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Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA) Collection (1849) Finding Aid

Item Number: 18490000000
 Collection

Scope and Contents

The Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association Collection contains 156 linear feet of immigration applications, correspondence, speeches, meeting notes, financial and legal records, printed materials, and other administrative records that document the activities of the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA), a non-profit organization active from 1977-1999 in campaigning for the release of re-education camp prisoners in Vietnam. The records document not only the activities of the FVPPA, but also the individual stories of over 12,000 applicants for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Orderly Departure Program (ODP). The collection is arranged in six series: ODP Applications, Office Files, Resettlement Files, Master Lists of Applicants, Restricted/Reserved Files, and Oversized Documents.

The application files contained documents proving eligibility for immigration to the U.S. through the ODP. These records include: ODP application forms, sponsor letters, prisoner release documents, personal letters, photos, copies of identification papers, birth, marriage, and death records, educational certificates, military records, and other relevant documents. Also found in the collection are the FVPPA’s extensive correspondence with government officials, political leaders, non-profit human rights organizations and others, including: President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau for Refugees Robert L. Funseth, Orderly Departure Program Director Martha Sardinas, the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau for Refugee Programs, the Embassy of the United States of America in Bangkok, Thailand, Amnesty International, Staff Consultant for the Subcommittee on Asian & Pacific Affairs Eric Schwartz, Congressman Stephen J. Solarz, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Senator John McCain, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, Senator Bob Dole, the Department of Social and Health Services for the State of Washington, and Thailand refugee camp president Ngo Suu.

In its work on behalf of political prisoners and refugees, the FVPPA undertook a variety of activities. Their public awareness program sought to collect and disseminate pertinent information on the needs of Vietnamese political prisoners and their families. An outreach program sought to establish a case file for every prisoner and his or her immediate family in order to assist the eligible persons with their immigration from Vietnam to the United States or other countries in the world. The FVPPA also acted as an information center for recent immigrants, providing resettlement information and assistance as well as aiding in family reunification. They maintained correspondence and held meetings with several politicians, government agencies and officials, and human rights organizations.

Provenance of the collection In 2004, members of the FVPPA reorganized and formed the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation (VAHF). In June of 2005, VAHF donated to Texas Tech University’s Vietnam Archive 135-linear-feet of documents created and collected by the FVPPA. The records had been stored for many years in Austin, Texas. After their shipment by freight truck to Lubbock, approximately 19 linear feet of documents received treatment for mold growth.

Arrangement of collection There appeared to be no original order or recognizable filing system to the records of the FVPPA Collection (VAHF) when it arrived at the Vietnam Archive. To give the collection order and make it accessible to researchers, the collection was divided into six series: ODP Applications, Office Files, Resettlement Files, Master Lists of Applicants, Oversized Documents, and Restricted/Reserved Files.

Series 1 - ODP Application Files Introduction At a total of 117 linear feet of documents, the ODP Applications are the largest group of files in the collection. They are arranged alphabetically and contain individual documents that date from 1905 to 1999. ODP Applications has one subgroup: ODP Correspondence.

The individual documents found in the Applications Files Series range from 1905 to 2001. The documents include: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Orderly Departure Program applications, Letters of Introduction (LOI) from ODP applicants and/or their sponsors, Vietnamese political prisoners’ Certificate of Release from re-education camp, personal letters, letters from family members, letters from sponsors, photos of applicants and family members, copies of passports, copies of exit visas, copies of Vietnamese identification cards, Residency and Household Members List from an ODP applicant’s local Vietnamese Police Department, marriage, birth, and death certificates, educational certificates, military training certificates, military awards, professional training certificates, letters of recommendation for jobs, humanitarian operation (HO) papers, copies of Alien Resident Cards, copies of Social Security cards, and medical records. When necessary, personal information such as Social Security numbers and/or medical information has been removed to the restricted series (Series 6), and sanitized copies of documents included in the original files.

Notes about Vietnamese names The names of the applicants are written in the Vietnamese order, which is opposite the American order. For example, the American President John Quincy Adams would be written Adams Quincy John in the Vietnamese order.

If the applicant has a known alias it is noted on the file. For example, Nguyen Van Be has an alias of Pham Van Be. His file would be marked Nguyen Van Be a.k.a. Pham Van Be.

