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How did one of the most populous countries manage to contribute so little to the world? How did one of the poorest countries maintain its independence, despite being preyed upon by its big neighbor China? How did it win wars against both the French and the Americans?
It’s not hard for people who have been to Vietnam to notice that we are a proud people. We talk loudly. We smile a lot. We are gregarious, offering to pay even when dining with foreigners whose monthly salary is more than what our entire family makes in a year. This uncalled for pride often invites a quizzical look from foreigners: “Proud of what?” Vietnam hasn’t received any Oscar, Pulitzer, Nobel Prize, or Turing Award. No book by a Vietnamese national has made it to any of the New York Times bestseller lists. None of our universities appears in the top 200 universities in Asia, let alone in the world.
Because of our modest achievements according to the Western standards, it’s tempting to dismiss Vietnam as a small, distant country of little consequence. Vietnam is not small. It’s the 14th most populous country in the world. Vietnam is not distant – we are everywhere. Vietnamese represents the sixth largest immigrant group in the US, the fifth largest in Australia, our language the most spoken Asian language in France. Our food is easy to find in most cities around the globe. Everyone living a metropolitan area seems to have a friend named Nguyen.
We are not of little consequence either. Our economy is projected to be among the 30 largest economies by 2030. Vietnam is one of the five countries that still hold dear one of the most feared and hated ideologies, an ideology so many countries have shed so much blood and money to keep out of their borders: communism.
We live among you. Your kids go to school with our kids. You already are, or will soon be, doing business with us. The world can no longer afford to ignore us.
Photo above by Hung PM.