Shunned by much of society, denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions, treated as virtual slaves, and routinely abused at the hands of the police and of a privileged class who enjoy the state's protection, Amerasians (mixed-race) live deplorable lives under the communist regime in Vietnam.
Amerasians bore the brunt of the Vietnamese communists’ hatred toward America after their take over of South Vietnam in 1975. Used and abused by the communist officials, beaten at will, debased, raped and forced into prostitution, Amerasians have suffered at the hands of Vietnamese communists. Many Amerasians were rounded up by the Vietnamese communists and sent to concentration camps, where they were forced to de-activate mines with nothing more than a knife. According to one internee, only two out of eight in his section survived, six were blown up one by one in the minefields. They were told that they had to harvest what their fathers had sown; however, many of the mines were those sown by the communists themselves.
When U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, an estimated 50,000 Amerasian children were left behind. Amerasians – My lai – are regarded as "bui doi" – dirt or dust of life – children of the enemy by the xenophobic Vietnamese communists. However, to be My lai den bui doi – half-black Amerasian – is the lowest of the low in the repressive Vietnamese communist society.
There is a Vietnamese saying that it is better to marry the village dog than a man from somewhere else. It was commonplace for the mothers of Amerasian children to tear up their children’s birth certificate in an attempt to hide the ethnicity of their children out of fear of persecution by the communists; more so if their children were My lai den. At best, the mothers were ostracized – shunned – for bearing "half-breeds" because this meant that they had "collaborated" with the hated American enemy. Some mothers, fearing the new government's reaction, gave up their Amerasian children to relatives, childless couples, orphanages, or even abandoned them on the streets.
As the new Communist government consolidated its power, the prejudice and discrimination Amerasians and their mothers had experienced before the War's end was institutionalized. Along with other "collaborators," Amerasians were denied educational and vocational opportunities and other social service amenities such as access to health care. Many, along with their families, were relocated to the New Economic Zones with little or no infrastructure and social services in desolate, remote, sparsely populated regions to which adherents of the former "puppet regime" were sent. Here they were given land and a little food and told to start their lives anew. But many of them became virtual slaves.
Outcast, despised, and openly discriminated against, many of the fatherless Amerasians and their mothers became part of "the dust of life" (bui doi), the poorest-of-the-poor and forced to live on the fringes of Vietnamese society. Local children chased the Amerasian children and pelted them with sticks and stones while shouting: "go back to America" or “bastard of American imperialists.” Young Amerasian boys and girls were often raped and sold into prostitution.
These tragic realities bring us to the case of Tuan Phuoc Le, who is My lai den born to a Vietnamese woman and fathered by an African-American serviceman. Although his father was a Marine who gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting for this country and for freedom in Viet Nam, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services section of Homeland Security is currently trying to deport Tuan Le back to Vietnam.
Tuan Le was born in the port city of Rach Gia, Kien Giang province in November 1971, less than four years before America’s abandonment of South Vietnam. Rach Gia is a port city on the northwestern coast of the Mekong Delta, on the Gulf of Thailand. Tuan Lee was too young to know his father, but his uncle told him his father was a U.S. Marine and was Missing in Action (MIA). Tuan Le’s mother escaped Vietnam by boat to Thailand in search of a new life, abandoning him when he was 5 or 6 years old.
Tuan Le went to live with grandparents and uncle, who lived in a rural area. He was able to attend school for the first and second grade during which time his schoolmates cruelly taunted him with chants: My lai den! My lai den! (black-half-breed) “Son of a whore”! “Bastard son of an American imperialist”! He was picked on, humiliated, teased and insulted by the students, the teachers as well as the schools officers. They beat him up for no reason at all. For his safety as well as not being able to take the abuse, he quit school after the second grade.
His extended family lived in extreme poverty and inhabited a very small house in a rural area. Even there he had no peace. Because of the lack of room, much of the time he had to eat outside. If the communist cadre walked by and saw him, they would beat him on the head and taunt him with pejorative names. Because of this, his grandfather would not let him outside any more.
Between the ages of 8 to 12, Tuan Le roamed the streets scrounging for food and trying to find some kind of work – as a last resort, he would beg for food or money. When the communist cadre caught him, they would force him to strip naked and dance. They told him that if his mother could do “the dance” with an American GI, he could dance for them too. When he wouldn’t dance for them, they would begin stabbing the ground around his feet with bayonets fixed to their rifles. The more they stabbed the faster he would dance, all the while they would be calling him degrading names for their entertainment. On one occasion, he was stabbed several times with a bayonet penetrating his ankle. The scars are visible on his ankle, as many scars are on his head, some from being beaten with a North Vietnamese soldier’s helmet.
