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October 26, 1975 - Image 3

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1975-10-26

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mary long
jo marcotty
barb cornell



page four-books
page five-

Number 6 - Page Three October

26, 1975


Vietnamese child:

Six months in the US.

Thach Lam, age nine, on a
chilly, windswept April afternoon
at Detroit's Metro Airport. One of
the first 14 Vietnamese orphans to
be placed with Michigan families,
Lam was a child of last spring's
emotionally charged and bitterly
condemned Operation Babylift.
Thoughts of that day evoke vivid
memories. There were ugly rumors
about the children's health. Some
charged that the entire operation
was a stunt to expunge national
guilt about the war. Politicans
sang 'a chorus of pomnous self-
congratulation for opening Ameri-
ca's arms to the beleaguered and
homeless - ravaged by a war they
had produced. But politics evapo-
rated when Lam met his American
parents, Paul and Lucille McKay
of Flint. Their warm and easy un-
ion suggested a classically hapnv
ending to a grueling, ten-thousand
mile odyssey.
Six months later, Lam McKay
squirms restlessly at his desk in
Dolly Ribner's first grade class at
the Brownell Elementary school in
Flint. He sits apart from the other
children, in front of the classroom
facing the wall. Ribner says he is
too rough with the others, and can
relate to them only by hitting.
Lam does well in math, but she
does not know if he will learn to
read this year.
Lam's home, in a comfortable,
predominantly black working class
section :of town, is secure and sup-.
portive but with hints of string-
ent discipline. Paul McKay's small
wooden paddle rests on a counter
In the kitchen as a constant re-
minder of how misbehavior is
dealt with. Conversations with the
McKays reflect a feeling that
Lam's assimilation into family life
was not as smooth as they would
have liked. Sibling jealously com-
bined with his own unruliness
made for hard times in the early

asiatic eyes and dark com-
plexion, his father says, undoubt-
edly makes him the offspring of a
black serviceman and a Vietna-
mese woman. Unceasingly active
and energetic, his jet black hair is
in a perpetual state of disarray.
There is a quiet, tender side to his
highly physical nature, as he
clutches a visitor tightly by the
arm, beckoning him to come watch
TV, or to look at a picture he has
He was born in February, 1966
in the town of Nhat Ram, just
north of Saigon. When he was sev-
en, his mother brought him to a
Saigon orphanage run by Holt In-
ternational Children's Services,
where he stayed for the next 16
months. It is a place he refers to
only as "the big house",
"There were some adjustments,"
said Paul McKay, looking back ov-
er the last six months. An articu-
late, powerfully built man who is
a supervisor at the Buick plant in
Flint, he cuts a striking, even
threatening figure. Lucille McKay
works fulltime also, at the town's
mammoth A. C. Sparkplug fac-
They both described Lam as ex-
tremely nervous and anxious when
he first came home, getting up ey-.
ery morning at six and trying to
absorb all that his new surround-
ings had to offer. Mrs. McKay
laughed heartily when she re-
counted his first experience with
snow, saying that he rushed out-
side, kicked off his shoes, and
plunged feet first into the strange
new stuff.
"He wanted to see everything,"
said Mr. McKay, "but we didn't go
out of our way to show him things.
If we were going some place and
we took him, fine."
Lam's restlessness grew into
something more serious this fall in
school, where Ribner describes him
as a severe behavior problem.
"He was terrible, just doing ev-

erything bad to get attention,"
said Ribner, a patient young wo-
man of whom the McKays speak
highly. Although he sits away from
the rest of the children, he par-
ticipates in all class activities, and
Ribner thinks he is getting better.
She said the other two school age
McKay children (Paul Jr., 10, and
Tamara, 6) who she also taught
were similar problems, though not
as severe.
Ms. McKay told her "Lam was
lacking in compassion, and the on-
ly way he can get through to Lam
is by whipping him, and that's just
not true." She cringes at the
thought, considering McKay's phy-
sical stature.
Ribner was also told that the
McKays were considering not
keeping Lam, and that he has been
too much of a disruptive influence
on Paul and Tammy. Although all
the legal paperwork on the adop-
tion has been completed, a spokes-
man for the state Department of
Social Services indicated that it is
usually a full year in Michigan be-
fore adoptions become official.
An evening at home with the
McKay's reflected little of the tur-
moil Ribner spoke of, and Mrs. Mc-
Kav said the family has every in-
tention of keeping Lam, saying
that he. "has to learn to settle
down." Of the whipping, she ex-
plained that Lam "gets it as much
a the rest of them, but you can
talk to him."
AM WILL NOT say much about
Vietnam. or his mother there,
b'it h leaveC ouiet hints that he is
indeepd a ghild of the war, having
rnPnt nearly the first decade of his
a in its midst. Mr. McKav said
thIt when he first came home,
T7,q incited on havino the door
+n k"i r'onm einsed and the light on
inside. McKay later learned that
doorknobs in Nhat Ram were wir-
ed with an electric charge.
"They did it to keep the V.C. out.
The V.C. used to come in there and

