The arrival of thousands of immigrants from Southeast Asia during the mid-to-late 1970’s marked a new era in immigration to the United States because of multiple factors. One of the characteristics that defined this new era was the region from which these new immigrants were coming. A second trait of this new era was that the arrival of these immigrants created a strong, negative reaction among Americans against them. Furthermore, the arrival of these immigrants led to new legislation regarding their status.
The first major influx of Cambodian immigrants who began arriving in the United States during the late 1970’s was part of a large group of
Many of the Cambodian refugees initially fled to neighboring
The U.S. government utilized this resettlement program that was created during the mid-1970’s to assist Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the country. Through this program, voluntary agencies helped find sponsors to help support the new immigrants and help them adjust to American society for a limited time. The Cambodian immigrants who arrived a few years later were put through the same program. Between 1980 and 1984, approximately 75,000 Cambodians arrived in the United States.
After arriving in the United States, the difficulties confronting the Cambodian immigrants did not end. They faced strong opposition from many Americans. Much of the opposition was due to the economic problems in the United States at the time. Another aspect of the opposition seemed to be racial.
The large numbers of
Like many other immigrants from Southeast Asia, Cambodian immigrants have tended to work mostly in low-wage jobs, most notably in the seafood processing industry. Many have looked for work similar to what they did in Cambodia, but some who had professional training have been unable to find corresponding employment in the United States. A relatively large number have opened grocery stores. Cambodian Americans have generally had a difficult time economically in the United States. Unemployment among them is high. Many of them have lived in poverty and been dependent on government assistance. Their situation has tended to be worse that of other recently arrived ethnic groups in the United States.
Prior to this wave of southeastern immigration, very few people with Cambodian heritage lived in the United States. According to the U.S. Census, approximately 120,000 foreign-born Cambodians lived in the United States in 1990. More than 100,000 of them had come to the country during the 1980’s. Most of them lived in
Barkan, Elliott Robert. Asian and Pacific Islander Migration to the U.S.: A Model of New Global Patterns. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Descriptive account of modern immigration to the United States and how it has mirrored trends in global migration. Caplan, Nathan, John K. Whitmore, and Marcella H. Choy. The Boat People and Achievement in America: A Study of Family Life, Hard Work, and Cultural Values. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989. Historical overview of the refugee crisis in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam during the late 1970’s. Also contains numerous individual stories of life in the United States. Ebihara, May M., Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood, eds. Cambodian Culture Since 1975: Homeland and Exile. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994. Collection of articles examining the perceived threat to Khmer culture and efforts to preserve it at home and abroad. Navarro, Armando. The Immigration Crisis: Nativism, Armed Vigilantism, and the Rise of a Countervailing Movement. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2008. Comprehensive history of the politics of immigration to the United States since the colonial era. Scott, Joanna C. Indochina’s Refugees: Oral Histories from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1989. Several individual accounts of life in these three Southeast Asian countries immediately after the communists came to power, as well as the escape to foreign refugee camps.
History of immigration after 1891