“This Is My Home Now,” Montagnards in America

On Oct. 25, the culture and history of the Montagnard people, our allies in the Vietnam War, was formally recognized on Guilford College’s campus.

This celebration was designed to teach the Guilford community about this important refugee group found largely in North Carolina.

The ceremony included a screening of the film “This Is My Home Now,” which followed the lives of four Montagnard young adults living in the United States.

“The idea of a film started when the Greensboro Historical Museum earned a scholarship from the Smithsonian Institute to focus on an refugee group, and the museum chose the Montagnard community,” said senior Lek Siu, who organized the event.

The museum’s selection may have been an obvious one, as approximately 10,000 Montagnards call Greensboro their home.

After the film, spectators participated in an active panel discussion and watched renditions of traditional Montagnard songs and dances performed by older and younger members of the community. Crafts, posters and other displays of Montagnard culture lined the exterior of the Joseph Bryan Jr. Auditorium, informing guests of all ages.

“We wanted to bring awareness to the Guilford academic community since the majority of Montagnards live here in Greensboro and more and more are attending Guilford,” said Siu.

Andrew Young, volunteer training coordinator for the Bonner Center, recognizes the struggles of Montagnard community prior to their arrival in Greensboro.

“The Montagnards are here because they chose to fight for the losing side, which was us,” said Young. “The U.S. pulled out of the (Vietnam) War in 1974, and by 1975 the South Vietnamese government collapsed. For us the war was over, but for them it was just beginning.”

Over 100,000 Montagnards were killed after the U.S. occupation, most of them being civilians. Approximately 80 percent of their villages were also destroyed, according to Young.

“When they finally surrendered in 1986, these people truly had nowhere to go, nowhere except North Carolina,” said Young.

Since their arrival in the Greensboro area, Guilford College and the Bonner Center have been working with the Montagnards closely and personally.

“The Bonner Center has allowed for Guilford College students to go out to mentor and tutor Montagnard kids at apartment complexes,” said Director of the Bonner Center James Shields, Jr. ‘00. “These young people we worked with grow up into a real community.”

Lek Siu was mentored by both Young and Shields, and she was encouraged to apply to Guilford.

“Lek is the first Montagnard Bonner scholar, and she has done so much for her community as a Guilford College student,” said Young.

While the Montagnard population may not be as dominant as other ethnic groups in America, Siu believes that their presence should be valued and honored.

“We don’t want to fade into the background, and we want to keep our culture alive,”   said Siu.  “You cannot just delete your identity.”

As Guilford continues to build communities centered on inclusion and diversity, Siu’s showcase of her community addresses how important it truly is to hold onto culture.

President Jane Fernandes’ opening words summed up the event seamlessly.

“I hope that as we celebrate the culture of Montagnard people in the Greensboro area and elsewhere, that you will understand that Guilford College wants to be a home for you and all people who need to find themselves,” said Fernandes.

For Montagnards everywhere, in the Greensboro area or across the ocean, Guilford stands ready to become a place that they can call their home.