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tv   Lectures in History Post- Vietnam War Refugees  CSPAN  September 8, 2020 4:33pm-5:46pm EDT

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catastrophic betrayals and blunders in our lifetime. he's spent his entire career on the wrong side of history. >> our current president has failed in his most basic duty to the nation. he's failed to protect us. he's failed to protect america. and my fellow americans, that is unforgiveable. >> the first presidential debate between president donald trump and former vice president joe biden is tuesday, september 29th at 9:00 p.m. eastern. watch live coverage on c-span. watch livestreaming and on demand at or listen live on the free c-span radio app. up next on lectures in history, a class on southeastern immigration to the united states. she examines how laws have changed over the past five
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decades. her class lasts about an hour. today we're going to talk about topic 18 which is southeast asian refugee migrations. if you've been following the news, i imagine, you like me, have found it difficult to ignore the topic of refugees. this is an image of a refugee's experience fleeing communist vietnam in 1975, but in many ways, it reminds us of images that we might see on the news today. it's hard to ignore the human stories of families perishing at sea, refugees are suffocating in meat trucks, they're crowding onto leaky boats, they're drowning the bodies of those who
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are unable to cross to safety, are washing up on mediterranean beaches. and refugees have been in the news for the past few years particularly related to the crisis in syria, but refugees are being uprooted by conflict all around the world. so we're not just talking about refugees coming from syria, but from other war-torn regions. especially in the past couple of years, it's been difficult to ignore the public response to refugees. and refugee resettlement, like so many other topics today, has become a polarizing topic. on one hand, opposition to refugees has been fierce and even hostile. politicians at the local, state and federal level have linked refugees to terrorism and have pursued antirefugee policies in the name of national security.
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the most famous of these measures is president donald trump's executive orders which ground the federal refugee program virtually to a halt in january 2017. his imp si his refugee ban initiated one of the sharpest legal and political debates of his presidency. and it's part of a broader effort to limit the number of foreigners who are able to enter the united states. to be sure, politicians are not the only ones who have taken action on the issue of refugees. there have also been instances of vigilante antirefugee activism, some of it potentially violent and much of it centered on muslim refugees. for example, in shelbyville, there were rallies led by white nationalists and neo-nazis.
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but it's also hard to ignore the fact that there has been a tremendous amount of public support for refugees. the january 2017 executive orders prompted thousands of americans to protest and facilitate legal aid at airports across the country. community groups organized rallies and service projects to raise awareness of the issue of refugees. people put signs declaring their support for refugees on their front lawns or above their church entryways or even on stickers on their laptop. now i'm a historian and my job is to remind you that we need to have some historical perspective. the truth is that in many ways, we have been here before. i've already pointed to this image of a boat. this is an image from 1975, but
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it could very well be an image of people fleeing by boat today. we've seen these images before. we've seen a vicious eruption of antirefugee sentiment before. we've seen a generous prorefugee response before. we've seen anxiety about religious and cultural difference before. we've worried about refugees and national security before. now, i am frustrated a little bit by our contemporary conversation because so much of our contemporary conversation is not paying attention to our history and lessons we can learn from the past. you don't hear a lot about asian refugees. we might hear about jewish refugees, but not that much. i've made the case this semester that asian-american history is american history and this is
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true for refugee history as well. so today i'm going to talk about asian refugee migrations that took place four decades ago and this refugee migration i argue changed the course of refugee history in the united states for the decades to come. i'm going to talk about refugees known as uganda-asian refugees and southeast asian refugees. they arrived as late as the beginning of the 20th century. and it was a turning point in several different ways. number one, in the 1970s, refugees were accepted for new reasons. for the first time the united states wasn't just accepting refugees because they opposed communism, the united states was accepting refugees on the basis of emerging humanitarian
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commitments to human rights. number two, during this period, refugees were accepted and resettled in a new way. we're talking about a huge refugee migration here, over a million southeast asian refugees came to the united states in the last couple decades of the 20th century. and that refugee migration and the amount of work that it took to coordinate relief and resettlement efforts both overseas and domestically made government officials realize they needed a more permanent way to response to refugee crisis. so it's in part because of southeast asian refugees in particular that we see the emergence of a push for new legislation which culminated in the 1980 refugee act. this act is still enforced today and i'll talk about the details of that act later. number three, another reason why
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southeast asian refugee migrations matter, these arsian refugees were at the beginning of a new wave of refugees, a new refugee population. they were the first group of nonwhite, non-european, nonchristian refugees to be resettled in the united states. there have been cuban refugees and jewish refugees, i'll talk about that later, but this is the first group of nonwhite, non-european, nonchristian refugees and these refugees were so different that it was a source of great anxiety for americans. in truth, these refugees ended up being the forerunner for refugee populations who would arrive in the united states in subsequent decades. so these refugees in many ways
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set the groundwork for how the united states would resettle refugees, but also were harbinger for what would come. in some asian refugees and southeast asia refugees in particular were at the center of major changes in the 1970s and profound by changed u.s. and its approach to refugees in the decades to come. any of you like literature, you'll know that we have been talking about asia refugees. in fact, the history of vietnamese refugees has received a lot of intention because of this book, "the sympathier" which one the pulitzer prize in 2016. you're reading an excerpt from this novel this week and we'll discuss it next week.
