|Glik shows off photos of his family in Vietnam.|
| A threatened culture |
When Glik arrived in Durham in 2002, he moved into a two-bedroom apartment with three other men with whom he spent five months at a refugee camp in Cambodia. These men will tell an American that they are Montagnards, the widely used French moniker for the multi-tribal ethnic minority that has lived in the central highlands of Vietnam for centuries. When speaking to each other, they use the term Dega. One thing you will never hear them call themselves is Vietnamese.
Central highlanders are comprised of several dozen linguistically and culturally independent groups, or "tribes," that are distinct from the rest of Vietnam. Free in the Forest, a seminal ethnography on the Montagnards by American anthropologist Gerald Hickey, compares the banding together of these distinct groups "to the process of ethnicity that historically occurred among the diverse groups of Americans who came to think of themselves as 'Indian'." The umbrella term "Montagnard," the result of outsider labeling, has now become a tool for cultural survival.
Located strategically in the middle of North and South Vietnam, Montagnards have faced endless affronts on their culture throughout modern history. The U.S. military enlisted their help in fighting the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. After the war ended and American forces withdrew, the highlanders faced persecution by the Vietnamese government for assisting the U.S. troops.
Since 1975, without protected rights to land, the Montagnards have been increasingly displaced by a steady migrant flow--mostly of ethnic Vietnamese--into the central highlands. Hickey estimates that over the twentieth century, 85 percent of Montagnard villages have been destroyed or abandoned.
As descendents of converts influenced by foreign missionaries, the Montagnards face religious persecution under the current Vietnamese government. Despite the Vietnamese government's official recognition of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam in recent years, Catholics and Protestants, particularly those also belonging to ethnic minorities, are routinely targeted by police. It is dangerous to attend church, to gather in prayer or song, or to own bibles. Those Montagnards who remain in the highland villages meet at odd hours for secret services in people's homes.
On January 27, 2002, over 20,000 Montagnards staged what should have been a peaceful demonstration in the Dak Lak, Gia Lai, Kontum, and Lam Dong provinces to voice their right to worship without persecution and their right to live on ancestral land. They were met with tasers and brutality. Police were sent immediately to root out the protestors' leaders in highland communities. Men went into hiding for fear of being interrogated and arrested. Glik didn't demonstrate, but the police showed up at his farm anyway, accusing him of plans to flee to Cambodia. He, like others, feared for his safety and the safety of his family.
Within a week, Glik decided that leaving was his only option. He attended his usual clandestine church service, said goodbye to his wife and kids, and ran for the Cambodian border without them. Glik’s family of five never would have made the two-day trip.
A threatened culture