tv Lectures in History Post- Vietnam War Refugees CSPAN November 12, 2018 1:20pm-2:31pm EST
tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span2. up next on lectures in history, a class about southeast asian migration to the u.s. she examines how laws and public opinion have changed over the past five decades and emphasizes the difference between immigrants and refugees. her class is about an hour. today we're going to talk about topic 18, which is a southeast asian refugee migration. if you have been following the news in recent years, i imagine that you, like me, have found it difficult to ignore the topic of refugees. this is an image of a refugee's experience fleeing communist
vietnam in 1975. in many ways, it reminds us of images that we might see on the news today. it's hard to ignore the human stories of families perishing at sea. refugees are suffocating in meat trucks. those unable to make it to safety are washing up on mediterranean beaches. refugees have been in the news for the past few years, particularly related to the crisis in syria, but refugees are being uprooted by conflict all around the world. so we're not just talking about refugees coming from syria, but from other war-torn regions. especially in the last couple years, it has been very difficult to ignore the public response to refugees.
refugee resettlement has become a polarizing topic. on one hand, opposition to refugees has been fierce and even hostile. politicians at the local, state, and federal level have linked refugees to terrorism and have pursued anti-refugee policies in the name of national security. the most famous of these measures is president donald trump's executive orders, which ground the federal refugee program virtually to a halt in january 2017. his imposition of what is widely known as the refugee ban shortly after taking office initiated one of the sharpest legal and political debates of his presidency and is part of a broader effort to limit the number of foreigners who are able to enter the united states. to be sure, politicians are not
the only ones who have taken action on the issue of refugees. there have also been instances of vigilante anti-refugee activism, some of it potentially violent, and much of it centered specifically on muslim refugees. for example, in shelbyville, there were rallies led by white nationalists and neo-nazis. but it's also hard to ignore the fact there has been a tremendous amount of public support for refugees. the january 2017 executive orders prompted thousands of americans to protest and facilitate legal aid at airports across the country. community groups organized rallies and service projects to raise awareness of the issue of refugees. people put signs declaring their support for refugees on their front lawns or above their
church entryways, or even on stickers on their laptop. now, i'm a historian, and my job is to remind you we need to have some historical perspective. the truth is that in many ways, we have been here before. i've already pointed to this image of a boat. this is an image from 1975, but it could very well be an image of people fleeing by boat today. we've seen these images before. we've seen a vicious eruption of anti-refugee sentiment before. we've seen a generous pro-refugee response before. we've seen anxiety about religious and cultural difference before. we've worried about refugees and national security before. now, i am frustrated a little bit by our contemporary conversation because so much of
our contemporary conversation is not paying attention to our history. and lessons we can learn from the past. we especially don't hear a lot about asian refugees. we might hear more about jewish refugees but not that much about asian refugees. now, i've made the case this entire semester that asian-american history is american history. and this is true for refugee history as well. so today i'm going to talk about asian refugee migrations that took place four decades ago. and this refugee migration, i argue, changed the course of refugee history in the united states for the decades to come. i'm going to talk about refugees known as the ugandan asian refugees and southeast asian refugees. they arrived in the 1970s and 1980s, some of them as late as the beginning of the 21st century. and the migration of these asian
refugees was a turning point in several different ways. number one, in the 1970s, refugees were accepted for new reasons. for the first time, the united states wasn't just accepting refugees because they opposed communism. the united states was accepting refugees on the basis of emerging humanitarian commitments to human rights. number two, during this period, refugees were accepted and resettled in a new way. we're talking about a huge refugee migration here. over a million southeast asian refugees came to the united states in the last couple decades of the 20th century. and that refugee migration and the amount of work that it took to coordinate relief and resettlement efforts, both overseas and domestically, made government officials realize that they needed to have a more
systematic and organized and permanent way to respond to refugee crises. so it's in part because of southeast asian refugees in particular that we see the emergence of a push for new legislation, which culminated in the 1980 refugee act. this act is still enforced today. i'll talk about the details of that act later. number three, another reason why southeast asian refugee migrations and also ugandan asian refugee migrations matter, these asian refugees were at the beginning of a new wave of refugees, a new refugee population. they were the first group of nonwhite, non-european, non-christian refugees to be resettled in the united states. there had been cuban refugees and jewish refugees. i'll talk about that later, but this was the first huge group of
nonwhite, non-european, non-christian refugees. and these refugees were so different, that it was a source of great anxiety for americans. in truth, these refugees ended up being the forerunner for refugee populations who would arrive in the united states in subsequent decades. so these refugees in many ways set the groundwork for how the united states would resettle refugees but also were a harbinger for what would come. in some asian refugees and southeast asian refugees in particular, they were at the center of major changes in the 1970s and profoundly changed the u.s.'s approach to refugees in the decades to come. if any of you like literature, you'll know we have been talking
