American military involvement in the internal war in Vietnam spread to the adjacent countries of Laos and Cambodia, and the eventual communist victories in all three countries triggered a massive exodus of peoples, more than 2 million of whom immigrated to the United States. As the United States had experience almost no immigration from Southeast Asia before the war, the assimilation of these immigrants presented new challenges to both the immigrants and the United States.
During the long years of the Cold War, the United States defended noncommunist governments throughout the world. After France withdrew from its Southeast Asian colonies in 1954, an international agreement partitioned the former French Indochina into Laos, Cambodia, and North and South Vietnam. The division of Vietnam was intended to be temporary, but the fact that the North had a communist government and the South had a pro-Western government almost guaranteed future conflict. During
American military involvement in the war in Vietnam began during the early 1960’s and escalated gradually until the United States itself was one of the primary combatants. By 1969, the peak year of direct American military involvement, 541,000 American soldiers were serving in Southeast Asia, along with thousands of civilian support personnel. In 1964, before American military involvement began in earnest, only 603 Vietnamese were known to be living the United States. By the time the United States withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, that figure had risen to about 20,000. Most of these immigrants were Vietnamese women who had married American military personnel. However, that large increase in Vietnamese immigration to the United States was only a fraction of the numbers of immigrants who would arrive after the war.
Meanwhile, as communist North Vietnamese troops moved through Laos and Cambodia to reach South Vietnam, the governments of both neighboring countries became involved in the war. These developments help trigger communist insurgencies in Laos and Cambodia that helped lead both countries into economic and political chaos, but few
Recognizing that it had become immersed in an unwinnable war, the United States began withdrawing its combat troops from Southeast Asia in early 1973. As American troops were leaving, the war continued and communist victories in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, soon followed. On April 17, 1975, the fervently communist
The communist victories in Southeast Asia triggered a massive exodus of people who had supported the anticommunist regimes and cooperated with the American military. Many of these refugees eventually found their way to the United States.
South Vietnamese Marines leaping aboard an American naval vessel helping to evacuate Da Nang in April, 1975.
In response to the growing refugee crisis in Southeast Asia, the U.S. Congress passed the
Southeast Asia’s postwar refugee exodus did not end in 1975. Because of the harsh and sometimes murderous policies of the region’s communist governments, refugees continued to flee the region. This exodus accelerated in late 1978, and many refugees risked their lives by attempting to leave by sea on small boats. In response to this new crisis, the United States again lent assistance to the refugees by supporting the efforts of the
In November, 2005, the United States and Vietnam agreed to a new program to facilitate the immigration to the United States of Vietnamese who had been interned in
As a direct result of the Vietnam War, about 770,000 Vietnamese,
Desbarats, Jacqueline. “Indochinese Resettlement in the United States.” In The History and Immigration of Asian Americans, edited by Franklin Ng. New York: Garland, 1998. Good overview of first Southeast Asians who came to the United States after the Vietnam War and their adjustment to American society. Detzner, Daniel. Elder Voices: Southeast Asian Families in the United States. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2004. Studies of forty leaders of Southeast Asian immigrant communities in the United States that illuminate postwar immigration issues. Le, Cuong Nguyen. Asian American Assimilation. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2007. Includes concise description of how the Vietnam War led to Southeast Asian immigration to the United States, using census data to assess factors helping the immigrants adapt successfully to life in the United States. Excellent bibliography. Schulzinger, Robert D. “The Vietnamese in America.” In A Time for Peace: The Legacy of the Vietnam War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. This chapter in Schulzinger’s book offers a sympathetic description of Vietnamese refugees in America and discusses their paths to assimilation and success. Vo, Nghia M. Vietnamese Boat People, 1954 and 1975-1992. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Focusing on the waves of Vietnamese immigration immediately after the Vietnam War, this book discusses how the immigrants adapted to life in the United States.
Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987
Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975
Orderly Departure Program