Whole World In Our Hands
Eager to join the modern family of nations, the young of Vietnam share their hopes and dreams with two CSUMB students.
Thursday, April 26, 2001
While visits by heads of state have clear symbolic importance, the value of open-minded citizens traveling to foreign lands, sharing and exchanging in cultures and ideas, may be more lasting and profound. This is especially the case in a country like Vietnam, which still evokes for many Americans a painful past.
Yet it''s the future, not the past, that concerns most Vietnamese today, argues Mark Duff, a CSU Monterey Bay senior who traveled to Vietnam for two weeks last December and January with his partner Michelle Windes, also a senior at CSUMB. On Monday evening, Duff and Windes will discuss their experiences and perceptions at a public presentation at the campus library. Entitled "Vietnam Today," their images and words promise to offer a glimpse into a country of nearly 80 million people, 65 percent born after the war, who are eager to put the past behind them and enjoy the fruits of the global economy.
Duff grew up in Garden Grove, home to a "Little Saigon" neighborhood of Vietnamese-Americans. He and Windes came to Monterey two years ago seeking a CSU campus with small class sizes. A course in Vietnamese history nurtured his fascination with the subject, and by the time he attended a symposium last fall at the Oakland''s Museum of California on plans for an upcoming exhibit about Vietnam and California (scheduled for 2002), his interest had turned into a passion.
Windes and Duff applied for funding from various university sources, with the understanding that upon their return they would share what they learned with the rest of the campus and wider community. Joining them at the lecture will be two professors from San Francisco who sponsor humanitarian aid to Vietnam with their organization VN Help. Duff''s advisor, Professor Angie Tran, who heads the university''s Pacific Rim Institute, also will be present. And one of the two Vietnam veterans with whom the students ventured will speak about his experiences as a young medic in an unpopular battle that created--or perhaps exposed--fault lines in a nation that have yet to fully heal.
What struck Duff most of all on his trip was the lack of anger among the young Vietnamese, and how hungry they are for change. A museum in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) is no longer the American War Atrocities Museum--today it is simply the War Remnants Museum. "They watch MTV," Duff says. "They want to be Westernized, they want to have what everyone else has."
Duff mentions one particularly poignant scene that occurred on New Year''s Eve (ours, not theirs: the Vietnamese celebrate the lunar or Tet New Year, usually around the end of January). It was Dec. 31 and groups of teenagers were gathered near the Saigon River in expectation of fireworks. No doubt they had seen on television the New Year''s Eve fireworks of other countries. But of course there were no fireworks in Saigon--Vietnam is still a desperately poor country, with a yearly per capita income of $372--and so at a quarter after midnight, the kids simply got up and walked home.
The historical irony of Duff''s trip, funded by a campus that was formerly a key military base where young men were prepared for the war, does not escape him. Indeed, for Duff, his efforts to promote greater knowledge about Vietnam today fashion a kind of full circle, one where knowledge replaces hostility and the question of who lost the war gives way to the understanding that we can all gain from peaceful relations.
"Vietnam Today" by Mark Duff, Michelle Windes and others will be held at the CSUMB Library in Seaside on Monday from 6-8 pm. The event is free and open to the public. An exhibit of 20 photos taken by Duff during his trip will be displayed at the library until May 3. For more info, click on www.csumb.edu or call 582-3330.