Collection of Political Prisoner Records Gets Presidential Welcome

A collection detailing the struggles of Vietnamese political prisoners who immigrated to the U.S. from communist reeducation camps has received high-caliber support as a former president and two presidential hopefuls.

Written by Cory Chandler

A collection detailing the struggles of Vietnamese political prisoners who immigrated to the U.S. from communist reeducation camps has received high-caliber support as a former president and two presidential hopefuls have praised its organizers.

Texas Tech University’s Vietnam Center and Archive will host the grand opening of the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association Collection from 3-5 p.m. Wednesday (May 28) in the Marshall Formby Room of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.

Former President George H.W. Bush, presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain and retired Sen. Bob Dole – the 1996 Republican nominee – already have written letters praising the collection.

The Vietnam Archive, the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation and the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association collaborated on the project.

"The Vietnam Center and Archive and the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation are to be commended for their combined efforts to gather, preserve, and promote the history of this unique and important immigration story," Bush wrote. "The information in this collection will provide researchers with an abundance of first-hand accounts of Vietnamese immigrants and their experiences."

At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, thousands of U.S. allies, employees and Vietnamese dissidents were imprisoned in communist reeducation camps. The collection provides more than 10,000 primary sources for studying the experiences of prisoners and refugees and their families who immigrated to the U.S. once they were released.

Donated in 2005 to Texas Tech by the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation, the collection contains 156 linear feet of documents – meaning the materials stretch half the length of a football field when stacked end-to-end.

"We all know of the tragedies that ensued after the conflict in Vietnam, and all of us are aware of the thousands of Vietnamese who were forced into reeducation camps, separating them from their family members," McCain wrote. "The United States has a special obligation to those Vietnamese persecuted for their association with the United States and the cause for which they fought."

Steve Maxner, director of the Vietnam Center and Archive, said letters penned by such high-profile figures demonstrate the value that the U.S. has placed both on preserving the history of the war and on bolstering Vietnamese still struggling to secure the type of civil liberties enjoyed by Americans.

"I think these letters – and similar ones that we have received in the past – are indicative of the level of political support that exists for the work of the Vietnam Center and Archive," he said. "They also are a wonderful representation of the high level of compassion that exists in our country for the plight of the Vietnamese people and these families, in particular."

Collection materials include certificates of release for political prisoners in Vietnamese reeducation camps and applications to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Orderly Departure Program, charged with protecting refugees. Additionally, copies of documents such as passports, licenses, birth certificates, marriage certificates and educational certificates dating back as far as 1914 will help historians, genealogists and families trace lineage beyond U.S. borders.
Many equate the collection to immigration records maintained by the Ellis Island Foundation, which every year helps thousands of people chronicle their family histories.
The collection also holds letters to and from Bush; McCain; former President Ronald Reagan; and other dignitaries including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, John Kerry, and Bob Dole.
Documents were collected by the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA), which exists to free and help resettle Vietnamese imprisoned in reeducation camps.
While the Applications Series of the collection offers a wealth of demographic and genealogical knowledge to researchers, the files contain personal information on more than 10,000 individuals who applied for the Orderly Departure Program. To balance researcher accessibility with privacy concerns, the archive will keep the applications series restricted (closed) for six months. During this time, any person who worked with the FVPPA and has concerns over personal information possibly contained within the records can contact the archive to make the appropriate arrangements to safeguard his or her privacy.

The archive has created a Web page where individuals can search a database of applicant file names, but cannot view the content of the files themselves. The page includes contact information for the archive and instructions for individuals interested in restricting their files. On Dec. 1, the Applications Series will be opened to the public for onsite research.

http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/vietnamarchive/fvppa/
This Web site will be published on May 28, 2008


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CONTACT: Steve Maxner, director, Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-9010 or steve.maxner@ttu.edu.