Vietnamese society in Paris includes at least two antagonistic political factions: a pro-Hanoi group and an anti-communist group. They avoid contact at all costs. They frequent different bookstores, cultural center, restaurants and worship in different churches or pagodas. To mark their differences, they even celebrate Chinese New Year on different dates, though in the same Latin Quarter auditorium.
The pro-Hanoi group is perhaps the larger faction. They are comprised of immigrants who came before 1975 and their second- and third-generation descendants. Of all Parisian Asians, this group most resembles American-born Asians. Many are successful professionals: doctors, dentists, pharmacists, professors, intellectuals, computer scientists and programmers.
A few second and third generation Vietnamese have attained prominence. Jacques Verges, a half-French, half-Vietnamese leftist, is one of France's most notorious lawyers. Verges represents Klaus Barbi, a Nazi nicknamed the Butcher of Lyons. In Barbi's defense Verges argued that Nazi atrocities were comparable to French atrocities during the Algerian war. Verges also represents Cheyenne Brando, Marlon Brando's half-Tahitian daughter.
Like Asians in America many Vietnamese see a limit to how hight they can climb. A glass ceiling, real and apparent, orients them toward technical and scientific fields. "One could hardly imagine how a Vietnamese could become a foreman or a supervisor," siad T., a Vietnamese systems analyst, to Le Huu Kho, author of Les Vietnamiens en France, Insertion et Identité (the Vietnamese in France, Insertion and Identity). "But in computer science, most of the work is personal; the immigrant has his own rightful place."
Despite their involvement in French politics, French-born Vietnamese have yet to forge a pan-Asian identity or a meaningful coalition with other Asian groups. "While other non-white ethnic minorities in France, such as the Algerian youths, are already revolting against discrimination, the French-born Vietnamese have not yet felt concerns about the issue of racism," writes Gisele L. Bousquet in Behind the Bamboo Hedge: the Impact of Homeland Politics in the Parisian Vietnamese Community. "To a certain extent, the French-born Vietnamese have integrated well into French society, in which social class has primacy over ethnicity. For example, they do not identify themselves with other ethnic groups who do not belong to the same social class."
The anti-communist faction is made up primarily of refugees still struggling for economic survival. This group is understandably strident in its anti-communism. Extreme elements have sometimes threatened the pro-Hanoi group with bomb attacks. Yet their violence is more verbal than real and has never reached the destructive level of political assassinations as it has in Vietnamese American society.
Since its inception the French Vietnamese community has always been political. Paris is, as historian Stanley Karnow describes it, "the quintessential city of freedom and discretion" and, therefore, conducive to political life. Many Asians who later become well-known leaders in contemporary Asian history have received their first political formation here. They include a Vietnamese patriot who converted to communism and revolutionary ideas during his six-year stay in Paris in the early 1920s. He was later known as Ho Chi Minh. The Chinese Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiao-ping studied here. So did Leng Sary, Son Sen and Pol Pot, leaders of the Khmer Rouge communists.
Today's Paris seems more the city to solve conflicts arising from revolutions than one to create revolutionaries. It was here that the most important peace negotiations on Vietnam and Cambodia took place. At the Cité Universaire, the Pavillon du Cambodge (Pavilion of Cambodia) stands as a sad reminder of what has happened in that Indochinese country. Cité Universitaire is a cluster of international dormitories that mostly board students in the house of their nationalities. Each building takes on the architecture of the country it represents. The pavilion of Cambodia is an impressive grey grim four-story stone building with two huge monkey statues gracing its entrance. Its front doors have been walled up since the fatal stabbing of a student in a political argument in the 1970s. I once lived in a dormitory across from there and was spooked when a light would sometimes turn on and off in the pavilion. I feared the murdered student was restless. I now realize that a few rooms were inhabited.
The most obvious influence that Indochina exerts over Paris is in its cultural scene. World-renown novelist Andre Malraux wrote La Condition Humaine (The Human Condition) based on his experience in Southeast Asia. Several Vietnamese words like "con gai" (Young Vietnamese women), "nuoc mam" (fish sauce), "Tet" (Chinese New Year) have crept into the Parisian French language. PAGE 8