In Vietnam, the communists require everyone to carry an ID card, and without one, Tuan Le could not travel anywhere. Many commodities, such as rice, were rationed and one had to have an ID card to buy any. The communists told Tuan Le that for him to get an ID card he would have to bring his dead father with him to get it. They thought this was amusing.
Tuan Le was bigger than the Vietnamese kids his age. He worked at odd jobs whenever he could, in the rice paddies or on fishing boats; however, because he was an Amerasian, he was always paid much less than others. When he was 15, he was sent to a labor camp, where he had to dig ditches. As an Amerasian, he was forced to work three times as hard as non-Amerasian Vietnamese – if they were assigned to dig one meter of a ditch, he had to dig three. If he did not complete his assignment, he was severely beaten. Whether he completed his quota or not, he was beaten at least once a week, most often on his head and face. He did not receive any pay for his hard work other than just enough food on which to survive.
Tuan Le wasn’t able to escape Vietnam until June 26, 1992 when he was accepted into the U.S. Amerasian program. His uncle had heard of the program and the family saved and scraped together what little money they could so he could take Tuan Le to the place to sign up for it at the provincial capitol of Kien Giang. His grandmother gave his uncle Tuan Phuoc Le’s birth certificate that she had kept hidden all those years so that he could give it to those running the Amerasian program. Tuan Le then received a blood test, was processed and left almost immediately. He was sent to Baatan, Philippines for further screening and processing and for ESL (English as a Second Language) training.
On September 15, 2004, the State Department listed Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern for Religious Freedom” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, one of 8 countries worldwide to be so designated. This designation carries the option of sanctions against repressive countries, such as barring its officials from traveling to the United States. Vietnam is one of the last bastions of communism along with China, Cuba, North Korea and Cambodia.
Instead of sanctions, the State Department rewarded the Vietnamese communists by arranging a White House visit with President Bush. For this prestigious honor, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Phan Van Khai promised that he would ensure that the religious persecution and human rights abuses would stop, a promise that turned out to be nothing but communist hot air. This, of course, came as no surprise to anyone who followed the politics of the communist Vietnamese, for they have continually broken every agreement they ever made with the U.S..
On the morning of June 21st, more than a thousand Vietnamese Americans and a smattering of Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnam veterans gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House to protest Khai’s presence and meeting with President Bush. Khai’s caravan – with his huge entourage of communist “officials” in tow and a Praetorian guard of U.S. Secrete Service agents – arrived at the White House front gate a little after . Part of the crowd of protesters crossed the street and moved toward the White House gate while shouting: “Khai go home!” “Communists go home!” “Khai stop killing the Vietnamese people!” “Religious freedom now!” “Stop human rights abuses! “Democracy now!” “Khai, let our people go!”
Tuan Le had brought an effigy of Ho Chi Minh hanging from a gallows pole and had stayed in the park with the remaining protesters. Around 10:15 several members of the communist delegation, dressed in suites, came out of the White House gate and headed straight over to the park, infiltrated the crowd, split up and began provoking the protestors. About three or four confronted Tuan Le and gave him thumbs down and began calling him names and taunting him with “dirty black bastard”, “son of a bitch”, son of a whore and a black American imperialist”, and “Du ma may” (F….. your mother!). The Vietnamese protesters surrounded them shouting: “Communists go home!” “Communists go home!” With fear on their faces, the communist Vietnamese broke free of the crowd and ran down the street pursued by the protestors. A large presence of police cut off the pursuers, and the communists disappeared around the corner toward the rear of the White House. This must have been a planned diversion to let Khai and the main delegation slip out the side gate of the White House so the protestors couldn’t confront them.
Just before Khai came to the U.S., the communist regime passed a law against protesting near government buildings, and protesters like those who confronted him would get 15 yrs. to life in the brutal communist prisons and gulags in Vietnam.
A reporter came out of the front gate and told the crowd that Khai and his delegation had left. The protesters began leaving, and those Vietnamese-American protesters who didn’t go home split into two groups and went to get lunch, both groups planning to continue their protests against Prime Minister and his delegation at the Willard and Mayflower Hotels where they were staying.
After lunch, the group that Tuan Le was with headed for the Willard Hotel where Prime Minister Khai was staying. At about a , they arrived at the hotel. Tuan Le spotted one of the Vietnamese communists who had taunted him at the White House standing in front of the hotel. Tuan Le’s ears started ringing, he saw red, it was déjà vu; his thoughts flashed back to Vietnam – to the years when he was forced to dance naked, and the abuse he suffered. Tuan Le lashed out and hit the communist alongside his head and screamed – “You dirty communist, you killed my father!” By coincidence, the communist that Tuan Le hit turned out to be Nguyen Quoc Huy, vice chairman of the Prime Minister's Office for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The U.S. Secret Service detail assigned to protect the communist Vietnamese delegation, grabbed Tuan Le, handcuffed him, and sat him down on the sidewalk. Several of the communist delegation, still in suits, came up to him, pointing their fingers in his face, taunting him with the same slanderous names as before. When Tuan Le tried to reply, he was told to shut up by the Secret Service, but nothing was said to the communists.