about asian refugees. in fact, the history of vietnamese refugees has received a lot of attention in the past couple years because of this book "the sympathizer," which won the pulitzer prize in 2016. you are reading an excerpt from this novel this week, and we'll discuss it next week. the author himself was a refugee. he's reflected a lot about what it means to be a refugee and a writer and to tell his story. in an essay he published in "the new york times," he observed the following. many people have characterized my novel "the sympathizer" as an immigrant story and me as an immigrant. no. my novel is a war story, and i am not an immigrant. i am a refugee, who like many
others has never ceased being a refugee in some corners of my mind. he continues, immigrants are more reassuring than refugees because there is an end point to their story. however they arrive, whether they are documented or not, their desires for a new life can be absorbed into the american dream or into the european narrative of civilization. by contrast, refugees are zombies of the world, the undead who rise from dying states to march or swim toward our borders in endless waves. so let's stop and think about this line for a little bit. what do you think he means by saying that immigrants are different from refugees? raise hands. okay. >> there's a choice that immigrants take to build their
own new future, whereas with the refugee crises that we see now, there's often a push that forces them to leave their own countries and migrate somewhere else just because of a failure of government or reasons that they don't have control over themselves. >> absolutely. so there is a forced migration that characterizes refugee migrations rather than immigrants who, as you point out, have more of a choice. >> i also think with refugees, there's somewhat of a connotation that when their home country -- like, when the turmoil stops in their home country, a lot of times they would be okay going back, versus an immigrant who came to this country by their own choice to build a new life or whatever the reason is. so for a refugee, the reason we would welcome them is we're housing them until they go back. with an immigrant, that connotation isn't there. >> so the ability to be able to return to your home country.
we've talked about how a lot of immigrants migrate to the united states or elsewhere and return home. refugees don't have that option. that's a really important point. they have been forced out due to war, persecution, natural disaster, any number of reasons that make their life in their previous country impossible. they would not survive. so i think you're exactly right. refugee migrations are characterized by a need for survival. what do you think he means when he says refugees are zombies of the world? i thought that was evocative. zombies of the world. the undead who rise from dying states. >> in a way, they are the only vessels of culture left of these dying states, and it's really
hard to get someone to, you know, completely forfeit their culture because it is part of their identity. so as long as they live, the culture lives. >> yes, okay. so i think this is really powerful. they are often vessels of their culture. they're leaving desperate situations where they would have otherwise died physically and perhaps also their community would have died, their culture would have died. so this idea of people leaving dying states, in circumstances of profound dislocation, in trauma, is really powerful. i think that language of zombies is really powerful because it reminds us of the desperation, the violence, the fear that people leave -- that pushes people to migrate. i think that it's important for us to remember that this
violence, that the suffering, that this persecution, that this upheaval that forced them to migrate doesn't just end there but continues to shape their lives in years to come. so he calls attention to, i think, the two most important aspects of refugees and what distinguishes them from immigrants. number one, they are involuntary migrants, as you pointed out already, forcibly removed from their homes due to political conflict, natural disaster, or other extraordinary circumstances. and they're often very traumatized people, zombies, as he would say. the interesting thing about refugees is they are powerful in our mythology of american exceptionalist immigration history. think about the poem that's on
the statue of liberty. in it is described the statue of liberty as the mother of exiles, who says, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. send these, the homeless, temptest tossed to me, i lift my lamp beside the golden door. how many of you have heard those lines before? so famous. and the fact that those lines are on the statue of liberty, which is a symbol of immigration in the united states, is really powerful. it really centers the united states or the idea of the united states as being a welcoming haven for people who are exiles. unfortunately, the history of the united states tells a somewhat different, more complicated story. the truth is we haven't always had the humanitarian impulse to
welcome refugees. usually we've only done so when it's in our humanitarian national interest. usually we've been more inclined to actually reject refugees than to accept them. and to borrow the words of historian eric tang, often refugees who have been accepted for resettlement here are not only resettled, but are also deeply unsettled by the experience of forced migration and resettlement in the united states. to give you an overview of what i'll talk about today, i'll give you a little background about american refugee resettlement policy after the second war. and then i'm going to use that background to set up why the 1970s were such an important period of change. that's when a small group of ugandan asian refugees first
arrived in the united states. they were followed by an even larger group of refugees, southeast asian refugees who are alternative described as indo-chinese refugees. these included refugees from vietnam, laos, cambodia. i'll talk about the crisis that developed overseas, but i'll focus mostly on developments that took place here in the united states, how the general public viewed southeast asian refugees, how southeast asian refugees were admitted and resettled, and how southeast asian refugees themselves tell stories about their experience. i'll tease out why the history of southeast asian refugee resettlement matters and conclude with some discussion about how southeast asian americans today are drawing on their refugee history to intervene in contemporary public policy debates. any questions so far?
