The purpose of this packet is to answer some essential questions about Black April to dispel some common arguments against its recognition or commemoration among Vietnamese youth organizations, primarily Vietnamese Student Associations, and primarily to offer a compilation of different activities VSAs have done and can do to remember this date. Mention of the Vietnam War and similar topics continue to be taboo among Vietnamese-Americans at the detriment of our community. By strengthening our community through our shared history and understanding of it, we may hopefully make up for some of the generation gap that is often negatively referred to. Through this information, we hope your organization may better understand this important date and will learn new ways to promote and educate others about Black April.
What is Black April?
Black April is observed on April 30th and is the English term used by most Vietnamese overseas to refer to the Fall of Saigon which occurred on April 30th, 1975. This marks the end of the South Vietnamese government bringing all of Viet Nam under the North Vietnamese communist regime. As a result of this, Saigon, which was the capital of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the late leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party. Furthermore, many people fled the country for various reasons leading to the large Vietnamese Diaspora that exists abroad today.
In Vietnamese, it is referred to as “Ngày Ba Mѭѫi Tháng Tѭ” (The 30th of April) or “Ngày Quӕc Hұn,” roughly translated as “day of national resentment.” In Viet Nam, it is referred to as “Ngày Giҧi Phóng” and translated as “Victory Day.” For those who didn’t make the connection, it is considered a victory by the North Vietnamese government that defeated the South Viet Nam.
The North Vietnamese tanks crushed through the gate of the South Vietnam Presidential Palace at roughly
12pm. Also around this time, President Duong Van Minh (last president of South Vietnam) went onto Saigon
Radio Station and announced South Vietnam’s unconditional surrender, marking the end of the war and the
collapse of the government.
Also, on April 30th, 1975, the Republic of Viet Nam officially ended but South Vietnam continued to be governed by the National Liberation Front (an arm of the Communist government of North Viet Nam). Viet Nam did not officially reunify until 1976, at which time it became officially known as the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. Saigon did not become Ho Chi Minh City until 1976. Interestingly, Ho Chi Minh City is the only city in Viet Nam that is named after a person. Vietnamese society does not have a tradition of naming city after a person’s name, this renaming of Saigon to HCM City is rather a practice of communist states (i.e. Leningrad in Russia).
Today, many youth not only commemorate the Fall of Saigon, but also the achievements of Vietnamese- Americans concurrently to highlight the positives of the situation. While remembering the past, we are able to focus on the present and future as well.
“My VSA has a nonpolitical stance and finds it inappropriate to do any activities involving Black April”
Unless an organization politicizes it, Black April is not a political event. This date marks the Fall of Saigon, a pivotal moment in Vietnamese history, and is effectively the main reason why Vietnamese-Americans exist in these numbers today. In commemorating this date, an organization does not have to condemn anyone or discuss sensitive topics pertaining to Vietnam, but should at the very least educate members and others about the significance of this date to the Vietnamese-American background. Though many college students sympathize with many other worldly issues, educating others about their past (specifically details surrounding Black April)
definitely is not one of them. In order to strengthen our community, we must be able to accept and understand our past.
IF one’s organization chooses to politicize it, then all the power to it. There are plenty of issues of debate surrounding contemporary Viet Nam and if people plan on helping the situation in any way, these people also need to be educated about the current state of the country and its happenings.
This seems to currently be the most wide spread form of Black April awareness as it may be found in pretty much all the SoCal UVSA schools. It usually takes place during a general meeting, but is also utilized in conjunction with other events sharing the subject. Below are the different forms it may be found in.
Break Out Groups
(This technique might be more effective for larger organizations or for situations where one feels participation will increase in a more in an intimate setting.)
An organization divides itself into small groups (ideally 6-12 people) and discusses topics amongst themselves. The way discussion is facilitated is completely up to the organization, but there are better techniques for discussion than allowing each group to speak freely. To make this activity more effective, a moderator can be strategically placed in each group to encourage sharing, provide some example topics or simply to lead discussion toward a direction. Another effective way would be to have one central moderator who prescribes topics and allows discussion for a limited time (10-15 minutes or longer depending on the crowd and topic) until a new topic is introduced. Rather than allowing for discussion to simply end, it could be more interesting to rotate through each group asking for the most significant conversation/something they learned to be shared with the entire group.
Large Group Discussion (This technique might be more effective for smaller groups or when one feels group sharing would be more beneficial.)
Discussion will take place in an atmosphere where sharing will include the entire group. It can be a free for all, or “popcorn” style if one feels this will work out, but having a moderator will provide some preparation ensuring discussion will continue or simply to lead discussion toward a direction. More often than not, sitting in a circle (if possible) will be more beneficial for the discussion atmosphere and usually prompts more individuals to speak.
