Voices 'Left Out' - Expatriate Vietnamese

THREE days after a public forum in Boston involving visiting Vietnamese writers, another group whose lives had been etched by the Vietnam war gathers in nearby Brighton. They sit beneath a huge banner that reads ``Cong-Dong Vietnam Tieu-Bang - Vietnamese Community of Massachusetts.'' The podium is draped with the flag of the Republic of Vietnam.

Stephen Young, the speaker, had served as an American advisor in Saigon during the war and is active with the expatriate Vietnamese community today. His topic: perspectives on the possibility of renewed relations between the US and communist Vietnam. Responding to a question, he says this ``second betrayal'' can be avoided only if the Vietnamese ``refuse to sit back and be passive victims.''

Some in the group picketed the Vietnamese writers' public forum. When the writers spoke, they shouted from the floor, ``Tell the truth!'' and ``No more lies!'' During a break for lunch, several in the audience want to discuss the incident.

Yes, the mood at the public meeting had been angry, says Tuan Do, a picketer. Yes, the visiting writers had been shoved a bit. But ``we are not as talented as these writers. We are English-disadvantaged. For us, to hear them speak is like Jewish survivors of a death camp having to listen to a lecture on human rights by Nazis.'' Tuan Do says he has just moved to Boston and ``reports to the chain of command'' of the National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam.

Than Pham-Do, president of the Vietnamese community of Massachusetts, uses a similar metaphor. Some in the audience were boat people, he says in an interview. ``Some spent more than 10 years in concentration camps. When they saw [the Vietnamese writers], it was as if they were seeing their guard in the concentration camp again.

``If the US eventually recognizes the Vietnam government in Hanoi, that would create an emotional shock among Vietnamese refugees, but also the feeling of being abandoned,'' he adds.

The Vietnamese community in Massachusetts - some 23,000 people - is diverse. There are sharp differences of views on religion, abortion, and welfare. But the community is united in opposing the recognition of Vietnam, Mr. Pham-Do insists.

They are also convinced that in the developing dialogue between former enemies, one voice has been left out - theirs.

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