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the author was a refugee and he's reflected a lot on what it means to be a refugee and a writer and to tell his story. in an essay he published in the "new york times," he observed the following, many people have characterized my novel as an immigrant story and he as an immigrant. no. my novel is a war story and i am not an immigrant. i am a refugee who like many others has never ceased being a refugee in some corners of my mind. he continues, immigrants are more reassuring than refugees because there is an end point to their story. however they arrive, whether they're documented or not, their desires for a new life can be absorbed into the american dream or into the european narrative.
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refugees are zombies of the world to march or swim towards our borders in endless waves. let's stop and think about this line for a little bit. what do you think he means by saying that immigrants are different from refugees? >> i think there's a choice that immigrants take to build their own, like, new feature where has, like, 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
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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 own country, they would be okay going back. and so for refugee, the reason we would welcome them is because we're housing them until they go back. but with an immigrant like that connotation, isn't there. >> so 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 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,
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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? 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. as long as they live, the culture lives. >> yes, okay. i think this is powerful. they are often vessels of their"
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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 it continues to shape their lives in years to come. the author calls attention to the two most important aspects of refugees and what distinguishes them from
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immigrants. number one, they are involuntary migrants, forcibly removed from their homes due to political conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary circumstances. and they're often very traumatized people, zombies, as he would say. the interesting thing about refugees is they are powerful in our mythology of american exceptionalist immigration history. think about the poem that is on the statue of liberty. he describes the statue of liberty as the mother of exiles who says, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, i lift my lamp
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beside the golden door. how many of you have heard those lines before? so famous. and the fact that those lines are on the statue of liberty which is a symbol of immigration in the united states is really powerful. it really centers the united states or the idea of the united states of 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've been more inclined to actually reject refugees than to accept them. and to borrow the words of historian eric tang, refugees who have been accepted for resettlement here are not only
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resettled, but are also deeply unsettled by the experience of forced migration and resettlement in the united states. to give you an overview of what i'll talk about about today, i'e 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 ugandan-asian refugees first arrived in the united states. they were followed by a larger group of refugees who are describ described as indo-chinese refugees, vietnam, laos, and cambodia. 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
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public viewed southeast asian refugees, how east asian refugees were admitted and resettled and how southeast asian refugees themselves tell stories about the experience. i'll tease out why the history matters, and i'll conclude with some discussion about how southeast asian-americans today are drawing on their refugee history to intervene in contemporary public policy debates. any questions so far? so, let's begin with some background about refugee resettlement in the united states during the 20th century. during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, most refugees came from europe with the exception of cuban refugees. most were white and either jewish or christian. and during this period right after the second world war and
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during the cold war, a commitment to opposing communism really shaped how the united states determined which refugees to accept. now, 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 land mark 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 new refugee populations
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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 called parole power, which allowed the united states to accept refugees and scircumvent 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 emit refugees when it deemed it was in the national interest to do so. most of those refugees admitted were fleeing left wing or communist regimes. finally in 1959, cuban exiles began to arrive. the first cubans who arrived were batista sympathizers who
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were feared reprisals from the caste government. because of cuba's proximity to the united states, the united states was a country of first refuge, meaning countries didn't go to 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 anti-caste or anti-communist 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 mentioned, the u.s. offered a special welcome for people fleeing communism. second, preference was given for
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refugees who were professionals who were highly educated or skilled. this was in keeping with other immigration laws of the period. ultimately while welcoming displaced people has been seen as a humanitarian act, these humanitarian efforts were often center on the needs of the united states, the helper. these images feature refugees who arrived in the united states during this period. the photo on the left features displaced persons who were registering at fort ontario emergency refugee center, which housed a thousand 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.
