Community Resilience Project
The first wave of Vietnamese refugees fled Communist Vietnam in 1975 with the help of the U.S., which brought 130,000 of them to these shores. In 1978, the Boat People, who were suffering ill treatment under a harsh Communist regime, doubled the number of their predecessors. Former military, police, civil servants, and incarcerated victims of torture and their families migrated to the U.S. for the next five years. Now, after 27 years of resettlement in all corners of this country, the Vietnamese form a community of about a million-and-half. Although a few have fallen through the cracks, most have become good taxpayers. Their children are the proud product of American society, adjusting within the system in a wonderful way. As of September of last year, most Vietnamese felt they had found paradise in America.
The events of 9/11, a terrible shock to everyone, were especially unsettling to the refugees and immigrants. Their dream of peace in this land of freedom was shattered. Many experienced flashbacks of the wars they had experienced in their countries of origin. They often relived nightmares they had witnessed, and they were panicked at the thought of possible attacks. One family illustrates this phenomenon.
Two months after disaster struck the Pentagon, Nguyen, 32 years old, grabbed his one-year-old son at around two in the morning, and told his wife, Le, 28, they had to leave, shouting that they were in danger. She calmed him down and refused to go. But he began arguing with her everyday, became restless, and threatened to divorce her if she did not cooperate with him. He had developed signs of fear and anger after 9/11, and these became more and more intense. One evening he struck her. The police came and helped find her a shelter, where she stayed temporarily.
A social worker at the Department of Human Services in Arlington County referred Le to me. After doing an assessment of her situation, I went to her every week for six weeks for crisis and emergency counseling sessions. I taught her physical exercises to relax her mind and escape her confusion and desperation. In time, her insomnia, loss of appetite, and bouts of fear seemed to subside. I referred her to the Multicultural Center for more in-depth counseling and to a Buddhist temple for spiritual help. I also interpreted for her with the lawyer she consulted to get a restraint order put on her husband.
I have been following up on her case the past three months, calling her once a month to keep up with her progress. She has moved into her own apartment with her son, has found a job in a beauty parlor, and is studying English at the Northern Virginia Community College every morning before going to work. She is pleased that she is learning a language that will help her become independent. “One day, I will enter a profession of my dreams, and become self-sufficient. And I will teach my son to be a good American citizen,” she told me with a faint laughter in her voice.