kill people," said McKay.
Lam enjoys to draw, sketching
fighter bombers and helicopters in
startling details, complete with
weapons firing and stick figure
soldiers inside.
"I can draw them good," he
boasts, grabbing a pad and pencil.
He draws quickly and surely, as if
he had done the same pictures
hundreds of times before. He said
he could "see the airplanes go
high until I can't see them. He
speaks a fragmented, halting En-
glish. barely comprehensible to a
newcomer, although his family
understands him perfectly.
Lam's health is good, McKay
says. The better diet and medical
care be has received here have
agreed with him. But there was
one problem that he brought with
him from Vietnam:
"When Lam first got here, he
had a bad infection on the lower
part of his leg. We got it fixed up,
and later on when I asked him
how he got it, he said somebody
put a cigarette out there."
VcKAY HAS HAD to answer
questions at work about why
he did not adopt a black-American
child of Lam's age, of which there
are many who need homes. He said

if he did, "there's always the pos-
sibility that he will want to go find
his parents when he got older,
which would hurt me very much."
He was becoming tense with anger
just thinking of it.
"I would be giving up too much
of myself to have some broad come
up to me ten years after she gave
the kid up because she didn't want
to take care of him, and say that
she wanted him back. There's one
chance in a million Lam will go
back to Vietnam. He doesn't want
to go back. He doesn't have those
An evening around the television
set is a time for endless cajoling
and wrestling for Lam, Paul Jr.,
Tamara, and 18-month-61d Athe-
na, whom Lam delights in feeding
with a bottle. It's peaceful, and
amicable, but McKay says Paul Jr.
hasn't been much of an older
"Paul's an individualist," he
said. "He'll be teaching him some-
thing, like basketball or football,
and if Lam don't catch on quickly
enough to suit Paul, he'll get dis-
couraged and have nothing to do
with him." It's a funny relation-
ship. He won't let anybody else
mess with Lam, but he'll punch.


Women's Programs:

Fighting for legitimacy

Daily Photo by KEN FINK
him out himself."
Paul doesn't have much to say
about- his new brother, only that
"he's always messin' and sayin'
things about his sister. Goddam,
he be laughin' all the time and be-
ing like the people on TV."
T AM HAS HAD a unifying effect
on the McKay's over the past
six months. His progress has given
them a sense of shared experience
that was not as strong before. Mrs.
McKay has learned to prepare a
couple of Vietnamese dishes which
she frequently serves because Lam
likes them, and also, because they
are inexpensive. Lam's orphanage
experience taught him to say
grace before every meal, a habit
he restored to the McKay's table
after a long absence.
"We used to be very split in our
eating habits," said McKay. "I
would be eating in front of the TV,
the kids would be somewhere else,
and that wasn't the way it should
have been.
McKay doesn't like the way Lam
was taught at the orphanage, and
he says it is hurting him in school
"They programmed him like a
computer. He can only memorize.
You take the alphabet out of or-
der, and he won't know it."
Ribner says he has difficulty as-
sociating letters with the phonetic
sounds they make. This right now
is his biggest detriment to learning
to read. The deficiency is painfully
evident as he goes through a read-
ing exercise with his classmates,
all mostly two or three years
younger than him. He struggles
with sentences like "Ben can run.
Ben can run and hide. Run and
class like Lam, particularly the
girls. But they are wary of his
roughness, even though he is not
much larger than they are. In the
afternoon play period outside, few
of the children will venture to the
far corner' of the schoolyard to
play with him.
"Most of the kids want to like
him," said Ribner, "but he is just
too rough."
Nevertheless, she feels that he
is an essentially happy child, who
enjoys praise, takes immense pride
in the things he does well, and is
not much different from any other
disruptive child of his age.
"His roughness has a little bit of
mean streak in it, but other than
that, no, there isn't much of a dif-
PAUL McKAY HAS a "for sale"
sign in front of his house. He
says that as soon as he makes a
deal, which might be before Jan-
uary, his family is moving to the
conimtry. -Te wants room for his
kirk to move around.
"Yeah," said Mrs. McKay, "we're
gonna raise cows and pigs, and the
whole thing." Asked if he thought
this would be another disruption

