Final Literature Review

Throughout the scholarship of Vietnamese Immigration post Vietnam War early literature reflected Cold War ideology throughout the historiography of these people. Overtime this topic grew to become incredibly interdisciplinary, in the hopes of understanding the success of these people in America. Throughout the historiography of this topic historians’ biased views and perceptions of the Vietnamese is shown throughout this research, with the evidence that historians focused on at the time. The initial focus of scholarship was on Vietnamese immigration, which highlighted the Vietnamese people’s’ experience to America post Vietnam War.

In an article titled; The Indochinese Refugee: The Evolution of United States Policy, by Donald Hoh. Hoh studies how after the South Vietnamese government collapsed in April of 1975, the United States believed that they had a responsibility to house the many refugees that was beginning to pressure Vietnam.[1] House of Representatives then had to force the State Department to organize resettlement camps. In a later article published in the late 1900s, historian Jana Lipman studies the actions that America took in the relocation process of this refugee group. During this time period, 1975-1982, American society was being redefined as a whole through the Civil Rights Movement.[2] The uncertainty of where these people would be placed in society and control that the United States had over the Vietnamese immigrants to America caused the relocation process, and the organization of resettlement camps, to lengthen.[3] Lipman’s’ article titled, ‘Give us a Ship’: The Vietnamese Repatriate Movement on Guam, 1975,” she argues that the original plan was for Vietnamese refugees to be sent to Guam, where they would wait for weeks to months while waiting for their American citizenship approval.[4] Vietnamese refugees protested the delay of their entrance into America through public demonstrations by shaving their heads, which in the Vietnamese culture was taken seriously because of the representation that hair had to these peoples culture.

The initial actions the American Government took regarding the citizenship process, was through the creation of Resettlement Camps. These camps were created to help Vietnamese immigrants have a smooth assimilation into American society. In her article “Schooling, Gender, and the Reshaping of Occupational and Social Expectations: The Case of Vietnamese Immigrants to the United States”, Gail Kelly studies the assimilation process the refugees were forced into when they entered the United States.[5] Vietnamese refugee men were prepared to work in lower class jobs in urban cities throughout the country.[6] However, Vietnamese refugee women were given essentially no social status. Through historians’ scholarship of these Resettlement Camps, it is clear that the American ‘Containment’ theory regarding communism, was still present after the Vietnam War, contributing to the oppression of these people in American society even before they were citizens.

Vietnamese refugees received formal and informal forms of education throughout their Resettlement process within the camps. The main premise of these resettlement camps was to assist in teaching the refugees the English language and American culture. But as historians Gail Kelly and Beverly Lindsay note in their article; The Schooling Of Vietnamese Immigrants: Internal Colonialism And Its Impact On Women, the curriculum it was sexist. Men were taught the common basics for working in a lower labor job, and the women were taught common household chores.[7]

Overtime historians began focusing more on the politics behind these Resettlement Camps. The Vietnamese refugees political past influenced and shaped their experiences and confinement in America. In another article by Jana Lipman, A Refugee Camp in America: Fort Chaffee and Vietnamese and Cuban Refugees, 1975-1982, Lipman investigates how some refugees waited months to years throughout the process of them becoming citizens.[8] These people suffered alienation and were forced in “becoming American,” through different government programs, which were designed to teach refugees about the American culture and history.[9] Government programs were then created to relocate these families across the United States, but the Vietnamese refugees were put into lower class jobs due to American perceptions and racial tensions.

The Vietnamese people were new to American culture and society, and throughout their relocation process these people were put into low paying jobs, and were essentially given no status besides being labeled as a “burden” to the economy. The competition for work created more tension within the communities in which these people were relocated to. It was at this point that scholars began to focus on the traditional nationalistic ideologies at the time, and how it affected way of life. Scholar; Florence E. Baer used newspaper articles to study how the portrayal of the Vietnamese in society stemmed from traditional American ideas on containment.[10]

With the issues regarding labor scholars and historians began studying labor flows throughout the world and how refugee movements contribute to these flows. In a study done by Jacqueline Debarats, titled, “Indochinese Resettlement in the United States”, she compared refugee flows to labors flows and how they contribute to the overall global economy.[11] Meaning that the two flows are parallel and affect each other. When the demand for labor relied on migrant workers, the migrant worker position was taken up by refugees from Vietnam. [12]

