Two French photographers, who met as they recorded scenes of Vietnamese boat people plucked from the South China Sea over the past three years, exhibited their work in Westminster on Saturday, while not far away more than 200 Vietnamese immigrants protested the fall of the Saigon regime.
Pascal Deloche, 26, and Philippe Theard, 35, met on a French rescue ship three years ago, their mission to record the story of the refugees in rickety boats who were fleeing their Vietnamese homeland in search of a better life in the West.
Their pictures of men, women and children being rescued tell a powerful story of courage and sacrifice. Some of the photos will be exhibited Monday through Friday in the main library at UC Irvine, organizers said.
"We can't say we really helped (the refugees)," Deloche said, referring to the photographers' time on the rescue ship that carried doctors and other specially trained volunteers. But "we can help other people understand what happened," he said, referring to photographic exhibits such as the one held at the cramped offices of Nguoi Viet, a Vietnamese-language newspaper in Westminster,
While the Deloche-Theard photos tell one chapter of the Vietnam War, an unrelated event a few blocks away told another.
More than 200 people, most of them Vietnamese immigrants but also including some American veterans of the war, rallied at a Westminster shopping mall in the heart of the city's Vietnamese community to voice opposition to Vietnam's Communist regime.
They waved the red-striped yellow flags of the fallen Saigon regime and demanded that the American government forswear any diplomatic relations with Hanoi.
Deloche and Theard declined to take sides in that political argument. For them, Deloche said, "it is not a question of who was right. When you see those children on the boat, you cannot stand and do nothing."
Their work was sponsored by Medecins du Monde, a French humanitarian group that, along with a sister agency in West Germany, Comite Cap Anamur, and a San Diego-based group, the Boat People S.O.S. Committee, charters the rescue ships.
Despite the treacherous waters off Vietnam and the pirates who scour them, the refugee agencies estimate that about 20,000 Vietnamese flee their homeland each year.
As many as one-half of them perish during the journey, said Xuong Nguyen-Huu, a professor of physics, chemistry and biology at the University of California, San Diego. He is chairman of the Boat People S.O.S. Committee.
Xuong said the ship the group chartered this year, the Rose Schiaffino, rescued nearly a thousand refugees.
The professor said he invited Deloche and Theard to bring their photos to America after hearing of an exhibit they held in Paris earlier this year. He praised the photographers as "fantastic" for their concern for the refugees.
Xuong added that he hoped the photo exhibition would spur contributions to his group, which is seeking funds to sponsor a rescue ship in 1988. Last year, the group raised $300,000, Xuong said. It is seeking $500,000 in contributions this year.