Nguyen is the most common surname/family/last name. Dang, Do, Ngo, Pham, Phan, Le, Luong, Tran, Truong, Trinh, Vo, and Vu are also common surname/family/last names in the collection. Van is the most common middle name, followed by Thi and Minh. Thi is almost always a female’s middle name. I & Y are the same, interchangeable when after a consonant. Qui is the same as Quy. Quy is the older generations preference, whereas Qui is the younger’s. Si is the same as Sy. When reading the documents, it is helpful to know these two common abbreviations for names: Ng=Nguyen, and T=Thi or Thuy. If it looks like Cr, it is TR. R almost never follows C. What looks like an S or G can be an H. D with a line under it is a P.

Series 1-Arrangement The name of the principal applicant is the name given on the file. For example, Nguyen Van Be, a former Vietnamese political prisoner, is applying for his family to immigrate to the U.S. through the ODP. His list of family members includes his wife Pham Thi Phuong, his son Nguyen Ngoc Be, and his father Nguyen Ngo Be. Nguyen Van Be’s name will be the one listed on the file. If, however, Nguyen Van Be’s wife was also a Vietnamese political prisoner or a U.S. employee, her name will also appear on the file, for she too has status and qualifies as a principal applicant under ODP. The order of the two names on the file is determined alphabetically. If the widow of a principal applicant applies, the file is listed with her name first, followed by that of her deceased husband. If the children of a principal applicant are orphans when they apply, the file is listed under the names of the children.

Application files for individuals having the same name are arranged by date of birth. The oldest applicant is followed by the next oldest and so on until the youngest applicant with that name is reached. The birth date is written in the American order. Vietnamese write the date by day-month-year. January 11, 1959 is 11-1-1959 in Vietnamese order. Please keep in mind when looking for a particular applicant’s file that the order of the birth date may accidentally be written in the wrong order. Moreover, applicants sometimes changed their birth date multiple times, and even changed their names.

The ODP Applications Files range from 1985-1999. The majority of ODP Application forms were filled out in 1989-1994, after the July 30, 1989 signing of the American-Vietnamese agreement allowing former re-education camp prisoners and their families to resettle in the U.S. Another large group of ODP applications were filled out in 1996-1999 after the McCain Amendment (Section 595 H.R. 3540), which allowed children over the age of 21 of former re- education camp prisoners to immigrate to the U.S., was enacted in July, 1996. An ODP Application form contains: the name and birthday of the applicant; the IV and VEWL number of the applicant, which served as an ID for the Embassy of the U.S. in Bangkok, Thailand; the Vietnamese address of the ODP applicant; the birthday and contact information of the applicant’s sponsor; the contact information of the closest relative(s) or acquaintance(s) of the ODP applicant in the U.S. and Vietnam; the relationship between the sponsor and the ODP applicant; the military rank or U.S. employee position of the applicant; the names, addresses, and birthdays of the family members the applicant wished to have emigrate with them; and the dates and names of the re-education camp(s) in which the applicant was incarcerated.

Subseries 2 - ODP Correspondence The ODP Correspondence subseries consists of one linear foot of files ranging from 1989-1999 of ODP applicants who are unnamed. The applicant’s sponsor or family member wrote a letter but did not name the applicant. Like the ODP applications, the ODP Correspondence files are arranged alphabetically. The files are arranged by the name of the sponsor or family member of the unnamed applicant. Those files having the same name are arranged by date of birth.

Series 2 - General Office Files Consisting of 35 linear feet of documents that range form 1981 to 2002, the General Office Files is the second largest series in the collection. Office files are divided into five subseries: Correspondence; Events and Speeches; Organizational Meetings; Financial, Legal and Employee Records; and Printed Materials. These documents provide information on the purpose, mission, and activities of the FVPPA. Through these files a researcher can learn how the FVPPA achieved its four major accomplishments:

• The July 30, 1989 signing of the American-Vietnamese agreement allowing former re- education camp prisoners and their families to resettle in the U.S. • The release of the 100 longest held political prisoners. • The McCain Amendment which allowed children over of the age of 21 of former re- education camp prisoners to immigrate to the U.S. (Section 595 H.R. 3540, enacted in July 1996, considered by conference committee in September of 1996.) • The abolition of the mandatory requirement that former Vietnamese political prisoners have six months trade and English training in Philippines before entering the U.S. Subseries 1 - Correspondence Office Correspondence is the largest subseries of the Office Files Series and contains sixteen linear feet of documents. This subseries is divided into two subgroups, Incoming and Outgoing Correspondence. At nine linear feet, Office Correspondence-Incoming is the larger of these two groups and is arranged alphabetically by the name of the sender. These files cover the 1980s and 1990s, with the bulk being in the 1990s. Office Correspondence-Outgoing contains seven linear feet of documents and is arranged chronologically by year and then by month. Office Correspondence-Outgoing covers 1982-2001. Notable correspondents include: President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W Bush, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau for Refugees Robert L. Funseth, Orderly Departure Program Director Martha Sardinas, Staff Consultant of the Subcommittee on Asian & Pacific Affairs Eric Schwartz, Congressman Stephen J. Solarz, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Senator John McCain, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, Senator Bob Dole, and Thailand Refugee Camp President Ngo Suu. Subseries 2 - Office Events and Speeches The Office Events and Speeches subseries contains three linear feet of records documenting the events held by, and attended by, the FVPPA, as well as various speeches given by its president and co-founder Khuc Minh Tho, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau for Refugees Robert L. Funseth, and various other VIPs. These files are arranged chronologically and cover 1982-1999, but have no records for the years 1983 and 1997. The bulk of the records are from the FVPPA’s two annual events: The Annual Freedom Reunion Picnic, and the Annual Awards Dinner and Culture Show, also called the Unity and Reunion Dinner. The FVPPA’s events helped to raise money and public awareness, and honored those individuals and VIPs who had contributed to the FVPPA’s mission and cause.

Subseries 3 - Organizational Meetings The Office Organizational Meetings subseries contains three linear feet of records documenting the FVPPA’s meetings and contacts. The files are arranged chronologically and cover 1984-1998. The records contain board meeting notes, memos, agendas, lists of attendees, minutes from meetings with U.S. government officials, printed and hand written lists of contacts, and hand written notes about meetings and trips. Notable files include: an Agenda & Summary of the Issues of the Meeting with the Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in New York City, April 14, 1989; notes from the Coordinating Committee for the Reception of Vietnamese Political Prisoners “Welcome & Task Force,” 1989-1990; notes on the abolition of the requirement of former Vietnamese political prisoners having to go to Bataan, Philippines before coming to the U.S., 1992-1993; and notes detailing a meeting with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, August 30, 1995.

Subseries 4 - Financial, Legal, and Employee Records At two linear feet, the Office Financial, Legal, and Employee Records subseries is the smallest of the Office Files Series. These files are arranged chronologically and cover 1981-1999, but are missing the records for the years 1982 and 1983. The bulk of these files are the annual membership and sponsorship donations and fees. There are only five files pertaining to employee records.

Subseries 5 - Printed Materials Printed Materials is the last of the Office subseries and contains ten linear feet of documents. These files are arranged chronologically and cover 1976-2002. Printed Materials is divided into two subgroups: Printed Materials Not Created by the FVPPA, and Printed Materials Created by the FVPPA. The Printed Materials Not Created by the FVPPA files contains seven linear feet of records that range from 1976-2002, but is missing the years: 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 2000, and 2001. These files contain various periodicals, journals, including: Vietnamese- American beauty magazines, Vietnamese newspaper articles, American newspapers in English and Vietnamese, Congressional Records, Vietnam Human Rights Watch, and even The National Enquirer. Printed Materials Created by the FVPPA contains three linear feet of records that range from 1989-1999, but is missing the years: 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1993. These files contain the FVPPA’s informational and promotional materials, including: annual yearbooks, FVPPA’s newsletters, and the FVPPA’s brochures.

Series 3 - Resettlement Files The Resettlement Files Series consists of one linear foot of records of former Vietnamese political prisoners and their families that the FVPPA helped resettle in the U.S. The files are arranged alphabetically and cover the 1990s. These records document the FVPPA’s assistance to former Vietnamese political prisoners and their families in obtaining housing, employment, transportation, medical care, and state assistance. These records contain copies of resettled immigrants’ ODP applications, and all receipts and paperwork involved in assisting former Vietnamese political prisoners in the U.S.

