One Year Later: Death of An American Daughter

In March 2014, a Greensboro police officer shot and killed a mentally ill refugee. Then the matter of police body cameras became an issue. But it took Ferguson and a host of other national stories to make police accountability a national topic of debate. In Greensboro the Scales brothers story became another example of the rift between police and community views. Then in Chapel Hill, three Muslim students were shot dead, raising the question about what it is to be an American. On the anniversary of Chieu Di Vo's shooting, how much more do we know?

CHIEU DI THI VO WAS AN AMERICAN. Stories typically characterize her as Vietnamese, an immigrant, a refugee, from a "special population". In truth her father was an American soldier who served in Vietnam during the war. As far as I know, nobody knows his identity. He could have come from California or New Hampshire but there’s a good chance he hailed from the South since so many Southerners served in that war. Maybe he came from North Carolina.

Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man

The fate of Amerasian kids and their mothers left behind in a country shattered by a million dead and massive destruction of the countryside was not good, whether their fathers were White or Black. Chieu Di was born in 1967.  Her father was White. Early on she exhibited mental problems, but her mother kept and cared for her knowing the extreme prejudices she faced and the difficulties of raising a child with disabilities. In 1968 the US public was shocked by reports of the My Lai massacre in which hundreds of civilians were killed by US troops. A ferocious battle went on in Khe Sahn. By 1973 the US military had pulled out. In 1975 as the North Vietnamese Army advanced, the last helicopter took off from the US Embassy building in Saigon. Eventually in 1989 the US government granted Amerasians special status. For those who could make their way here, they found a new home. Chieu Di arrived with her family in 1990, aged 23. 
I had a brother at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there, he's all gone

He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
In Greensboro, refugees from the Vietnam War had been arriving for some time. There were growing enclaves of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, Montagnard and other indigenous peoples settling in the city and in the Piedmont. Like Chieu Di, some were sons and daughters of American military, but it was unlikely US fathers would come forward. Once called “golden children” in Vietnam because their families could accompany them when they migrated to US, they easily stood out as symbols of collaboration, past enemies and an ugly war. Sometimes they stood taller, had lighter or darker skin, eye colors other than deep brown, hair of a different texture. They numbered in the tens of thousands. Today more than a million and a half Vietnamese call the US home. More than one hundred thousand Hmong are scattered through several states, North Carolina among them. More than ten thousand Montagnards live in Guilford county.  In Greensboro, one of the oldest Asian food stores, Dynasty, was opened by a Vietnamese woman in 1975. To that store Chieu Di and her aging mother would shop. They were familiar figures.

On March 25, 2014, when officer Bloch answered the call and arrived at the scene he concluded his life was in danger. His body camera was on and he fired away. In the video interview he gave to the News Record he does not seem to know much about refugees or immigrants or express any knowledge of the Vietnamese language or any interest in culture or history, recent or past. Long ago, Americans closed the book on the Vietnam War, splitting it open only once or twice in pangs of guilt to honor veterans and since 9/11, to engage in a glut of hero-worship for the military, firefighters and police. Like the force he once belonged to and the City and the people it serves, officer Bloch seems pretty certain about who he is, what matters to him and where he's going. In the ensuing silence that has surrounded Chieu Di’s death and the curious non-interest it has attracted, one has to wonder if the death of an American daughter matters. Either Chieu Di died far from home or she returned home to die under the most tragic of circumstances. Her surviving family are the only ones who seem to care. They would like simple answers, yearn for closure and we refuse to give it.