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what do you think this image on the right tells us about how americans viewed hungarian freedom fighters during this 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. a lot different than how we view syrian refugees today. >> yes, really positive. >> yeah. >> okay, so, you can see his face, so bold, so serious, noble. there was enormous enthusiasm for welcoming people who were
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seen as fighting for freedom, who were seen as being allies in the united states' war against communism. so, i think that's a really 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 continue 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
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faced with the problem of refugees who are, by and large, non-white and, by and large, non-christian. and it remains to be seen how we will react. 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 immigrant population, new refugee population in particular. during a congressional hearing shortly after the fall of saigon, julia taft, who was of the interagency task force on indo-china refugees declared never before in the history of this country, mr. chairman, have so many people from such different cultures, ethnic and
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religious backgrounds been introduced into american society in such a short time. what set these refugees apart from previous refugee populations is not simply that they were racially, ethnically, 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 resettling 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. these were asian origin people
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who had been expelled from uganda. they were resettled in the united states and also the united kingdom and elsewhere beginning in 1972. these ugandan asian refugees marked a turning point in that they were quite different from their refugee predecessors. they were religiously diverse, identifying as muslim and also hindu, sikh and christian. so, one big question worth asking, how did it go? a ugandan asian refugee who later was a history professor of boating college actually wrote a report called the brown dias pra. he wroted cultural were a source of anxiety for ugandan asian refugees and their sponsors. he noted that some problems did arise. for example, a strictly vegetarian brahman was given
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work in a poultry processing plant, which did not go so well. he pointed out that it produced significant psychological and emotional strain. and though he praised the good intentions of the sponsors and the voluntary agencies, 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. now, 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 lessons learns from refugee resettlement informed how these groups handled southeast asian ref sugees.
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shortly after their arrival another larger asian population arrived as a result of war in southeast asia. to give you context of what's happening in southeast asia at the time, in 1975 communist governments took control in vietnam, cambodia and laos. the american public tended to see these refugees as a single group, frequently referred to as the indo-chinese. and that category alieds a lot of really important differences within the population. 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
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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 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 immediate crisis, president gerald ford gave the green light to parole in or admit 200,000 vietnamese
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refugees. some of them were evacuated through the help of american military forces. others led on their own and were later taken into protective custody by the united states. 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 elsewhere. now, as 1976 began, americans thought they were done with the refugee crisis thach. 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 continued to spur new refugee migrations. for example, in cambodia, the
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vietnam neez invasion brought about the removal of pol pot in 1979. during pol pot's 3 1/2 years in pow e the ki her rouge killed 1.7 million people, which was about 21% of the cambodian population. with pol pot no longer in power, approximately half a million cambodian people who had managed to survive his regime south refuge in nearby thailand. in addition, 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
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minorities who were fleeing persecution. by about 160,000 went to china while tens of thousands took to the oceans and made their way to other places in southeast asia including thailand, malaysia, indonesia and philippines. they sailed on boats that were hardly seaworthy 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 squallered conditions, very difficult conditions in thailand and elsewhere. and by the middle of 1979, nearly 100,000 vietnamese boat people were in malaysia and hong kong. now, so far i've only talked about refugees from vietnam and
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cambodia. but i should also mention what are known as mom and lao refugees. this is an image of aytra dish nal story clock quilt. it's really embroidery. but a lot of stories about the war have been told through this traditional art form. and so just 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 anything? >> yeah, 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, to me,
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a very funny thing to see embroidered on a quilt. i'm also interested in the deer to the left slur ping at the river. i think it is a nice juxtaposition about how war comes s comes into a landscape, but the landscape still functions as is. it would be cool to see an aftermath quilt of what would happen. >> yeah, absolutely. you call attention to some really key details. you see a river. this river represents may kong river which bordered laos and thailand. you see the fascinating ducti juxtaposition of rural life and war. you see these boxy buildings which could represent either the refugee camps or the military sites where troops organized. you see people in a line all
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walking in the same direction, fleeing, perhaps, for safety. so, this represents mang experiences during the secret war and their subsequent location out of laos to thailand. now, the united states worked with the mang as well as lao people in their fight against communists in the 1960s. with the assistance of the cia and the green berets, a leader and tens of thousands of mang soldiers were the frontline defense responsible for boarding up the advance. the staggering cost of mang sacrifice during this period is really important to know. through our 13 years of guerilla
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warfare, estimates say 1 in 4 mang solders, approximately 17,000 people died. and some were teenagers, quite young. the secret war entered a new phase in 1973 when the united states signed a peace accord with north vietnam and evacuated all the military leaders from laos. but 18,000 mang soldiers were left behind. some dispersed into the country side. some joined the general army. in 1975, some military leaders were air lifted by the cia out of laos. but most were less fortunate. of the 10,000 mang who fled the headquarters, only a small fraction were evacuated by the united states. thousand of mang people therefore embark on the treacherous westward exodus to
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thailand, carrying their possessions on their back, families travelled by foot through the jungle and your kneed at night to avoid capture by the communists. by 1979, nearly 30,000 mang refugees attempted to make the dangerous crossing each month. so, that crossing of the river is such a powerful part of meng stories of refugee migration. you can see it powerfully depicted here. now, 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
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humanitarian crisis, this was a really important development in causing americans to say, we should actually do something. the plight of southeast asian 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 these southeast asian refugees. for one, many americans rooted their support in the idea that the united states is an exceptional country, an immigrant country that has special status in history as a refuge for the scorned, hated and hunted. one 1975 public opinion survey found that the leading reason why americans supported the admission of southeast asian refugees was that, quote, tradition of the united states as a sanctuary for europeans
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fleeing oppression of their homelands. that found that a plor ralty agree the united states began with people of all races, 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.
