Written by Frank Cotolo
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Topics: Los Angeles

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

image for Boat People arrive in U.S. amid controversy
A stirring portrait of two Boat People.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- For many years, 229 Vietnamese Boat People lived floating around the oceans. They have a legitimate home now, as they arrived in the United States on a chartered flight recently.

The group received a tumultuous greeting at Los Angeles International Airport. Hundreds of people greeted them but could not understand why Boat People took an airplane.

"There would have been many more people to greet them at the airport," said one greeter, "but most of them went to the docks because that is where they thought Boat People would arrive."

Meanwhile, one of the Boat People said, "I've waited years for this moment. Now I want to go to Missouri because I always wanted to see the Beehive State."

Officials say this is the first of over 1,600 Vietnamese Boat People expected to come to this country under an agreement allowing Boat People scattered across the seven seas to settle in the United States. The only problem remains how Boat People will survive on land.

The first group to arrive came by plane to prove that Boat People can fly as well as float.

"Thank you, America, for welcoming us," said another one of the Boat People. "We promise to adapt to land living."

Many Vietnamese left their homeland by boat when communists took over South Vietnam in 1975. "It was too expensive to become Airplane People and get out," said Ny Ly, another one of the arriving Boat People. "Vietnamese make boats cheaply and very few sink."

Over the years, several hundred Boat People sailed aimlessly around the United States, Australia, Canada and Europe, waiting to be invited to stay somewhere and live. But the countries felt it would be unfair to ask Boat People to assimilate with land folks, as well as it would be unfair the other way around.

"There were movements against Boat People," said a U.S. official Brad Corners, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. "Hate groups formed and death threats were common. People feel very possessive about the land they live on and a lot of them are passionate about keeping it dry. Not that Boat People wet the land. But those kinds of rumors start when there is discrimination."

So, most of the Boat People remained in limbo sailing around as politicians and activists sought a resolution.

"I thought it was so clearly wrong to let them float," said Vestus McCord, an activist for Boat People. "The right thing to do was to let them dry dock so they can get on with their lives."

Patrick Cantalope, a representative of the International Organization for All Kinds of Different People (IOAKDP), which helped in the transfer, said, "If America is going to turn Boat People away, what is next, turning Motorcycle People away?"

Bessie Formaldahyde, a secretary at IOAKDP and part-time erotic dancer, said, "Boat People can adapt to land and after all, they can still go sailing. It's not like the U.S. doesn't have rivers and other bodies of water where people can go."

"It's also a freedom-of-religion issue," said Cantalope. "Though I cannot give you the details on how it fits into that category."

George Slumpelbow, an assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said, "Now that we have settled the Boat People issue, this controversy does not end. There are Canoe People out there and although many feel a canoe is a boat and they would fall into the boat category, the specifics need to be addressed. Because we can't have Canoe People or Raft People just floating into the country because we accepted the Boat People from Vietnam. A whole new department and all new laws have to be specifically created for all of these circumstances or the next thing you know the U.S. will be so crowded with people that there won't be any room for picnics in the state parks."

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