By Corinne Murdock |
High schoolers will learn from firsthand experiences of the evils of communism in a documentary series featuring two Arizona lawmakers who survived it.
The series, produced by the University of Arizona (UArizona) Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, features House Speaker Ben Toma (R-LD27) and Rep. Quang Nguyen (R-LD01) sharing their personal accounts of communism and their emigration to America. Toma escaped from Romania, and Nguyen escaped from Vietnam.
Nguyen praised UArizona for granting war survivors like him a platform to enlighten future generations.
The videos were created in response to the state legislature passage of a bill sponsored by Nguyen last year requiring high schools to incorporate a comparative discussion of political ideologies: the principles of communism and totalitarianism compared and contrasted with America’s founding principles.
Nguyen recounted how, a week before the Fall of Saigon, his father boarded him and his brother on an airplane with hundreds of other people. Nguyen was 12 years old at the time; his father advised the brothers that they wouldn’t see their family again. He and his brother were transported to Subic Bay, then Guam, then to Travis Airforce Base, Fort Pembleton, and finally Fort Chaffee.
However, Nguyen and his brother were able to reunite with his family in San Joaquin, California. Nguyen explained that he only ever experienced kindness among American military members, contrary to the narratives he heard that the U.S. forces had invaded his country. To this day, Nguyen says he visits with Vietnam veterans nationwide to thank them.
The representative shared that his quality of life in America was better than in Vietnam: he was able to get a strong college education and well-paying employment as a young man.
Nguyen explained that hallmarks of communism include government control of food source, specifically severely limiting the supply; control of education, specifically focusing on propagandizing children; and confiscation of weapons.
Toma’s video includes his mother and father, Ana and Cornel Toma. They recounted how the Romanian secret police labeled their family as an enemy to the government.
Ana recalled how government indoctrination in schools taught her and her peers false history, such as that the rest of the world loved and admired Romania as a great nation, when in fact she would later learn that few Americans knew of Romania’s existence. Ana also recalled waiting in lines for hours to obtain food, sometimes reaching the front without receiving the few rations available.
Cornel recalled how the government took away people’s cattle and land, only allowing them one cow and a half-acre of land. Those who dared speak out would “disappear overnight.” The government also didn’t allow people to have vocational freedom: similar to the military, the government assigned citizens their vocations and where they would live.
The Toma family was forced to flee Romania after the Secret Police began visiting them. They only managed to escape after a family friend convinced a member of the secret police to assist in smuggling them out of the country under the guise of a vacation: at that point, the Toma family wasn’t allowed to leave the country otherwise. Ana and Cornel were forced to escape first, then send for their children.
Ana and Cornel navigated the legal immigration process for admittance to the U.S., traveling across Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Rome over the course of about a year. Ana said that, upon first landing in America, she witnessed a novel display of patriotism and love for America that touched her deeply.
“I was so impressed that somebody love the country so much. I was impressed by the attitude they had on the flight. I thought, ‘This is the first taste of freedom,’” said Ana.
The Toma family settled in a two-bedroom apartment for their family of seven. Speaker Toma shared his delight in the abundance of America through the simple joy of eating oranges: something not possible in Romania. Ana and Cornel shared that they found work rather quickly.
In addition to Toma and Nguyen, the series will include Mesa Community College economics professor Sylwia Cavalcant, who fled Poland’s communism.
Freedom Center Director Mary Rigdon said that the series would serve to advise students of the realities of communism.
“The mini-documentaries powerfully demonstrate our commitment to inform current and future generations, consistent with the Center’s mission to be an intellectually diverse, inclusive, and nonpartisan resource for leaders and students seeking to address society’s significant challenges. We appreciate the opportunity to highlight the power of freedom in a democratic society,” said Rigdon.
Watch the documentary series here.