Overtime scholars transitioned their focus of these refugees and instead focused on how they were formed and contributed to the labor force. In “The New Americans“: The Creation of a Typology of Vietnamese-American Identity in Children’s Literature by Subarno Chattarji, Chattarji studies the increasing number of Vietnamese refugees to America between 1971 and 1980.[13] The first wave of Vietnamese Immigrants that immigrated to America consisted mainly of people from the upper classes who were trying to run away from the domestic issues in Vietnam at the time. These people consisted of Vietnamese military personnel, as well as bureaucrats, the intelligentsia, and the well-educated urban class.[14] The second wave of immigrants consisted mainly of the middle class. These people were more rural based and small business oriented. The final wave consisted of the survivors of the Vietnam War, seeking asylum elsewhere. These were the people that were put into resettlement camps and were forced to assimilate into the American culture.[15]

These groups are how the traditional Vietnamese culture continued and thrived in America. It wasn’t until scholars like Katherine Marino, and Steven Gold who began studying how the different social classes of Vietnamese refugees contributed their success as citizens of the United States.[16] In Katherine Marino’s article/book, Senior Division Winner: Women Vietnamese Refugees in the United States: Maintaining Balance Between Two Cultures, she studies the experiences these people had in regards to the challenges these people faced with the culture shock of America.[17] These people experienced economic difficulties, discrimination, and challenges to their traditional Confucian ideology. Marino studied how women were the ones promoting the preservation of Vietnamese culture within the home life of these families because of their position as homemakers and their lack of social mobility.[18] In another article titled; Social Capital and the Adaption of the Second Generation: The Case of Vietnamese Youth in New Orleans, Min Zhou and Carl Bankston study the strong commitment that Vietnamese immigrants had to traditional family values, and how these values and behaviors stay constant throughout communities, creating ties that hold for generations.[19] In Styles Of Activism Within Refugee Communities: The Case Of Soviet Jews and Vietnamese by Steven Gold. Gold studies how Jewish and Vietnamese refugees, located in San Francisco created communities to preserve their cultures and create close ties to improve the racism and discrimination of the time.[20]

It was then that scholars and historians began giving more attention to traditional Vietnamese culture and how it contributed to their economic and social success. In Binding the Generations: Household Formation Patterns among Vietnamese Refugees, David Haines argues refugees have done well economically because of their culture.[21] Preserving traditional Vietnamese beliefs throughout the formation and adaption of families is important, especially throughout the creation of their identity as Americans. Vietnamese immigrants created communities throughout the country, like in Arlington, Northern Virginia, and New Orleans.[22] These communities relied on each other economically and socially.

Sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists then began to gain interest in this particular groups success. In a study by Johanna Shapiro, Karen Douglas, Olivia De La Rocha, and Stephen Radecki, Generational Differences in Psychosocial Adaptation and Predictors of Psychological Distress in a Population of Recent Vietnamese Immigrants, the results show that the elders in a Vietnamese community were the ones bringing traditional culture to the home.[23] The younger generations were the ones creating a new identity as an Asian American.

When scholars began transitioning their focus towards the Vietnamese experience in America, they began to understand more about the United States position in the migration of these people. Carl Bankston studies how the spread of Catholicism throughout Vietnam influenced America’s interest in helping South Vietnam.[24] But through the understanding of America’s position on Vietnamese immigrants and the diaspora of these people, scholars began to study the American rhetoric in the relocation process of these people. In Rory Ongs’, Transnational Asian American Rhetoric As A Diasporic Practice, Ong uses other historian’s arguments in making his about the ways in which the architecture of the U.S. citizenship has systematically excluded and alienated Asians in America. He argues that the militarianizaiton and alienation of Asians in the United States has contributed to Americans perspectives on Asians.[25] Asians in the West accept the transnational, and transcultural way of life, creating communities that contributes to the geographical, sociopolitical, economic way of life in the States. Ong goes on to point out other scholar’s points on the maintenance of ethnicity, and national ties practiced by families and how it brings out the community.[26] While others focus on the economic and communication expansion of these people and how it contributes to the preservation of Asian culture. In an article by; Susan Eckstien, and Nguyen Thanh-Nghi, The Making and Transnationalization of an Ethnic Niche: Vietnamese Manicurists, the article studies the transformation of women’s social status by creating a market in nails.[27] Ethnic networks fueled the growing monopolies of jobs throughout America for these people. These immigrants experienced low class racism, and through the creation of communities, not only with people of the same culture but also with other groups who were experiencing the same racism of the time, they created relationships that fueled the economic and social success of these groups.

