When the war ended in 1975, Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. Posters and T-shirts of the man fill tourist shops. Schoolchildren grow up knowing not Ho Chi Minh, but rather a benevolent revolutionary known as "Uncle Ho." In math books, children are asked, "If Uncle Ho has 10 apples and gives you eight of them, how many apples does Uncle Ho have left?"
On a recent vacation in Vietnam, a distant cousin asked me if I was going to see Uncle Ho's body in Hanoi. I told her, "Uncle Ho is no uncle of mine."
She was shocked. And I was, too, as I realized that the Vietnam my dad taught me to revere was dead in this country.
It was almost midnight at the mini-mall on Feb. 10, and a dozen or so protesters refused to quit their vigil in front of Tran's video store. The winter windstorm pounded into Westminster police Sergeant Dwight Moore's face as he tried vainly to control the crowd, telling the demonstrators they must leave because they were on private property.
"Grace under fire," I said to Moore.
"Tell me about it," he replied.
I put away my camera and walked to my car, hiding the film in my pockets. Doing so reminded me of my trip to Vietnam last year when customs officials there ransacked our bags for anything videotaped and confiscated our CDs to make sure we hadn't brought information "compromising national security" into the country.
As the crowd began to disperse, I drove away and quietly wondered what happened in that strip mall that night. Where do we draw a line when it comes to having the right to freedom of speech? Why would a group of protesters who say they represent the impulse for freedom in their homeland be so quick to take away my rights as an American citizen? Why am I judging an otherwise peaceful assembly by a small faction of paranoid thugs?
Why don't I just get the hell out of here and forget about it? Because it's a luxury I can't afford.