so let's begin with some background about refugee resettlement in the united states during it the 20th century. during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, most refugees came from europe with the exception of cuban refugees. most were white and either jewish or christian. and during this period, right after the second world war and during the cold war, a commitment to opposing communism really shaped how the united states determined which refugees to accept. during and after world war ii, the united states changed its immigration policies to accept people displaced by war. these refugees were known as displaced persons, and they benefitted from the landmark legislation of the time, which was the 1948 displaced persons
act. that act eventually expired, and in 1953, it was replaced by the refugee relief act, which helped other european refugees, including italians, greeks, and dutch refugees. in 1956, we see cold war developments in europe also shape a new refugee population and give rise to new groups of people seeking refuge. in particular, the hungarian revolution occurred, and freedom fighters as they were popularly known were welcome to the united states. they were accepted under what is called role power, which allowed the united states to accept refugees and circumvent its own immigration laws, which at this time, if you recall, were pretty restrictive. throughout much of the cold war, the executive branch used a loophole in immigration law, the
parole power, to admit refugees when it deemed that it was in the national interests to do so. most of those refugees admitted were fleeing left-wing or communist regimes. finally, in 1959, cuban exiles began to arrive. the first cubans who arrived were batista sympathizers who were feared reprisals from the castro government. for the first time, because of cuba's proximity to the united states, the united states was a country of first refuge, meaning refugees didn't go to another country and then apply for resettlement in the united states. they went straight to the united states. especially to places like miami. the policy for cuban refugees at this time was such that these refugees would be given asylum as part of a bigger anti-castro,
anti-communist policy. a number of requirements were imposed on these early refugee populations. these requirements illustrated how the united states pursued its own cold war self-interest. first, as i've already mentioned, the u.s. offered a special welcome for people fleeing communism. second, preference was given for refugees who were professionals or highly educated or skilled. this was in keeping with other immigration laws of the period. ultimately, while welcoming displaced people has been seen as a humanitarian act, these humanitarian efforts were often centered on the needs of the united states, the helper. these images feature refugees who arrived in the united states during this period. the photo on the left features displaced persons who were
registering at ft. ontario emergency refugee center, which housed a thousand people displaced by world war ii. and the photo on the right is the cover of "time" magazine in 1957, featuring their chosen person of the year in 1956. the person of the year in 1956 was the hungarian freedom fighter. so let's think about this. what do you think this image on the right tells us about how americans viewed hungarian freedom fighters during this time? think about what it means for "time" magazine to choose hungarian freedom fighters as their person of the year and to present them in this way. what does this magazine cover tell us about how americans viewed hungarian refugees?
>> definitely in a positive light. not a lot different than how we view syrian refugees today. >> yes, really positive. so you can see his face, so bold, so serious, noble. there was enormous enthusiasm for welcoming people who were seen as fighting for freedom, who were seen as being allies in the united states' war against communism. so i think that's a really important image to have in mind, how refugees can be celebrated and how the celebration of refugees converges powerfully with american interests, in particular this moment, the cold
war. later in the 20th century, the cold war continued to shape the united states' stance towards refugee populations, but the last quarter of the 20th century saw a major shift in the world's refugee populations. in 1964, a refugee affairs expert at the world council of churches declared, we are now faced with a problem of refugees who are by and large nonwhite and by and large non-christian, and it remains to be seen how we will react. americans were worried about how the united states would handle these new refugees. one pastor in st. paul, minnesota, explained, many problems will arrive because of the new influx of people to america as a result of new people coming from different cultures and backgrounds. how would these new immigrants be accepted, he asked?
government leaders also worried about this new immigrant population, new refugee population in particular. during a congressional hearing shortly after the fall of saigon, julia taft, who was of the interagency task force on indo-china refugees, declared never before in the history of this country, mr. chairman, have so many people from such different cultures, ethnic, and religious backgrounds been introduced into american society in such a short time. what set these refugees apart from previous refugee populations is not simply that they were racially, ethnically, and religiously different, but also that these refugee communities didn't necessarily have a community of people in the united states already to welcome them. so who were these new refugees?
amid the contemporary debate about muslim refugees from syria and somalia, there's been little attention paid to the fact that the united states has been resettling refugees who are muslim for a long time, and in fact, has been since the 1970s. the first muslim refugees accepted for resettlement were ugandan asian refugees. these were asian origin people who had been expelled from uganda. they were resettled in the united states and also the united kingdom and elsewhere, beginning in the 1972. these joou began dugandan asian marked a turning point in that they were quite different from their predecessors. they were religiously diverse. so one big question worth asking, how did it go? a ugandan asian refugee who
later was a history professor actually wrote a report. he noted that cultural and religious differences were a source of anxiety for both ugandan asian refugees and their predominantly christian sponsors. he noted that some problems did arise. for example, a strictly vegetari vegetarian was put to work in a meat factory. he said there needed to be better understanding of the needs of refugees. overall, though, he said ugandan asian refugees had a pretty positive experience. i mentioned ugandan asian
refugees because think really set the stage for a large refugee population that arrived in the 1970s. so a lot of the lessons learned from ugandan asian refugee resettlement informed how these groups handled southeast asian refugees. shortly after the arrival of ugandan asian refugees, another larger refugee population arrived as a result of war in southeast asia. to give you some context about what's happening in southeast asia at the time, in 1975, communist governments took control in vietnam, cambodia, and laos. and this initiated the outmigration of thousands of people, fleeing for their lives. the american public tended to see these refugees as a single group, frequently referred to as the indo-chinese.
