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RISE: Vietnamese

Rise of Communism

In 1954, after defeating the French colonialists to reestablish Vietnamese independence, the Viet Minh established a Communist government in the northern half of Vietnam. Fearful that Communism would spread throughout Southeast Asia, as it had to China and Korea, the United States supported the formation of an anti-Communist government in South Vietnam. When civil war erupted, the United States sent thousands of troops to Vietnam. After a decade of very controversial warfare, the US withdrew its troops and the Viet Minh united the country under Communist rule.

 

The first of three waves of Vietnamese to come to the United States were primarily members of the South Vietnamese military or government and the educated class. Many of them could speak some English, and most came from urban areas that were more westernized than the countryside. They fled during or immediately after the American evacuation because they feared reprisal by the new Communist regime for their cooperation with the United States during the war.

 

Not long after, thousands more (often referred to as the "boat people") braved perilous escapes on boats and years in crowded refugee camps when it became clear how repressive the new regime was going to be. They also suffered from desperate economic conditions created by 30 years of war. This later group included not only educated professionals, but also fishermen, farmers, storekeepers, and others from the countryside. They were less likely to understand English or have previous knowledge of the West.

 

Mass Exodus

Finally, in 1979, the US and Vietnam signed an agreement that created the Orderly Departure Program. Under this agreement, 20,000 Vietnamese a year were allowed to leave Vietnam to join family members in the US. These people came as immigrants, not refugees.

 

Although thousands of people in the first group described above initially came to Minnesota, many left for California and other states where larger groups of Vietnamese had settled and more job opportunities were available. People from the next two groups continued to move to Minnesota, however, and by 1981 the Vietnamese population had reached about 7,500. Although the Vietnamese have had to make a difficult transition to an entirely different way of life, their characteristic thriftiness, industriousness, determination, and love of learning have helped them adjust and become productive citizens.

Vietnam Villager and Pagoda Temple copyright by Oliver Porcher.