This bit of film captures the precise moment when Little Saigon—to that point, a community ruled by Confucian harmony and deference toward elders—became more thoroughly American. More thoroughly, but not completely: spat on, punched and yelled at by their elders, Nguyen and his cohorts refused to retaliate but stood their ground; respected their elders even as they respectfully disagreed with them. It's the unforgettable image of American individualism meeting Confucian obedience in one generation.
"It was a very sad thing for me to see," Nguyen says. "Here is my community, and those people who pushed us out into the street—those older Vietnamese Americans—I see my parents in them."
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There is a long list of older Vietnamese immigrants who endured the war and have made themselves unqualified American success stories. Other older refugees founder, however. They crave a life and a country that has disappeared and, while thankful to the U.S. for its hospitality, they are still angry that they've landed on the other side of the planet; they haven't bothered to learn English even though they've been here for years; they rarely leave the comfort of Little Saigon, where they can read, shop, eat and speak only Vietnamese all day. The Tran protests allowed them an adrenaline rush from a mental flight back to the days before the communists invaded their beloved Saigon. But like his peers who have spent most if not all of their lives in the U.S., Bao Nguyen awakens each day already at home. "I feel like I am the definition of an American," he says.
Vietnamese Americans rally against Ho Chi Minh poster
Photo courtesy of Lindsey Jang & Robert C. Winn
Although Bao is too polite to make the point, it's ironically the older generation and their emotional scars that are being pushed gently aside. Younger Vietnamese Americans appreciate their heritage and the plight of their struggling homeland, but they aren't going to refight the Vietnam War. They are too busy assimilating, too busy looking to the future.
"We found that the Vietnamese-American community is moving past its collective pain from the war," Winn told the Weekly. "People like Bao and Vu are showing us that there's going to be a new era of empowerment for that community."
OC Weekly—in conjunction with Regal Theaters, Nguoi Viet newspaper, KOCE-TV and the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations—is sponsoring a special one-time screening ofSaigon, USA—which is not appearing in theaters. The 57-minute film begins at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 8 at Edwards University, 4245 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-8818. Admission is free.