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The Fall of Saigon 40 Years Later

The Fall of Saigon 40 Years Later
By: Senator Janet Nguyen

The Fall of Saigon to Communist forces 40 years ago, on April 30, 1975, forever left a deep and painful scar in the lives of millions of Vietnamese refugees around the world and those who continue to live under the yoke of the Communist regime in Vietnam. Every April 30th, known as "Black April", I look back and reflect on the impact this day had on my family and the course my life would eventually take.

As the situation in Vietnam deteriorated, my family made the difficult decision to leave everything behind. My uncle was executed during the Fall of Saigon and we fled for fear of retaliation for my father's service in the South Vietnamese Army. My parents knew that our future in Vietnam was grim and they made the difficult decision to risk our lives to search for freedom. But forging a new path in life would not be easy.

After successfully arriving in Thailand, we were reunited with my father and brother. We would pass through several refugee camps before traveling to the United States in 1981. Growing up, my family struggled financially; we were on welfare and food stamps and my father worked as a busboy at a community college. I began working at the age of ten and by college I was working three jobs to make ends meet.

As we worked to advance in the U.S., my parents encouraged my siblings and I to focus on education and to find ways to give back to the nation that gave us the freedom and opportunities that were absent in Vietnam. My brother would go on to become a proud U.S. Marine and I pursued a career as a civil servant, eventually becoming a California State Senator and the highest Vietnamese-American elected official in the country.

In spite of how far my family and I have come, I cannot help but look back at the life and circumstances we left behind. Since Saigon's fall 40 years ago, the world has dramatically evolved into a more interconnected and open market place. The advent of social media and Internet journalism has been instrumental in the collapse authoritarian regimes worldwide.

The world may have come a long way, but the Communist government in Vietnam has ramped up its practice of widespread human rights violations to quell even the faintest hint of political subversion. Dissidents and bloggers are routinely harassed, imprisoned, and even tortured for the simple act of freely expressing their opinions. The independent watchdog organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists, continues to rank Vietnam among the top five countries when it comes to the incarceration of journalists, edging out Syria and Egypt.

For this reason, I have protested the Communist regime throughout the United States and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate on the deteriorating condition of human rights in Vietnam.  I also helped craft legislation that would have imposed strict sanctions on government officials who commit human rights violations in Vietnam.

More recently, I have introduced two pieces of legislation before the California State Legislature that draws attention to the poor human rights record in Vietnam. My first legislation is a resolution that designates April 2015 as Black April Memorial Month to remember the lives lost during the Vietnam War era. The second bill respectfully urges the Federal government to reauthorize the Humanitarian Resettlement Program and the Orderly Departure Program to allow disabled Veterans of the South Vietnamese Army currently living in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to apply to enter the United States.

As we commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Saigon's Fall we must remember the progress not made in Vietnam. The international community has made great strides towards openness and transparency. The Communist regime in Vietnam has not. It is up to us to call upon our lawmakers and demand our government take the steps necessary to foster change in Vietnam.