Trần Hoàng Blog


Posted by hoangtran204 trên 18/11/2019




Fellow activist Vi Yên (pictured right) wrote this essay after Đinh Thảo’s (center) return to Vietnam, and I found it particularly poignant, so I translated it to English. It touches upon what it means to choose the activist path, especially in the face of crushing government oppression.

It had me thinking—and I hope this speaks to young overseas Vietnamese in particular—about what our role should be when we see native Vietnamese suffering so terribly to free themselves.

I know we young overseas Vietnamese often struggle with how to repay our parents for taking the perilous journey on the open seas to provide a better life for us. How do we thank them and our ancestors past? How do we repay the privilege?

Well, this is it. Help your fellow Vietnamese who are struggling to be free. Use your freedom to help others achieve theirs.

Spread the word. Donate money. Donate your time, your labor, your translation skills, your specialized training. Reach out to activists. (You’d be surprised how easy it is to contact them on Facebook Messenger!) In the end, any help is better than none.

As Vi Yen says, “the choice to become an activist will always be yours”—and it’s an even easier choice for you than those inside the country.

Time to step up. #VNuoc


By Vi Yen

At 4 in the morning, we took Dinh Thao out to the Bangkok Airport. We exchanged long hugs as we said our goodbyes because we knew Thao was in for a long day of interrogation by Vietnamese police once she landed. Her passport will be confiscated. And the days ahead will only bring more difficulties. This we can be sure of.

Because Dinh Thao is an activist.

About ten years ago, we young people were still quite unfamiliar with the term “activist”. It was some kind of occupation, an abstraction both strange and quixotic. The suffix “-ist” even made it sound sophisticated, like “scientist” or “archaeologist”.

(Translation note: the word that Vi Yen uses, “nha”, is a classifier word used to denote an “expert”. I have translated the last paragraph to preserve the meaning rather than the literal phrasing.)

The word “activist” then became more and more familiar to us as we read increasingly common news stories about this activist being taken in to the police station, that activist being beaten bloody over the head, another activist sentenced to over ten years in prison, as well as many other activists who have had to go into hiding. The word “activist” from that point on took on a dreary outlook, reserved for those foolish enough to seek self-destruction.

In this confusing mess, there were still a few articles of news that begged curiosity: a young activist invited to speak about human rights abuses in Vietnam in front of some United Nations commission; another activist, who in the midst of being hunted down by police, still managed to publish a series of books about politics; and still, others who chose to practice “activism” by recording on film instances of inspiration or injustice, writing songs about the realities of a society in turmoil, or creating photo exhibitions that convey countless stories.

Are these activists, then, as “pie in the sky” as previously thought?

In my time writing, traveling, and now training, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with many activists. These activists eat three meals and sleep eight hours just like everyone else. They possess no supernatural abilities. In fact, some are a little lazy, others socially awkward, and a few even have hot tempers. But all are universally passionate, bright, and selfless.

Dinh Thao is an activist, one amongst hundreds, perhaps thousands of other activists.

She was originally a doctor. Somewhere along the way, she heard that the authorities wanted to cut down a mass of trees and rallied a group to friends to speak up to protect Hanoi’s greenery. She was then forced to the police station and interrogated several times, becoming victim to the lawlessness endemic in Vietnam.

Refusing to accept injustice, Thao stepped out of her comfort zone and chose to become an activist. That is, she chose to live beyond herself, to fight for those around her, to improve her community and society. She coordinated an environmental protection group. She supported independent candidates to the National Assembly. She traveled to the Philippines to learn skills for effective Will Nguyen is with Vi Yên and Đinh Thảo.activism. She created a webpage to show others how to speak up against injustice in a peaceful manner. She went to Europe and spoke with various countries and the EU about the human rights violations occurring in Vietnam. And now she has returned home to fight on her own turf.

Activism really isn’t all that quixotic.

The current situation in Vietnam, with the government’s draconian measures, makes it extremely difficult for anyone to work in service of society. Activists face so many dangers, from surveillance, disrupted livelihood, and passport confiscation at best, to extensive jail time at worst. What should one do in this situation, how should one speak up, where should one stand on an issue—these are the questions that everyone has to answer for themselves.

My ultimate point is: don’t let these difficulties prevent you from becoming an activist if you feel in your heart that activism is the key to transforming the ideals of a better society into reality. Dinh Thao has done it, and she continues to do it. There are those who choose to speak up loudly like Dinh Thao, but there are also others who work in quieter ways to change society. Regardless of which path you choose, the choice to become an activist will always be yours.

And without a doubt, when more people step up to the plate, then spirited activists like Dinh Thao will have that many more hands to hold in solidarity, on this difficult but deeply meaningful journey.

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing
Will Nguyen, Dinh Thao, Vi Uyen

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