In a final article titled; Cultural Adaptation, Tradition, and Identity of Diasporic Vietnamese People: A Case Study in Silicon Valley, California, USA, Nguyễn Thị Hiền, identifies how traditional cultural beliefs of Vietnamese people still stands similar with the people living in contemporary Vietnam.[28] This study identified traditional cultural beliefs of Vietnamese people still stands similar with the people living in contemporary Vietnam. Typically the elders of the communities stressed the value of heritage, and ritual as apart of their cultural identity in America. The elders mission was to practice worship, and other customs and practices that originated in Vietnam. The area in which this study took place is where many Vietnamese migrated to for labor.[29] Nguyễn Thị Hiền studies how these people established temples for the community to have a place for worship and traditional practices. As well as preserving folk tales and beliefs to put in a sense of cultural identity based on their homeland.[30] Vietnamese culture has undergone little change; the behavior and patterns of these people has stayed constant for centuries. The identity of these people played a part in the process of their history, culture, society, economy, and politics. The neighborhoods contribute to the success of immigrants in adapting, adjusting, and resettling. Many Vietnamese people that first moved to America were located to various cities, but moved to be near people of the same race.[31] There was a sense of security that helped these people. With education, these people believed that your elders are there to teach. Many of the jobs that were in demand for employees were doctors, lawyers, and marketers, ect. The only divide that some Vietnamese people had from the American society was the language barrier.

The book that brings together the complete understanding of these people history and success is; Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans, by Nazli Kibria. Nazli Kibria, an anthropologist, studied a variety of Vietnamese families located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who were experiencing the economic and social problems of the time.[32] She studies how the Vietnamese held onto the values of traditional Vietnamese culture and how it is the reason for their success. Many Vietnamese women used traditional family systems but struggled with reconciling and incorporating new ideas into the framework. “They walked an ideological tightrope,” Nazli Kibria comments, they valued traditional Vietnamese family system for its ethics on collectivism and cooperation.[33] Women felt that the traditional American system of family life lacked ties of obligation and authority of parents. As for the younger generation of Vietnamese immigrants, Kibria notes that family traditions entered into this generations efforts to come to terms with what it meant to be a Vietnamese in America.[34] The group connected the distinctive features of the Vietnamese family life as essential to what set them apart in U.S. society. These people strived for cultural pride and self-esteem in their efforts in redefining the family life. Vietnamese Americans placed a lot of value on traditional systems and its relationship to the economic practices of the Vietnamese Americans.[35] How these people survived and reached the attainment of middle class status was through these traditional beliefs. Vietnamese immigrants relied on a collectivist household economy, individual resources were shared and pooled to cope with the demands of the economic environment in the U.S. at the time.[36] Thus Vietnamese Americans strove to preserve traditional beliefs. The Chinese invaded Vietnam in 111 B.C., the people adopted the ideas of Confucianism, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. These three teachings combined with older indigenous beliefs and practices formed the core of the Vietnamese religious-cultural tradition. When Vietnam fell under French control in the late 1800s there was a disruption in Village life. Communal temples marked villages throughout Vietnam serving as a meeting place for the Council of Notables, or the traditional bond of leadership. Ties of kinship connected households, and much of the daily social life revolved around the informal kin-centered networks. Kibria notes that the Vietnamese family system has been shaped by a variety of cultural traditions through Confucianism and Ancestors.[37] Before the urbanization of people pre-Communist years, there was a tremendous importance of familial ties and loyalties in the lives of these people. Family ties remained the most important source of community, providing support for coping with the turmoil’s of the era. Kinship ties functioned not only as an economic safety net but also as a source of loans and business capital. By studying the social background of her informants Nazli Kibria was able to understand the historical and cultural roots of the Vietnamese Americans. The oppression of women in Vietnamese society was firmly embedded across kinship, political, legal, and economic institutions. Women were first ordered to obey their father, then their husband, and finally her eldest son. Ideal feminine behavior was conceived in terms of the “four virtues”: to be a good housewife, have a beautiful appearance, to speak well and softly, and to be of good character.[38] These ideals legitimated the subordination of women by upholding passivity and submission to male authority. Traditional Vietnamese legal codes were heavily influenced by Confucian ideas and so served to institutionalize further the subservience of women. Le Code of the 15th and 16th centuries were the most important exceptions Which went against Confusion principles by sanctioning equal property rights for men and women and protecting women against certain forms of coercion by men.[39] In rural life women had less economic power, due to their responsibility at home. Throughout the Vietnam War migration to urban cities was due to the threats of the Viet Minh. Many people also took advantage of the flow of people to move to the south for better economic opportunities, and to escape from repressive family situations and safety. Urban life seemed ideal especially from the emerging middle class. Another major drive for urbanization was people’s involvement in the army.