Series 4 - Master Lists of Applicants The Master Lists of Applicants Series contains one linear foot of documents arranged chronologically, covering the years 1985, 1988, 1989, and undated files. Master List files contain copies of applications, checks, and sponsorship forms. These records helped the FVPPA to keep track of membership and sponsorship donations, contact information of sponsors, and to make lists of former re-education camp prisoners.

Series 5 - Oversized Documents Consisting of only two files in one large flat box, Oversized Documents is the smallest of all series and is arranged alphabetically. The first file contains military awards removed from the ODP Application file of Nguyen Van Cong (3/15/1940). The second file contains a proclamation from President George H. W. Bush.

Series 6 - Restricted/Reserved The Restricted/Reserved series contains two linear feet of records arranged alphabetically. This series consists of individual documents removed from Series 1-5 containing medical information and Social Security numbers. These files are not open for researchers. When possible, sanitized copies of documents were returned to the original files, and in all cases a note was place in the file indicating information had been removed.

Dates

  • 27 May 2008

Conditions Governing Access

The Office Files, Resettlement Files, Master Lists of Applicants, and Oversized Documents series are open for research. The ODP Applications Series is restricted until December 1, 2008. The Restricted/Reserved Files series is restricted indefinitely.

Biographical / Historical

On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to the Army of North Vietnam. That spring, 125,000 Vietnamese fled the country. From 1978 to the mid-1980s, approximately 2 million Vietnamese left the country by boat, which was highly dangerous and illegal. Refugees faced dangers from overcrowded boats, pirates, and the perils of Mother Nature. Alarmed by the high death toll, in 1979 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) proposed the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), which received the support and cooperation of the U.S. State Department and other diplomatic offices around the world. The next year the United Nations established an ODP office in Bangkok, Thailand to facilitate safe departures from Vietnam. In 1989, Robert Lloyd Funseth, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Acting Director of the Bureau for Refugee Programs, negotiated with the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to allow immigration of former re-education camp prisoners to the United States. For fifteen years the Orderly Departure Program helped over 500,000 Vietnamese refugees immigrate to the U.S. before its closure in 1994.

After her life was tragically affected by the war in Vietnam, Khuc Minh Tho dedicated herself to those hoping to start a new life, as she did, in the United States. Born in 1939 in the former Sa Dec province (now Dong Thap province) near Saigon, Communist forces kidnapped Tho’s father in 1968, and he was never seen again. In 1972, her step-mother was also killed by Communist forces. When she was 23 years old and five months pregnant with her third child, Tho’s husband was killed by the Viet Cong as well. From 1961 to 1972, Tho worked for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam. From 1972 to 1975, she served as Administrative Officer at the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila, Philippines. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, her second husband, Nguyen Van Be, a colonel in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, was sent to a re- education camp, where he would spend the next 13 years. In 1975, with her husband still incarcerated, Tho immigrated to the U.S. She worked in a variety of social service positions in the suburban Washington D.C. area, including the Foundation Senior Citizen Association, and the government of Arlington County, Virginia. She was the first Vietnamese American to work in the Arlington County Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.

In 1977, in order to win the release of her husband and other Vietnamese political prisoners, Tho co-founded the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA) in Arlington, Virginia, along with Trinh Ngoc Dung and other spouses, children, relatives, and friends of Vietnamese political prisoners. Tho not only co-founded the FVPPA, but she also served as president of the association. Up to 20 volunteers met at Tho’s house each night after a full day’s work at their day jobs, and worked for the release of Vietnamese political prisoners and for their immigration to the U.S. through the ODP. They petitioned Congress and lobbied the State Department on behalf of Vietnamese political prisoners. In 1984, the FVPPA was officially incorporated by the Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission.

The FVPPA’s stated purpose was to “promote the reunion of political prisoners with their families in the United States and elsewhere in the free world.” The group also called for public awareness to the plight of political prisoners. The FVPPA worked with the American government, international humanitarian organizations, and other volunteer agencies to achieve its goals of family reunification and humane treatment of prisoners.

