same thing.

  2. Cathie Buchanan says:

    Why does it have to be a color at all? The ones that began the fixation with the color of the skin are caucasian. To continue to play the color game, does that not reinforce their importance that they place on color and not on the people? The Vietnamese have a rich culture, which is beautiful, colorful, intelligent, ancient and more. I believe to use the method of White America to “label” the event does no one any good. People need to learn about what happened. They need to know. We cannot forget. What about reviving the customs of South Vietnam instead of just appearing in uniform? Americans are extremely ignorant of how people live outside this country. They are missing the “human” element. Why not teach the world what the American violence has taken away from the world?

    • viet nguyen says:

      absolutely no color is required. why not Sad April, or Tragic April, or Sorrowful April But someone chose Black, and it seemed important to me to throw that choice into relief.

  3. Really Việt, did one of the good Gooks kill your cat, or did they beat you over the head with one of their anti-Communist placards when you’re trying to take their photo? Yep, you scare the hell out of me bro! While I, myself, don’t like these vitriolic display and excessive militarist vehemence of the ragtag remnant of a defunct Army, I am surprise at your verbiage. In one fell swoop you truly have outdone yourself, attacking not one, not two, but three and four targets at once here, over-the-top subversive professor!
    BTW, while your ranting and raving give the colored/rainbow people a sense of belonging in this not-so-white America, Vietnamese in VN are moving closer to South Vietnam yesteryear-struggle for a voice, however nascent. FYI, South Vietnam never disappeared on the world map, or any maps. It is still there, remind the world of its unfinished business – the struggle for self-determination – no matter how bad a legacy it might have left in the tattered remnants of the old republic. NO Black or White, no color on the piano keys, if Black April reminds of anything, it reminds me that Vietnamericans have many miles to go before they sleep. What color are you?

  4. Audrey Chin says:

    Viet, this is brilliant and sad! It’s a brilliant, satirical, and true look at what’s happened to race in America, the land of the free and the home of the multi-coloured.
    The fact that you can write about this with such cutting insight is also because that’s sadly the spectacles you’ve grown up with. For a daughter-in-law of the diaspora like me… well, what about Flesh and Blood April, We’re all Human under the Skin April, Survivor’s April, Winners and Losers April (and remember Andrew Lam’s anecdote about his encounter with the Customs Official in New Vietnam – it’s unclear quite who the winners and losers are).
    It’s time to lay the rankling bones in this America where it’s possible for an Oreo Cookie really S.E. Asian coffee skinned man to be elected President.
    There are the narratives that others impose, and so mould us. There are the selves we construct in response. But, as the Buddhists say, all this too is illusion. Perhaps there is no self. We are neither bananas or baguettes or whole-grain refusing to be bleached white. What we make of our consciousness is a question of intention and will.
    Peace Viet.

    • viet nguyen says:

      absolutely right, Audrey. I’m glad you caught the satire. and the sense of entrapment within racial discourses that are endemic to the USA and which need to be addressed explicitly, even if that does reiterate them. the fact is that a post-racial April anniversary doesn’t seem to be on the horizon for Vietnamese America.

  5. Another excellent essay from your sharp and incisive pen. In this piece, I love your layered interpretation of White, Yellow, Black, and Red, and the scathing and necessary critique of racial hierarchies and political censure, within efforts at memorialization. So many effective images/metaphors that I will be left thinking about this brave piece for a while.

    I put the White Christmas mention from US military documents from April 1975 into my poem “The Rescue.” I am still shaking my head about that surreal fustercluck of a signal to evacuate.

    Communist Free Zones remind me of Strategic Hamlets, and the US military notion (still continuous) that if the military physically “contains” its recipients of US benevolent paternalism (back then, the South Vietnamese), the military will prevent the undesirable/enemy/Commie/Jihadist characteristics of those the US is supposedly “helping” during its invasion and war. Both strategic hamlets during the American War and these Communist Free Zones discussed above are, in effect, anti-Communist “Zones” in which identity, belief, and intent are being rigorously policed and doubted. The strategic hamlet as a military strategy (going back to the Philippine-American War, at least) was really also a strategic euphemism for total control over a people, under the guise of protection that also enabled serious abuses of power. (I also think that before its global export, the strategic hamlet was implement via reservations, during the manifest destiny of the Indian Wars. There’s another “Red” in the mix….)