When Saigon fell under North Vietnamese Communist control in April of 1975 many lives of urbanized people shifted. South Vietnamese men were forced into reeducation camps, and some South Vietnamese were pressured into relocating to NEZs; New Economic Zones.[40] In hope that the new government reform system would get the American economy up and running again. Of the subjects that Nazli Kibria studied, each of which had first hand accounts of life in Vietnam after the taking over of the Communist government commented on the cruelty and dominance they had.[41] Optimism turned into pessimism, and there was not a huge economic change. With the threat of men’s economic dominance in the family, authority was affected. By the late 1980s, many Vietnamese people were motivated to join relatives who had left the country.

Leaving Vietnam meant a separation of kin, and as Kibria noted this was uncommon. Escaping was difficult and selective; especially concerning which family members would leave.  Once settled in another country the escape process involved a period of waiting for resettlement in refugee camps. When political refugees entered the country, government policies and programs played a role in shaping their initial years of resettlement. Due to the social and political changes of the late 1970s early 1980s refugees had access to welfare systems, such as: Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, food stamps, Refugee Cash Assistance, and Refugee Medical Assistance. Resettlement of Southeast Asians occurred at a time of widespread hostility towards any racial ethnic group outside of the typical American Caucasian.[42] The economic recession of the early 1980s and the federal cutbacks in programs for the poor intensified the poverty caused by the long-term economic stagnation plaguing many urban areas since the 1960s. Vietnamese Americans found themselves viewed as new unwelcome competitors for scarce jobs and public resources. Nazli Kibria brings up the ideas of assimilation, and Americanization.[43] The assimilationist model suggests a gradual movement toward a more modern family life. Immigrants torn from their economically poor countries and were put into modern and industrial society, forced many people to assimilate to many changes.[44] Kibria suggests that immigrants draw on pre-migration family experiences and ideologies in their efforts of constructing families within a new society. Vietnamese Americans praised the greater economic freedom of the U.S. However, currency was an issue when trying to start a life in a country still influenced by racial tensions due to racial issues. Nali Kibria argues that values to Vietnamese tradition and culture are the reasons for these people success in America. Kibria notes that the Vietnamese teach that cultural values are integral to ones success inside and outside the home. The structure and meaning of family life was forced to change with the modern ideas on traditionalism and modernism. Due to economic issues families were forced into migration, which disrupted groups and networks. Networking was important especially when trying to maintain personal identity within the new country. Kibria points out that individualism is an important part of redefining ones self in a new country but due to the extensive losses Vietnamese Americans worked hard at rebuilding these ties.

Vietnamese immigrants experienced issues not only with racial discrimination, downward economic mobility, and gender inequality, but also issues related to immigration regulations and ethnic identity. Nevertheless, Vietnamese family units were still central to the social and economic well being of Vietnamese Americans in the U.S. The scholarship of Vietnamese immigration to America post Vietnam war does have a strong argument in explaining the economic and cultural success of these people in America, but it is only through the American’s own biased perspective and understanding of these people. Overtime scholars and historians of all interdisciplinary fields began focusing more on traditional Vietnamese culture and beliefs and how it contributed to the creation of their identity today.


[1] Hohl, Donald G, “The Indochinese Refugee: The Evolution of United States Policy,” (International Migration Review 12, 1978, no. 1: 128-132).

[2] Lipman, Jana K, “Give us a Ship”: The Vietnamese Repatriate Movement on Guam, 1975.” (American Quarterly 64, 2012. no. 1: 1-31).

[3] Lipman,15.

[4] Lipman, 17.

[5] Kelly, Gail P., “Schooling, Gender, and the Reshaping of Occupational and Social Expectations: The Case of Vietnamese Immigrants to the United States,” (International Journal Of Women’s Studies 1, no. 4, 1978: 323-335).

