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Now in Paperback

December 27, 1987|ALEX RAKSIN

Taking Refuge in L.A.: Life in a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, Don Farber (photographs), Rick Fields (text) (Aperture Books: $14.95). Both capitalists and communists in the late 20th Century have claimed to support the "indigenous" protest movements of the Vietnamese people. As this book eloquently shows, superpower ideologies actually are foreign to the Vietnamese, 80% of whom are guided by Buddhism, a philosophy thousands of years older than superpower capitalism or communism. Many Buddhists had high hopes for the Communist government after the U.S. withdrawal in 1975 . The classic 1963 photograph of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire (which first motivated Don Farber's interest in Vietnam) symbolizes an anti-American sentiment that persists even among some of the immigrants interviewed in these pages. But, since taking power, the Communists merely have stepped up the oppression, jailing top Buddhist leaders to undermine their base of popular support. The 170,000 Vietnamese people in Los Angeles and Orange counties, who maintain their ties to Vietnam through the temple studied here, are largely refugees from this regime. Not surprisingly, they are worried about relatives still overseas and anxious about living in a strange land. Ingeniously, however, Farber has chosen to portray them in a setting where tension is nearly invisible.

This environment, serene despite its location at Berendo and 9th streets in Koreatown, encourages the Vietnamese to open up to us. We see warm tradition (as an expression of compassion for all living beings, a Zen patriarch at the temple releases pigeons during a traditional ceremony), closeness between young and old, and a deep appreciation of the necessary link between being aware and being alive. "Taking Refuge in L.A." would have benefited had some conflict crept into these pages. Farber is particularly adept at capturing the spontaneity of child's play, for instance, but he only profiles kids who regularly attend the temple. He does not turn his lens toward Vietnamese children striving to become American, a serious, growing concern in the community. This tension is hinted at, however, in a photograph of monks playing Co Tuong, a game similar to chess. In the background lurk a TV and stereo headphones.

For Richer, For Poorer: The New U.S.-Japan Relationship, Ellen L. Frost (Council on Foreign Relations: $9.95). Japan and the United States are intimately connected technologically (sharing advances in research and development), culturally (emphasizing success and the work ethic), economically (a mere 7% of the world's people, they produce more than 70% of the world's economic output) and militarily (securing stability in Southeast Asia, encouraging moderation in China and opposing the Soviet Union). A visitor listening to today's Japan-bashing in Congress, however, might think we were still at war. Ellen L. Frost, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Defense and now a U.S.-Japan expert for Westinghouse, wrote this book to underscore the need for a spirit of partnership to prevail over the suspiciousness and defensiveness in Washington.

Frost's arguments are clear and convincing: "(If) the United States retreats behind the wall of Fortress America, Japan (will) lurch back into pessimism, insularity, and defensive nationalism . . . . Aided by Mikhail Gorbachev's new and more positive diplomacy in Asia, the Soviet Union would surely try to exploit this new climate." "For Richer, For Poorer" is not likely to win over the pro-tariff forces in Congress, however, for the statistics that Frost cites actually might scare more Americans into taking a defensive posture rather than encouraging them to take up Frost's suggestions, such as "thinking in terms of a single global market, investing more and studying harder." Since 1980, for example, U.S. imports from Japan have grown more than six times faster than U.S. exports to Japan.

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