    • viet nguyen says:

      hi julie,
      i’d still like to know who chose “white christmas.” maybe if i was more of an archivist i’d track down that information, if it wasn’t classified. thinking of little saigon as a “strategic hamlet” is a great idea, too! strategic hamlets and ethnic enclaves–both ways of concentrating and managing populations for their own good.

      • Bill Hunsberger says:

        It’s sad to hear your perception of white America and your inaccurate stereotyping. While I won’t argue that in some cases you may be accurate the vast majority of Americans (white or otherwise) are inclusive and appreciative of our multi-cultural society. Using the term white as it is in western culture is not brainwashing but adapting to the host culture. I have always admired the Vietnamese as being an example of how a different ethic group can come to this country adapt to new ways be successful and influential yet maintain their own culture. In this politically correct climate white america is NOT allowed to use pejorative terms for non-whites. They are ostracized, may lose their jobs, or be subject to legal action. I would also suggest you study history a little more deeply as it was the North Vietnamese and communists who performed the genocide and the killing and “reeducating” of innocent people. Do you really think that living in the United States is as bad as you portray it?

      • Bill Hunsberger says:

        “White Christmas” was used by AFRVN because it would be totally inconsistent with normal programming. Christmas carols would not be played in April. Why “White Christmas” instead of any other carol? It was the most popular and most played of any.

  6. reader says:

    While this is interesting, I don’t understand why the author chooses to analyze the term “Black April” in the context of the American context of race and ethnicity. My understanding is that both black and white are colors of mourning. Why not analyze the depiction of the fall of Saigon and its commemoration in Vietnamese-language texts instead, esp those produced by anticommunist Vietnamese who participate in the commemoration? Why not ask the people in these photos what the term “black” means to them?

    • viet nguyen says:

      These are good points. I choose the American context because Little Saigon and Vietnamese Americans are in the USA. I attended the opening of the Vietnam War Memorial in 2003 and again in 2010, and the speeches and public discourse are both anticommunist and very American. In 2003, for example, explicit connection was made by one speaker, a Vietnamese general, that the Iraq War was an extension of the Vietnam War in its “defense of freedom.” I think Vietnamese Americans do see themselves as American, at least partially. If black and white are both colors of mourning, then why choose black? That’s one point of the original post, that choosing black in the American context inevitably carries connotations which become evident if we posit a reversal.

      • Bill Hunsberger says:

        I thought that Black April was used as much as a reminder to the non-Vietnamese Americans as to the Vietnamese Americans as to what could have been had the US not abandoned and betrayed the South Vietnamese. It amazes me the number of Americans who still believe the 60’s and 70’s propaganda the North Vietnamese spread and has since been proven false. It’s for that reason that I continue my 40 year attempt to educate the Americans I know and during every April by flying the South VIetnamese flag and spreading the word however I can (word of mouth, Facebook, etc.)

  7. Long Le says:

    Viet,
    If you’re going to be “critical” of how some Vietnamese Americans use “Black April” to commemorate the “Fall of Saigon,” let me take you to task…
    Assuming you’re right about “racial colors” and what they mean in the US, do you critique Vietnamese Americans who married “Whites” and not “Blacks”? Do you say anything to your Vietnamese colleagues who never date/marry “Blacks”? What about you? Have you dated or married someone who is “Black”?
    In so many words, do you practice what you breach? Or is your article an intellectual exercise aim at belittling Vietnamese Americans who are not as “enlighten” as yourself or your colleagues at diacritics.org? Do you shy away from issues you deem “personal” while others think is fair game?
    In general, I think the issues you point out in the article are a great service for the socio-political development of our community. But don’t just point to one particular group, which seem to be those who are anti-communist/non-communist. Otherwise, you may seem to be just peddling “racial colors” in a way to get more readers to your blog, get tenure, etc.
    You when talked about “Black April,” it is very personal to me. Just yesterday, my daughter participated in an event related to the “Fall of Saigon” (Houston, Texas) in which she carried the flag of South Vietnam on stage.
    You and everybody else can question the meaning of “Black April.” Just don’t apply only to situations in which you think you’re “right” or “enlighten” and everyone else is “wrong” or “stupid.”
    From someone whose “father figure” is “Black” and who had briefly lived with a “Black” family, it would offend me if you have never challenged your Vietnamese friends or relatives who are directly or indirectly “racist” against “Blacks,” while “preaching” and “lecturing” on how some Vietnamese Americans are not as “enlighten” as you or your colleagues at diacritics.org.

