A Legacy of War: Refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
Origins and Destinies: Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity in America, p. 315, S. Pedraza and R.G. Rumbaut, eds., Wadsworth, 1996
24 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2012
Date Written: 1996
Indochinese refugees were a product of the longest war in modern history -- the thirty-year Vietnam War and its metastasis into Laos and Cambodia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. An immensely complex conflict that still creates bitter controversy, the war was a tragedy of staggering proportions for Americans and Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians alike. With the exception of the American Civil War a century earlier, the Vietnam War became the most divisive event in U.S. history. If the war divided America, it devastated Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The war also produced a massive refugee population for whom the United States assumed a historic responsibility. After the end of the war in 1975, over two million refugees fled Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The 1975 refugee exodus was only the start of an extraordinary emigration which took many unexpected turns and lasted for years. By the early 1990s over one million had been resettled in the U.S., 750,000 in other Western countries (principally Canada, Australia and France), and many others still languished in refugee camps from the Thai-Cambodian border to Hong Kong. But an era was coming to a close, while a new phase of the Indochinese diaspora was opening. The end of the Cold War in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, U.N.-supervised elections in Cambodia in 1993, and the end of the U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam in 1994 were but the most remarkable events of a compressed period of rapid and fundamental change in international relations that transformed the nature of refugee resettlement in the United States. For a sizable and rapidly growing generation of young Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian Americans now rooted in communities throughout the United States and speaking accentless English, a new era was dawning in which the legacy of war was increasingly receding in practical importance. Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian Americans now form a sizable and diverse component of the Asian-origin population in the United States. If the studies reviewed here are any indication, the future of the Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Hmong and ethnic Chinese generations now coming of age in the United States will likely be as diverse as their past, and will be reached by multiple paths. In their diversity they are writing yet another chapter in the history of the American population and society, and in the process they are becoming, quintessentially, Americans.
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