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tv   Lectures in History Post- Vietnam War Refugees  CSPAN  April 15, 2021 8:50am-10:01am EDT

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captioning performed by vitac new future where as with the refugee crises that we see now, there's often, like, a push that forces them to leave their own countries and migrate somewhere else just because of, like, a failure of government or reasons that they don't have control over themselves. >> absolutely. so there is a forced migration that characterizes refugee migrations rather than immigrants who have more of a choice. >> i also think with refugees, there's somewhat of a connotation that when their home country -- when the turmoil stops in their home country, a
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lot of times they would be okay going back, verses an immigrant came to this country by their own choice. for a refugee the reason we would welcome them in, because we're housing them until they go back. but an immigrant with that connotation isn't there. >> the ability to be able to return to your home country. we've talked about how a lot of immigrants migrate to the united states or elsewhere and return home, but refugees don't have that option. that's an important point. because they have been forced out due to war, persecution, natural disaster, any number of reasons that make their life in their previous country impossible. they would not survive. so i think you're exactly right. refugee migrations is characterized by a need for survival. what do you think he means when he says that refugees are zombies of the world?
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i thought that was evocative. zombies of the world. the undead who rise from dying states. >> in a way, like, they are the only vessels of culture left of these dying states and it's really hard to get someone to, you know, completely forfeit their culture because it is part of their identity. so as long as they live, the culture lives? >> yes. okay. so i think this is really powerful. they are often vessels of their culture, they're leaving desperate situations where they would have otherwise died physically and perhaps also their community would have died. their culture would have died. and so this idea of people leaving dying states in circumstances of profound dislocation, trauma is really powerful. i think that language of zombies
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is really powerful because it reminds us of the desperation, the violence, the fear that people leave, that pushes people to migrate. and i think that it's important for us to remember that this violence, that the suffering, that this persecution, that this upheaval that forced them to migrate doesn't just end there. but continues to shape their lives in years to come. so he calls attention i think to the two most important aspects of refugees and what distinguishes them from immigrants. number one, they are involuntary migrants, as you pointed out already, forcibly removed from their homes due to conflict, natural disasters or other
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extraordinary circumstances and they are often very traumatized people, zombies, as he would say. the interesting thing about refugees is they are powerful in our mythology of american exceptionist history. think about the poem that is on the statue of liberty, "the new colossus." give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. the retched refuse of your teeming shore. send these to me, i lift my lamp beside the golden door. how many of you have heard those lines before. so famous. and the fact that those lines are on a the statue of liberty which is a symbol of immigration in the united states, is really powerful.
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it really centers the united states or the idea that the united states is being a welcoming haven for people who are exiles. unfortunately the history of the united states tells a somewhat different more complicated story. the truth is, we haven't always had the humanitarian impulse to welcome refugees. usually we've only done so when it's in our humanitarian national interest. usually we'd been more inclined to actually reject refugees than to except them. and to borrow the words of a historian, often refugees who have been accepted for resettlement here are not only resettled, but are also deeply unsettled by the experience of force migration and resettlement in the united states. to give you an overview of what i'll talk about today, i'll give
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you a little bit of background about american refugee resettlement policy after the second war. and then i'm going to use that background to set up why the 1970s were such an important period of change. that's when a small group of asian refugees first arrived in the united states and they were followed by a larger group of refugees who are described as indough chinese refugees. i'll talk about the crisis that developed overseas, but i'll focus mostly on developments that took place here in the united states, how the general public viewed southeast asian refugees. how southeast asian refugees were admitted and resettled and how southeast asian themselves tell stories about their experience.
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i'll tease out why the experience of why southeast asian resettlement matters and conclude with how southeast asians today are drawing on their history for public policy debates. any questions so far. let's begin with background resettlement in the united states during the 20th century. during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, most refugees came from europe. most were white and either jewish or christian. during this period right after the second world war, and during the cold war, a commitment to opposing communism really shaped how the united states determined which refugees to accept.
