The "Volunteer Ambassador" of Vietnam's Sacred Sea and Island Sovereignty

Having been to Truong Sa for five times, journalist-artist Etcetera Nguyen still wishes to return because each trip deepened his faith and love for the sea and islands of the Fatherland.
June 07, 2022 | 08:07

Journalist-artist Etcetera Nguyen is one of few lucky American expat to visit Truong Sa and DK1 rigs five times.

Right after the first visit, he confessed that his doubts and prejudices about Vietnam were removed. Each trio brought new emotion. His love for the Fatherland is so deep that he became an "unpaid ambassador," who bridges the expat communities around the world and the homeland together.

The "Volunteer Ambassador" of Vietnam's Sacred Sea and Island Sovereignty
On the deck of the Truong Sa ship 571, oerseas Vietnamese delegates attended the Memorial Ceremony of the fallen soldiers in the Spratly Islands who protected the sovereignty of the sea and the Fatherland's islands. Photo: Diep Truong/VNA

Going beyond the "forbidden zone" of concealing information

Etcetera Nguyen (birth name: Nguyen Quang Truong), came to the US in 1991. He has been living in California among the Vietnamese community with the population of about 1 million. He said: "This is also a community with many different views about Vietnam because most of the people of the former regime moved to the US after 1975. Integrating with American society, the Vietnamese community gradually gathered together, establishing cities where the majority of Vietnamese people live such as Westminster, Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove,"

"The news conveyed in the community is mostly negative and not everyone accepts information about Vietnam. They were denying all information from Vietnam. There are even people who try to break out of the "forbidden zone" barrier, proactively give information to their families and relatives when they return to Vietnam, but only received what they like to hear. Those who have differences such as being more open, seeking more truth about the country's situation are often isolated, discriminated against, and opposed," Nguyen described the distinct political bias towards Vietnam he used to see.

In 2004, Nguyen decided to issue a weekly publication called Viet Weekly with the desire to "find the truth". He believes that the information he has been received from the community which it claimed to be democratic, was a boxed information while the truth was concealed.

In 2006, when Viet Weekly was established for 2 years, he decided to return to Vietnam to attend the 2006 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. The information he received here was quite different from the extremist information he used to get from the community, which broke the secret of information in the Vietnamese community in California, from 1975 to that time.

The interview with former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet was placed on the cover of Viet Weekly, surprising the whole community because the "anti-communist" political organizations abroad did not want the Vietnamese voice and image to reach the Vietnamese community overseas.

While people in the community welcomed those "new breezes, reporters of Viet Weekly were labeled "communist propaganda."

“For 3 years (2007-2010), they protested in front of the newsroom, destroyed our printing presses and newspapers, and threatened our advertising clients and readers in order to shut our voices. It was very difficult time for us. By 2010, along with the difficult trend of the print press, Viet Weekly's editorial office turned to be an online newspaper and continued to provide information about the real situation of Vietnam to the community," said Nguyen.

The truth about the sovereignty over the sea and islands

Nguyen continued to have the opportunity to return to Vietnam many times as a journalist. In 2012, he represented overseas Vietnamese to attend a cultural event on the Vietnamese language, where he emphasized that the great concern of the overseas Vietnamese community at that time was the issue of sovereignty over seas and islands, as well as the difference in political views on sovereignty over seas and islands between the country and abroad.

He proposed to organize a trip for overseas Vietnamese to the sea and islands so that they would have the opportunity to return and witness with their own eyes. "Soon after that, we received information from the State Committee on Overseas Vietnamese, that the first trip will be in 2012", Nguyen recalled.

The "Volunteer Ambassador" of Vietnam's Sacred Sea and Island Sovereignty
Journalist and General Secretary of Viet Weekly, Etcetera Nguyen (left) presented his sketch to soldiers in Truong Sa in April 2012. Photo: Dan Viet

Nguyen's first trip of overseas Vietnamese to Truong Sa was exactly 10 years ago, he went carrying doubt and hesitation, Mr. Etcereta Nguyen thought about a remote, desolate and deserted Truong Sa.

