Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eastern NC and Vietnam

Centennial is one of my favorite books. The book has always stuck with me, although I confess that I last read it in high school (about 10 years ago for anyone counting). What has stuck with me the most is the story of the land, and the people living on it and from it. The story is both beautiful and ugly simultaneously. I would like to read it again when I have a week at the beach sometime. It’s a good book.

While sitting in the sun Down East this weekend, I found myself thinking about Centennial and how the author uses the land to shape his characters. I have always felt connected to the land in eastern North Carolina, the water that surrounds it, and the wide open skies that embrace it all. Years ago, I was so connected to it that I could predict a storm before the sky darkened and the first drop of rain fell. (Well, perhaps it was the change in barometric pressure more than a prediction.) The land in eastern North Carolina has helped shape who I am and the way in which I live my life. When anyone asks where I am from my answer is always a prideful, “Eastern North Carolina.”

This weekend I thought about Centennial a few times, as it so beautifully describes the connection between the land and human life. While in Eastern North Carolina, the area in which I was born and raised, I thought of the Montagnards and how their homeland has shaped their lives. They are from the central highlands of Vietnam, although you would not call them Vietnamese.

Oh, how they must miss that land after they leave. So many of them now live in North Carolina, and I can only imagine how much they miss the way things once were in the central highlands of Vietnam. In our interviews, the longing for home is almost palpable.

The history of the Montagnards is directly related to the lands they once inhabited in relative isolation. They knew the land, how to farm it and care for it. It was their livelihood. And knowing that, I now understand how land reform has been used to hurt the Montagnards. By limiting the amount of land available to farm, it limits other things like the amount of food available for the Montagnards.

This is not something that happened once, during the war many years ago. The persecution of the Montagnards continues today. My visit to my own homeland this weekend kept me thinking about the Montagnards, and how connected they are to the central highlands of Vietnam. I get asked frequently if this filmmaking adventure has taken me there. Perhaps one day.