When Dat Duthinh arrived as a student at Princeton University in 1969, he sensed that the atmosphere was not normal. It was peaceful. “I had never lived in peace before,” said Dat. He only knew war.
He had already been a refugee in 1954 when his family evacuated from Hanoi to Saigon during the First Indochina War (1946–1954)—when Vietnam won its independence from France. But the war still pursued them when the United States got involved in defending the government of South Vietnam against the communist North.
Growing up in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, the streets were filled with the rumblings of tanks in the streets and planes bombing the countryside. Music from bars catering to U.S. soldiers spilled into his neighborhood.
At that time, participating in anti-war protests was extremely dangerous. “There were only two types of Vietnamese: those who support the government and the communists,” Dat said. “If you don’t support the government, you are a communist and the only good communist is a dead communist.”
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