For both types, remember that this activity is extremely flexible and should be tailored to each organization as one may feel necessary. If moderators are employed, make sure these people are aware of when a topic might be getting drawn out or when more time should be provided for a popular topic.
i. What does Black April mean to you, if anything?
ii. Do you have a relative who was apart of the boat refugee experience?
iii. Do your parents drill Black April into your head, or do they try to keep you away from it? Why do you think
they do so?
Intention: Most importantly to learn about one another and realize that this is a shared history, not individual, with hopes of empowering one another to share such stories with others and ultimately to be better understood as a community.
Though not unfamiliar to SoCal VSAs, the duty of finding and scheduling credible panelists may prove to be difficult which often deters the inclusion of this event, but the few schools that employ do it pretty consistently. The greatest benefit of this particular program is the insight and experience a panelist will bring that often times a VSA itself might lack. This usually takes place during a Black April event, but could also be incorporated into a general meeting given that it would be longer.
The standard way of organizing this would be to select a number of panelists (ideally 3-5) that one feels is credible to speak about the subject that will be focused on or the theme of the program. Panelists will be allowed 5-15 minutes to introduce themselves and tell an anecdote or share their beliefs giving the audience a better understanding of each person’’s background. Following that portion, a question and answer (Q&A) session will take place as questions are taken from the audience. If the space is small enough, a person may stand up and speak; if not, passing a microphone around would be equally effective. A moderator would be a good idea to not only facilitate the Q&A session, but also to smooth out and cut short any quarrels between panelists (it happens——really).
Another way of organizing this would be to begin with shorter introduction periods and instead of focusing on audience questions, a set of pre-determined questions will be on hand which will be read off by the moderator. Each panelist will then have a turn at answering the question and perhaps responding to a fellow panelist’’s comment. This setup would be beneficial when panelists have extremely varied backgrounds and beliefs to allow the audience to experience a balanced session. If one person is allowed more time in such a case, it may seemingly overshadow and overpower another’’s points. A short Q&A from the audience can also take place if time permits or if one feels audience participation is crucial in the successful of the event.
Credible panelists: If a person has not done this or is not well versed in the area, finding a good panelist might be difficult and one would not want to run into a situation that called for deciding to cancel the event or present bad panelists. There are plenty of ways of finding good panelists:
(1) Search one’’s faculty database and perhaps a discovery of a candidate might be found. Non-Vietnamese ethnic studies and Asian American studies professors could play an important role if the theme calls for it.
(2) See if a local Vietnamese community leader may be located. If one feels this person is not right, use this community leader as a resource as this person may track down the right person.
(3) Contact UVSA as the organization has a wide collection of connections and may be able to find the perfect person(s) for the event.
(4) Don’’t forget to evaluate oneself and those within the VSA as students are often perfect in providing a young perspective.
All in all, ensure that each panelist has sufficient knowledge and is not ignorant about the issues that come up with the topic that is chosen. Also, don’’t forget non-Vietnamese panelists with the right experience/knowledge could work for a panel if the topic is fitting.
Examples of a panel make up:
i. College Student, Middle-Aged Vietnamese Adult & non-Vietnamese Academic (could be appropriate for
more opinion-based topics such as “Feelings Toward Viet Nam Today”” or ““Effects of the Viet Nam War on
the Vietnamese Community Abroad”)
ii. Boat Person Refugee, Wartime Veteran, non-VN Wartime Veteran & Sponsored Immigration Person (could
be appropriate for more experienced-based topics such as “Different Perspectives on the VN War”)
iii. College Student, VN International Student & VN Community Leader (could be appropriate for more
opinion-based topics such as “Viet Nam: Prepared or Unprepared for Global Integration”)
There are endless possibilities and it’’s up to each organization to choose a topic and find the people necessary to discuss the chosen topic. As can be observed, topics don’’t necessarily need to be focused around the Viet Nam War, but Black April could provide a chance to bring other issues to the table.
Intention: To present different view points and experiences from a variety of people to better understand the complexities of Black April. Also, to answer questions many youth may have about various topics surrounding this date.
This seems to be the second most used tactic at SoCal campuses as UVSA also promotes it. Ribbons can be handed out during meetings or at a visible spot on campus and individuals dawn the ribbon throughout the month or on the day of to commemorate Black April.
Black ribbon is cut into sections 2-3in. long and bent to form a ribbon shape and is attached to a safety pin allowing for an individual to pin it to one’’s shirt or another visible item (i.e. backpack). The ribbon serves two main purposes, the first being a visual reminder of Black April to those who are conscious about it. Secondly, the ribbon is to prompt questions from peers who might not understand why a person is wearing the black ribbon, at which time the ribbon-bearer will give some information on Black April hopefully spreading knowledge of this commemorative day to other outside of the Vietnamese American community.
Though in Southern California it is common to use black ribbon to coincide with Black April, using a Yellow ribbon with an inner red stripe could also work. It would have the same effect as any other ribbon, but the downturn would be having a unique sign, taking away from the unity of a single symbol.
Intention: A visible display symbolizing Black April in order that others may recognize and acknowledge the date as well as for others to inquire and learn more about it.
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