Vietnamese American

From Academic Kids

A Vietnamese American is a resident of the United States who is of ethnic Vietnamese descent. They make up the bulk of overseas Vietnamese (Viet Kieu) and are also one group of Asian Americans.

According to the 2000 Census, there are 1,122,528 people who identify themselves as Vietnamese alone or 1,223,736 in combination with other ethnicities. Of those, 447,032 (39.8%) live in California and 134,961 (12.0%) in Texas. The largest concentration of Vietnamese found outside of Vietnam is found in Orange County, California, where 135,548 can be found. Vietnamese American businesses are ubiquitous in Little Saigon, located in Westminster and Garden Grove, where they constitute 30.7% and 21.4% of the population, respectively. In addition, many Vietnamese Americans have established businesses in Chinatowns throughout North America. Like many other immigrant groups, the majority of Vietnamese Americans are small business owners. Throughout the United States, many ethnic Vietnamese, especially first or second-generation immigrants, open restaurants (serving either Vietnamese cuisine, Chinese cuisine, or both), beauty salons and barber shops, and auto repair businesses. In Louisiana and Texas, some Vietnamese Americans are involved with the fish and shrimp industries.



Missing image
South Vietnamese civilians scramble to board the last US helicopter leaving the country at the end of the Vietnam War

The history of Vietnamese Americans is a fairly recent one. Prior to 1975, most Vietnamese residing in the United States were wives and children of American servicemen in Vietnam or academics, and their number was insignificant. The Fall of Saigon (termed the "liberation of Saigon" by the Communist Government of Vietnam) on April 30, 1975, which ended the Vietnam War, prompted the first large-scale wave of immigration from Vietnam. Many people who had close ties with the Americans feared communist reprisals, and 125,000 of them left Vietnam during Spring 1975. This group was generally highly skilled and educated and their leaving constituted a severe brain drain for Vietnam. They were airlifted by the US government to bases in the Philippines and Guam, and were subsequently transferred to various refugee centers in the United States. These refugees initially faced resentment by Americans following the turmoil and upheaval of the Vietnam War, and a poll taken in 1975 showed only 36% in favor of Vietnamese immigration. Even so, President Gerald Ford and other officials strongly supported them and passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act in 1975, which allowed them to enter the United States under a special status. In order to prevent the refugees from forming ethnic enclaves and to minimize their impact on local communities, they were scattered all over the country. Within a few years, however, many resettled in California, Texas and Virginia, giving those states the largest Vietnamese American populations.

The year 1978 began a second wave of Vietnamese refugees that lasted until the mid-1980s. As people faced being sent to "reeducation camps" (essentially forced labor concentration camps) or being forced to evacuate to "new economic zones," about two million fled Vietnam in small, unsafe, and crowded boats. These "boat people" were generally less educated and skilled than the people in the first wave. If they escaped pirates, they usually ended up in asylum camps in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong or the Philippines, where they might be allowed to enter countries that agreed to accept them. Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, reducing restrictions on entry, while the Vietnamese government established the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in response to world outcry, allowing people to leave Vietnam legally for family reunions and for humanitarian reasons. Additional American laws were passed to allow children of American servicemen and former political prisoners and their families to enter the United States. Between 1981 and 2000, the United States accepted 531,310 Vietnamese refugees and asylees.


As a relatively recent immigrant group, most Vietnamese Americans are either first or second-generation Americans. They have the lowest distribution of people with more than one race among the major Asian American groups. As many as 1,009,627 speak Vietnamese at home, making it the 7th most spoken language in the United States. As refugees, Vietnamese Americans have some of the highest rates of naturalization. As refugees from a communist country, many are vehemently anti-communist. Vietnamese Americans regularly stage protests against the Vietnamese government, its human rights policy and those whom they perceive to be sympathetic to it. For example, in 1999, protests against a video store owner in Westminster who displayed the Vietnamese communist flag and a picture of Ho Chi Minh peaked when 50,000 people held a vigil in front of the store in one night, causing severe disruptions in traffic. Membership in the Democratic Party was once considered anathema among Vietnamese Americans because it was seen as friendly to communism. However, their support for the Republican Party has somewhat eroded in recent years, since the Democratic Party is seen in a more favorable light by the second generation as well as the newer, poorer refugees.

A  street festooned with the flags of the former  and of the
A Westminster street festooned with the flags of the former South Vietnam and of the United States

Recently, Vietnamese Americans have exercised considerable political power in Westminster, Garden Grove and other areas. Many have won public offices at the local and statewide levels in California (mostly as Republicans). Several Vietnamese Americans serve or served in the city councils of Westminster and Garden Grove; the mayor pro tempore of Westminster is a Vietnamese American. Some Vietnamese Americans have recently lobbied many city governments to make the former South Vietnamese flag instead of the current flag of Vietnam the symbol of Vietnamese in the United States, a move that the Vietnamese government objected to.

A large fraction of Vietnamese Americans consisted of ethnic overseas Chinese who immigrated to Vietnam centuries ago. Ethnic Chinese made up a large fraction of the commercial elite which left after the fall of Saigon, and the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979 led to discrimination against ethnic Chinese which contributed to a large fraction of them becoming boat people. As a result, many Vietnamese Americans also speak fluent Cantonese (although with more Vietnamese influence, "Vietnamese" Cantonese slightly differs from Guangdong and Hong Kong Cantonese) and serve somewhat as a bridge between Vietnamese American and Chinese American communities, which in turn helps create an Asian American identity. Some Vietnamese Americans may also speak Mandarin as a third or fourth language in all aspects of business and interaction. Interestingly, while ethnic Chinese Vietnamese Americans are seen and see themselves as overseas Chinese (or huayi) they generally do not classify themselves or are seen as Chinese American. Paradoxically, however, some Chinese Vietnamese may even consider themselves more Chinese than Vietnamese which may affect census reporting.

Some of them are Eurasians and Amerasians. These Eurasians are descendants of native Vietnamese, some Chinese, and early French settlers during colonial period and Amerasians are descendants of native Vietnamese, some Chinese, and American soldiers during Vietnam War.

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