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the fact that refugees were fleeing a region where the united states had been directly involved in years of brutal warfare, heightened american's sense of obligation. americans were committed to admitting southeast asian refugee who is had worked with the cia or as translator os r the diplomatic core, americans who worked in vietnam felt terrible about potentially abandoning their southeast asian colleagues. and 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 religious people, accepting refugees for resettlement was an act of penance for america's sins in vietnam. just as powerful as american guilt was the idea of american
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goodness. pride in american compassion and generosity spurred americans to take action. the idea that the united states, with the benevolent leader of the free world, also converged with religious ideas. the idea that the united states needed to be the good samaritan. finally, refugee advocates argue 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 and exiles can serve to keep us humble, saving us from the sins of arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness. now, i need to tell you, the support for refugees really was small compared to the opposition to refugees.
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despite the lofty ideals. this sentiment was by no means a new development in american culture. public opinion 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, only 30% of americans surveyed said the u.s. should resettle jewish refugees. 61% said it should not. now, compare that to public opinion polls after the vietnam war. one national gallup poll in may 1975, which is right after the fall of saigon, found that only
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36% of americans surveyed favored the resettlement of southeast asian refugees. 53% of americans surveyed opposed it. attitudes toward southeast asian refugees did warm somewhat over time, but american reluctance to admit southeast asian refugees remained fairly consistent throughout the 1970s and '80s. even after theq vietnam war, a plurality of americans leaved that the united states had accepted too many refugees. and this slide indicates i added statistics from october 2016. 41% of registered american voters said that the u.s. should accept syrian refugees. 54% said it should not. this is interesting because more americans are supportive of ref jae resettlement today than compared to after the vietnam war, which i think is a surprising statistic for a lot
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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 flarks fla. that's actually it's name. the truth is the town was not particularly nice to the refugees who were arriving from vietnam. niceville is located near edland air force base, which was the site of one of the four military-run refugee camps. and despite the proximity to vietnam neez refugees or perhaps because of it, the people of niceville revealed the limits of american welcome. a local radio station polled area residents about the 1,500 vietn vietnamese ref yous. at one point residents
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circulated a petition demanding that refugees be sent to a different place, and school children made jokes about shooting refugees. as far as i'm concerned, they can ship them all right back, one woman told "the new york times." this woman's support for sending refugees back to vietnam reflected broader national sentiment. in one national poll in june 1975, 85% of americans believed that the united states was too panicked when saigon fell and that the government should arrange to send the 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 grady, 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
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also in keeping with national sentiment. many americans believe that southeast asian refugees pose an economic burden on the u.s. a survey in june 1975 found that 62% of americans believe that immigrants take jobs away from americans. only 28% believed otherwise. and then there were issues other than economic issues. for one, there is concern about security, about communist slipping in with the refugees. this sounds a little bit familiar, doesn't it? robert carr, a realtor nearby felt that vietnamese would bring infill traitors. how do you know we're not going to get the bad guys. you can't say for sure. lord knows we've got enough communist infiltration right now. he wasn't alone in his concerns. this topic also came up in discussions in congress.