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during and after world war ii, the united states changed its immigration policies to accept people displaced by war. these refugees were known as displaced persons. and they benefitted from the landmark legislation of the time which was the 1948 displaced persons act. that act eventually expired and in 1953 it was replaced by the refugee relief act which helped other european refugees, including italians, greeks, and dutch refugees. in 1956 we see cold war developments in europe also shape a new refugee populations and give rise to new groups of people seeking refuge. in particular, the hungarian revolution occurred and freedom fighters, as they were popularly known, were welcomed to the united states. they were accepted under what is
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called parole power which allowed the united states to accept refugees and circumvent its own immigration laws which at this time, if you recall, were pretty restrictive. throughout much of the cold war, the executive branch used a loophole in immigration law, the parole power, to admit refugees when it deemed that it was in the national interest to do so. most of those refugees admitted were fleeing the left-wing or communist regimes. finally, in 1959, cuban exiles began to arrive. the first cubans who arrived were bautista sympathizers. for the first time because of cuban's proximity to the united states, the united states was a country of first refuge. meaning, refugees didn't go to
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another country and then apply for resettlement in the united states. they went straight to the united states. especially to places like miami. the policy for cuban refugees at this time was such that these refugees would be given asylum as part of a bigger anticastro, anticommunist policy. a number of requirements were imposed on these early refugee populations. and these requirements illustrated how the united states pursued its own cold war self-interest. first, as i've already mentioned, the u.s. offered a special welcome for people fleeing communism. second, preference was given for refugees who were professionals or highly educated or skilled. this was in keeping with other immigration laws of the period. ultimately, while welcoming displaced people, it has been
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seen as a humanitarian act, these humanitarian efforts were often centered on the needs of the united states, the helper. these images feature refugees who arrived in the united states during this period. the photoon the left features displaced persons who were registering at fort ontario refugee emergency center which housed 1,000 people displaced by world war ii. and the photo on the right is the cover of "time magazine" in 1957 featuring their chosen person of the year in 1956. the person of the year in 1956 was the hungarian freedom fighter. so let's think about this. what do you think this image on the right tells us about how americans viewed hungarian freedom fighters during this
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time. think about what it means for "time magazine" to choose hungarian freedom fighters as their person of the year and to present them in this way. what does this magazine cover tell us about how americans viewed hungarian refugees? >> definitely in a positive light. >> yeah. >> not like -- a lot different than how we view syrian refugees today. >> yes, really positive. you can see his face, so bold, so serious, noble. there was norms enthusiasm for welcoming people who were seen as fighting for freedom, who were seen as being allies in the united states' war against communism. so i think it's a really
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important image to have in mind. how refugees can be celebrated and how the celebration of refugees converges powerfully with american interests, in particular, this moment, the cold war. later in the 20th century, the cold war continued to shape the united states' stance towards refugee populations. but the last quarter of the 20th century saw a major shift in the world's refugee populations. in 1964, a refugee affairs expert at the world council of churches declared, we are now faced with a problem of refugees who are by and large nonwhite and by and large nonchristian. and it remains to be seen how we will react.
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americans were worried about how the united states would handle these new refugees. one pastor in st. paul, minnesota, explained, many problems will arise because of the new influx of people to america as a result of new people coming from different cultures and backgrounds. how would these new immigrants be accepted, he asked? government leaders also worried about this new refugee population. during a congressional hearing shortly after the fall of saigon, julia taft who was of the interagency task force on indochina refugees declared, never before in the history of this country, mr. chairman, have so many people from such different cultures, ethnic and religions backgrounds been introduced into american society in such a short time. what set these refugees apart from previous refugee populations is not simply that
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they were racially, ethically and religiously different, but also that these refugee communities didn't necessarily have a community of people in the united states already to welcome them. so who were these new refugees? amid the contemporary debate about muslim refugees from syria and somalia. there's been little attention paid to the fact that the united states has been settling refugees who are muslim for a long time and in fact has been since the 1970s. the first muslim refugees accepted for resettlement were ugandan asian refugees. they had been expelled from uganda. they were resettled in the united states and also the united kingdom and elsewhere beginning in 1972.
