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L-EHS student wins ‘BGTIME’

Posted: May 7, 2013 5:13 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2013 5:00 a.m.
Miciah Bennett/C-I

Victoria Phan, a junior at Lugoff-Elgin High School, won a media award for a story about her father’s escape from Vietnam

Victoria Phan won big in a media contest by interviewing her father. The Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) junior earned second place and a $750 scholarship in a contest called Bridging Generations through Technology, Information, Media and Engagement (BGTIME).

Victoria wrote a story about her father’s escape from Vietnam at the age of 17, as a final project for her journalism class taught by 2013 Kershaw County Honor Roll Teacher Shannon Team, who encouraged students to enter the contest. Because the story of her father’s escape was a familiar one, Victoria said it took just a few days to complete the story. She interviewed her father so that she could include minor details, she said.

“I was surprised because I forgot that they were going to announce the winners during the conference. Some of the previous winners used video, and their pieces were strong because of the emotional impact. I didn’t think my paper had emotional impact comparable to what video could portray,” Victoria said.

In May 1979, Truc Phan, now 50, noticed his father looking at “navigation maps” while Vietnam was at war with Cambodia. His parents eventually told Phan and his two brothers, Thinh, then 18, and Phi, 15, that they if they did not “escape” they would be forced to enter the Vietcong army. Very quietly, Phan’s parents prepared gold and money -- “everything they had” -- to keep their sons from the draft. The three brothers traveled with 150 other people along the Mekong River on a “dinky river boat” where they were eventually seen and shot at.  On their last night on the boat, a U.S. Navy airplane sent a U.S. rescue boat that took them to a refugee camp in Singapore. Everyone who got on the boat survived, according to Phan, although they found little assistance at the refugee camp. A year later, all 150 people who traveled to Singapore with the Phan brothers were flown to Japan. The Phan brothers stayed there for two years until they were accepted as “political refugees” in the United States. The brothers flew to Charlotte, N.C., where they eventually obtained permanent residency, allowing their three sisters and parents to move to the U.S. as well.

“Throughout all I have been through, I have learned that nothing is given to you. You have to take a challenge. I have seen and experienced the brutal life…,” Phan said, according to his daughter. “Appreciating the freedom offered in the United States is imperative; that freedom is not available for people who live in many other countries in the world. At the time, I did what I thought was best for me. I now look back and realized I didn’t just do what was best for me. What I did impacted generation upon generation. With the combined force of other immigrants, we created a revolution. We created a new life for ourselves; a life of choice. I will never take that for granted.”

There are currently more than 1.5 million Vietnamese people in America, according to the 2010 U.S. Census; a nearly 40 percent increase since 2000. Vietnamese immigration to the U.S. is “relatively recent,” according to The History of Vietnamese Immigration by Marc Povell, a short article featured on the American Immigration Law Foundation’s website. According to Povell, the end of the Vietnam War sent the first “waves” of Vietnamese immigrants. Victoria posted the link to a Pinterest board she used as her second medium for the BGTIME contest. Her posts included a link to the world’s most influential Asian Americans, the history of Asian Americans and Vietnamese citizens and the history of Asian American and Vietnamese immigration, as well as links to sites about popular opinion of Asian Americans on issues such as same-sex marriage and wage equality. Phan even included a link to the Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP) at the University of California - Irvine started in 2011 and the Smithsonian’s Vietnamese American Heritage Project. Both projects are dedicated to preserving the stories of Vietnamese Americans.

BGTIME is run by the S.C. Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging. The South Carolina Press Association sponsors the competition and judges entries during its spring conference. The contest asked ninth- through 12th-graders to write a story about a “senior citizen” 50 and older. Stories can include “soft feature stories, oral or written history or insights on contemporary issues,” according to BGTIME’s website. Judging is based on “enterprise, writing, use of different media and incorporation of social media. However, well-done, traditional stories may be just as competitive,” according the BGTIME contest site. Students are encouraged to use more than one medium/ and/ or a social media site to tell the story, however. The faculty advisors win a $250 prize.


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