I was born in Hong Kong to Viet refugee parents
Displacement & Departures
As Told By: Saoli
I was born in Hong Kong, 1993, to Vietnamese refugee parents. They had met and married at the Whitehead Detention Centre, the largest camp for the city’s Viet refugees. If its severe name makes Whitehead sound like a prison, that’s because it effectively was. Unlike the refugees who fled in the 1970s/early 1980s, by the time my parents came of age and made it to Hong Kong in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Vietnamese people were considered personae non gratae. While the earliest waves of refugees who entered Hong Kong were allowed to hold jobs and then quickly resettled in Western countries, that era was short-lived. As the trickle of refugees became a relentless wave, sympathies dried up and so did invitations to resettlement countries.
In total, my parents spent almost a decade in Hong Kong at various “closed camps”, hastily constructed holding centers surrounded by barbed wire and oftentimes managed by the apathetic Hong Kong Police. In 1997, the Handover of Hong Kong “returned” the British colony’s sovereignty back to China. This event cemented the fate of the city’s remaining refugee holdouts, including my family. Having not been able to secure asylum in any other countries, we were forcefully repatriated to Vietnam. This was my first time in Vietnam and my parents’ first time back in their homeland in nearly a decade. We spent a year in limbo, making several uncomfortable third-class train journeys from my grandparents’ home in the north, down to Saigon where American officials were still conducting interviews with asylum seekers.
In 1998, we finally got our break. Right before my fifth birthday in June of that year, we boarded the first flight of our lives which took us to San Francisco, California. From there, we were quickly shuffled to Dallas, Texas, which is where I spent most of my childhood and where my younger brother was born.