that category holds a lot of differences within the population. these were several different ethnic groups coming from different countries, speaking different languages, having different religions, different class backgrounds, political orientations, and more. what united them was the experience of war, the trauma of war, the forced migration produced by war. and the experience of having to create a new life in the united states after experiencing the war. these refugees arrived in several waves. the first occurred during the united states' military involvement in the vietnam war, which began in 1965, lasted a decade. by 1971, the war had already caused considerable violence and economic, political, and cultural damage. it had displaced, by 1971,
approximately 6 million refugees in south vietnam and 700,000 refugees in laos. later in the fall of saigon in the spring of 1975, the withdrawal of american of ameri forces caused another outpouring of refugees. in response to this immediate crisis, president gerald ford gave the green light to parole in or admit 200,000 vietnamese refugees. some of them were evacuated through the help of american military forces. others fled on their own, and were later taken into protective custody by the united states. these vietnamese refugees in 1975 were placed in several military-run refugee camps on military bases here in the united states. and they stayed there until sponsors could assist their resettlement elsewhere. now when 1976 began, americans
thought they were done with the refugee crisis. they had handled those couple hundred thousand refugees who went to the military-run refugee camps but the crisis was only beginning to heat up at this point. violence and political conflict in southeast asia continued to escalate. and continued to spur new refugee migrations. for example, in cambodia, the vietnamese invasion of 1978 brought the downfall of the paner rouge and the removal of pollpot in january of 1979. during pollpot's 3 1/2 years in power, the kamir rouge had killed 1.7 million people, which was about 21% of the cambodian population. with pollpot no longer in power, approximately half a million cambodian people, who had managed to survive his regime, sought refuge in nearby
thailand. in addition to 122,000 cambodian refugees joined them in thailand between 1980 and 1986. in vietnam, there was another outpouring of refugees known famously as the boat people. these people escaped by sea. they were people who had formally been political military or cultural leaders in south vietnam. some of them were ethnic minorities who were fleeing persecution. about 150,000 went to china while tens of thousands took to the oceans and made their way to other places in southeast asia, including thailand, malaysia, indonesia, and philippines. they sailed on boats that were hardly seaworthy sometimes. and an estimated 25 to 50% died at sea. if they were lucky to make it to land, sometimes they were forced back to sea by governments like thailand and malaysia that refused to accept them and take
responsibility. those refugees were fortunate enough to live on and make it to a refugee camp lived in squallid conditions, very difficult conditions in thailand and elsewhere. and by the middle of 1979, nearly 100,000 vietnamese boat people were in malaysia and hong kong. now, so far, i've always talked about refugees from vietnam and cambodia, but i should also mention what are known as among and lao refugees. this is an image of a pendou which is a traditional storied cloth quilt. a lot of embroidery. but a lot of the stories of the war have been told through this traditional art form. and just looking at this image, what do you see? what do you notice? what story of war does it tell?
do you see any depictions of war here? anyone notice -- >> yes, i think it is really interesting that the spanning of technology is really depicted in this depiction of war, because i see like sword fighting but then i also see planes which is to me, a very funny thing to see embroidered on like a quilt. and i'm also just interested in like the deer to the left, sloping up the river, and i guess it kind of is a nice juxtaposition about how like war comes into a landscape, but the landscape still functions as is, and it would be cool to see an aftermath quilt of like what would happen. >> yes, absolutely. you called attention to some really key details. you see a river. this river represents mid cong
river which bordered laos and thailand. and you see the airplane, the helicopter, and you see the fascinating juxtaposition of rural life and war. you see these little boxy buildings which could represent either the refugee camps or the military sites where mong troops organized. you see people in a line, all walking, in the same direction, fleeing, perhaps, for safety. so this represents mong experiences during the secret war, and their subsequent migration out of laos to thailand. now, the united states worked with the mong as well as lao people in their fight against communists during the secret war in laos in the 1960s. with the assistance of the cia and the green berets, general
venge powell a mong leader and tens of thousands of mong soldiers who he commanded were the front line defense responsible for warding off the communist evacuation until the american evacuation in 1973. the staggering costs of mong sacrifice during this period is really important to know. throughout 13 years of fierce guerrilla warfare, ethnics claimed that one in four mong soldier, approximately 17,000 people, died. and some of the mong soldiers who died were teenagers, were quite young. the secret war entered a new phase in 1973 when the united states signed a peace accord with north vietnam and evacuated all of the american military leaders from laos. but 18,000 mong soldiers were left behind. some disbursed into the countryside, some joined the
general army. in 1975, then powell and some military leaders were air lifted by the cia out of laos. but most mong people were less fortunate. of the 10,000 mong who flooded the headquarters at longchang, only a small fraction were evacuated by the united states. thousands of mong people there embarked on the treacherous westward exodus to tieland, carrying their possessions on their back, families traveled by foot, through the jungle, and journeyed at night to avoid capture by the communists. by 1979, nearly 30,000 mong refugees attempted to make the dangerous crossing each month. so that crossing of the river is such a powerful part of mong stories of their refugee migration. and you can see it powerfully depicted here.
