Vietnamese Heritage Museum curator shares relevance of Boat People stories


Kristy Mace

Chau Thuy stood at the podium to share his experience as a Boat Person in Vietnam. He explained his personal story as a refugee and how this influenced his passion for art.

Knocks echo from the podium as Chau Thuy mimics soldiers that banged on the door of his family’s home in communist Vietnam.

“After the (communist) takeover, the military men occupy my house,” Thuy said. “More than 10 military personnel actually arrive and come into my house and stay without our permission. My family was imprisoned in our own home overnight.”

Thuy, the president and founder of the Vietnamese Heritage Museum, came to Ulrich Museum Thursday evening to speak about his experiences as a Boat Person in combination with Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s film, “The Boat People.”

The mission of the Vietnamese Heritage Museum is to educate, inform and share Vietnamese heritage with the public, according to their website.

Thuy believes that it is important for Boat People and other Vietnamese refugees to tell their stories so that they won’t be lost to time.

“50 or 100 years from now, no one like us will (be here) to tell the story,” Thuy said. “But the video, the document, they can go in there and learn about how the first time the Vietnamese got here and how they escaped.”

His presentation began with his personal account of the beginning of the Viet Cong takeover.

“In 1975, South Vietnam was taken by communists,” Thuy said. “I wasn’t able to continue my schooling, seeing my father work for the Republic of Vietnam. At the time, the communist government start punishing the people by sending my father an order to the reeducation camp, which was similar to the concentration camp.”

Thuy escaped from Vietnam in 1984 when he was 16 years old with 116 other people on a small boat, crammed “like sardines,” according to Thuy.

“I make the risky decision to travel across the vast ocean,” Thuy said. “I spent four days inside the boat without food or drink. I never forgot the smell of the diesel oil on the board and along with the smell of vomit and other waste.”

When Thuy asked for questions at the end of his talk, the son of a Boat Person spoke up.

Anthony Vu, a junior computer engineering major, said how hard it has been trying to get his father to share his story about leaving Vietnam.

“2019 would be the year that I started and try and figure out my heritage,” Vu said. “My father never gave up information, he never expressed anything about being a Boat Person. Growing up, I thought it would be a happy story. Truth is, it’s not. It’s a tragedy, to say the least.”

The Vietnamese Heritage Museum’s YouTube channel serves as a catalog of stories of Boat People and those who survived the Viet Cong takeover.

Nguyen’s film is currently playing on the second floor of the Ulrich Museum until May 6.