I have not celebrated the U.S. Independence Day since fireworks were made illegal in California. Without the joy of lighting a firecracker that can blow out your eardrums or starting up a Whistle Pete that you have to run from or else your toes gets seared off, what is left to celebrate? What will we be celebrating anyway, the defeat of the English imperial military by the Colonialists of the new world? But, maybe I’m a minority in my thoughts.
Actually, in the immigrant community where I come from, we often celebrate the U.S. as the harbinger of freedom and democracy. It was after all the U.S. that helped us keep communism at bay until the eventual Fall of Sai Gon in 1975. I think grateful would be an accurate sentiment many feel for the opportunity to resettle in the U.S. To keep this image pure, we’ll just sweep under the table that the OSS (precursor to the CIA) were in Viet Nam during WWII and they along with the Viet Minh nationalists led by Ho Chi Minh (thought to also be nationalist but history has shown he was a communist trained and supported by both the PRC and USSR, and on his own possessed Indochinese imperial aspirations) fought Japanese occupation. But, when the war ended, the U.S. chose to return the power to and fund the military occupation by Viet Nam’s previous colonizers, the French, rather than allow Viet Nam its independence.
Vietnamese Americans love our boat-person-made-good stories too. Possibly one of the most notable is that of Viet Dinh. In 1978 as a 10-year-old boy Viet Dinh escaped by boat from Viet Nam with his family. They left everything and risked their lives for freedom elsewhere. Having resettled in the Orange County, Viet Dinh excelled as a student and eventually received his law degree from Harvard University. His stellar record continued as he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, taught at the Georgetown University Law Center, and served as the New Mexico Republican's special counsel for President Clinton's impeachment trial. The pinnacle of his career remains his service as the Assistant Attorney General of the United States from 2001 to 2003, under the Bush administration. In this position, he was attributed as being the chief architect of the Patriot Act (One). This piece of work is documented to violate only the First, Forth, Fifth, Sixth, Eight and Fourteen Amendments.
The ramifications of the U.S. “War on Terrorism” condoned by the Patriot Act has reached far and wide and turned on its own people, or should I say, Viet Dinh’s own people. In 2008, the U.S. and Vietnamese governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This means 8,000 Vietnamese nationals who arrived in the United States on or after July 12, 1995 (or before the U.S. and Viet Nam normalized diplomatic relations) are subject to repatriation back to Viet Nam. 7,300 of these have had prior criminal convictions. I’ve heard the older generation in my community say things like, "good riddance, they are the bad seeds anyway." What they don’t understand is many of these "criminals" have lived nearly all their lives in the U.S. They don’t know much about Viet Nam, a country they or their families most likely escaped from to find freedom – not unlike Dinh’s family. More over many have served their time, have spouses and children in the U.S. and now contribute positively to their communities.
The irony, of course, is that during Viet Dinh's rise to greatness, he took along with him his refugee story and it served him and proponents of a hawkish stance on the “War on Terrorism” well. Doesn’t it make sense and justify the doing away of civil liberties of suspected or perceived terrorists when a refugee is the author of the Patriot Act? So, now, thousands of his compatriots will be deported back to Viet Nam because they or their families did not realize their “permanent resident” status secures them from nothing.
So, on this day of celebration, I salute Viet Dinh and all those shortsighted opportunists who either choose to ignore history, have historical amnesia or are too dense to get at the truth. I bow to their lack of compassion for the nuanced circumstances of real lives. And I applaud their obvious affinity for irony.