Tenants

Portraits from the Tenderloin and the Indochinese Housing Development Corporation by Alice Lucas

The war that tore apart Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia…the war that most Americans remember as the “Vietnam War” began in the early 1960’s and officially ended in 1975. But as one young Cambodian community worker says, “Over there, the war ends and the family takes care of each other.Over here, the war goes on and on and parents don’t take care of their kids and kids don’t take care about their parents.”

On the streets and in the apartments of the Tenderloin, parents and children of refugee families live in an insular world. After twenty years of war and years of life in refugee camps, men have trouble learning the language of their new country. Their skills as soldiers are useless here and they are mostly unemployed. Many widows from the war came alone bringing families that include grandparents and children. Clinging to tradition and haunted by terrible memories, they seldom go farther from their apartments than the sidewalks bordering the street.But their children race headlong into American life, learning the language and culture of America from the streets in one of the toughest parts of the city. Communication between generations quiuckly breaks down and children take advantage of the family’s ignorance of American ways, demanding money and priviledges and mis-translating messages from school to their advantage. These teenagers, like most of their peers, spend less and less time in their small studio apartments. Their gathering place is the street — and the street offers many temptations.

Believing their children have abandoned traditional ways, some parents insist that their children follow traditional ways, sometimes driving their sons and daughters away. But most kids see themselves as being bicultural. They show up for the New Year celebration in the recreation room at 340 Eddy Street in the famous “green building”, and love coconut curry and somla machu along with their Big Macs.

The latest immigrant families to arrive are the Vietnamese whose fathers and husbands were soldiers in the South Vietnamese army and were imprisoned in re-education camps when the war ended. Their wives were either sent to the countryside to work in the fields or left to scrabble through the wreckage of the post-war economy to take care of their children. Several recently reunited families live in apartments at 375 Eddy Street.

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