Tuan Phuoc Le was then arrested by the Secret Service and put in jail for assaulting his communist tormentor, and even though he is an Amerasian, and he now faces deportation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services section of Homeland Security.
However, if Tuan Le is sent back it will be in violation of both American and international law: "Renditions: Constraints Imposed by Laws on Torture" – makes clear that the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which this country signed in 1994, declares that no state party, "shall expel, return or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." And a U.S. law, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, implementing our responsibilities under the international convention, emphasizes our pledge that we do not, "expel, extradite or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing" he would be tortured.
At a September 21 congressional hearing exploring developments in Southeast Asia, Representative James Leach, chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific of the House Committee on International Relations stated: "As exemplified by the visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister earlier this year, the United States and Vietnam are developing an unprecedented and warming bilateral relationship, with growing trade, security, and people-to-people ties. However, the depth of the relationship is constrained by continuing human rights violations, such as the jailing of dissidents, the attempt to control religious practice, and brutal crackdowns in the Central Highlands."
As proof that things haven’t changed, on September 23, the U.S. Ambassador to Hanoi Michael Marine denounced the regime in Hanoi for trampling political dissent and religious freedom at a meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi. "The United States remains concerned that the government of Vietnam is intolerant of political dissent and limits its people's enjoyment of the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly," Ambassador Marine called on the government to release their political prisoners including journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, democracy activists Nguyen Khac Toan and Tran Van Luon, and Dr. Pham Hong Son, a physician sentenced to 13 years in prison for downloading a State Department article on democracy. Human Rights Watch has criticized Vietnam for its dismal human rights record and says thousands of democracy activists, members of religious and religious and minority groups and government critics have been jailed or harassed.
The Big Lie: Like the philosophy professed by Nazi Joseph Goebbels in Germany’s extermination campaign against the Jews, the Vietnamese communists' promised policy change to improve human rights and religious freedom for the oppressed Vietnamese people is the same: "If you tell a lie often enough, it eventually becomes accepted as the truth." The only difference is that in 1945 the United States liberated the imprisoned Jews of Germany, but abandoned the peoples of South Vietnam in 1975.
Tuan Le met his wife in the orientation camp for Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines, and they arrived in the U.S. on January 9, 1993. They now have three children twin girls who are 12 years old, and a boy of ten. Tuan Le and his family live in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and he works in construction. If it is up to the immigration service, Tuan Phuoc Le won’t see his family again for he will be deported back to Vietnam.
The morbid irony of this is Tuan Lee’s father, a black American, died fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese, and his death deprived Tuan Le of a father. Now, America’s misguided judicial system is trying to deprive Tuan Le’s children of their father, and Tuan Le of his freedom. If Tuan Le is sent back, it is inevitable that he will end up in one of communist Vietnam’s brutal prisons for many years – once again back to “a living hell.”
Michael Benge spent 11 years in Viet Nam, over five years as a Prisoner of War—1968-73. While serving as a civilian Foreign Service Officer, he was captured in South Viet Nam by the North Vietnamese and held in numerous camps in South Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, and North Viet Nam. Mike is a student of South East Asian politics, is very active in advocating for human rights, religious freedom, and a full and accurate accounting for our POW/MIAs, and has written extensively on these subjects.
Personal interview with Amerasian Michael Sheppard-Nguyen on July 29, 2004
Personal interview with Tuan Phuoc Le on August 27, 2005.
Robert S. McKelvey. Vietnamese Amerasians: The children we left behind.
Thomas A. Bass. Vietnamerica: The War Comes Home”. http://www.thomasbass.com/work4.htm
Neil Jamieson. Understanding Vietnam. University of California Press. 1995.
April 28, 2005. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress -- Renditions: Constraints Imposed by Laws on Torture.
Congressional Record. September 21, 2005. Congressional hearing: Exploring Developments in Southeast Asia.
Department of State briefing on S.E. Asia September 23, 3005.
Sister Christine My Hanh. Director of the Center for Family and Youth Services of Georgia. Stories of the Amerasian (Con Lai). Story of the Week section. So My Hanh van hung nguoi Con Lai on RFA.org 08/30/05.
What Happened to These Children of War? Marie Claire. June 2005.
Mach Song No. 15. Vietnamese Amerasians: Coming Home to a Bleak Future. Sept. 2003.
Legacy of Vietnam, Lost in Translation. Philadelphia Inquirer. Oct. 22, 2003.
Edward Hegstrom. Relocated Amerasians find opportunity in Port Arthur. Houston Chronicle. October 13, 2003.
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