    • viet nguyen says:

      Long,
      I’m not sure why you bring up my personal life in your response. My post doesn’t point fingers at individuals, or their romantic choices. I’m not so interested in individual choice when it comes to romance or politics as structural conditions that shape choice, desire and attitudes. In that case, the evidence seems to indicate that Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans have absorbed American and French racial attitudes. Saigon had racially segregated recreational zones for American soldiers, as I pointed out; I didn’t mention that Vietnamese women who dated or had relations with Black men were looked down upon by other Vietnamese, and that white and black Amerasian offspring were treated according to a racial hierarchy both in Vietnam and the US.
      I don’t care to bring my friends into this article one way or another. Does it matter whether I have racist or antiracist Vietnamese friends? Or that I have or do not have Black friends? The evidence of the personal is hardly reliable; see those who say “But some of my best friends are X.”
      My critique of some Vietnamese American attitudes is not “personal,” as you argue. My critique is that many Vietnamese Americans, while being explicitly and vocally anticommunist, are rather quiet on other issues, like racial difference and discrimination, and that this is evident in what is foregrounded and not foregrounded in Vietnamese American discourse. Symbolically, this is represented in choosing a term like “Black April,” versus any other possible term. Whether you or others take the article personally is a different issue. You seem to think that I am dismissing anticommunist Vietnamese American attitudes out of hand; I do note at the beginning that there is validity to Vietnamese American anticommunist (or other) commemoration. But the point of the article is the critique.
      The article is aimed at Vietnamese Americans because that’s partially what this blog deals with, and partially because the topic is Black April, not other things. But in the article, I point to non-Vietnamese Americans: I cite White, Black and Yellow attitudes towards Vietnamese Americans.
      Finally, when you say I am “lecturing,” “preaching,” and “enlightened,” you seem to imply that I and this blog are somehow looking down on Vietnamese Americans or excluding certain points of view. You may disagree with the tone or viewpoint of the article, but how you reach the conclusion that the blog–or myself as its editor–are ignoring a diversity of Vietnamese viewpoints is not clear to me. The evidence of our coverage is that we also deal with anticommunist figures and viewpoints too, as well as a range of ideological, aesthetic, and national issues. You and I happen to be working on a three-part post about Huy Duc and his critical view of the Communist Party and Vietnamese state!
      The only criteria for inclusion in diacritics is that articles be well-written, not that they are “enlightened.” And my critiques extend not just to anticommunist Vietnamese Americans, but to Vietnamese and other Americans as well; everyone and everything should be subject to criticism, myself included, which is why I’m responding to your post.

      Viet

      • Long Le says:

        Viet,

        The title of your article, “My Black April,” indicates your personal viewpoint that “many Vietnamese Americans, while being explicitly and vocally anticommunist, are rather quiet on other issues, like racial difference and discrimination.” And you do this by using April 30th, the “Fall of Saigon,” to prove your point.

        Obviously, my own “Black April” is very different than yours, but I am not offended by your viewpoint. In fact, as I noted in my original comment, I welcome it because it can get the community to discuss such topics.

        However, my issue with you is that if you have the right to personally critique why some Vietnamese Americans call this “anniversary Black,” do I then have the right to critique whether you (or your colleagues at diacritics.org) practice what you preach by asking whether you discriminate when you date or “marry”?

        In other words, you select April 30th to prove your point that many Vietnamese Americans are quiet on issues of racial difference and discrimination. Why can’t I or others who are vocally anticommunist take you to task by asking your “romantic choices” in order to prove that perhaps you’re not as “enlighten” as you think you are?

        In your response, you stated: “The article is aimed at Vietnamese Americans because that’s partially what this blog deals with, and partially because the topic is Black April, not other things.”

        My response is: Really, Viet? You can critique the organizers of ‘Black April’ but somehow the organizers, including myself, can’t critique your personal choices to see if you’re “enlighten” on racial issues as you claim? Is this the best you can do? Critique others on your terms but don’t allow yourself to be critique by the terms of others? Is that even fair?

