U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders put education reform at the center of their political agenda. Here in California, the recent hearings conducted by the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), an advisory body to the California State Board of Education, will have profound implications on the education system here in California.
At the recent California State Board of Education hearings, over 200 members of the local community spoke about the inclusion of the Armenian genocide, the use of “South Asia” in our history books, stories about Korean “comfort women” and discrimination against Sikhs in the United States. Sadly, the IQC hearings did not fully acknowledge the thousands of Vietnamese women who were victims of systemic sexual assault at the hands of South Korean troops during the Vietnam war.
U.S. Undersecretary of State James K. Glassman, U.S. Senator Norm Coleman and other political leaders have joined historians and academics in speaking out against the institutionalized rape that was committed by South Korean soldiers against thousands of innocent women during the Vietnam War.
As a voice for many of the 1.3 million Vietnamese immigrants residing in California, I believe it is my solemn duty to highlight the case of these poor Vietnamese sexual assault victims and their children. Sadly, the “Lai Dai Han” and their families continue to live in immense poverty without access to basic health or social services.
Today, between 5,000 and 30,000 children of mixed Korean-Vietnamese ancestry, known as the “Lai Dai Han” live on the margins of Vietnamese society. Voices of Vietnam a non-profit group that seeks to help these victims has compiled the heartbreaking stories of these poor women that can be viewed at VietnamVoices.Org.
I can only imagine the pain and suffering these poor women were forced to endure. The Asian American community of California must join together and continue to encourage the California State Board of Education to consider referencing the plight of the “Lai Dai Han” and their mothers in Chapter 15 of the History- Social Science Framework. By including their stories in the California history books, we can begin to help turn the page on this tragic period in Asian history.
The South Korean government has never issued a formal apology for the sexual violence perpetrated by their troops. In 2001, the South Korean President at the time, Kim Dae-jung did offer an apology for South Korea’s acts against the Vietnamese during the war. However, the current President of South Korea Park Geun-hye, then deputy leader of the opposition party at the time, criticized Kim’s statement, saying it “drove a stake through the honor of South Korea.”
While we cannot change what has happened, the Asian American community in California can call upon the California State Board of Education to make things right by giving the “Lai Dai Han” their rightful place in the California textbooks.
Our children, future generations and especially those with links to California’s vibrant Vietnamese American and Asian community need to have a clear undertaking of what happened during the Vietnam War. After decades of raising their children and grandchildren, these violated Vietnamese women, 800 of whom are still alive today, truly deserve to their rightful place in the history books.
Now is the time to lift the veil of silence and allow the Vietnamese victims of institutionalized sexual assault to have their stories told in the California history books. Our children deserve an education that truly represents California’s rich Asian cultural heritage.