Culture Week starts with personal story of struggle and survival

by Hunter Chase

Son Nguyen and Jerry Chau at "Journey from the Fall" presentation Photo courtesy of Son Nguyen
Son Nguyen and Jerry Chau at “Journey from the Fall” presentation
Photo courtesy of Son Nguyen

When the last American troops left Vietnam in 1975, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese followed. They left in the hope of escaping an oppressive communist regime.

On May 9, Son Nguyen, a professor at LAHC, shared his family’s story at the “Journey from the Fall” presentation. This event was a part of Cultural Week, a series of events designed to bring awareness to different cultures that are represented at LAHC.

Escape was a dangerous thing to attempt according to Nguyen. If people were caught trying to leave the country, they could potentially be arrested, or even shot on the spot. In addition, people who would disclose to the government those who were trying to escape would receive an award, regardless if they had any evidence.

During their second attempted escape, Nguyen’s family was put in prison. Nguyen was 12 days old at the time. Afterwards, they became fishermen, in order to have an excuse for owning a boat. They studied the wind, the water, and other people, in an attempt to discover who they could bribe to not turn them in to the government.

Their goal was to come from the south into Malaysia and Indonesia. Nguyen’s family used a radio, a compass and a map to navigate.

Many people who tried to escape did not make it. Their boats would capsize, or they were hijacked by pirates. Some lost course, and starved to death.

Fortunately, none of these things happened to Nguyen’s family. They were rescued by international crew. International law stated that the crew could not rescue refugees unless it was a true emergency, so Nguyen’s father sunk their boat.

After they were rescued, they were taken to refugee camps, and eventually chose to settle in the United States.

Nguyen also spoke of the experiences Jerry Chau, who works in the IT department at LAHC. When his family attempted to leave, they could not find the driver for their boat. Chau had to drive it himself, even though he had little experience.

Chau had no compass, and he had to stay awake for two days in order to steer the boat. He would rub eucalyptus leaves in his eyes in an attempt to stay awake. He was 20 when he arrived at LAX.

Nguyen and his family had a tough time settling in Atlanta, which had an Asian population of 1 percent. Eventually, Nguyen decided to become a teacher, as he liked the idea of an immigrant teaching Americans their history.

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