By Sandra De Anda
The Viet Film Festival bustled in full swing last week at the AMC theaters in Orange. A sea of volunteers directed viewers to screenings while directors and actresses arrived in elegant attire. It was better than Hollywood. It was Vietnamese independent filmmaking at its best. Of everything the festival had to offer, documentary features proved to be the most compelling, especially Limbo which delved into the worlds of immigration and deportation close to home.
A short 10-minute documentary film directed by local VietUNITY community organizer Lan Nguyen, Limbo (or “Bị Kẹt”) highlights the story of Tung Nguyen, also a local activist and Soros Justice Fellow who came to the United States as a teenage refugee. The film confronts Tung’s past where he stared down life in prison for first-degree murder and robbery after a confrontation where his friend at the time stabbed and killed someone, to his present where he is currently fighting against unjust detentions and deportations not just for Southeast Asians in Southern California, but also nationwide. Limbo also addresses the issue of stigmas prevalent in the Vietnamese community that stem from what they perceive as being criminal, and thus unforgivable.
The short film hit its tearfully emotional spots, especially in the scene where Tung is released from prison and is embraced by his family. But he faces an uncertain future due to a removal order from immigration authorities that followed Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to grant him immediate release on parole in 2011 for “exceptional rehabilitation.”
Tung is currently building Asian and Pacific Islanders Re-Entry of Orange County (APIROC) , a project that is “dedicated to supporting and increasing access to re-entry and immigration services for formerly incarcerated Asian and Pacific Islanders, including individuals who are at risk of deportation.” The director’s editing and cinematography revitalized a story that we hear happen so often in Orange County, one that cannot be fully understood from simply reading a news article. That’s the power of cinema.
A panel discussion, “The Journey Home: Vietnamese Immigration + Identity,” followed where film directors, Tung, and an immigration lawyer talked about the ongoing challenges Vietnamese families face here and in Vietnam. Tung left an impression on the audience when he said, “We need to educate our communities that issues of criminality do not define us. Those who are being deported or have final removal orders like me are being attacked by this administration for something we did long ago, decades ago. We did the time. We’re living better more dignified lives. If we can educate ourselves, we can be better prepared to accept those we have deemed unacceptable in the past. We have to stick together.”
Now we have to do our part. We must call Governor Brown and write a letter of support for Tung so he can be issued a pardon. This is one of the many steps we can take as a community to fight the deportation machine.