Memorial Day: Vietnamese Boat People version

This past weekend I went to the Asian Festival that is held in Columbus, Ohio every Memorial Day weekend. We go every year and there’s always something new among the usual displays and performances. This year, it was the unassuming boat, about 40 feet long and 6 feet wide, a smaller version of the type that carried Madalenna Lai and her four children out of Vietnam for the safety of Thailand in 1975. This particular boat carried 16 people. Madalenna Lai ‘s held 37.

Lai, the president of the Vietnamese Cultural House in California, travels with the boat cabled onto a semi-truck trailer to teach Americans about the “boat people’s” journey to the U.S. For Lai and the people who sponsor the boat tour (they’ve visited 40 of the 50 states so far), this is freedom with a capital F.

When I was talking with Mrs. Lai, several people from various nationalities came to ask questions and wander among the display that accompanies the boat. The photos and captions tell about the “boat people’s” journey out of Vietnam and to show where this particular boat has been so far. Popular stops are the front of state capitals. The group is working on earning enough money to travel to the 10 remaining states. Hawaii and Alaska are on the list, but it will cost $28,000 to make it to Hawaii, so when exactly that will be is unsure. Because the group is worried about the boat’s safety, they don’t post it’s upcoming schedule. Basically, they go through a state’s Vietnamese community in order to set up venues. The boat may be heading your way, so be on the lookout.

**the photo is of Mrs. Lai and a volunteer who lives in Columbus. He came from Vietnam at age 9 when his family moved to a suburb of Cleveland.

Here is an article about Mrs. Lai, the boat and the Rose Parade. In 2001, she sold her house to sponsor a float as a way to thank the United States. She did buy another house. Her organization is based in Pomona, California.