now, americans today have paid attention to news of refugee crises overseas next have been following news reports, they have been watching footage on nightly news. they've been following it on social media. and americans in the 1970s were just like us today. they were following developments overseas with great interest. and americans who were moved by news accounts of this humanitarian crisis, this was a really important development in causing americans to say we should actually do something. the plight of southeast asian refugees began to build. and americans began to push to provide relief and resettlement opportunities. so today, or first, i want to talk about support for southeast asian refugees. americans gave a lot of reasons to support the southeast asian refugees. for one, many americans needed
their support in the idea that the united states is an exceptional country, an immigrant country, that has special status in history, as a refuge, for the scorned, hated and hunted. one 1975 public opinion survey found that the leading reason why americans supported the admission of southeast asian refugees was that quote, tradition of the united states as a sanctuary for those fleeing oppression of their homelands. there was a plure al ty agreed with the statement, that the united states began with all races creeds and nationalities coming here to escape religious or political persecution, so we also let the fmgs from vietnam in. throughout the cold war, americans continued to feel a special obligation to people who were fighting against communism. people who were the less
fortunate human beings who faced retribution and persecution. and this was also another reason why a lot of americans were open to accepting southeast asian refugees. in 1986, a poll found that a majority of respondents agreed that the united states should accept political refugees who were specifically fleeing communist countries. and there was also this specific context of the vietnam war. the fact that refugees were fleeing a region where the united states had been directly involved in years of brutal warfare, heightened the american's sense of obligation. americans were particularly committed to admitting southeast asian refugees who had worked closely with u.s. military, with the cia, as translators, or diplomatic core. americans who had worked in vietnam felt terrible about potentially abandoning their
southeastern asian colleagues. another refugee advocate argued that americans must aid and admit southeast asian refugees who are suffering with the direct consequence of u.s. military action. for some religious people, accepting refugees for resettlement was an act of penance for america's sin in vietnam. just as powerful, as american guilt, was the idea of american goodness. pride in american compassion, and generosity, spurred americans to take action. the idea that the united states was the benevolent leader of the free world also converged with religious ideas. the idea that the united states needed to be the good samaritan. finally, refugee advocates argued that americans should not admit refugees because americans are good, but because refugees are good for america.
one senate resolution from 1975 declared, this period of influx of refugees in exile can serve to keep us humble, save can us from the sin of arrogance, pride, and self righteousness. now, i need to tell you, this support for refugees really was small, compared to the opposition to refugees. despite the lofty ideals and passionate advocacy of refugee supporters and reality, the majority of americans consistently opposed the resettlement of southeast asian refugees. and this by no means was a new development in american culture. public opinion polls indicate that consistently, throughout the 20th century, americans have not supported the admission and resettlement of refugees. for example in january of 1939,
as the u.s. is grappling with the question of whether to accept jewish refugees fleeing nazi germany, only 30% of americans surveyed said that the u.s. should resettle jewish refugees. 61% said it should not. now, compare that to public opinion polls after the vietnam war. one national gallup poll in may, 1975, which is right after the fall of saigon, found that only 36% of americans surveyed favored the resettlement of southeast asian refugees. 54% of americans surveyed opposed it. attitudes towards southeast asian refugees did warm somewhat over time, but american reluctance to admit southeastern asian refugees remained fairly consistent throughout the 1970s and 80s. even a full decade after the end of the vietnam war, a flur al ty had believed that the united
states had accept today many refugees. this was a slight, added by statistics added from october, 41% of american registered voters said that the u.s. should accept syrian refugees. 4 5 4% said it should not. so this is interesting, because more americans are supportive of refugee resettlement today than compared to after the vietnam war. which i think is a surprising statistic for a lot of people. so why are people to southeast asian refugees? neil times, shortly after the fall of saigon, visited a town called niceville, florida, that's actually the name, niceville, the truth is that the town was not particularly nice to the refugees who were arriving from vietnam. niceville is located near edlund air force base which is the site of one of the four military-run refugee camps. and despite the proximity to
vietnamese refugees, or perhaps because of it, the people of niceville revealed the limits of american welcome. a local radio station polled residents about the 1,500 vietnamese refugees being air lifted from saigon and 87% of the people said that they did not want the military to bring refugees to their town. at one point, residents actually circulated a petition demanding that refugees be sent to a different place, and school children made jokes about shooting refugees. as far as i'm concerned, they can ship them all right back, one woman told "new york times." this woman's support for sending refugees back to vietnam reflected a broader national sentiment. in one national poll in june 1975, 85% of americans believed that the united states was too panicked to help saigon and the government should arrange to send these refugees back to
saigon. and valparaiso, a town close to niceville, anxiety about refugees, reflected anxiety about economic issue, the stagnating economy, and weakening social safety network. we got enough of our own problems to take care of, said grady palm berland, a local barber. an one of the customers agreed, they don't each have enough money to take care of social security now and they want to bring in more people. these economic concerns were in keeping with national sentiment. many americans believed that southeast asian refugees posed an economic burden on the u.s. a survey in june 1975 found that 62% of americans believed that im grants take jobs away from americans. only 28% believed otherwise. and then there were issues other than economic issues. for one, there is concern about security, about communists slipping in the refugees, and this sounds a little bit familiar, doesn't it?
