Vietnamese Refugee Turns Fashion Designer After Escaping Communism

By Miguel Moreno

After the Battle of Saigon in 1975 and the fall of the Republic of South Vietnam, communism consumed the childhood of the 5-year-old Jaden Lam Phan. For the next 20 years his family was suppressed, spied on, and exploited for labor by the regime of North Vietnam.

Jaden’s father was the first to escape Vietnam in 1980 on a perilous trip in a small fishing boat, eventually reaching America; and the rest of his family followed by plane 10 years later. Others who left before them were not so fortunate: some left on crammed, lashed-together boats, trying to reach neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people are estimated to have died on boats, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

“It’s a 50/50 chance,” said Jaden recently in New York. “You die in the sea, or you go to have a wonderful life in America; or you stay in Vietnam and get tortured day by day.”

In his light blue self-designed suit on his own Jaden Lam luxury clothing line, it’s clear how he beat the odds.

Jaden Lam Phan
Jaden Lam Phan modeling in his designer clothes. (Jaden Lam Phan)

A sea of buildings huddle around his 50th floor Manhattan apartment. Despite his success, he has not forgotten his woes. What’s more, Jaden finds it disheartening to see younger generations blindly embrace the ideologies of communism and socialism: the things he and hundreds of thousands of others risked their lives to escape.

Museum Brings Reminder of Terror

On March 14, Jaden told his story in London at the Museum of Communist Terror’s first event. The museum hosts talks and visits universities and schools, with a mission similar to that of the specialist designer.

“They want people in London, in the UK in general, to wake up because the new generation, the new millennials, they don’t understand what socialism and communism are about,” said Jaden. “My family, my friends, myself, we’ve gone through this.”

He added that communism and terrorism are the same thing: If you hold a thought that’s different to the regime’s, they kill you. According to the museum, Vietnamese people were monitored by the communist party after the fall of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City—named after the communist leader of North Vietnam, who attacked the South and its American allies. And how was everyone monitored?

“We had to spy on our next door neighbors. Why did we have to do that? Because it’s a requirement … so that weekly, we would have a group meeting, and we would tell each other what the other people do,” said Jaden.

This tactic was also used by Chinese Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang Hongbin, now a retired lawyer, denounced his mother who was sentenced to death thereafter, for speaking against the Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong during the revolution, according to the USA Today.

Minds Liberated Through Education and Capitalism

Vietnamese people’s intellects were suppressed during the communist take-over. Jaden and his siblings are the first in their family to receive a level of education beyond high school.

“The government would destroy temples, they burned books, they wanted people to be illiterate so it could be easier for them to brainwash people,” he said.

Temples of worship were raided and destroyed, and religious leaders were arrested by the Viet Cong. According to Nguyen Van Canh’s book, “Vietnam Under Communism,” shortly after the battle of Saigon, communists burned all books in the Saigon University Faculty of Law, saying that they were of “decadent culture.”

America gave the former refugee much of what he was prevented from having in Vietnam. He said that even today Vietnamese people call the United States a paradise. However, once you achieve success, Jaden believes that you still have to give back.

“All the immigrants and all the refugees … once you reach a level of success, think about giving back to the community, helping others, especially the Veterans of America. They are out there to fight for us—for our freedom, for our safety,” he said.

Jaden Lam Phan
Jaden Lam Phan modeling in his designer clothes. (Jaden Lam Phan)

Correction: Previous version of the article incorrectly described Jaden’s method of travel to the United States. Jaden’s family travelled by plane to the United States. NTD News regrets the error.