        Please note that my comments are direct responses to your article only, and nothing else.

        • viet nguyen says:

          Long,

          You can critique me as much as you like on the issues I raise in the post, or on the subtext, as I do with the Black in Black April. But I don’t see how my romantic, personal choices are the subtext of my post on Black April. I raise the issue of race in Black April because of the color Black and because Black means various things in the American context. So the subtextual things I deal with are present in Black April. In other words, I critique the Vietnamese American commemoration/celebration of Black April on its own terms–Black–and on my own terms–my reading of Black. I don’t critique the organizers’ personal choices outside of either of those terms, so your point that I’m not allowing myself to be critiqued outside of my own terms doesn’t make much sense to me.

          Viet

        • This conversation about “romantic choices” seems beyond the point and scope of this diaCRITICIZE post on “Black April,” and arbitrary at best. In particular, I am confused by the equation of non-black people who have sex (or relations) with black people as proving their lack of racism through their “romantic choices.” Just because someone is willing to sleep with someone of a particular race doesn’t mean that they are not racist. For example, the white male eroticization and sexualization of Asian women may masquerade for that white male as “equal opportunity,” even if built upon ultimately negative stereotypes such as “Oriental” submissiveness and exoticism. In sum, you cannot take the choice for two people to sleep together as indicative of anything, really. Some people go out of their way to have sex with people who are in a “lower” class or race than they are, to exert their own power over them. Others fall in love early (with someone of ANY race, including their own), and they stay with that one person their whole life, out of loyalty and love. To not sleep with other people (besides their partner) has nothing to do with racism. In light of this, to make a “romantic choice” of one person over another means very little in the contexts of mourning, racism, or anti-Communism.

          • Robert says:

            Wonderfully expressed. I think I’m in love. Eureka! I’m beginning to see clearly. Apples are apples and oranges are oranges. Now that the matter has been intelligently clarified I can finally treat myself to an apple-orange smoothies.

  8. Robert says:

    Huh? What do apples have to do with oranges?

    • niihn says:

      desperate attempt to be defensive when all logic fails?

    • Long Le says:

      For sure, I am not getting a lot of love…

      1. OK, what do apples have to do with oranges? I argue when the “Apples” think they are better than the “Oranges.” I assume, but could be wrong, but Viet and others who have commented on my comments have never been organizers of April 30; otherwise they would have discussed how they have trannsformed April 30th by not using “Black April.” I have been an organizer of April 30th and feel like someone is “lecturing” me on how April 30th should be conducted. Now, Viet and I have mutual respect for each other. Perhaps I have more respect for Viet than he has of me because I have basically read all of his journal articles and have seek collaboration. However, I don’t agree with all Viet’s arguments but the questions that he brings up in his articles are all great.

      2. My questions for Viet in my previous comments were to say that if you think you are more enlighten on racial issues than some (i.e., who anti-communist), those for us who are anti- communists should have the right to take you to task by asking whether your personal life reflect the enlightenment you claim to have. Now you can say this has nothing to do with racial enlightenment. If this is the case, then I suppose I can make the argument that Viet’s “My Black April,” while creative and imaginative, has no effect on the thinking of those who organize April 30th when it comes to racial issues.

      4. Yet as I mentioned before, I think Viet’s viewpoint is of service to community development. But you can’t have a dialogue if you can’t acknowledge that when it comes to racial enlightment people on both sides can be hypocrites. Whether you agree with this or not, that’s my core argument. Do I think that “romantic choices” can reflect/represent one’s racial enlightment? I do and in fact I try to practice what I preach. Am I always successful? Not by a long shot. (Nonetheless, take for example the debate between MLK and Malcom X in terms of leadership. I am on the side of the latter because when he converted to the Nation of Islam, he was “moral” in his personal behavior; while MLK was not. Not focusing on the approach or impact of their leadership, I think leadership/community activism should include personal behavior/personal choice. But that’s just me).

      • Robert says:

        Long, I intended no personal disrespect or hatred. Thank you for your explanation and for your contributing to the discussion.

      • viet nguyen says:

        Long, all our disagreements aside, why does the event have to be called Black April?

