Vietnamese community recounts sexual assaults experienced during Vietnam War
Michael Patrick Welch Contributing Writer
November 17, 2018
On Nov. 7, dozens gathered at Three Happiness restaurant in Gretna, La. for a dinner hosted by the international group Justice for Lai Dai Han to recount the untold stories of sexual violence suffered by thousands of Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War. “While the pain these women and their children have endured cannot be erased,” remarked moderator Mr. Minh Dang to the crowd, “it is promising to see organizations like Justice for Lai Dai Han who are working to bring attention and awareness to this issue.”
Justice for Lai Dan Han is an international organization that works to bring global aware- ness to the sexual violence committed during the war by South Korean soldiers. Because of its large and active Vietnamese community, New Orleans was chosen as the location for Justice for Lai Dai Han’s U.S.-based event. The dinner – planned to coincide with President Trump’s visit to Vietnam to speak at the APEC Summit – was one of the first steps in a campaign to raise awareness about Vietnamese women who suffered sexual violence at the hands of South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War, and the children birthed as a result.
Those children now live marginalized in Vietnam because of their mixed- race status (Lai Dai Han translates as “of mixed blood,”). The mothers of the Lai Dai Han, once numbering over 20,000, have dwindled down to just 800 women who are now demanding an official apology from the South Korean government – before they too pass on.
The West Bank of New Orleans is one of the area’s epi- centers of Vietnamese culture; the other is New Orleans East. A haven for Vietnamese expats, especially in the years immediately following the war, the West Bank was a fitting place to tell the story of the Lai Dai Han.
Following a combination Chinese and Vietnamese meal, several of the elderly rape victims joined a Skype call from Vietnam that was beamed onto a large screen into the dining room to an audience of around 100.
“This accomplishes a lot, whenever we’re able to send a message, and people remember the atrocities of history, so that we don’t repeat them,” stated Senator Troy A. Carter Sr., also in attendance. “There’s clearly still a tremendous amount of pain here around this issue.”
While the meeting was primarily conducted in Vietnamese, some portions were conducted in English.
“The women told the stories of how they were abused and raped and even shunned by their own families and cast off as if they weren’t the victims,” understood Senator Carter. “Just watching the pain on their faces, that insult added to injury after the horrible things they went through.”
The stories of their women’s hard lives, and the hard lives of their wartime progeny, illustrated how suffering inflicted during the Vietnam War has been passed down, especially because the issue has not been resolved or even acknowledged.
“I had a son by the soldier who raped me,” said Ms. Nguyen Thi Coi, “and when I remarried, my husband treated my son differently. My husband used to tell him that he’s a Korean mixed breed.”
The women recounted the difficulty and pain their children endured growing up in Vietnam as children of Vietnamese mothers and South Korean fathers.
“One day, when my parents weren’t home, a soldier followed me home, came into my house, beat me, and then raped me,” recounted Ms. Tran Thi Ngai. “I was so afraid. Afterwards, no one believed me when I said that he had raped me.”
In an interview with The Independent UK, Tran Dai Nhat, the Justice for Lai Dai Han founder and the son of a woman who was sexually assaulted during the war, recounted his experience growing up as Lai Dia Han in Vietnam.
“Before April 1975, I had been treated well by the South Korean troops who lived on the base near my home in Phu Yen Province, central Vietnam,” attested Tran Dai Nhat, to The Independent UK. “I was still too young to have any real sense of my identity and hadn’t yet questioned my mother about why I looked different to other Vietnamese children. But when the Communists declared victory, everything changed for me. Suddenly, I knew I was dangerously different…I was bullied repeatedly. The [Vietnamese] children kept asking who my father was and called him a ‘dog.’”
The article goes on to note that in 1987, the Amerasian Homecoming Act resettled tens of thousands of children of American soldiers in the United States, whereas South Korea did not.
Rev. Vincent Pham, on hand to hear the women’s stories and to lead a prayer, worried for the safety of the women (and their male moderator) who were beaming this controversial message from communist- controlled Vietnam.
“I know that they can’t do that without government approval, living there,” says Reverend Pham skeptically, himself having fled communism. “It all makes me wonder if communists are behind this or not, trying to stir something up with South Korea. This is just my opinion. But the Chinese communists have always been that way.”
Reverend Pham says that he is, however, able to put aside his doubts for the cause at the heart of this evening.
“It’s good for these ladies to be telling these stories,” he admits. “But this is just the beginning. The process of repairing this is only now just beginning.” For more information about Justice for Lai Dai Han, visit www.laidaihanjustice.org.