On World Refugee Day: ‘House Without Walls’ and the Vietnamese Boat People Exodus

A home is a place eat, sleep, rest, and live. For a refugee, the concept of home is ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-wavering. And often, it doesn’t have any walls at all.

Our newest Yellow Jacket title, House Without Walls, by Ching Yeung Russell, is based on the true events surrounding issues that plagued refugees fleeing from political and social oppression. When eleven-year-old Lam escapes from Vietnam with her younger brother, Dee Dee, they are faced with a long and perilous one journey — dangerous encounters with pirates and greedy sailors, a lack of food and water, and even the stench of a dead body onboard.

“I met Lam and Dee Dee (their fictionalized names) … in 1986. I knew they had been boat people in Vietnam,” Russell explains in the prologue of House Without Walls. “At first, this didn’t excite me. Later, when we grew closer, they talked about what happened to them when they were on their journey. Theirs was a truly hazardous experience, one that most people could not even imagine.”

Lam and Dee Dee’s experience encapsulates what millions experienced during the Vietnamese Boat People Exodus of 1978 and 1979, when people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled their homelands for safety after fallout from North Vietnamese Communists who took over Saigon in 1975.

The humanitarian crisis — and the refugees dubbed “boat people” — gets its name from the treacherous means by which refugees fled. Before the exodus, those fleeing their home nations did so through forged documentation, governmental payoffs or through carefully escaping by road or cargo ship. After the new government began to shut down private businesses, seize property and send adult men to reeducation camps in 1978, many became desperate for escape. Though a better life was not guaranteed, many felt the risk was their only option.

Today, June 20th, is world refugee day. Each day, thousands of families — just like Lam and Dee Dee — flee from their lives to escape violence.

“I strove to portray the perilous journey that some of these refugees faced when they fled their homeland,” Russell writes. “In writing this story, I have gained tremendous respect for all people throughout the world who risk their lives for freedom and a better life.”


Learn more about House Without Walls here.

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