To Christians, providing hospitality and loving one’s neighbor are moral imperatives. For Benedictine monk and college professor Brother Simon-Hòa Phan, such ideals have obvious extensions into U.S. immigration policy. In 1975, Brother Simon, now 52, fled Vietnam with his Catholic parents and six siblings, escaping from the rooftop of the American Embassy the day before the fall of Saigon. “We were the first wave of Vietnamese refugees and right at the end of the war,” he says. “My father was in the air force with South Vietnam. He actually worked in the American Embassy, and that’s how he had help getting out of the country.” Today, Brother Simon follows a code of rules specifically related to hospitality. “When people knock on the monastery door, the monk has to respond, take them, feed them, or give them a place to sleep,” he explains. The sense of duty towards being welcoming and opening doors rings parallel to how the United States first took in Brother Simon and his family over 40 years ago.
The U.S. in particular has always been a nation of immigrants. There is a moral obligation especially for U.S. to help.
After immigrating here, Brother Simon’s family ended up in Orange County, where the family assimilated into American culture with help from their strong faith and religious values. “We naturally sought out other Catholics,” Brother Simon says. “My parents got very involved with establishing Catholic communities, and volunteer work in churches. I was always attracted to that kind of life, a religious life.” His father worked a variety of jobs, in a meat factory and as a locksmith, and his mother assembled parts for hard drives in an electronic manufacturing plant.
Today, Brother Simon laments how few people are granted asylum here. It’s a topic he’s exploring as an art professor at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. He produced a documentary about identity, culture, and immigration for Amerasians, the children of Vietnamese women and American servicemen, born during the Vietnam War. “Forty-one years after the war, Amerasians are still trying to claim their place in the U.S., as the land of their fathers,” Brother Simon says. The film “”Mother Tongue, Fatherland,” screened at film festivals in Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Dallas, and was broadcast on Vietnamese cable channel SBTN and Twin Cities Public Television.
Much of the film revolves around the rejection of visa applications by Amerasians.
Overall, Brother Simon feels an immense gratitude about his journey. “I am personally very grateful for the U.S. accepting us into the country and helping us,” he says. “I always go out of my way to help other immigrants who come to the country. As a Christian, Jesus tells us to respond to the needs of others. The U.S. in particular has always been a nation of immigrants. There is a moral obligation especially for U.S. to help.”