By Ryan Huynh, Sept. 14, 2021
As a child of Vietnam War refugees, it’s hard not to see the historical parallels that are unfolding in Afghanistan. The images of Chinook helicopters on rooftops, people desperately trying to escape their home country by any means and a disastrous conclusion to an unpopular 20-plus year war.
My family escaped Saigon during its fall in 1975 on a fishing boat, initially living in a refugee camp in Malaysia before they were allowed to move to Los Angeles. They settled in the ethnic enclave of the San Gabriel Valley, where they were able to find their footing.
Most of my family decided to join the military by way of service academies like West Point, partly because the institutions were free and guaranteed jobs after graduation and because they felt like they owed a debt to the country that took them in.
Americans often like to think of wars and conflicts as glorious conquests where their heroic troops saved the day but often fail to think about the civilian lives lost and affected by the expeditions.
The case of Afghanistan is no different, with only “certified” people allowed to evacuate the country and the everyday people are left to suffer from destabilization caused by our intrusions.
“They’re just like us,” my grandpa would yell. “I feel bad for them, but we can’t take them all in,” my dad yelled back.
Both men are combat veterans who have experienced what it’s like having to fight against their own countrymen and know what it’s like to escape their homeland and start a new life in a foreign country.
Yet their opinions differ; my grandpa’s based on empathy, and my dad’s based on pragmatism.
It was easy for me to see the similarities between what many Vietnamese and Afghan refugees have gone through, yet it isn’t for my family who are politically conservative.
According to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, Vietnamese Americans were the only minority group to express more support for Trump (48%) than Biden (36%), along with respective Congressional candidates.
Vietnamese-Americans who were born in Vietnam and fled during the war often align with American idealism and think of the U.S. as their saving grace against the pitfalls of communist governments.
The complexities of the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars have shown that the U.S. exploits those it claims to protect while allowing history to whitewash what actually happens
Yet the danger of the Vietnam analogy is that it simply allows Americans to view the tragedy in Afghanistan as many viewed the end of South Vietnam – as a singular moment in history that holds no consequences in the present day.
The truth is that the Afghan refugee crisis is still ongoing and will spiral into further tragedy if not properly handled.
Allowing “qualified” Afghans out of the country was a safe move at the beginning of the evacuation, but now is the time to let any Afghan immigrate to the U.S. and establish pathways for them to become U.S .citizens just like what the U.S. did for Vietnamese refugees.
The policy decision-making is out of our hands as average citizens. We can only demand accountability from our elected officials to uphold the values that our country was founded upon and represented by the Statue of Liberty’s “give me your tired, your poor…”
Vietnamese people were no exception to this, and neither are the Afghan people.
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