America Can’t Save the Few
Following are the impressions of SGT Editor TRAN NGOC CHAU during his recent study tour in the United States.( Editor’s notes of the Massachusett-based Patriot Ledger newspaper, December 12nd,1996)
TheU.S. has not only the best things but also the worst
At last, I had come here – to the United States – which I had known through my English textbooks at my high school as a nation of freedom and through Western movies as a new wealthy land of courageous cowboys. I came fromVietnam – a country, not a war as so many Americans think of it. And as a journalist I came here from a developing journalist profession which needs to learn more if it expects to become part of global journalist.
A few years ago, all newspapers and magazines in Vietnam were subsidized. It didn't matter how many copies were sold. Nowadays, circulation is decisive, and we have to change the way we work.
In the country's new sink-or-swim economy in which most newspapers must pay their own way through circulation and advertising, I and my colleagues have adopted the first rule of journalist: Ourpress now considers the reader as king.
The shortest day:
I reached America in the wonderful fall but I felt all the days here were too short. There was not time enough to see, to travel, to ask and to enjoy. I spent five days in California visiting people I had known before the Vietnam War ended in 1975. I sat down with them at aVietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon – the capital of Los Angeles's 'Vietnamese community' – to eat Vietnamese food again. "Is it the same in Vietnam?" asked my relative, 65, who moved to Los Angeles in 1977. "Yes, something like that, "I answered.
Between me and them (Vietnamese living in the
United States) are 20 years of isolation. The first difference is language – not in speaking but the concept of language. "Wow, can you Viet Cong speak English?", a Vietnamese student, 22, the daughter of my friend living in Houston, surprisingly asked me on the phone. "Everyone can speak English and not only English but any foreign languages if he has the opportunity to learn them," I answered.
With my uncle's family I wanted to practice English but my uncle forced all his grandchildren- he has 25- who were born in the United States and are studying in American schools to speak Vietnamese. I want to show that Vietnam now is opening doors by encouraging people to learn English. For his part, my uncle wants to make sure that all members of his family do not forget their mother tongue even living far away from the homeland.
All his sons and daughters have their own families and houses. AII of them look successful in their new society. One of my cousins now runs his own interstate trucking business called N.P Trucking Co. with a fleet of 20 trucks to transport food. Everyday, he and his wife get up at 4 a.m. and work until midnight. Another cousin is an aircraft engineer who has worked for Mc Donnell Douglas for 4 years. Another is a computer programmer who owns a computer company. All of them welcomed me as a long far-away relative coming home.
"What do you think about America?" – my relatives in California asked me. " It is
America," I answered. The America that I have just discovered is not a heaven or a hell. To me, a kind of heaven is the transportation system, with freeways, highways all over the country, with comfortable airlines operating anytime, and clean trains and subways serving passengers of all incomes. Heaven, too, is a sunny day on theGolden Gate
Bridge, of which I had dreamed during my boyhood. And the color-changing foliage like a painting masterpiece in Quincy, in Maine and in New York.
America can be a heaven if it is a place where individual dreams (like my uncle's and my cousins' ) can come true, where people who work hard ( like my high school friend, Dr. Luyen Pham Phu, who went to America before 1975 and is now an economic adviser for the California state government) can succeed, a place where all with talent can have the golden opportunity.
But the U.S. has not only the best things but also the worst.
In New York, my friend – Minister Tin – constantly reminded me of carefully protecting my belongings when I took a walk on the streets. " I bet you $100 if you can pass 100 meters along a Harlem block," he told me.
Anatole France, the famous French writer, wrote " The rich and the poor are equally free to sleep under the bridge at night." The difference is there is no choice for the poor. In Washington D.C, I saw many homeless either in the parks or under the bridges . The last Sunday, at the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester, I was impressed when I read a quote from Kennedy: "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
America will not be a heaven if it remains a majority of the poor, of the deadbeat, of the irresponsible. President Clinton mentioned a story in his book that an immigrant voter once met with him and told him that his son could not go out the park by himself due to the bad security there and asked Clinton to improve the situation. Clinton commented on the story: "If you can't walk down the street without looking over your shoulder, then this is not a free country and you are not a free person."
In America, there is freedom with flaws.
( Patriot Ledger newspaper in Quincy, Massachusett)
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