day-long appearance in Ann
Arbor to talk about the feminist
future and ask "Where Are We,
Where Are We Going?" leaders of
the movement on campus retreat-
ed home with second thoughts on
the subject at hand.
For many, Friedan's Utopian vi-
sions served only to gloss over the-
future facing those women, who
up to now have, been fighting a
battle on two campus fronts, the
classroom as well as the sports
For while verbal acceptance of
feminist ends has begun to trickle
-then flood out of every faculty
chamber and athletic facility on
campus, what lies under the word-
age in terms of dollars and cents
actually committed to women's
Not a whole lot, say women
around campus. Although Women's
Studies is being allowed to run as
a full major this year, the days of
tuition hikes and budget cuts have
forced the staff to fight especially
hard for the monetary sunport
which means legitimacy and re-
cognition. "And we're not com-
pletely over the hump," comments
Elizabeth Douvan, professor of
psychology and a member of the
Women's Studies steering commit-
tee since the program's inception.
s- - - - - - ......J-l.of-. ...1... fi nt.

our greatest strengths."
But now that an awareness of
women's issues is hopefully as in-
tegral a part of many freshwom-
en's mental equipment as writing
skills for term papers, Tilly sees a
need to delve deeper. "Personally
I'd like to get back into the re-
search in disciplines. There are too
many people writing without a
sound basis in that. So I see my
job as trying to weaves the femin-
ist activist history and the re-
search in disciplines together."
While research efforts will prd-
bably assume an important new
role in Women's Studies' future,
others are clamoring for the pro-
gram to take a more active politi-
cal role on campus, "The question
is whether Women's Studies can.
be in the position of a spokesper-
son for women on campus. That
concept is not built into the pro-
gram now and though I think it
can usefully act as such in some
situations, the program can't be
set up to do that, its main purpose
is elsewhere." comments Tilly,
"The whole things hinges on le-
gitimacy." adds Clint McCane, the
only male women's studies major
in the program, "Until Robben
Fleming and the Board of Regents
recognize it as legit, until you can
say I majored in Women's Studies
and its doesn't seem like basket
weaving, we're just hanging in

present now no one knows what
will really follow. The present short
term glow could serve only to blur
future hardships in the eyes of
many, deflecting their energy
away to other interests. Stagna-
tion may follow.
YET MOST feminists on campus
see a different shadows of col-
or in the pattern emerging. "I
foresee a sort of settling out period
after the sixties," says Ann Fraser
a sophomore and facilitator of a
Women's Studies 200 level course.
Women's Studies program is to
be avoided, any direction is prefer-
able to no direction at all, some
students maintain. However, in
suite of monetary concerns and an
increasingly large assortment of
cliches that seem to be wearing
thin, in the name of "Women's
Lib" both researchers and activist-
oriented students agree that the
problems of the poor, minorities
and other nationalities need fur-
ther careful consideration and dili-
gent analysis in class as well as in
practical application.
"At the Betty Friedan Cocktail
Party," McCane relates "they were
all there paying five bucks apiece.
It was all white middle class wom-
en, dressed un in their white mid-
dle class neighborhood, just like a
women's circle in church."
As hart of Women's. Studies' cur-
rent attempt to alleviate this too

Daily Photo by KEN FINK
Louise Tilly, Women's Studies Director

stay, old and
study herself
enough to do it
ble budget.

smart enough to
and important
with a sizable, sta-

To raise someone's consciousness
is one matter, to convince that
consciousness to shell out large
amounts of money ,to women's
sports and women's studies is quite
In order to provide a solution
to this dilemma, as well as direc-
tion to the Women's Studies pro-

However, the question that
looms large in everyone's mind is:
can that transition be achieved
without sacrificing the vitality of
the political committment to
change that has characterized the
program through its earlier years?
And can it do this before the wide-
spread interest and acceptance of
the women's movement dissipates
into a vogue that is already fill-
ing up with cliches and half won

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