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these ugandan asian refugees marked a turning point, they were religiously diverse identifying as muslim and also indue, seik and christian. how did it go? a ugandan asian professor wrote a report called the brown diaspora and noted it was a source of anxiety for refugees and their christian sponsors. for example, a strictly vegetarian person was given work in a meat processing plant. it produced significant psychological and emotional strain and, though, he praised the good intentions of the
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sponsors and the voluntary agents, he said, that there needed to be better understanding of the needs of refugees. overall, though, he said that ugandan asian refugees had a pretty positive experience. i mentioned ugandan asian refugees because they really set the stage for a larger refugee population that arrived in the 1970s. so a lot of the lessons learned from ugandan asian refugee resettlement informed how these groups handled southeast asian refugees. shortly after the arrival of ugandan asian refugees, another larger refugee population arrived as a result of war in southeast asia. to give you context about what's happening in southeast asia at the time, communist governments
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took control in vietnam, cambodia and laos, and this initiated the migration of thousands of people flees for their lives. they were frequently referred to as the indo chinese. these were several different ethnic groups coming from different countries, speaking different languages, having different religions, different class backgrounds, political orientations and more. what united them was the experience of war. the trauma of war. the forced migration produced by war. and the experience of having to create a new life in the united states after experiencing the war. these refugees arrived in several waves. the first occurred during the
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united states' military involvement in the vietnam war which began in 1965, lasted a decade. by 1971, the war had already caused considerable violence and economic political and cultural damage. it had displaced by 1971 approximately 6 million refugees in south vietnam and 700,000 refugees in laos. later in the fall of saigon in the spring of 1975, the withdrawal of american military forces caused another outpouring of refugees. in response to this crisis, president gerald ford gave the green light to admit 200,000 vietnamese refugees. some of them were evacuated through the help of american military forces. others fled on their own and were taken into protective custody by the united states.
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these vietnamese refugees in 1975 were placed in several military-run refugee camps on military bases here in the united states. and they stayed there until sponsors could assist their resettlement to elsewhere. now, as 1976 began, americans thought they were done with the refugee crisis. they had handled those couple hundred thousand refugees who went to those military-run refugee camps. but the crisis was only beginning to heat up at this point. violence and political conflict in southeast asia continued to escalate and spur new migrations. for example, in cambodia, the vietnamese invasion brought the down it's fall of the regime.
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they had killed 1.7 million people. with pollpot no longer in power, half a million cambodian people who managed to survive his regime sought refugee in nearby thailand. an additional 122,000 cambodian refugees joined them in thailand between 1980 and 1986. in vietnam, there was another outpouring of refugees known famously as the boat people. these people escaped by sea, they were people who had formerly been political, military or cultural leaders in south vietnam. some of them were ethnic minorities who were fleeing persecution. tens of thousands took to the oceans and made their ways to other places in southeast asia, thailand, malaysia, indonesia,
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and the philippines. they sailed in boats that were hardly sea worthy sometimes. and an estimated 25% to 50% died at sea. if they were lucky to make it to land, sometimes they were forced back to sea by governments like thailand and malaysia that refused to accept them and take responsibility. those refugees who were fortunate enough to live on and make it to a refugee camp lived in squalled conditions, difficult conditions in thailand and elsewhere. and by the middle of 1979, nearly 100,000 vietnamese boat people were in malaysia and hong kong. so far i've only talked about refugees from vietnam and cambodia, but i should also mention what are known as mong
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and loa refugees. a lot of stories about the war have been told through this traditional art form. looking at this image, what do you see? what do you notice? what story of war does it tell? do you see any depictions of war here? anyone notice the -- >> i think it's really interesting that the spanning of technology is really depicted in this depiction of war because i see sword fighting but then i also see planes which is a very funny thing to see embroidered on a quilt and i'm interested to the deer on the left slurping at the river. it's a nice juxtaposition as how
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war comes into a landscape but the landscape still functions as it is. it would be cool to see an aftermath quilt. >> absolutely. you see a river, this river borders laos and thailand. and you see the airplanes, the helicopters, you see this fascinating juxtaposition of rural life and war. you see the little boxy buildings which could represent either the refugee camps or the military sites where the troops organized. you see people in a line all walking fwh the same direction, fleeing, perhaps, for safety. so this represents mong experiences during the secret war and their subsequent
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migration out of laos to thailand. the united states worked with the mong as well as lao people in the 1960s. with the assistance of the cia and the green berets, a mong leader and tens of thousands of mong soldiers were the frontline defense responsible for warning off the defense until the evacuation in 1973. the staggering cost of mong sacrifice during this period is really important to know. throughout 13 years of fierce guerrilla warfare, estimates claim that 1 in 4 soldiers, approximately 17,000 people, died. and some of the soldiers who died were teenagers, were quite young.
