INDOCHINA’S REFUGEES was my first book. I wrote it in the Philippines, sitting in the dust at a refugee camp in the mountains of Bataan. At that time, in the middles eighties, the camp housed 17,000 souls from the three countries of Indochina. They were there for intensive language training and cultural orientation before going to join families and friends in the United States.
The population turned over rapidly. Every week the rickety red Philippine Rabbits and triumphantly named Victory Liners careered up and down the mountain roads, trailing clouds of stinking black fumes, scattering goats and chickens, and swerving their way around rocks set on the road to protect swatches of rice spread out to dry.
I first went to this camp as an official “wife of” in March 1985. When we were leaving, I was presented with a painting of Vietnamese boat people on the high seas. Back home in Manila I set about to hang it on the wall and found, handwritten on a scrap of paper stuck onto the back, the words: “A people forced to go a dangerous drama across feats of darkness and turbulent seas, in favor of freedom.”
In that moment I turned into a writer.