Blair High sophomore Thang Nguyen and a friend escaped war-torn Vietnam in 1979, making their way first to Hong Kong, then San Francisco, then Washington. Thang's mother is dead. His father is a war prisoner in Vietnam. Now Thang lives in Silver Spring in a home run by Father Long, a priest who is caring for several Vietnamese refugees. Like many of the 59 Vietnamese students at the school, Thang speaks rudimentary English. He is gracious and soft-spoken and says he hopes to return to his country in two or three years.
Raymond Bien-Aime, 16, left his mother and five brothers in their native village of Gonaives, Haiti, when a friend got him free passage on a 110-passenger boat to Miami two years ago. Beginning with a six-day voyage without food or water, it was a harrowing 18-month journey before Bien-Aime enrolled in Blair last March. Instead of finding the promised land of freedom when he reached the American shore, he was detained in the Krome refugee camp where many Haitians languished after arriving in Florida. Now he lives with an older Haitian man in Silver Spring whom he believes is a distant relative. Bien-Aime is obsessed with getting a "green card" (a permanent residence visa) so that he can work here legally. He said he wants to be a policeman or a bus driver or join the army.
Although anguish and solitude are the center of Bien-Aime's life here, he likes America because "everybody working, nobody is poor like in my country, and police don't beat like in my country."
Most of his day is spent at Blair (he will go to summer-school classes there), where there is only a handful of French-speaking students like himself. But Bien-Aime also spends many hours alone in his apartment dreaming of the beautiful beach at Gonaives. He listens to Haitian music--groups called Skah Shak, and the Tabou--and delights in imitating their congas, saxophones and trumpets. He admires these musicians, he says, "because they made success in Haiti and got green cards and live in New York."
He listens avidly to American news reports of the political turmoil in Haiti--"two Haitians killed last month" he announces--and picks up copies of a Haitian newspaper at a Flower Avenue newsstand in Takoma Park. He resents the ease with which many Cubans, labeled "political" refugees by the Carter administration, received visas upon their arrival in the United States. "The immigration people don't want to give us political refugee status because Haiti is a republic, not a communist country ," he says bitterly.
Bien-Aime has received just two letters from home since arriving here 18 months ago, and he weeps openly about his loneliness.
For Carlos Oviedo, the transition was easier. His mother left their home city of San Salvador 13 years ago. When the political climate worsened there in 1979 she arranged through the U.S. Embassy to have visas and passports ready for Oviedo, his brother and his grandmother. Now Oviedo, who describes himself and most of the 40 Salvadorans at Blair as "pro-Sandinista," lives with an aunt and grandmother in an apartment in Langley Park. His mother, employed at a computer firm, lives in Gaithersburg.