A Daughter’s Tribute
by Jackie Bong-Wright
Phan Vy, an eloquent Vietnamese orator, writer, freedom-fighter, and pious Buddhist, was feted by his daughter and a crowd of 400 friends at Saigon House restaurant in Virginia to mark his 80th birthday. His daughter, hair-stylist Thu Hanh, said to him, “ Father, today I would like to show my filial piety, my gratitude and my deep respect to you for devoting your whole life to the liberation of your own self and your beloved country. I promise to follow your example of sacrifice and courage, and to pay tribute to the legacy you are leaving to me and my generation.” Friends and admirers from other states, and as far away as Europe, came to praise his achievements.
Phan Vy, elected Chairman of the Board of the Vietnamese Community in the Washington Area from 1997 to 1999 by 30 Vietnamese organizations, was known for his incessant struggle against human rights violations coming from whatever source. By his twenties, he was already a militant member of the Vietnamese Kuomingtang Party. He later wrote three books about his struggles against the VietMinh Communists and the French in the mid-1950s. Like the legendary Don Quixote, the octogenarian executed the principles of his idealism armed only with his will and determination.
He spent 13 years in prison, from 1976 to 1988, after the Communists had unified Vietnam, but was able to migrate to the U.S. in 1993 with his daughter. He published his fourth book,Experiences of Life, in 1998, recounting his adventures and imprisonments by the VietMinh and the French as well as nationalist President Ngo Dinh Diem during the period that lasted from 1945 to 1963.
For the past 10 years, Phan Vy has traveled extensively throughout the United States and Europe to attend rallies, conferences, and meetings showing support for Vietnamese nationalist organizations. He joined their demands for the release of religious leaders, Communist dissidents and activists unjustly jailed or put under house arrest in Vietnam.
The second objective of the birthday gathering was the launching of Phan Vy’s fifth book, Two Generations, co-authored with Nguyen Ly Tuong of California and Tran Quang Niem of Pennsylvania. It depicts the differences between older Vietnamese, who spent a lifetime in the struggle for freedom and democracy, and the younger generation of Vietnamese born overseas and raised with a mentality that valued science, technology and consumer goods. How could they reconcile their differences and learn from each other, the authors asked.
The third reason for the birthday event was to allow Phan Vy to discuss his having read 600 books of the Suttra, or Teaching of Buddha, over the last two years and having tape-recorded them. “I have conquered my fear of temptation and tried to find peace of mind.”
For the remainder of his life, he said, he would carry out two pledges. The first was to continue to insist that the Communists respect human rights for those who are still oppressed in Vietnam. He asked that the younger generation join in that fight. He also said that he is writing his last book, From Imprisonment to Buddhism.
Phan Vy’s second pledge was to devote his remaining years to Buddha’s teaching and to meditation, activities that already occupy three hours in his daily routine, starting at four every morning.