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the secret war entered a new phase when the united states signed a peace accord with north vietnam and evacuated all of the american military leaders from laos. but 18,000 soldiers were left behind, some dispersed into the countryside, some joined the general army and in 1975, some military leaders were airlifted by the cia out of laos. but most mong people were less fortunate. of the 10,000 mong who fled the headquarters, only a small fraction were evacuated by the united states. thousands of mong people embarked on the treacherous westward exodus to thailand, carrying their possessions on their back, families traveled by foot through the jungle and journeyed at night. by 1979, nearly 30,000 mong refugees attempted to make the
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dangerous crossing each month. so that crossing of the river is such a powerful part of mong stories, of their refugee migration. and you can see it powerfully depicted here. americans today have paid attention to news of refugee crises overseas. they've been following news reports, they've been watching footage on nightly news, they've been following it on social media. and americans in the 1970s were just like us today, they were following developments overseas with great interest. and americans who were moved by news accounts of this humanitarian crisis, this was a really important development in causing americans to say, we should actually do something. the plight of southeast asian
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refugees began to build and americans began to push to provide relief and resettlement opportunities. so today -- first i want to talk about support for southeast asian refugees. americans gave a lot of reasons to support the southeast asian refugees. for one, many americans rooted their support in the idea that the united states is an exceptional country that has special status in history as a refuge for the scorn, hated and hunted. one 1975 public opinion survey found that the leading reason why americans supported the admission of southeast asian refugees was the, quote, tradition of the united states as a sanctuary for europeans fleeing oppression of their homelands. that same poll found that a plurality agreed with the statement that the united states began of people of all races,
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creeds and nationalities coming here to escape religious or political persecution. so we ought to let the refugees from vietnam in. throughout the cold war, americans continued to feel a special obligation to people who were fighting against communism. people who were the less fortunate human beings who faced retribution and persecution. and this was also another reason why a lot of americans were open to accepting southeast asian refugees. a 1986 poll found that a majority of respondents agreed that the united states should accept political refugees who were specifically fleeing communist countries. and there was also the specific context of the vietnam war. the fact that refugees were fleeing a region where the united states had been directly involved in years of brutal welfare heightened american's sense of obligation. americans were particularly
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committed to admitting southeast asian refugee who is had worked closely with the u.s. military, the cia, as translators or in the diplomatic corps. americans who had worked in vietnam felt terrible about potentially abandoning their southeast asian colleagues. other refugee advocates argued that americans must aid and admit southeast asian refugees whose suffering was the direct consequence of u.s. military action. for some religions people, accepting refugees for resettlement of was an act for america's sins in vietnam. just as powerful as american guilt was the idea of american goodness. pride in american compassion and generosity spurred americans to take action. the idea that the united states with the benevolent leader of
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the free world converged with religious ideas, the idea that the united states needed to be the good samaritan. finally, refugee advocates argued that americans should not admit refugees because americans are good. but because refugees are good for america. one senate resolution from 1975 declared, this period of influx of refugees in and exiles conserve to keep us humble, saving us from the sins of arrogance, pride and self-righteousness. i need to tell you the support for refugees really was small compared to the opposition to refugees. despite the lofty ideals, in reality the majority of americans consistently opposed
