How the Vietnam War Changed Diversity in America

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The Vietnam War was a war of great controversy. The Vietnam War has the longest U.S. combat force participation to date, 17.4 years. This is closely followed by efforts in Afghanistan. U.S. combat force participation in Afghanistan is 17 years and continuing. The Vietnam War was a fatal one for U.S. armed forces. There are 58,220 total recorded military deaths from the war as of 2008 from the Defense Casualty Analysis System (U.S. Military Fatal Casualty Statistics, n.d.). Although the Vietnam War was both fatal and controversial, it is responsible for changing diversity in America.

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Vietnamese migration to America can be categorized into three waves. The first after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The second wave of refugees would be the Vietnamese boat people crisis in the late 1970’s. The third wave would start in the 1980’s and continue through to the early 1990s.

With resentment still fresh from the war, not many more refugees were allowed into the United States until congress and President Gerald Ford agreed to pass the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975, allowing more Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States. With this declaration came the evacuation of approximately 130,000 Vietnamese refugees. Most of the refugees were taken to Guam and the Pacific Islands before coming to the United States through Operation New Arrivals and Operation New Life. The first wave of refugees were mainly of those who had ties to the U.S. military or the South Vietnamese government. These refugees were normally military personnel and educated professionals. This wave was financially comfortable, well educated, and proficient in English.

The second wave of Vietnamese immigration started September 1978 when Vietnam invaded the Democratic Kampuchea (part of current day Cambodia). With the rise of the new communist regime came the Indochina refugee crisis. This is where former French colonies of Indochina such as Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia saw a large outflow of refugees. The Hoa fled in mass numbers to China and Thailand. The Hoa people were of Chinese descent living in Vietnam. The boat, Southern Cross unloaded 1,200 Vietnamese refugees on an island belonging to Indonesia. October of that year had 2,500 refugees show up at the coast of Malaysia. They were turned away and sat off of the coast until they were processed and given resettlement in third countries. Countless refugees tried fleeing on creaky and overcrowded boats to Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Some were granted access and resettlement, some turned away to have to face hazards and return to Vietnam, some were detained and sent back to Vietnam, many perished at sea. It was not uncommon for boat people to be raided by pirates. Women were often raped and abducted. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that between 200,000 to 400,000 boat people perished at sea (Wieder, p167). This was such a human catastrophe that the United Nations convened at the Geneva Conferences in July 1979 in Switzerland. This compelling crisis led to the Refugee Act of 1980, which created a process to allow refugees into the United States as well as increasing the yearly allotment from 17,400 refugees to 50,000 refugees yearly.

The third wave was the most complicated wave. The Orderly Departure Program was created in 1979 as a result of the Geneva Conferences. It was created by the United Nations High Commissioner in order to allow a safe way for Vietnamese Refugees to leave Vietnam safely. Between its inception in 1979 and 1994, the ODP has been responsible for resettling 623, 509 Vietnamese refugees, of which 458,367 Vietnamese refugees came to the United States (Robinson, Terms of Refugee, p 177). The third wave also consists of the U.S. Homecoming Act, which would allow Amerasian children and their families to enter the united states. The Humanitarian Operation was also created during this time to allow former political detainees to enter the United States. Former political detainees were anyone who worked for the United States or former Vietnamese regime.

With the increasing Vietnamese population comes a massive growth in diversity. As of 2010, the Vietnamese American population reached 1.5 million people (United States Census 2010, n.d.). Vietnamese Americans make up the fourth largest Asian population group in the United States behind Chinese, Asian Indian, and Filipino. Without the war, there wouldn’t be such a worldwide presence of Vietnamese people.

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How the Vietnam War Changed Diversity in America. (2019, Feb 06). Retrieved from