After Saigon: legacies, memories and new directions

This year marks the forty-year-anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, when US-backed forces fell to communist armies of the north. It was a profound moment for the US and for Southeast Asia. Today, Southern California is home to the largest community of Vietnamese in the U.S. At KPCC, we recently aired a special week-long series exploring the legacy of April 1975.

"A lot of our people are not here with us today and those are the people we can't forget," said Kelley Pheng, 26, a student in Long Beach.
“A lot of our people are not here with us today and those are the people we can’t forget,” said Kelley Pheng, 26, a student in Long Beach.

For me, it was an intense reporting experience, spending time with families who fled a war-torn country and struggled in a new land. Like many important stories, this one is composed of multiple points of view and perspectives, shaped by memories, trauma, hopes, courage and, at times, prejudice and regret. It also drew me to explore archival material at UCI’s rich Southeast Asian Archives and explore other communities affected by the events of 1975, such as Cambodians.

Here’s an excerpt from my feature on the Cambodian American community in Long Beach:

Four decades after the Khmer Rouge seized control of Phnom Penh, Cambodians in Long Beach are still coming to terms with the tragic events that sent thousands fleeing their homeland.

“It was really chaotic,” said Lian Cheun, who escaped from a prison camp in Cambodia as an infant along with her parents. “Everybody had survival in their mind, trying to figure out how to reconnect with family, trying to find family that are missing.”

The new generation of Cambodian Americans at the annual New Year Parade on Anaheim St.
The new generation of Cambodian Americans at the annual New Year Parade on Anaheim St.

In some cases, family members were split up in the labor camps set up by the Khmer Rouge. When the regime fell in 1979, the country was in turmoil, prompting many to make for the border with Thailand, where they spent time in refugee camps on the way to the U.S.

In Long Beach, Cambodians have established a close-knit community and a busy business district, but the experience of the past is often never far behind.

Read and listen to the full story here.

I also met some amazing artists who are exploring their family histories and covering new territory. I was especially impressed with these three artists, who joined us in the studio to talk about how they’re taking on taboo subjects in their community with creativity:

 (From left to right): Artists Lan Tran, Care Le and Trinh Mai.

(From left to right): Artists Lan Tran, Care Le and Trinh Mai.

Check out all the stories in the series, After Saigon, here.

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