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the resettlement of southeast asian refugees. it was by no means a new development in american culture. polls indicate that consistently throughout the 20th century, americans have not supported the admission and resettlement of refugees. for example, in january 1939, as the u.s. was grappling with the question of whether to accept jewish refugees fleeing nazi germany, 30% of americans said they should resettle jewish refugees. 61% said it should not. compare that to public opinion polls after the vietnam war. one poll in may 1975, which is right after the fall of saigon, found that only 36% of americans surveyed favored the resettlement of southeast asian refugees. 54% of americans surveyed opposed it. attitudes towards southeast
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asian refugees did warm somewhat over time, but american reluctance to admit southeast asian refugees remained fairly consistent throughout the 1970s and '80s. even a full decade after the end of a vietnam war, a plurality of americans believed that the united states had accepted too many refugees. and this slide indicates, i added some statistics from october 2016. 41% of registered american voters said the u.s. should accept syrian refugees. 54% said it should not. so this is interesting because more americans are supportive of refugee resettlement today than compared to after the vietnam war which i think is a surprising statistic for a lot of people. so why do people oppose southeast asian refugees? the "new york times" shortly after the fall of saigon visited a town called niceville,
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florida. niceville. the truth is that the town was not particularly nice to the refugees who were arriving from vietnam. niceville is located near an air force base. and despite the proximity to vietnamese refugees, the people of niceville revealed the limits of american welcome. a local radio station polled area residents about the 1,500 vietnamese refugees being airlifted from saigon and 80% of the people said that they did not want the military to bring refugees to their town. at one point, residents actually circulated a petition demanding that refugees be sent to a different place and schoolchildren made jokes about shooting refugees. as far as i'm concerned they can ship them all back.
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this reflected broader national sentiment. in one poll in june 1975, 85% of americans believed that the united states was too -- and the government should arrange to send these refugees back to saigon. and a town close to niceville, anxiety about refugees reflected anxiety about economic issues, the stagnating economy and weakening social safety net. we've got enough of our own problems to take care of said a local barber. one of his customers agreed they don't even have enough money to take care of social security now and they want to bring in more people. these economic concerns were also in keeping with national sentiment. many americans believed that southeast asian refugees posed an economic burden on the u.s. a survey in june 1975 found that
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62% of americans believed that immigrants take jobs away from americans, only 28% believed otherwise. and then there were issues other than economic issues. for one, there's concern about security, about communists slipping in with the refugees and this sounds a little bit familiar, doesn't it? robert carr, a realtor feared that vietnamese refugees would bring communist infiltrators. how do you know we're not going to get the bad guys? you can't say for sure. nobody can, and lord knows we have enough communist infiltration right now. he wasn't alone with his concerns. this discussion came up in congress. in 1975, an ambassador who led the ford administration's response to southeast asian refugees responded to several questions from congress about the adequacy of the security screening which many saw as
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overstretched and pressured to maximum expediency over thoroughness. there were cultural concerns. americans opposed to refugee resettlement argued that southeast asian refugees were unassimilatable. and you see the emergence of language that echoes the language that we saw earlier in american history. opponents of refugee resettlement portrayed southeast asian people as vice and germ-riddened people who affected public health. and when asked to identify what diseases they might be bringing, he couldn't quite name them. he said, i don't know, but there's bound to be some up kind of those tropical germs floating around. hostility to southeast asian refugees sometimes boiled down to simple racism.
