When Sum Nguyen was invited to be an ambassador of the Universal Peace Federation for its global Peace Tour IV, he was nervous he might say the wrong thing. After all, the organization was sending each of its 120 ambassadors to a different city to talk about peace. And Sum, who'd been selected to go to Onomichi in Japan and Turwon Kang in South Korea, was unable to speak either language. His reservations were put aside when it was explained to him that he wouldn't have to write his own speeches. He would be delivering the very specific message of Dr. Sun Myung Moon, who founded the federation and advocates for an end to war and conflict. And he'd have translators.
But when Sum arrived in Japan and then Korea in October, of course not everything was scripted. People wanted to know how this South Vietnamese Army captain had gotten from Saigon to Denver with his wife and six children. Sum told them the story he'd told Westword last year (The Last Refugees, September, 15, 2005), a harrowing tale of his escape the day Saigon fell to the North, from 22 days of drifting in the ocean, to months living in refugee camps, to building a life for his family in Aurora, Colorado.
"Have you gone back to Vietnam?" everyone he met seemed to want to know.
He told them no. He hasn't gone back, and he won't go back until Vietnam is a democratic country again. He knows others have gone back, but he's sure that if he returned he would end up in jail or dead. "I like freedom. I like peace. I like democracy," he says. It's why he wanted to be a peace ambassador -- just not to Vietnam.
As Nguyen waited in a South Korea airport for his flight back to the United States, he picked up an American newspaper. In it was an article about a Vietnamese woman living in Florida who returned to Vietnam to visit family. "The communists arrested her," Nguyen said. "That's the proof for me."
Just last night, Nguyen delivered Dr. Moon's peace message again to the Denver Family American Church, and before Peace Tour IV concludes in Canada on Wednesday, December 20, he might get asked to travel to one more country. Nguyen's so grateful for the peace his family found in the United States that he wants to do anything he can to help the rest of the world.
"I don't know where but I'll be ready to go," he says.
-- Jessica Centers
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.