I feel really confused after meeting Jane Fonda last night and having her answer my question about the Vietnam War.
Basically, she was in Berkeley last night to promote her new book about being healthy and aging nicely, I guess. And she kept repeating to the audience: "Stay positive. Always think positive thoughts."
So index cards were circulating in the audience. The talk took place in a church--in the middle of Berkeley's so-called "Jesus Jungle" of churches sprawled around a cross-street near a residence hall. The index cards were meant for us to write our questions down to Jane Fonda and she would read them aloud and answer them. I guess it sped up the question-asking process and kept things a bit more anonymous.
I wrote something along the lines of:
"I appreciate your efforts during the Vietnam War to stop all the killing. However, my family remains dysfunctional after the war, with more people in my family going to jail than to college. How can I 'stay positive' as I pay for a UC Berkeley education on my own without any support from my family?"
The audience had a dramatic "oh my" hum throughout the dark church. She seemed to stumble a bit, probably thinking about how guilty she felt for assisting North Vietnam as they slaughtered my South Vietnamese brothers and sisters.
"Well, first off," she said. "I would like to say that I have been to other countries that were at war with the US, and that they always said something like, 'Go home Yankee' [when they saw Americans]. I never sensed that among the Vietnamese people. You come from a beautiful country and are a beautiful, Vietnamese person. Have gratitude for that. Be grateful that you come from a country so beautiful and so forgiving and so brave...I think, thinking about the fact that you're alive, that you are at UC Berkeley, that you can pay your way through Berkeley, gratitude that you are in that situation...I would just be grateful for all the things you already have."
I have to be honest here. Having a renowned, famous actress address my humble "Vietnamese self" was inspiring at first. I bought into the hype of her bubbly, cheerleader demeanor. Her preaching of, "It doesn't matter how old you are, you can still have a rockin' body like me...even though I used to be anorexic and bulimic. Oh, and I've never done research in my life and was a drop out, but now I'm just starting and I'm so smart and BUY MY BOOK OR ELSE YOU WON'T GET AN AUTOGRAPH." I was hypnotized by my surroundings, of older people nodding their heads in agreement to everything she said. And feeling like the coolest fucking young person there for even knowing who Jane Fonda was.
After the autograph and the picture with her--after the glam was over, I was brought back to reality.
She literally told me to be grateful for what I have. Which is fine, but...has she not owned up to her actions in North Vietnam? If she really wanted the killing to stop back then, I don't think going to North Vietnam and sitting on artillery guns to shoot down airplanes was the best choice. How am I supposed to feel about that?
Well, I guess I don't have a choice because constantly--over and fucking over--people who are NOT Vietnamese are telling ME how to feel about that god-damned war. When I mourn for the three million Vietnamese that were killed in the Vietnam War, I am seen as a self-pitying, self-victimizing type. When I say, "Hmm, maybe it was a cool hip thing to do back in those days to support Communism. So maybe that's why Jane Fonda went to North Vietnam," I'm considered a Communist and a traitor to the non-Communist South Vietnamese people.
Maybe I just wanted to feel grateful for what I have. Given the cards dealt to me, I've done a fucking good job. Straight A's, two sources of income, being featured in every Bay Area newspaper and news channel you can think of for standing-up-for-what-I-believe-in...the list goes on. I'm grateful for that.
What I'm NOT grateful for are people who refuse to research the facts before they do something detrimental to another country. I wonder if Jane Fonda knew a damn first thing about what her actions in North Vietnam would mean to us South Vietnamese. I know the South Vietnamese were not all comprised of angels either, but what the fuck did she do there that was so important and life-changing for the politics of a war-torn country? She's pretty. Yes. She's rich. Yes. She knows how to market a book. Yes.
But does she know how to reconcile the tremendous pain felt in the heart of the only young, Vietnamese girl in the audience, who still carries the trauma of her Vietnamese refugee aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents?
I wanted to go back in time, before I was even born, and run through the jungles of Vietnam--stopping all the bullets shot and taking away every bomb and Agent Orange and rapist fuck of a soldier targeted at innocent Vietnamese brothers and sisters.
Instead, I walked out of the church Jane Fonda spoke in, stuck in a Jesus Jungle and a country that has no heart or conscience about the three million Vietnamese slaughtered during the war--and the millions of survivors and descendants of the war who can't simply forget the pain that has consumed their lives.
My Life Is Jane Fonda.