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at a high school near niceville, students discussed plans to establish a gook klu examination klan. the funny thing about refugees, southeast asian refugees, is that given all of this hostility, it actually happened, southeast asian refugees were actually admitted and resettled. as the historian put it, given the intensity of this public opposition, it's a miracle that southeast asian refugees were resettled in the united states at all. and they were resettled in substantial numbers. between 1975 and 2000, over a million southeast asian refugees came to the united states. and what was the most extensive,
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expensive and institutionally complex resettlement effort in american history. it was also haphazard, chaotic, controversial and planners expected it would take a year, but it ended up taking decades. southeast asian refugee migration developed in several phases. there was the indochina migration assistance act in 1975. this outlined the first plans to help refugees from vietnam and cambodia. in these efforts, the federal government underestimated how expensive it would be, how much money was needed, how much time and manpower, and so in the years that followed, congress approved the arrival of more refugees, including lao and mong refugees. by 1978, the stream of southeast asian refugees became a tide. as more vietnamese, cambodian, and other refugees began to come
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to the u.s. so president jimmy carter raised the quota of incoming refugees to 14,000 people per month in 1979. and there remained the challenge of bringing these refugees to a level of self-sufficiency. congress passed a landmark piece of legislation, the refugee act of 1980. this is really important. because it's the act under which we operate still today. it aimed to fix the inefficienties in the resettle program. it capped refugee annual entries at 50,000. it created new admissions procedures that facilitated the efficient resettlement of refugees, it provided long-term funding for refugee programs. it was the first general refugee act. up until 1980, the united states had been under criticism for
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only helping people who were anticommunist rather than people who really needed to be helped. refugee policy critics argued, it should be driven by international laws and norms. so the 1980 refugee act is also important because it redefined refugee in american law. it defines refugees as any person who is outside his or her own country, who is unable or unwilling to return to that country, as your point raised earlier, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country out of fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality and public opinion and more. so southeast asian refugee resettlement helped illuminate the need for the act and that's why it's important. but it marked an important shift.
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the shift towards centering refugee admissions on human rights rather than cold war anticommunism. and this period generally saw a shift towards human rights, humanitarian thinking. not everyone was on board with this. gerald ford continued to make the argument that we should admit refugees because they had been the united states' ally in its fight against communism globally, but liberal pro refugee advocates emphasis that southeast asian refugees deserved american help to more of a responsibility to alleviate suffering. so what happened to these refugees once they arrived in the united states? how were they resettled? a lot of conversation focuses on admission, but we also need to think about how refugees were resettled. because successful refugee resettlement made policymakers more likely to want to admit more refugees. and refugee admissions and
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refugee resettlement in this way are very intertwined. in the united states, refugee resettlement is a public/private effort. the government delegates a lot of work to private agencies. interestingly, a lot of these agencies are also religious. 75% of southeast asian refugees who arrived in 1981, which is roughly the midpoint to southeast asian refugee arrivals, were resettled by religious organizations. some of these organizations are ones that are very active and predominant today, lutheran immigration and refugee service, for example, the united states conference of catholic bishops. religious organizations were very important in both advocating for increased refugee admissions and also doing the work of helping refugees make a new life in the united states. these voluntary agencies received a government grant between 300 and $500 per refugee
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to help refugees in their first few weeks upon arrival. and these agencies also partnered with local organizations. sometimes an individual, usually a community group, especially a congregation, a synagogue or a church. and these churches were civic organizations would sponsor refugees and sort of take them under their wing. sometimes refugees would actually live in church buildings for their first few days in the united states. i interviewed one family -- or one church sponsor that had house add family in their church and they didn't have showers. so the registers lived in the sunday school classrooms and walked across the street to the seminary and took showers there and they lived like that for a few weeks. this actually came up in the movie grand tireno.