        • Long Le says:

          Viet,

          1. Perhaps in my original comment, I should have led with why we use “Black April,” which is the translation of “Thang Tu Den.” Now, as I interpreted it, “Den” symbolizes the “dark” days, not the color black; in Vietnamese, we would use “mau den” to signify the color black. I would argue the importance of “Den/Dark” is that it symbolizes the opportunity in which the “Den/Dark” can eventually become “brighter” days. Similarly, the “Fall of the Saigon” could symbolize the day in which Saigon can rise again. As far as I know, Vietnamese do not equate “death” to April 30th, meaning we don’t explicitly imply the “death” of South Vietnam and its culture, heritage, etc; we do mourn those who have given their lives for South Vietnam but their “deaths” are honored in the home. However, I don’t exactly know why the translation of “Thang Tu Den” became “Black April.” It could be that in English, it is better symbolicly to use “Black” instead of “Dark.”

          2. On the one hand, I commented that you were selective in utilizing “Black April” or the color “Black” in order to address racial issues associated with the Vietnam War in which for some it is a reach. On the other hand, your creativity allows a framework to address racial issues, using terms like “White April.” In fact, I think you raise a lot of good questions when you make the argument of perhaps using “White April” instead of “Black April.” However, my issue is that if you going to say/lecture that some Vietnamese are too accepting to “White ideas,” are you going to say anything about Vietnamese who marry “Whites” during and after the Vietnam War? I know that you think such issue is off-topic or that I am comparing apples to oranges. But for me, Vietnamese marrying “Whites” during or after the war can indeed imply the acceptance of “White ideas.” I was taking you to task to see whether you and your colleagues live up to not accepting too much of the “White ideas”; (that for me seems you were pushing this on other Vietnamese). However, I do acknowledge that you can only go so far with the above. Marriages between Vietnamese and Whites can symbolize love as well as reconciliation (i.e., the first U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in post 1975 married a Vietnamese there). Similarly, I think you can only go so far in critiquing John McCain because for some Vietnamese John McCain represents the “Whites” who fought and who did not betray the cause of South Vietnam during and after the war.

          3. In my comments, I emphasize the importance of practicing what you preach. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, I was a History and PoliSci Major with a minor in Black Studies. At the university, one of my professors was Mark McLeod, a well know Vietnamese scholar who was married to a Vietnamese who was in her own right a noted scholar. This was an opportunity in which I could seek mentorship and collaboration with Prof. McLeod. For better or worse, I didn’t because I thought this would be a repeat of Vietnam colonialism all over again. Instead, my influence came from my father-figure and mentor who are African Americans. As you may know, in my journal articles I have taken issues with “White” scholars who try to “rescue” Vietnam or Vietnamese scholars who “critique” only the flaws of Vietnamese Americans associated with South Vietnam. In many ways, my own flaw is that I really feel the need to critique those who critique South Vietnam, of which sometimes I do regret the way that I go about it.

          4. Overall, I really appreciate that you could put our disagreements aside and ask why we have to use “Black April.” In turn, I can also focus on going beyond our disagreements in order to speak on racial issues in a way that is more of a dialogue.

          • viet nguyen says:

            Long,
            As mentioned in an earlier reply to another comment, there are alternative names for this anniversary that do not need color and its implications. In Vietnamese, names exist for the anniversary from something as simple as “April 30th” to “Ngày quốc hận” (Day of National Resentment, which may be a faithful translation but sounds awkward in English). “Tháng tư đen” (Black or Dark April) exists as well. So the Vietnamese have options for what to call the anniversary in English, and have deliberately or consensually settled on Black April–hence my critique. A choice was made for this particular term in English; why?

            Since you ask for a positive recommendation, mine is that the Vietnamese community can choose another term in English for its April 30th day, or confront why it chooses Black April. Other English terms: Sorrowful April, April of Sorrow, April 30th, Bitter April, the April of Loss, the April of Resentment (still an inadequate English translation of the original), or simply the Fall of Saigon.

            Viet

          • Audrey Chin says:

            At the risk of being beaten over the head, I think the issue goes way beyond Black or White. We’re probably into a 3rd generation in the US and the winners of the war over there are certainly more or less entrenched. There’s no point looking back in sorrow, resentment, anger etc. It’s a different country over there from who our memories. Despite cultural and racial connections, we’re also become a different set of people out here. There are many connections we can make, including (god help me) recolonizing the place with US culture and Viet Kieu dollars. How much of the April 30th baggage do we want to still be carrying around in America?