In its work on behalf of political prisoners and refugees, the FVPPA undertook a variety of activities. Their public awareness program sought to collect and disseminate pertinent information on the needs of Vietnamese political prisoners and their families. An outreach program sought to establish a case file for every prisoner and his or her immediate family in order to assist the eligible persons with their immigration from Vietnam to the United States or other countries in the world. The FVPPA also acted as an information center for recent immigrants, and providing resettlement information and assistance as well as aiding in family reunification. They maintained correspondence and held meetings with several politicians, government agencies and officials, and human rights organizations, including: President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau for Refugees Robert L. Funseth, Orderly Departure Program Director Martha Sardinas, the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau for Refugee Programs, the Embassy of the United States of America in Bangkok, Thailand, Amnesty International, Staff Consultant for the Subcommittee on Asian & Pacific Affairs Eric Schwartz, Congressman Stephen J. Solarz, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Senator John McCain, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, Senator Bob Dole, the Department of Social and Health Services for the State of Washington, and Thailand refugee camp president Ngo Suu. The FVPPA held two annual events to raise money and public awareness, and to honor those individuals and VIPs who had contributed to the FVPPA’s mission and cause: The Annual Freedom Reunion Picnic, and the Annual Awards Dinner and Culture Show, also called the Unity and Reunion Dinner. Among the many other important events the FVPPA held or attended are: “A Salute to Freedom” Picnic, Memorial, and Reception in July 1994; a reception at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in 1988; an event marking International Human Rights Day in 1987; performances by Vietnamese singers and performers at T.C. Williams School in 1988 and 1989; a concert by Hoang Thi Tho in 1990; the International Children’s Festival in 1996; and Vietnamese American Appreciation and Celebration Day in 1999.

The FVPPA was staffed entirely by volunteers. It had no paid professional employees and relied upon the work of members and friends. Donations paid for the publication of a newsletter, computer equipment, telephone, postage and office supplies. The organization also conducted ongoing fundraising activities to support these costs.

In April 1992, Khuc Minh Tho was interviewed as part of a project of the Organization of Pan- Asian American Women. She described her role and the goals of the organization by stating:

“As President of the Association, my principal role is to represent the rights of the political prisoners and their families and appeal to the Executive and Legislative branches of the United States government, and to all governments of other free countries, to intervene with Vietnamese authorities with respect to their rights. I also advocate for the prompt release of political prisoners from the re-education camps in Vietnam and assist them in reuniting with their families and loved ones in the United States or in other countries.”

Through her dedication and leadership, the FVPPA achieved many of these stated goals and had a lasting impact on the Vietnamese American Community in the United States.

In July of 1989, the United States and Vietnam signed an agreement allowing former re- education camp prisoners and their families to resettle in the U.S. Funded by a grant from Amnesty International, the organization developed a list of the 100 longest held Vietnamese political prisoners and worked for their release. Their lobbying efforts also led to the passage of the McCain Amendment (Section 595 H.R. 3540) in 1996, which allowed children over of the age of 21 of former prisoners to immigrate to the U.S. Their efforts also led to the elimination of the requirement that former Vietnamese political prisoners have six months trade and English training in Philippines before entering the U.S.

In a 1989 interview with The Orange County Register, Robert Funseth, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, credited Khuc Minh Tho with being “…the guiding light behind the movement to free Vietnamese who were held in communist re-education camps…” Funseth felt so strongly about Tho’s efforts that he presented her with the ballpoint pen he used in Hanoi to sign the agreement between the United States and Vietnam. In 2005, Mrs. Tho was a National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies (NAVASA) Honoree. Today she still works on behalf of Vietnamese immigrants as an active member of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation. The contributions of the FVPPA were of great significance to the Vietnamese American community and to United States history. By writing and petitioning U.S. government officials and agencies, along with those of other nations, fundraising, and raising public awareness of the plight of Vietnamese political prisoners, the FVPPA gave voice to thousands of Vietnamese political prisoners, former U.S. allies and employees, and their families who might otherwise have been forgotten. By helping these Vietnamese refugees immigrate and resettle in the U.S., the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association became a vital key to the understanding of the Vietnamese American immigration experience.

Series

Title
Finding Aid
Length (Linear Feet)
157
Pages
79
Location(s)
D161.1A
PDF Link
18490000000
  • Box 1-157: [1-157] [TTU - Southwest Collections Building, Stacks [D161.1A ]]

Inventory