March 21, 2023

Renowned Vietnam War photojournalist Jane Hamilton-Merritt will join in remembering the 35-year anniversary of the fall of Saigon at the annual Asian Pacific American Conference April 7-9 at Minnesota State University, Mankato, 232 Alumni Foundation Center, Mankato.The fifth annual conference, hosted by Minnesota State Mankato’s Asian Pacific Student Organization, will present “Starting from the Roots: Building Blocks to Higher Education.” The event, open to the public, will focus on how American educators can help preserve cultural heritage and diversity.

Hamilton-Merritt will be keynote speaker on April 8 and will join a 10 a.m. panel discussion as part of a “Fall of Saigon” Learning Project.

Conference participants also will learn about preserving oral history through cultural storytelling, will see a Pacific hula and a fire knife dance by Aloha Chicago Entertainment and a fashion show of traditional Asian and Pacific costumes, and will take part in Hula dancing lessons.

As part of a unified effort honoring diversity, the conference will feature a Native American blessing ceremony by Dave Larsen, Minnesota State Mankato director of American Indian Affairs, at 8 a.m. April 8.

“This year’s conference views the Vietnam War from its root causes and its affect in the Southeast Asia region since the fall of Saigon,” said Chris Tran, director of Asian and Pacific Islander affairs. “We’ll also look at life adjustment for Southeast Asians in the U.S. after the war and where we go from here. That is where this year’s theme, ‘Diversity Within Education,’ comes into focus.”

Many recall the iconic images of the helicopter lifting off an American Embassy rooftop in Saigon that marked the end of the Vietnam War. North Vietnamese troops captured South Vietnam’s capital city on April 29, 1975. Saigon later became Ho Chi Minh City.

Hamilton-Merritt was nominated for a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for her combat photography in Vietnam. Now an author and human rights advocate, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work among Hmong tribal people of Laos.

The conference is intended to heighten cultural awareness while providing Minnesota State Mankato students with a valuable hands-on learning tool.

“I feel that student-planned and organized events such as the APAC Conference allow students another path for becoming leaders,” said Soloni Taumalolo, a senior ethnic studies major from Honolulu, Hawaii, and one of the student organizers. “We gain that experience with the guidance of great advisors who work side-by-side with students.”

The annual event’s concluding banquet features Taumalolo as master of ceremonies with the keynote address by Ka Vang, Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system diversity programs director.

A schedule of events, speaker’s list and registration information is available at

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