History

A History Left Behind…
by Peter Nguyen, Contribution Writer

Over forty years ago, in 1964, there were only 603 Vietnamese living in the United States. They were students, language teachers, and diplomats. Over a decade later, the 1975 wave of Vietnamese migrants did not choose to come here unlike the other Asian groups already in America. In fact, they had no decision to make because they were driven out by powerful events surrounding them. During the last days of April, 86,000 Vietnamese were airlifted out of Vietnam.

“On those last days of April,” remembered a refugee, “[there was] a lot of gunfire and bombing around the capital. People were running on chaotic streets. We got scared…”

During the next few weeks, forty to sixty thousand Vietnamese escaped in boats to the open sea, where they were picked up by American navy ships and transported to Guam and the Philippines. Many did not even know they were leaving or where they were going. Later some said, “We did not plan on taking this trip.”

Altogether some 130,000 Vietnamese refugees found sanctuary in the United States in 1975. The first-wave of refugees generally came from educated classes: 37 percent of the heads of households had completed high school and 16 percent had some college. Almost two thirds could speak English well or with some fluency. Generally, the refugees came from Saigon, which was more westernized than the general population. About half of them were Christian or Catholic, a group representing only 10 percent of the group in Vietnam. After their arrival in the US, the ’75 refugees were initially placed in processing camps like Pendleton in California and Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

Thousands did escape soon after — 21,000 in 1977, 106,500 in 1978, over 150,00 in 1979, and scores of thousands later. Two thirds of the boats were attacked by pirates and each boat were attacked an average of more than two times. Most of the times, the men were tied up or thrown overboard and the women were raped. In 1985 there were 643,200 Vietnamese in the United States.

In the 2000 census, Vietnamese has reached 1.2 million and the fourth largest Asian group only behind Chinese, Asian Filipinos, and Asian Indians in the US. Vietnamese America will continually grow and hopefully our beautiful culture will never be left behind.

*Reference, statistics, and facts were sited from “Strangers From a Different Shore”, by Ronald Takaki

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