In an effort to preserve their cultural heritage in their new land, members of the Vietnamese community have opened a Vietnamese Community Center at the Page Elemantary School in Arlington. It is the first such center in the Washington area.
The event last week drew close to 100 participants, most of them Vietnamese refugees who came to see exhibits by Vietnamese artists, listens to Vietnames music and eat the food of their home country.
"Everybody hoped to have a Vietnamese Center," said Pham Ngoc Luy, the captain of the ship to leave Saigon with 4,000 refugees aboard shortly after the city fell to the North Vietnamese.
"I think it's a good start. You have problems with the language; (it's) hard to find jobs. We expect to have a center for all where you can meet each other, you can help each other, and you can keep up the Vietnamese culture.
"This is a place not only where the Vietnamese language will be spoken and understood," Luy said, but also where the "beautiful traditions of the family, society and friendship . . . which have been formed for many thousand years" will be respected and kept alive.
A pamphlet was distributed, outlining some services the center hopes to provide:
A lending library of Vietnamese books and magazines to augment the reading room already in operation.
Spring recreational programs, featuring tennis, volleyball and basketball.
Translation services to help Vietnamese in job searches and other needs.
Free tax form preparation.
A Vietnamese food shop, provided there is no licensing problems.
Classes, exhibits, and social functions.
Nguyen Ngoc Bic, president of the Vietnam Refugee Fund, Inc., estimates that there are approximately 15,000 (about 10 per cent of the U.S. total) Vietnamese in the Washington metropolitan area. Most of these are refugees who arrived in the United States in the spring of 1975, when Saigon fell.
AN estimated 7,000-8,000 Vietnamese are Northern Virginia residents, with the largest concentration living in Arlington.
Until now, the only gathering places for the Vietnamese in Northern Virginia have been churches where they have been segregated by religion, said the Venerable Thich Giac Duc, president of the Buddhist Congregational Church of America.
He estimates that the area's Vietnamese population is 40 per cent Buddhist, 40 per cent Catholic, and 20 per cent Protestant.
"At last we can have a place to get together. Every religion can be together here," Duc said.
"I have no worries about the economic problems of the Vietnamese refugees," said 71-year-old Truong Cam Khai. "I am worried about the cultural problem.
"This center will be useful in two ways," said Khai, a former professor who left Vietnam in 1968. "It will provide an opportunity to teach the young about Vietnamese tradition and moral values, and it will be a place where the Vietnamese will have social activities among themselves . . . Here there is nothing to divide the Vietnamese among themselves."
The center is allowed the use of the entire first floor of the school at 1501 N. Lincoln St. On this floor there are 15 classrooms, an auditorium, a cafeteria with a large kitchen, a library and some office space.
The Vietnam Refugee Fund is leasing the building from the county school board for $2,000 a month, money which is non-profit, tax-exempt organization receives through donations and fund-raising drives. The lease expires at the end of June, 1978.
Although the Vietnam Refugee Fund Inc. offered substantially less rent than the school board had asked, the fund was the only bidder who found the short term lease acceptable, Bich said.
When the lease expires, Bich said he doesn't know what will happen and doubts that the Refugee Fund will be able to retain use of the building. A school spokesmen said that the board plans to review the use of the building in March or April and will decide then how it will be used in the future.
Dr. Harold Chu, a professor of Japanese language and literature at Georgetown University, presented the center with a plaque from the Arlington Trinity Teacher Corps which says "with our heartfelt support and good wishes." Near the bottom of the plaque it says chu mung may mann, Vietnamese for good luck .
For information on the center, readers may contact Bich at 527-9340.