Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Montagnards

Montagnard is a French word meaning something like "mountain people" and refers to the indigenous people of the Vietnamese central highlands. They were evangelized beginning in the 1950s and proved to be great allies to the Americans during the Vietnam War.

They are still actively persecuted by the Vietcong to this day. My friends arrived in Charlotte in 2002 after spending over a year in a refugee camp in Cambodia along with over 200 others. I worked with the Jarai tribe for about 2 years teaching them English and have just recently picked up the ball again and started working with them again primarily because a new wave of them have arrived (many of the new ones wives and childrens of my former students from whom they'd been seperated for years). I was extremely happy when I heard that their families (for the most part) had arrived.

Even though I cant count the number of evenings I spent teaching them English, I'm quite sure they taught me more than I ever taught them. And I've quickly forgotten most of it so I'm having to relearn about it. They taught me about simplicity and sincerity. They are never "too cool" to be happy to see you. They are hard working and honest. Everyone of them is a capable role model. Western culture has a lot of great ideals but we can learn from other cultures as well. (And this coming from a conservative).

My friends basically depended on welfare when they first came to this country (and they came by necessity not by choice). And I softened up a bit on being so harsh with people receiving government assistance when I saw people who really needed it and were doing their best to NOT need it. They are the hardest workers you'll ever meet. They weren't in need of assistance for long as they quickly found employment. My point is that it made me proud to be a citizen of a country that would help others like that. When Cambodia said they were closing the refugee camps, the Montagnards there had nowhere to go. No one would accept them. Finally, North & South Carolina agreed to. Most of them settled in Charlotte & Greensboro.

I know it's hard for me to post anything without finding something to complain about against the Evangelical church, but without pointing any fingers let me just say this and let you come up with your own conclusions: The only two organizations that lifted a finger to help the Montagnards when they came to Charlotte (the buckle on the Bible Belt) were HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) and Catholic Social Services. Hats off to both of those especially HIAS.

Anyway, I am currently finishing up a (world's first) Jarai-English dictionary and very excited about nearing the completion. It should have been finished a long time ago but because of my procrastination it wasn't.

Here's a taste of what's happening to them right now under the Vietcong.


Anonymous said...

Would like to have copy of the dictionary for use with our new refugee friends. Only one of us knows a little Vietnamese.
From Durham

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Id be happy to give you one as soon as we're done. We are nearing the final stages (proof reading and formatting). Drop me an email at:


(Take out the part that says remove and then email it. I'm only gonna leave this up for a few days to avoid getting spam.)