robert carr, a realtor in nearby valparaiso feared that vietnamese refugees would bring communist infiltrators. how do you know we're not going to get the bad guys, he said? you can't say for sure. nobody can. and lord knows we got enough communist infiltration right now. he wasn't alone in his concerns. this topic also came up in discussions in congress. in 1975, ambassador eldean brown, who led the ford administration's response to southeast asian refugees responded to several questions from congress about the quasi of the immigration and naturalization services security screening, which many saw as overstretched and pressured to maximize expediency over thoroughness. there were also cultural concerns. americans opposed to refugee resettlement argued that southeast asian refugees were culturally unasimlable. a danger to american well-being. and here you see the emergence
of language that echoes the yellow peril language ha we saw earlier in american history. opponents of refugee resettlement portrayed southeast asian people as vice and germ ridden people who threatened the public health. there is no telling diseases that they will be bringing with them said david of niceville. and when asked what diseases exactly they would be bringing, he couldn't quite name them. he said i don't know, but there is bound to be some kind of those tropical germs floating around. hostility to southeast asian refugees sometimes boiled down to simple racism. at the high school, for example, near niceville, students discussed plans to establish a group klux klan. so this is, in many ways, resident with what we're hearing today, a variety of reasons like people are concerned about
admitting refugees. the funny thing about refugees, the funny thing about southeastern asian refugees, is given all of this hostility, it is actually happened. southeast asian refugees were actually admitted and resettled. and as one person put it, given the intensity of the public opposition, it is a miracle that southeast asian refugees were resetled in the united states at all. and they were resettled in substantial numbers. between 1975 and 2000, over a million southeast asian refugees came to the united states. and what was the most extensive, expensive, and institutionally complex resettlement effort in american history. it was also haphazard. chaotic. controversial. and planners expected it would take a year. but it ended up taking decades. southeast refugee refugee
migration developed in several phases. there was first the indo-china migration and refugee assistance act in 1975. this outlined the first plans to help refugees from vietnam and cambodia. in these efforts the federal government greatly underestimated how extensive it would be, how much money was needed, how much time and man power, and so in the years that followed, congress approved the arrival of more refugees, including mung refugees in a series of stopgap measures. by 197, the stream of southeast asian refugees became a tide. as more vietnamese, cambodian, lowland lao and mong refugees began to come to the u.s. so president jimmy carter raised the quota of incoming refugees to 14,000 people per month in 1979. and there remained a challenge of bringing these refugees to a level of self sufficiency. to meet these needs, congress passed a landmark piece of
legislation. the refugee act of 1980. and this is really important. because it is the act under which we operate still today. it aimed to fix the inefficiencies of the resettlement program and it also maintained most of the pre-existing program but aimed to make it more permanent and stable. it capped refugees annual entries at 50,000, it committed new admissions procedures that facilitated the efficient resettlement of refugees. it provided long-term funding for refugee programs. so it was the first general refugee act. up until 1980, the united states had been under criticism for only helping people who were anti-communist. rather than people who really needed to be helped. refugee policy, critics argued, should not be driven by cold war geopolitics but by international laws and norms. so the 1980 refugee act is also important because it redefines
refugee in american law. it defines refugees as any person who is outside his or her own country who is unable or unwilling to return to that country, as your point raised earlier, and is unable or willing to avail himself of the protection of that country out of fear of persecution, because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and more. so southeast asian refugee resettlement, given its complexity, helped illuminate the need for the 1980 refugee act and that's why it is important. but it also marked an important shift. the shift toward centering refugee admissions on human rights, rather than cold war anti-communist, and this period generally saw a shift towards human right, humanitarian thinking. not everyone was on board with this, gerald ford continued to make an argument that we should admit refugees because they had been the united states ally in
the fight against communist globally, but liberal pro-refugee advocates like senator ted kennedy emphasized the south oest east asian refugees deserved americans help to alleviate suffering. what happened to these fmgs once they arrived in the united states? how were they resettled? a lot of conversation focuses on admission. but we also need to think about how refugees were resettled. because successful refugee resettlement made policy makers more likely to want to admit more refugees. and refugee admissions and refugee resettlement in this way are very intertwined. in the united states, refugee resettlement is a public/private effort. the government delegates a lot of work to private agencies, called voluntary agencies. interestingly, a lot of these agencies are also religious.