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clint eastwood is talking to a young woman and asked how did you get here to the rural midwest. and she says, blame the lutherans. and i think that seen in the movie says very succinctly one important theme, religious organizations, religious groups have been powerful in advocating for refugee admissions and they have been really important to making refugee resettlement happen. they did so for a variety of reasons as this flyer from church world service points out, churches in their view are avenues of god's love to refugees. the last line is pretty important here, articulating how protestant christians viewed refugees. jesus said by helping refugees, we're really helping him. these groups had a lot of commitment to helping refugees and they also had the financial backing of the government to do that work. the united states refugee
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program would not have happened without these private organizations. now, they had their own goals for resettling refugees, but religious groups and government had a shared objective which is bringing refugees to self-sufficiency as soon as possible. this quote from the migration refugee service illuminates that. he says, i'm advising someone who wants to make a difference and wants to get involved in that effort would also advice that their role is not to be everything for the newcomer. their role is to help them be as self-sufficient as soon as possible. don't create dependencies. that's the worst thing for an individual is to create a dependency. this reflected the government's goal of resettling refugees in a way that would not put a lot of people on welfare. this was an obsession of both government and private agencies involved in resettlement. the number one goal was to
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ensure that refugees would not be a public charge, would be economically self-sufficient and would go to school. but there were commitments to cultural assimilation and refugees were actually spread out across the country. as one person put it, spread thin like butter so they might disappear and there was a desire on the part of refugee policymakers to prevent the formation of immigrant enclaves that characterized migrations earlier in the u.s. -- in u.s. history. my final portion today, i want to talk about how refugees experienced this migration. in my view, a lot of our conversation about refugee migrations today takes in consideration the needs of government, it takes in the consideration the needs of sponsors, of community members.
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it doesn't always involve listening to southeast asian refugee voices. so in general, i will say that refugees were grateful to be resettled in the united states. but they were also deeply unsettled by the experience. they faced a number of challenges, economic challenges, cultural adjustment, language acquisition, trauma due to war, physical and mental health problems due to war also. intense antirefugee hostility and racism, the separation from family and friends, the uncertainty of what future lay ahead. i think one of the most powerful ways to understand what it was like to experience this refugee migration is to listen to oral histories. and so i'm going to call attention to this story. it's a mong woman who lives in st. paul, minnesota, and she
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shared her story through the action project which is at the minnesota historical society. i'll share a few lines that i think illuminate some of the challenges she experienced. at the welfare office, he told me that, how come you did not go to work? and why are you just coming to ask for more money? that is what he told me. but he did not know how much struggling we had been through. he did not know how lucky we are to stay alive so we could come to this country. maybe he would still say all those things about us. the reason why we are having this problem is because of the americans who came to our country and caused all these problems. that is the reason why we came to this country. but he does not know about that. and all he sees is that we are here to use his money and take his country and his home. they really hate the people who are on welfare like us.
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for those who went to work to support their own families, then the americans said that now they are taking away our jobs. let's unpack this a little what are her frustrations? >> she's frustrated because the welfare office is assuming that her story without really knowing her. and that kind of actually reminds us of the last discussion and how -- and the perception of americans towards muslim america. so, i think it's just that they're not really taking into account her experiences. >> there's a frustration, absolutely, of americans not fully understanding why meng people are coming to the united states in the first place. this is a big issue for a lot of meng refugees. we had fought on your side, and why are you hating us now?
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there was a lot of frustration with the lack of understanding the history. and by sharing stories through things like oral history projects and memoirs and fiction, i think meng people, vietnamese people have been able to tell their story to a wider audience and improve understanding. but in those first years, they didn't really have a platform to tell their story and to improve understanding as easily as they do now, for sure. this is also a meng american woman. she lived in st. paul. you read her memoir, an excerpt from her memoir, "the late home comer" for today. i want to pay attention to a few lines that i think are really powerful from the text you read. she came to the united states as a child, so she has the unique position of experiencing a refugee migration from the vantage point of a young person,
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which is quite different from your moua who came to the united states as an adult. yang writes my mother and father told us not to look at the americans. if we saw them, they would see us. for the first year and a half, we wanted to be invisible. everywhere we went beyond the housing project, we were looked at, and we felt exposed. we were dealing with the widespread realization that all meng people must do one of two things to do to survive in america. grow up or grow old. so, she felt profound pressure to grow up really fast, translating for her parents, helping them navigate the bureaucracy that allowed their family to eat. later, she writes, money was like a person i had never known or a wall i had never breached before. it kept me away from my grandma. i saw no way to climb this wall.
