For their take on bilingual ed, you need a VCR
By Elizabeth Shelburne
The youngsters gathered in an empty classroom at the Vietnamese-American Civic
Association in Dorchester are unanimous in their opinion. Bilingual education is
a good thing.
When the association's youth coordinator, Phuong-dai Nguyen, proposed doing a
project on any issue touching the lives of the program's Vietnamese refugee and
immigrant teenagers, her students quickly embraced the idea of doing something
on bilingual education They had all benefited from the method and felt their
transition from ''Vietnamese newcomer" to ''Vietnamese-American" was hastened by
the program. They also felt that no one had sought the opinion of students --
the group most affected by the 2002 vote on Question 2, which eliminates the
program from public schools.
The youths chose to create a video to document their feelings about and
experiences with bilingual education, in part because they thought taking that
route might be the easiest option. By their own admission, they wanted to avoid
having to write another long essay with research and hard work. With a giggle
and a blush of embarrassment, Oanh Truong, 17, admitted that the video turned
out to be the more difficult project. ''It was easier because we didn't have to
write, but we were nervous on the video," she said.
It took a month of working every day for two hours to finish the filming and the
translation. ''At the end of the month, we were going crazy," Duy Ly, 15, said
of the film-making process, which the youths completed on their own, with only
occasional guidance from adults. The videomakers interviewed high school
students, college students, parents, and bilingual teachers in English and
Vietnamese. They took turns operating the camera (donated, along with
film-editing services, by Boston Network News, Boston's cable access station),
translating the Vietnamese into English subtitles.
Their film portrays a community deeply indebted to the bilingual education
program and convinced of its necessity. Several in the film, however, expressed
awareness of some of the problems of the method and acknowledge that staying in
it too long can hold a student back. Even so, nearly every child, parent, and
educator in the film expresses the belief that such a program is an incalculable
advantage for non-English-speaking refugees and immigrants. Without it, said
Thien Le, 17, who arrived here three years ago, newcomers ''will drop out of
school and become gangsters or whatever."
These filmmakers seem in no danger of such a fate. They are part of a larger
project at the civic association known as the Youth Development Program, which
has about 30 teenagers. The group meets throughout the year, nearly every day.
They participate in, and even lead, workshops on careers and on issues affecting
teenagers, such as HIV/AIDS, smoking, and gang violence. They receive tutoring
in English and for their school classes and spend time each week volunteering
with other community organizations.
While clearly proud of their efforts on the film, they seemed, not surprisingly
for teenagers, self-conscious about it. When they first received the video back
from editing, they watched it as a group. ''We were laughing because we looked
all funny," said Oanh Truong.
Phuong-dai Nguyen, the youth leader, is considering sending the film out to a
wider audience than the community organizations she has sent it to thus far. The
creators are excited about the possibility that some politicians might see the
film, although they all recoiled at the idea of it being shown on television.
''Just don't show our faces," said Duy Ly, laughing.
The 10 youngsters involved in making the film enjoyed the process so much that
they are considering making more. Nhi Le, the association peer leader who
appears often in the video, suggested SARS as the next topic.
''Or going to war in Iraq, because I think a lot of people did not want to do
that," said Thoa Huynh, 17.
For more information about the civic association and the film, visit
www.vacaboston.org, or call Phuong-dai Nguyen at 617-288-7344.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.