          • viet nguyen says:

            Audrey, I’d rather move on too. Not to forget the past, but not necessarily to commemorate it, either. But it doesn’t seem likely that a significant element of the Viet Kieu community will forget April 30th.

  9. Julie Lam says:

    Hello Viet ,
    I guess your interested article , in fact, has bough a hot controversy / discussion huh 🙂 Well, I knew this blog through Jade Hidle who used to be my English tutor when i was working on my BS in Cal state Long Beach. That mean i only commend on Jade’s writing…LOL… because i am still afraid of writing in English although i am now in grad school ( hard science though.) .LOL. I am trying to use an excuse for my grammatical stuffs. In fact, I had to think twice ” should i commend a bit on his piece of writing, shouldn’t I ? so, you are the 2nd person that i commend in this blog. If i said any things not right, i hope you are not offended and please forgive me. I do like your article a lot but there is something that i need to share with you…
    I am not sure that i truly understand the meaning of your article ! I knew recently some people wanted to change “” Black April ” to ” Ngay Thuong tiec , or anniversary “” something ! It’s just from our family perspective that Black April – April 30th is “” Fall of Saigon = NGÀY QUỐC HẬN , Ngày Mất Nước ! ” It’s a “” Tan Thương ” day to be change for the history of Vietnam. It’s not about black or white color or racist something but April 30th simply imply the day of south Vietnam land was lost to communist party. It was a day that i was born just only 3 days, but my father was imprisoned for 11 years after April 30th and my both uncles were imprisoned 12 years and 13 years just because my father and uncles were the South Vietnamese officers. My other two uncles were die in Communist camp / Trai Tu Cai Tao cause of starving, hunger, and punishments. Why? It was just that we are the south Vietnamese officers/ Vietnam Cong Hoa ! Twenty years later, we , our family of five members, came here ! Twenty years of starving, suffering, pain, and punishments that our family had been suffering each day after the Fall of Saigon / Ngay Quoc Han ! I was treated as a daughter of a criminal man because of my father’s sin that Communist party called me….
    P.S: Viet, in our hearts and many Vietnamese refugees who have similar painful situations like my family, the South Vietnam with The yellow flag with three red stripes is always forever in my heart and many hearts and is forever in the maps of the world ! Our yellow flag with three red stripes maybe disappeared to the heart of Communist but is in fact not from the world. The world still know that we , two millions people, are Vietnamese–American refugees :)) I am 1.5 American-Vietnamese generation still feel hurt, pain when this black day– My mom calls Ngày Mất Nước–comes that my mom and dad would remind all painful memories and punishments that they had to go through !
    Viet, I love all your pictures in this article that are pretty cool though. Hopefully i could read more and more interesting articles specialize about current Vietnamese Americans community.
    Best regards,
    Julie

    • viet nguyen says:

      Dear Julie,
      Thanks for taking the time to compose a heartfelt reply, and for sharing your important stories. As I mention in the post, I do believe it’s necessary for Vietnamese refugees and Vietnamese Americans to commemorate their history, for all the reasons you mention. One point I wanted to make in the post, though, is that all this Vietnamese American suffering and memory seems to take place at least implicitly in an American context. This context is symbolized in this word “black.” The Vietnamese terms you mention for April 30th have no reference to color, but only to anniversary, losing the country, and resentment. So I find it curious that when Vietnamese Americans translate the meaning of April 30th into English, they choose black. On the one hand, black is a term that is about feeling and mood, and not about race; on the other hand, my own experience of the Vietnamese American community is that the community is not particularly progressive when it comes to race, and is eager to assimilate into American society in ways that ignore racial inequalities. I can’t help but think that the Vietnamese American use of the term “black” participates in this American racial consciousness too. Lastly, I find it ironic that Vietnamese Americans rightfully call for justice when it comes to themselves but aren’t very vocal about justice when it comes to others, like their fellow black Americans. That’s why I ask: if color is so important that Vietnamese Americans will deliberately pick one in English to commemorate their anniversary, why does that color have to be black? It doesn’t have to be white, but I pick that term just to show the contrast, and to show that Vietnamese Americans accept the terms of a white-dominated American society.

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