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sometimes i thought so much about money that i couldn't sleep. money was not bills and coins or a check from welfare. in my imagination, it was much more. it was the nightmare that kept love apart in america. so, here you have another aspect of frustration. her family's not just financially struggling. but that financial struggle meant that they could not be with loved ones. this was a really powerful aspect of refugee migrations, is the fact that people might be separated for years from family members, might not even know what their status is. one last line from the memoir. at night, the families gathered for long conversations, which were always about surviving in america. the same topic that the adult in my family started the first night we arrived until the -- in the country. it was a conversation that would continue for the next 20 years. how do we survive in america and
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still love each other as we have in laos? so, what are some things they did to survive? anyone remember, from the text? what did she do to survive? what was her strategy for survival? how to connect to her commitment to education? for her, the way to survive was to do well in school. tremendous amount of pressure to do well academically, maybe go to college someday. and one thing that's really powerful that i think learning about southeast asian-american history is it reminds us that asian-americans are not a monolithic minority. there are a variety of different
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backgrounds, experiences that shape their background to the united states and ways they're able to thrive in the united states. what's amazing to see is how much upward mobility has been accomplished by a lot of these refugees within the span of a generation. i once interviewed a meng woman who described how she gave birth on the side of the mae kong river to a baby and she couldn't immediately swim across the river because she had just given birth and the baby was so small. as soon as she was able, she did. her husband carried one child on his shoulders and she carried the newborn baby. and they swam across the river as troops were shooting at them. i asked after she told the story, what happened to the baby that you carried? she said, oh, she's a law student at uc berkeley now. i think it's really powerful to remember how much struggle southeast asian refugees have experienced due to war, due upheaval, due to dislocation.
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culturally, politically, economically, it's powerful. but i also think we do it to service by just focussing on success stories. yang is a success story. wen is a success story, award winning southeast asian authors and professors. just like how the mythology is so problematic, so too is a narrative of southeast asian refugee migrations that only focuses on success. increasingly you see a lot of southeast asian refugees telling stories about their struggle, pointing out the unsettledness of resettlement, not simply to correct the narrative but also to convene in contemporary debates in the present about refugees today.
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so i want to revisit wen now. i want to read a few lines that are from the same essay that i quoted at the beginning of the lecture. and here, wen writes about the hidden scars all refugees carry, and he connects the past and the present in the way that japanese americans who had been incarcerated during world war ii had been intervening in debates about treatment of muslims during the war on terror, we see southeast asian-americans drawing on their own refugee past to stand up for refugees in the present. he writes, today, when many americans think of vietnamese americans as a success story, we forget that the majority of americans in 1975 did not want to accept vietnamese refugees. for a country that prides itself on the american dreams, refugees are simply un-american, despite the fact that some of the original english settlers of this country, the puritans, were religious refugees.
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today, syrian refugees face a similar reaction. to some europeans, these refugees seem uneuropean, for reasons of culture, religion and language. and in europe and the united states, the attacks in paris, brussels, san bernardino, california, and orlando, florida have people fearing people could be radicals, forgetting those refugees are some of the first victims of the islamic state. here it's a powerful connection to the perception of vietnamese refugees as potential communist infiltrators when they were ones who were fleeing persecution at the hands of communists in asia. i continue here. because the judgments have been rendered on many who had been cast out or fled, it's important for those of us who were refugees to remind the world of what our experiences mean. a vietnamese colleague of mine once jokingly referred to his
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journey from refugee to boigeuos. when i told him i was a refugee, he said you don't look like one. he was right. we can be invisible even to one another. but it is precisely because i do not look like a refugee that i have to proclaim being one, even when those of us who were refugees would rather forget that there was a time when the world thought us to be less than human. i will close there. any questions about any of the material i've lectured about today? okay. thank you. i will see you all next week, discussing the sympathizer and the bonn tempo chapter. i wish you a wonderful weekend. now i can actually say that. i will see you next -- thank you.
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