The UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies present a documentary recounting the true story of Vietnamese immigrants to Israel.
What I think it did in Israel was to not make these Vietnamese-Israel communities invisible anymore, to let them be seen as people, and to be acknowledged as part of their society.
This article was first published in The Daily Bruin.
By Gregor Hunter, Daily Bruin contributor
STUDENTS OF Israeli and Vietnamese origin found an unexpected connection on Friday, as the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies joined at the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies to watch a documentary that recounted the true story of Vietnamese immigrants to Israel.
Directed by Duki Dror, the 2005 film, "The Journey of Vaan Nguyen," details the experiences of a Vietnamese family in Israel and their attempts to return back to Southeast Asia.
Dror has a similar experience of diaspora: he was born in Tel Aviv to Iraqi parents, studied in America at UCLA and Columbia College Chicago and now lives and works in Israel.
The screening was sponsored by organizations such as the Consulate General of Israel, Bruins for Israel and the Vietnamese Student Union.
Though most Vietnamese scattered by the Vietnam War found their way to America or Europe, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin granted political asylum in 1977 to 200 refugees from Vietnam who had fled from Saigon across the South China Sea.
Hoiami Nguyen, Nguyen's father, escaped from a communist prison camp with nothing more than the shirt on his back. Dror chronicled the challenges Nguyen's family faced both in Israel and in their attempts to return to Vietnam.
The audience, many of whom either were Vietnamese or Israeli, found comparisons between the film and their own lives.
"I thought the film was beautiful, very profound, and a lot of parallels and messages that people can relate to," said Jackie Rafii, media chief of Bruins for Israel.
Barbara Gaerlan, a professor at the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies, said Vietnamese immigrants in America faced similar difficulties to those in Israel.
"My impression of the situation of refugees (in) Israel who go back to Vietnam is very similar to that of (Vietnamese refugees in America)," said Gaerlan.
Tram Vri, a third-year biochemistry student, said the challenges depicted in the film are very close to those her parents faced as immigrants when they moved to the United States.
Organizers at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Center for Near Eastern Studies said they hope the two seemingly distant groups would see the experiences they share.
Some students said they were surprised at the link between the two cultures.
"I didn't know at all about the Vietnamese presence in Israel until now," Vri said.
The Vietnamese presence in Israel was not as well known, both in the country and internationally, until the film was shown on public television in 2005, said Dror after the event.
"What I think it did in Israel was to not make these Vietnamese-Israel communities invisible anymore, to let them be seen as people, and to be acknowledged as part of their society," he said.
Jonathan Friedlander, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, said the film is representative of global trends of migration into Israel, not just of the Vietnamese.
"In Israel there's a large contingent of workers from Romania, Bolivia, Thailand and indeed Vietnam. There's this mashing of cultures to create something new," Friedlander said. "We don't know what will be permanent, but what we know for sure is that there has been an enormous effect on both countries."