[6] Kelly, 324.

[7] Kelly, Gail P., and Beverly Lindsay, “The Schooling Of Vietnamese Immigrants: Internal Colonialism And Its Impact On Women,” (In Comparative Perspectives of Third World Women: The Impact of Race, Sex & Class, 276-296. n.p.: 1980).

[8] Lipman, Jana, “A Refugee Camp in America: Fort Chaffee and Vietnamese and Cuban Refugees, 1975-1982,” (Journal Of American Ethnic History 33, no. 2, 2014: 57-87).

[9] Lipman, 63.

[10] Baer, Florence E, “Give Me . . .Your Huddled Masses”: Anti-Vietnamese Lore…” (Western Folklore 41, no. 4, 1982: 275-291).

[11] Desbarats, Jacqueline, “Indochinese Resettlement in the United States,” (Annals of the Association of American Geographers 75, no. 4 (1985): 522-38).

[12] Desbarats, 525.

[13] Chattarji, Subarno, “The New Americans”: The Creation of a Typology of Vietnamese-American Identity in Children’s Literature,” (Journal of American Studies 44, no. 2 (2010): 409-28).

[14] Chattarji, 414.

[15] Chattarji, 418.

[16] Gold, Steven J., “Styles Of Activism Within Refugee Communities: The Case Of Soviet Jews and Vietnamese.” (Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers no. 65/66, 1986: 35-48).

[17] Marino, Katherine, “Senior Division Winner: Women Vietnamese Refugees in the United States: Maintaining Balance between Two Cultures,” (The History Teacher 32, no. 1 (1998): 90-117).

[18] Marino, 95.

[19] Min, Zhou, and Carl L. Bankston III, “Social Capital and the Adaptation of the Second Generation: The Case of Vietnamese Youth in New Orleans,” (International Migration Review 28, no. 4 (Winter94 1994): 821-845).

[20] Gold, Steven J., “Styles Of Activism Within Refugee Communities: The Case Of Soviet Jews and Vietnamese.” (Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers no. 65/66, 1986: 35-48).

[21] Haines, David W, “Binding the Generations: Household Formation Patterns among Vietnamese Refugees.” (The International Migration Review 36, no. 4 (2002): 1194-217).

[22] Wood, Joseph, “Vietnamese American Place Making in Northern Virginia,” (Geographical Review 87, no. 1 (1997): 58-72).

[23] Shapiro, Johanna, Karen Douglas, Olivia De La Rocha, and Stephen Radecki, “Generational Differences in Psychosocial Adaptation and Predictors of Psychological Distress in a Population of Recent Vietnamese Immigrants,” (Journal of Community Health 24, no. 2 (1999): 95-113).

[24] Bankston, Carl L, “Vietnamese-American Catholicism: Transplanted and Flourishing,” (U.S. Catholic Historian 18, no. 1 (2000): 36-53).

[25] Ong, Rory, “Transnational Asian American Rhetoric As A Diasporic Priactice,” (In Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric, edited by MAO LUMING and YOUNG MORRIS, 25-40. University Press of Colorado, 2008).

[26] Ong, 27.

[27] Eckstein, Susan, and Thanh-Nghi Nguyen, “The Making and Transnationalization of an Ethnic Niche: Vietnamese Manicurists,” (International Migration Review 45, no. 3 (2011): 639-74).

[28] Hiền, Nguyễn Thị, “Cultural Adaptation, Tradition, and Identity of Diasporic Vietnamese People: A Case Study in Silicon Valley, California, USA,” (Asian Ethnology 75, no. 2 (2016): 441-59).

[29] Thị Nguyễn, 445-449.

[30] Thị Nguyễn, 450-456.

[31] Thị Nguyễn, 457.

[32] Kibria, Nazli, “Family Tightrope: The Changiing Lives of Vietnamese Americans,” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, n.d.)

[33] Kibria, 23.

[34] Kibria, 38-72.

[35] Kibria, 73-107.

[36] Kibria, 73-107.

[37] Kibria, 73-107.

[38] Kibria 108-143.

[39] Kibria 144-166.

[40] Kibria, 167-172.

[41] Kibria, 167-172.

[42] Kibria, 167-172.

[43] Kibria, 167-172.

[44] Kibria, 167-172.