Born to Kill

Being placed in a new environment was not easy for many Vietnamese-Americans who have newly immigrated to the United States. Many struggled to make a living as immigrants often were employed doing working class jobs for minimal pay. This was the case for David Thai, who eventually became the founding member of Born to Kill, a Vietnamese gang in New York City. Born in South Vietnam in the midst of the Vietnam War, Thai was exposed to illegal activities that involved the trafficking of drugs between Vietnamese and American forces. Upon the capture of his father into re-education camps, his father was able to secure Thai a way into the United States where Thai would begin his new life.

Initially, Thai worked jobs to be able to afford his living expenses until he enrolled in New York University where he met his wife and had a family. Being unable to support his family working jobs that paid minimal, he turned to organized crime. While he was originally a part of the Flying Dragons Chinese-American gang, the discrimination he faced caused him and other Vietnamese-American gang members to leave and form the Born to Kill gang. Additionally members joined the group as youths who were previously boat people that were now struggling to make a living. Thai freely provided them with the necessities because of the fact that social services mainly catered to the Chinese-American population. This goes to show that some Vietnamese-Americans also had to resort to crime in order to survive and make a living. Additionally, with many members who have lived through the Vietnam War, the toll of the trauma the event inflicted on them is an indicator of the ways they had to cope with such experiences. However, Thai had differing intentions as he would later display brutality towards his own members privately. The fact that at the time, he had a comfortable life while his members continued to struggled after joining his gang also indicates his façade of compassion.

The main avenues of profit the gang pursued was the manufacturing of counterfeit watches, robberies, extortion, and the operation of a brothel. These activities were met with varying degrees of success but secured a decent living for many of the members including Thai. Eventually the gang become one of the most feared in the New York City Chinatown area because of their ruthless methods of operation. The gang eventually fell apart when federal enforcement conducted various investigations on the gang using a former member to secure the arrest of Thai on the premises of racketeering. This eventually led to the gang’s decline as many of the remaining members after Thai’s arrest fled the area. While at the gang’s peak from 1988-1992, the gang was able to employ fear amongst the Chinatown area but their tactics ultimately proved too brutal as well as Thai’s lack of support for his members is what led to the organization’s demise. 

Born to Kill eventually serves itself as a reminder of how Vietnamese-Americans had to survival in the United States using whatever opportunities that were available to them. While not every opportunity had their best interests in mind, it acts as a reminder that the culmination of struggle and trauma oftentimes manifests itself in the decisions they take.

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