Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Huyen's Visa Story Part 4

First off, thanks for your emails and comments. I've received dozens of letters from people about Huyen's visa rejection. The most common reaction in the letters was surprise. Some people were shocked that it was the United States that rejected Huyen and not Vietnam. A lot of people think that Vietnam is like East Germany back in the day and that nobody is allowed out without special permission. The fact is, Vietnam doesn't blink an eye if its citizens want to travel abroad. The whole rejection is on the USA's shoulders.

I've received dozens of suggestions on what step to take next. Many people have suggested that my father, the mayor, should call his congressman. Others have suggested that my sister should make a call to some of her senator contacts. For the record, I have told both my father and sister that I don't want their help. That said, as much as they would love to help me, ethically they wouldn't anyway. I remember when I was a child and my father was on the Board of Education, he never requested that his children get a specific teacher. My dad doesn't believe in abusing power and he's passed down those ethics to his children. I want to treat this frustrating situation like one of the probably 1,000s of average citizens who deals with this all the time.

I've also received lots of emails from people suggesting -- how should I word this -- slightly shady ways to pursue the visa. The thing to keep in mind is that Huyen is just trying to get a visitor's visa. She only wants to come for a quick visit. That said, it is a very real possibility that down the line Huyen and I will want to move to America. As angry as I am at America right now, its still where I want to raise my children. Huyen and I don't want to do anything that isn't completely honest that could prohibit her from getting a permanent visa a few years from now.

My initial reaction to Huyen's rejection was to write letters to newspapers and magazines. I've written a letter for Newsweek's "MY TURN" but haven't submitted it yet. I'm also drafting an op-ed about the ludicruous interview fee in developing countries. i.e. The equivelent of a Vietnamese person paying $131 just for an interview is equal to an American paying $4,800 to possibly get permission to go on vacation.

I haven't sent the letters yet because a few politically savvy friends of mine insisted that I contact my congressman before I did anything else. Last night (Vietnam time) I called my Santa Monica congressman's office. I'm still registered to vote in Santa Monica and plan on moving back there upon returning to the states. The cool thing about being repped in Santa Monica is that we have one of the most influential congressman in the House of Representatives -- Congressman Henry Waxman. If you've watched CSPAN for more than an hour in your life, chances are you've seen his face a few times. But in case you haven't, here's a good picture of him tussling with Bush:

I talked with a friendly staffer at the Congressman's LA office who emailed me a form to fill out and told me to email him Huyen's documents. He said that Congressman Waxman will send a letter the the Hanoi embassy but that a) Huyen would have to apply again b) Yes, applying again means paying another $131 c) A letter from the congressman is no guarantee that Huyen will be granted a visa.

I've literally been angry since last Wednesday. Those who know me know that I'm pretty easy going and rarely get pissed off. I mean when I was robbed by ninjas last year and lost all of my stuff, I just made a joke out of it. However, this past week I've been pissed. I mean really pissed. I haven't had a good night's sleep in five days because I wake up at three AM with ideas for the op-ed. I've literally had angry dreams about applying for the visa.

It seems that Huyen's visa is the only thing I can talk/email about. A lot of expats in Hanoi keep asking me if Huyen got her visa and upon telling them about her being rejected they start to share their own pissed off stories. Jim, the director of studies at my school and one of the most chill people I've ever met, turned red with anger recanting a few visa rejection stories:

A) A former student of his lost a full scholarship to the University of Montana because the embassy thought the kid was going to skip college to work at his uncle's restaurant in California.

B) A charity, in conjunction with a San Diego hospital, was going to fly a little girl to San Diego to get skin graphs for her severly burnt body. The embassy rejected her visa. In the end, after the charity caused an uproar, the embassy reversed its decision. But the fact that they had to think twice about it is sickening.

The fact of the matter is, I've been embarrassed about America since the moment the interviewer told Huyen she, "Is too young and not rich enough to go to America." That's not the America that I boast about to my students and Vietnamese friends when they ask me questions about life in America. That said, it makes me proud that I can still pick up a phone (or skype) and dial my congressman's number and gets someone on the phone who wants to help me. I don't know how much Congressman Waxman can really do but at least he's going to try to do something. Knowing that, last night I slept through the night for the first time since last Thursday.