Documentary Short Fighting for Family Highlights Vietnamese Deportations

Chuh, Rex and family. YouTube screenshot

By Sandra De Anda, Guest Columnist 

When I first watched Lan Nguyen’s short film, Bi Ket, which translates to “limbo” in English, I was captured by the scenes she directed of a local Vietnamese community member who returned home after being imprisoned. I sat in my chair weeping at the scene of the protagonist Tung Nguyen embracing his family. I felt the same way watching the love story she unveils in her new documentary Fighting for Familywhich will be screened December 2nd at the VietRise office in Garden Grove at 6:30 p.m.

The riveting 30-minute documentary highlights the story of Chuh and Rex, refugees from the indigenous tribes of Xedang and Rognao in Vietnam whose love story began in North Carolina, which is home to the largest Montagnard community outside Vietnam. Chuh and Rex, in aiming to give a better life to their children, run into financial obstacles before bitterly being separated by deportation. The first shot of the film is of bustling mopeds in Ho Chi Minh City, Chuh’s new place of residency after being deported.

“Why am I here?” he says to the camera. “Why is my family not with me?”

Midway through the film, a montage seems to answer Chuh’s question. It shows President Bill Clinton telling congress that the government needs to hire a record number of border patrol agents before cutting to President George W. Bush telling lawmakers that he will expedite the legal process to cut the average deportation time. Finally, President Barack Obama is depicted saying, “Felons, not families. You will be deported if you are a criminal.”

Lan swiftly showcases the growth in ruthlessness and criminalization of the deportation machine we currently see these days–a trajectory ripe for someone like President Donald Trump to take advantage of.

“My hope is to counter that quote Obama says in the montage,” says Nguyen. “We should not be deporting formerly incarcerated people. We should expand on pushing people to question the notion that you  shouldn’t have to prove yourself worthy of not being displaced and of deserving happiness, family and a home. We need to change the narrative around immigration and incarceration.”

While Chuh is on the other side of the world, adjusting to a life in which he sees his family sparsely, Rex is shown in the film doing everything she can to provide for her daughters. They’re both doing what a couple would be doing to try to make a marriage work, just thousands of miles away from each other.

Finally, after seven years of being apart, Rex visits Vietnam with her four daughters to reunite with Chuh. They reminisce on camera about how they first met, and how it is always, even after a fun-filled couple weeks together, heartbreaking to say goodbye.

“The reason I believe this film grasps the viewer’s attention is because at the end of the day it is a love story,” says Nguyen. “It exemplifies a tragedy full of injustice. This film is sad, but it aims to also be inspiring. Sadness makes us feel trapped–that is the intention of this current administration. You can do something in the midst of all this, like our protagonists.”

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