Join The Seattle Times Opinion page’s conversation on Washington’s role in welcoming Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon.
I had a bit of a high school reunion a few weeks ago when Minh Duc Nguyen stopped by the office. She joined others to talk about Washington state’s impressive grass-roots welcome of Vietnam refugees after the fall of Saigon 40 years ago Thursday.
Seeking Refuge: 40 years after the fall of Saigon
Editor's note: As the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon approaches, the Seattle Times editorial board admires former Gov. Dan Evans and citizens who welcomed Vietnamese refugees into their homes and lives. That legacy continues, though citizens can provide more direct assistance to today’s refugees. Read more about this project.
Read the column translated into Vietnamese: 40 n?m sau cu?c chi?n Vi?t Nam, hãy v??n lên kh?i trò ‘ch?p m?’
Refugees are driven from their home countries for many reasons. We want to hear from you.
The Bui family pictured in Vietnam before 1975. The family resettled in Tacoma after the Vietnam War.
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Back in the mid-1970s, we were both transplanted students at Redmond Junior High — I had taken an easy, if not tedious, trip along Interstate 90 from Fargo, N.D., and Minh Duc arrived after an arduous, traumatic trip that included a boat, a barge, a ship and many nights of uncertainty, followed by a final detour through Arkansas.
On April 30, 1975, Minh Duc, her parents and four siblings left their home and lives behind in Vietnam, knowing they couldn’t stay but unsure of their future. They stayed at Fort Chaffee, Ark., until five families from a Redmond church agreed to join together to sponsor the Nguyens — a blessing for the seven-member family fearful they would have to split up.
Minh Duc grew up to return the favor many times over, devoting herself to assisting Vietnamese immigrants as the executive director of Helping Link on South Jackson Street in Seattle’s Little Saigon neighborhood.
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Her story is one of many that can be told about Washington state and its citizens who stepped forward to welcome the refugees displaced after the Vietnam War ended. That outreach was a proud episode in Washington’s history.
Editorial writer Thanh Tan, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, was moved to begin exhaustive research into Washington’s role while following last summer’s crisis of Central American children — refugees from violence coming to the U.S. border. That strengthened her interest in the stories of her own family’s refugee experience.
Growing up in Olympia, she often heard the name Dan Evans from adults in her community. In 1975, it was then-Gov. Evans who mustered state resources and citizens to sponsor refugees and ease their way into American life.
With the 40th anniversary of Saigon’s fall approaching, she decided to dig deeper.
The result is today’s editorial page, reflecting on Evans’ exquisite overture to the refugees. Don’t miss the video online documenting those decisions with an interview with Evans and a refugee family. Additionally, Thanh looked at Washington state’s refugee services today. While the state remains a leader in the number of refugees it welcomes, the experience for many is one of interactions with state and local agencies in contrast to the Vietnamese refugee experience of interacting directly with Washington families.
Through the week, we will continue the conversation about refugees then and now.
Monday, KCTS and The Seattle Times are partnering in a discussion and preview screening of the PBS documentary “Last Days in Vietnam.” It premieres on KCTS 9 at 9 p.m.Tuesday.
Over the next few days, watch for guest columns that examine the refugee experience.
I wanted to hear more about Minh Duc’s journey and first days in Redmond, so I called her Thursday. Back in junior high, I had only a vague idea of what Minh Duc and her family had gone through. If I had fully understood, I would have been even more impressed with the grace she showed — always a smile, always a kind word.
After we giggled about her fiery mishap in Mr. Evans’ high school chemistry class and the Molecule-a-Go-Go dance he taught us, Minh turned serious.
“I am forever in debt to the Redmond United Methodist Church,” she said. “The people in Redmond were so kind. Their kids played with us and helped us. People would stop and give us a ride up that long hill. Church people came by every day to make sure we were well.”
Throughout the week, we are asking people to share their stories, whether as refugees themselves at any time over these last 40 years or as the people who helped them. We would love to hear from you.
Please join our conversation.