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Video clip synopsis – It may be just a small red vinyl suitcase but for Vietnamese refugee Cuc Lam it’s a symbol of a new beginning in a new country.
Year of production - 2004
Duration - 4min 45sec
Tags - Asia, Australian History, Vietnam War, changing communities, civics and citizenship, heritage, immigration, multiculturalism, refugees, see all tags

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Cuc Lam's Suitcase

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About the Video Clip

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Cuc Lam’s Suitcase is an episode of the series National Treasures produced in 2004.

Cuc Lam’s Suitcase
If you were forced to leave your home forever, what would you take with you? Vietnamese refugee Cuc Lam took family photos and jewellery but sacrificed one precious possession to buy a suitcase, now in Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. Cuc Lam talks to Warren Brown about her journey to Australia and how this small red vinyl bag was a symbol of a new beginning in a new country.

National Treasures
Take a road-trip of discovery with the irrepressible Warren Brown – political cartoonist, columnist and history “tragic” – as he reveals a fascinating mix of national treasures drawn from public and private collections across Australia. On its own, each treasure is a priceless snapshot of an historic moment. Together, they illustrate the vitality and uniqueness of the Australian experience.

National Treasures is a Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Background Information

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By 1954, after the defeat of the Japanese and the expulsion of the French in the north, Vietnam was divided into communist North Vietnam and pro-western South Vietnam. The failure of a proposed vote on reunification led to war, which the north won in 1975.

The new national government sent many people who had supported the old government in the south to ‘re-education camps’, and others to ‘new economic zones’, where they were treated badly. These factors, coupled with poverty caused by disastrous economic reforms, caused millions of Vietnamese to flee the country, usually by barely sea-worthy boats.

These fleeing Vietnamese sold what they could for gold, and took only what they could carry with them. Pirates who raped, murdered and stole almost at will against the defenceless refugees preyed on them. Many ships sank, with the loss of all aboard.

Refugees who did survive had to stay in primitive camps in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.

The plight of the boat people now became an international humanitarian crisis. Several countries agreed to resettle as many as possible of the refugees, and agreed to quotas — the United States of America (823 000), Australia and Canada (137 000 each), France (96 000), and Germany and the United Kingdom (19 000 each).

Before 1975 there were approximately 700 Vietnam-born people in Australia. A few refugee boats had reached northern Australia, but most of the Vietnamese refugee resettlement between 1975 and 1985 was by air from the refugee camps in Asia, and was then followed by family reunion under the Family Stream of Australia’s immigration program. By 1981, 43 400 Vietnamese had been resettled in Australia. By 1991 there were 124 800 Vietnam-born in Australia and in the 2001 census, 154 000 people declared themselves as Vietnam-born.

Classroom Activities

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  1. Understanding the video clip
    1. Who was Cuc Lam?
    2. Why was she a refugee?
    3. Where did she go to after fleeing Vietnam?
    4. Why did she end up in Australia?
    5. When did she arrive here?
    6. Why did she only have one small suitcase on her arrival?
    7. What has happened to her in Australia?
  2. Exploring issues raised in the video clip
    1. Why do people become refugees? Suggest possible reasons.
    2. What would be the most difficult things about moving to another country? What would be the most exciting thing?
    3. Refugees are usually not able to take many possessions with them. Imagine that you are a refugee — what five items would you take? Go to http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/rmext05/glo/ref.html
      to see what modern refugees do take.
    4. What are the rights and responsibilities of immigrants to a country?
      What are the rights and responsibilities of the host country towards them? Prepare a list or charter that might be presented as a guide to immigrants who are applying for naturalisation.
    5. Research: What do you think have been the main impacts of any migrant group to Australia? What have been the main impacts of Australia on that group? Select a significant migrant group and research these questions, including an interview element in your investigation.
    6. How might the presence of a group of people from Vietnam affect Australia’s economic and foreign policy ties with that country?
    7. Research: Australia is described as a ‘multicultural’ society. What does this mean? Is the emphasis on people mixing together and changing each other, or on newcomers becoming basically like the rest, or on newcomers staying separate in their own culture and traditions? Which of these possible ideas about multiculturalism do Vietnamese migrants to Australia most resemble? Design a way of researching this issue to test your hypothesis.

Further Resources

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For more National Treasures information and video clips go to Investigating National Tresures