The “re-education camps” in which two of Anh’s uncles serve time in Vietnam represent the brutality of the Communist regime that ruled the country after the end of the Vietnam War. The regime condemned those it deemed to be enemies—such as Anh’s uncles Thanh and Huy, who had fought alongside American and Australian troops during the war—to these camps. While the purported purpose of the camps was to “re-educate” opponents of the regime, the camps were in fact centers of detention and punishment. There, prisoners face starvation, torture, disease, and hard labor. The conditions are so brutal that Anh’s uncle Thanh almost dies as a result of an illness he picks up while undertaking backbreaking hard labor in the camp. The harsh conditions, as well as the brutality to which inmates are subjected, therefore, point to the ruthlessness and oppression of the regime that ruled the country in the aftermath of the war. It is one of the reasons why Anh’s family flees the country on their boat journey.
The Re-education Camps Quotes in The Happiest Refugee
One sunny afternoon my father walked into the remote re-education camp dressed as a high-ranking communist officer. He marched right through the front door of the commanding officer’s room.
“These two men need to come with me,” he demanded. The commanding officer was bewildered. He was afraid to disobey such a high-ranking official so he did not resist. My father then walked my uncles out of the camp, right through the front gate.