Photographs of their dictator hung from the walls of the classroom where the youth group met. Little red scarves were tied neatly around the children’s necks, serving as a reminder of the sacrifices the Vietnamese soldiers made to “fight for peace.” One boy raised his hand and earnestly asked a question about American history; he was scolded, told to sit down and not to speak of such things.
Kyle Nguyen was only eight years old at the time, but he already knew his youth group leader was spouting lies.
“In Vietnam, they don’t teach history or literature; they use those subjects to brainwash students,” Nguyen said. “Their overall goal was to get everyone to believe the West is utterly evil.”
Leaving communist rule by moving to America has given Nguyen — a Cal Poly architecural engineering sophomore — a unique perspective on free speech in the U.S.
From Vietnam to the U.S.
Nguyen grew up in Ho Chi Minh City, which was named after the late leader of the communist party that rose to power within Vietnam in the 1950s. According to Nguyen, Ho Chi Minh continues to be described to students in Vietnam as a kind and gentle leader aiming to bring peace. However, Nguyen said Ho Chi Minh was a “fascist monster with a human face.”
After American troops left South Vietnam because of the anti-war and social justice movement happening in America, Minh had opposition of the communist party massacred by the thousands in a Soviet-style ‘land reform’ campaign. The Vietnamese who didn’t oppose the new government, such as Nguyen’s grandfather, were sent to “re-education” camps. These were used to incarcerate “dangerous” individuals — writers, legislator teachers, supreme court judges and province chiefs — until South Vietnam was stable enough to permit their release.
“We are indoctrinated from the time we start school. I was taught that America is the enemy and is trying to destroy Vietnam, but in reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Nguyen said. “Vietnam’s government is utterly corrupt with unlawful arrests, a state-run media and a series of untruths constantly being taught to the Vietnamese youth.”
When Nguyen first came to America in 2014, he was introduced to a variety of new things: Doritos, Hollywood, but most importantly to him, freedom of speech.
“I love many things about America, but freedom of speech and expression has to be my favorite,” Nguyen said.
After living under communist rule for 15 years, Nguyen witnessed the dangers of losing freedom of speech. He takes America’s first amendment seriously and criticized those advocating for the administration to restrict conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos’ on-campus event.
“I think it’s sad that in a college environment students are trying to censor each other, when they should be listening to different opinions and learning from them,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen wants Americans to realize how privileged they are to live in a country with a functioning democracy, a free press and a government that works for the people and by the people.
“In the wake of all of the political tension throughout the country at this time, Americans are losing sight of how great this nation truly is,” Nguyen said. “If your candidate lost, get over it and move on. Be thankful that you were even given an opportunity to vote for someone you believe in in the first place.”
Note: This story uses the source’s American name for security reasons and for his personal safety.