Instead, he saw the living abundance of the people, and the infrastructure that was paid attention and invested by the state. He remembered the temple bells, the sound of children studying, sports matches in the faraway land.

I really admire the young soldiers with tanned skin and their stories of safeguarding the island day and night. They are people with big dreams, they believed in and fought for their family, love and ideals with their assigned task of protecting the sacred sea and islands,” said Nguyen.

The journalist-artist drew portraits of locals and soldiers with the desire to bring a little joy to those he met. He used that as a opportunity to talk, listen to the daily stories of soldiers, to feel their enthusiastic spirits.

Nguyen loves talking to the young soldier who shouted his oath to defend the Fatherland, ready to sacrifice to protect the territory and territorial sea.

“I have faith in the young Vietnamese generation who are responsible for their homeland and country. After that first trip to visit Truong Sa, not just my perception but the perception of many overseas Vietnamese "standing on the other side of the front line" has completely changed", said Nguyen.

Returning home from a trip to Truong Sa in 2012, Nguyen held a small exhibition at the newsroom with more than 200 photos selected from all islands and islands he had visited; invites the Vietnamese community to come see and directly exchange, question and persuade on related issues.

“One of the most valuable things overseas Vietnamese received after the trip was the pride and indisputable truth about Vietnam's sovereignty over the sea and islands. Each of them longer has doubt now that they broke through the remaining "isolated and closed media wall" of the other party in opposition to Vietnam' - Nguyen said.

The Party and State open doors for Vietnamese expats

The "Volunteer Ambassador" of Vietnam's Sacred Sea and Island Sovereignty
More than 40 overseas Vietnamese from 17 countries around the world visited the people of Truong Sa island district and DK1rig. Photo: Diep Truong/VNA

Nguyen also made a business trip to the northern border landmarks. Here he observed the people's lives, heard their stories, listened to experts and he admitted, this is a great success in Vietnam's diplomacy with China.

“The struggle of the Vietnamese side deserves to be recognized, respected and applauded because it is extremely difficult and even stressful to make an important decision, based on the interests of both sides, as previously documented. The negotiation issue is extremely complicated, but we are determined to secure every position we can, contributing to preserving the relationship and promoting trade between the two countries," said Nguyen.

The journalist said that in recent years, the Party and State have paid much attention to the overseas Vietnamese community. Resolution 36-NQ/TW; Directive 45/CT-TW and recently Conclusion No. 12-KL/TW are the "open doors" for expatriates around the world.

Compared to 10 years ago, many people want to go abroad to find better opportunities, but now more and more people want to return to Vietnam because Vietnam has a very good international position and the guidelines and policies of the Party and State of Vietnam are going in the right direction.

“From the time 1975 until now, there has been 2 or 3 generations. Unlike the first generation, who had mixed and negative opinions, the second and third generation grew up with a different, independent view, not effected by hateful thoughts. Because of the exchange wave between the two countries, the stories of the "older generation" among young people are also gradually fading. There are fewer and fewer extremist groups, and they're just a minority," said Nguyen.

Policies on land purchase, house purchase, marriage, household registration in Vietnam are now very open, creating favorable conditions for overseas Vietnamese to have the opportunity to return to their homeland. Nguyen confided: “In the past, people thought leaving the country was almost like a farewell, going without coming back. But now, that is no longer true because Vietnamese motherland, Vietnamese government, Vietnamese people always welcome with open arms.”

Most importantly, Conclusion No.12-KL/TW of the Politburo clearly stated the core task with the overseas Vietnamese. From respecting the perspectives and viewpoints of each overseas Vietnamese - different "numerators", to reach a "common denominator" which is love for the homeland and the spirit of national unity. The conclusion has aroused the core and true ideal of every Vietnamese person anywhere in the world.

"I want to be an "unpaid ambassador" as long as my health allows me. I want to be a "bridge" connecting the homeland and the overseas Vietnamese community" - exclaimed Nguyen.

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