75% of southeast asian refugees who arrived in 1981, which is roughly the midpoint of southeast asian refugees arrivals, were resettled by religious organizations. some of these organizations are ones that are very active and prominent today. lutheran immigration refugee and the united states catholic bishops. so religious organizations were very important in both advocates for increased refugee admissions and also doing the work of helping refugees make a new life in the united states. these voluntary agencies received a government grant, between 300 and 500 dollars per refugee, to help refugees in their first few weeks upon arrival. and these voluntary agencies also partnered with local organizations. sometimes, an individual, usually a community group, especially a congregation, a synagogue, or a church, and these churches were civic
organizations, would sponsor refugees, and sort of take them under their wing. sometimes refugees actually live in church buildings for their first few days in the united states. i interviewed one family, one church sponsor that had housed a family in their church, and they didn't have showers so the refugees lived in the sunday school classrooms and then walked across the street to the seminary, and took showers there. and they lived like that for a few weeks. this actually came up in the movie "grand torino" which i know some of you have seen. in that film clint eastwood is talking to a young mung woman and asked how did you get here to the rural midwest, and she jokingly said, blame the lutherans. and i think that he in gran torino says very succinctly one important theme.
religious groups have been powerful in advocating for refugees and really important to making refugee resettlement happen. they did so for a variety of reason, as this flyer from church world service points out, churches in their view are avenues of god's love to refugees. the last line is pretty important here. articulating how protestant christians viewed refugees. it says jesus himself was a refugee and by helping refugees, we are really helping him. so these religious groups had a lot of commitment to helping refugees, and they also had the financial backing of the government to do that work. so the united states refugee program would not have happened without these private organizations. now, they have their own goals for resettling refugees. but religious groups and government had a shared objective, which was bringing refugees to self-sufficiency as soon as possible. this quote from mark franken of
the migration refugee service in the united states conference of camp bishops acknowledges that, i want to help someone who wants to make a difference and get involved in that effort, but also advise that their role is not the everything for the newcomer. their role is to help them become as self-sufficient as soon as possible. don't create dependency. it is the worst thing for an individual, is to create a dependency. this reflects the government's goal of resettling refugees in a way that wa not put a lot of -- that would not put a lot of people on welfare. this was an obsession of government and both private agencies involved in the resettlement. so the goal was to ensure that refugees would not be a public charge, would be economically self sufficient, would have a job and if they were children would go to school. but there were also commitments to cultural assimilation, and to that end, refugees were actually spread out across the country, as one person put it, spread thin like butter, so they might
disappear, and there was a desire on the part of refugee policy makers to prevent the formation of immigrant enclaves, that characterized refugee and immigrant migrations earlier in the u.s., in u.s. history. my final portion today, i want to talk about how refugees experience this migration. in my view, a lot of our conversation about refugee migrations today takes in consideration the needs of government, it takes into consideration the needs of sponsors, of community members. it doesn't always involve listening to southeast asian refugee voices. so in general, i will say that refugees were grateful to be resettled in the united states. but they were also deeply unsettled by the experience. and they faced a number of
challenges. economic challenges. cultural adjustments. language acquisition. trauma. due to war. physical and mental health problems due to war also. intense anti-refugee hostility and racism. the separation from family and friends. the uncertainty of what the future lay ahead. i think one of the most powerful ways to understand what it was like to experience this refugee migration is to listen to oral history. and so i am going to call attention to ura muwa, a mong woman who currently lives in saint paul, minnesota, and she shared her story, through the young woman's action and oral history project, the minnesota historical society. and i will share a few lines that i think illuminate some of the challenges she experienced. at the welfare office, he told me that, how come you did not go to work, and why are you just
coming to ask for more money? that is what he told me. but he did not know how much struggling we had been through. he did not know how lucky we are to stay alive so we could come to this country. maybe he would still say all those things about us. the reason why we are having this problem is because of the americans who came to our country and caused all of these problems. that is the reason why we came to this country. but he does not know about that. and all he sees is that we are here to use his money, and take his country and his home. we really hate the people who are on welfare, like us. for those who went to work to support their own family , then the americans say that now they are taking away our jobs. so let's unpack this a little bit. why does yer moua feel
frustrated with life in america? what are her frustrations? >> the welfare office is like assuming that her story, without really knowing her and it kind of actually reminds us of the last discussion, and how, in the perception of like americans, towards like muslim america, so like i think it is just that they are not really taking account her experiences. >> there is a frustration, absolutely. americans not fully understanding why muang people are coming to the united states in the first place. this is a big issue for a lot of muang refugees. we have been on your side and why are you hating us now? there was a lot of frustration with a lack of understanding, a lock of history. and by sharing stories, through the oral history projects, and memoirs, and more, i think muang people, vietnamese people have been able to tell their story, to a wider audience, and improve
understanding, but in the first year, they didn't really have a platform to tell their story, and to improve understanding as easily as they do now for shoe. another muang american woman, in saint paul, you read a memoir, an excerpt from the memoir, the young homecoming for today and call attention to a few lines that i think are powerful from the text you read. she came to the united states as a child, and so she has the unique position of experiencing a refugee migration from the vantage point of a young person, which is quite different from yer mua who came to the united states as an adult. kao klang told us not to look at the americans, if we saw them, they would see us. for the first year and a half, we wanted to be invisible. everywhere we went, in the mcdunna housing project we were
looked at and we felt exposed. we were dealing with the widespread realization that we must do one of two things to survive in america. grow up. or grow old. so she felt profound pressure to grow up really fast. translating for her parents. helping them navigate the bureaucracy that allowed their family to eat. later, she writes, money was like a person i had never known or a wall i had never breached before. it kept me away from my grandma. i saw no way to climb this wall. sometimes i thought so much about money that i couldn't sleep. money was not bills and coins or a check from welfare. in my imagination, it was much more. it was the nightmare that kept love apart in america. so here you have another aspect of frustration. her family is not just
financially struggling but that financial struggling meant that they could not be with loved ones. this is a really powerful aspect of refugee migration. it is the fact that people might be separated for years from family members. might not even know what their status is. one last line from the memoir. at night, the families gathered for long conversations, which were always about surviving in america. the same topic that the adults in my family started the first night we arrived in the country. it was a conversation that would continue for the next 20 years. how do we survive in america? and still love each other as we have in laos? so what are some things that kao did to survive? do any of you remember from the text? what did she do to survive? what was her strategy for
survival? how to connect to her commit to education? for kao, the way to survive was to do well in school, tremendous amount of pressure on her in the story to do well academically, to maybe go to college some day. and one thing that i think is really powerful about learning about southeast asian american history, is it reminds us that asian americans are not a monolithic, mono minority, that there are a variety of different backgrounds, experiences that shape their migration to the united states, and the way that they're able to thrive in the united states. but what is amazing to see is how much upward mobility has been accomplished by a lot of these refugees, within the span of a generation. i once interviewed a muang woman who described how she gave birth on the side of the mid cong
river to a baby and she couldn't immediately swim across the mid cong river because she been given birth and the baby was so small, and as soon as she was able, she, did and her husband carried one child on his shoulders and she carried the newborn baby, and they swam across the river, as troops were shooting at them. and i asked, after she told this story, well, what happened to that baby that you carried? and she said oh, she's a law student at uc berkeley now. so i think it is really powerful to remember how much struggle southeast asian refugees have experienced, due to war, due to people, due to dislocation, culturally, politically, economically, it is powerful. but i think we do a disservice by just focusing on success stories and i want to conclude here. kao is a success story.
vi teng weng is a success story. an award winning author and professor. just like how the model minority mythology is so problematic, so too is a narrative of southeast asian refugee migrations that only focuses on success. and increasingly, you see a lot of southeastern asian refugees telling stories about their struggle, pointing out the unsettledness of resettlement, not simply to correct the narrative but also to convene in temporary debates in the present about refugees today. so i want to revisit ha teng weng now, and i want to read a few lines that are from the essay that i quoted at the beginning of this lecture. and here, teng weng writes about the hidden scars all refugees carry and he connects the past and the present in the same way that japanese-americans who had
been incarcerated during world war ii had been intervening in debates about treatment of muslims during the war on terror. we see southeastern asian americans drawing on their own rescued past to stand up for refugees in the past. she write, when many americans think of vietnamese americans as a success story, we forget that the majority of americans in 1975 did not want to accept vietnamese refugees. for a country that prides itself on the american dream, refugees are simply un-american. despite the fact that some of the original english settlers of this country, the puritans, were religious refugees. today, syrian refugees face a similar reaction. to some european, these refugees seem unyou're-european, for reasons of religion culture and language. and in san bernardino, california, and orlando florida, have people fearing that syrian
refugees could be islamic radicals. forgetting that those refugees are some of the first victims of the islamic state. that's a really powerful connection to the perception of vietnamese refugees as potential communist in fiat filtraters when they were one -- infiltrator when they were ones who were fleeing persecution at the hands of communists in asia. i continue here. because that dozens have been rendered on many, or who were cast out or fled, it is important for those of us who were refugees to remind the world of what our experiences mean. a vietnamese colleague of mine, jokingly referred to his journey from refugee to borge wa see. when i told him i too was a refugee, he stopped joking and said you don't look like one. he was right. we should be invisible even to one another. but it is precisely because i do not look like a refugee that i
have to proclaim being one, even when those of us who were refugees would rather forget that there was a time when the world thought us to be less than human. i will close there. any questions about even the material i've talked about today? okay. thank you. i will see you all next week. discussing the sympathizer. and the bon tempo chapter. i wish you a wonderful weekend. now i can actually say that. i will see you next week. thank you. you're watching american history tv. only on c-span 3. vietnam war veteran james webb served in the u.s. marines as a rifle platoon and compa
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