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in 1975, ambassador aldeen brown, who led the ford administration's response to refugees, responded to several questions from congress about the adequacy of the immigration and naturalization services security screening, which many saw as overstretched and pressured to maximize expediency over thoroughness. there were also cultural concerns. americans opposed to refugee resettlement argued that southeast asian refugees were unsimilar able, a danger to american well being. here you see the emergence of language that echos the yellow peril language we saw earlier in american history. opponents of refugee resettlement portrayed southeast asian people as viced and germ-ridden people who threatened public health. there's no telling what kind of diseases they'll bring with them. when asked, identify what diseases exactly they might be
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bringing, he couldn't name them. he said i don't know, but there's bound to be tropical germs floating around. hostility to refugees sometimes boiled down to racism. at fort walton beach high school, students established a plan to create a klan. this is a variety of reasons why people are concerned about admitting refugees. the funny thing about refugees -- the funny thing about southeast asian refugees is given all this hostility, it happened. southeast asian refugees were admitted and resettled. as put, given the intensity of the public opposition, it's a miracle that southeast asian refugees were settled in the
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united states at all. and they were recessaled in substantial numbers. over a million southeast asian immigrants came to the united states in what was the most extensive, expensive, and institutionally complex resettlement effort in american history. it was hals 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 first the indoe-china migration and refugee assistance act. this outlines plans to help refugees from cambodia. in these efforts the federal government graveley underestimated how expensive it would be, how much time and manpower was needed. so, in the years that followed, congress approved the arrival of more refugees in a series of
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stop-gap measures. the stream of southeast asian refugees became a tide as more vietnamese. so, 14,000 people per month in 1979. and there remained the challenge of bringing these refugees to a level of self-sufficiency. to meet these needs, congress passed a landmark piece of legislation, the refugee act of 1980. this is really important because this is the act under which we operate today. it aimed to fix the inefficiencies and resettlement program and maintains much of the pre-existing program, but aimed to make it permanent and stable. capped entries annually at
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50,000, created new admissions procedures. it provided long term funding for refugee programs. so, it was the first general refugee act. up until 1980, the united states had been under criticism for only helping people who were anti-communist rather than people who really needed to be helped. refugee policy, critics argued, should not be dricven by cold wr politics but by international rules and norms. it redefined refugee in american law. it defines refugees as any person who's 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 after fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion and more.
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so, southeast asian refugee resettlement, given its complexity helped illuminate the need for the refugee act. and that's why it's important. but it also marked an important shift. the shift towards centering refugee admissions on human rights rather than cold war anti-communism. and this period generally saw a shift towards human rights, humanitarian thinking. not everyone was on board with this. gerald ford continues to make the argument that we should admit refugees because they had been the united states' ally in its fight against communism globally. but glliberal pro-refugee candidates argued refugees deserved american health due to a moral 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
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omission. but we also need to think about how refugees were resettled because successful refugee resettlement made policy makers were likely to want to admit more refugees. and refugee admissions and refugee resettlement in this way are very intertwined. in the united states, refugee rhett settlement is a public/private effort. the government delegates a lot of work to private agencies called vol tauntary agencies. interestingly a lot of these agencies are also religious. 75% of southeast asian refugees who arrived in 1981, which is roughly the midpoint of the southeast asian refugee arrivals, were settled by reloijs you organizations. some of these organizations are active and prominent today. so, religious organizations were very important in both
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advocating for increased refugee admissions and also doing the work of helping refugee make a new life in the united states. these voluntary agencies received a government grant, between $300 and $500 per refugee to help refugees in their first few weeks upon arrival. these voluntary agencies also partnered with local organizations. sometimes an individual, usually a community group, especially a congregation, a synagogue or a church. and these churches or civil organizations would sponsor refugees and, sort of, take them under their wing. sometimes refugees actually live in church buildings for their few days in the united states. i interviewed one church sponsor that had housed a family in their church. they didn't have showers, so the refugees lived in the sunday school classrooms and then walked across the street to the
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seminary and took showers there. they lived like that for a few weeks. this actually came up in the movie "gran torino." in that film clint eastwood is talking to a young meng woman and asked how did you get here to the rural midwest. she jokingly says, blame the lutherans. i think that scene in "gran torino" says succinctly one important theme, religious organizations, religious groups have been powerful in advocating refugee admissions and have been really important to making resettlement happen. they did so for a variety of reasons as this flier points out. churches in their view, are aven avenues of god's love of refugees. it says, jesus, who himself, was a refugee, said that by helping
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refugees, we are really helping him. so, these religious 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 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 mark franken of the migration and refugee service illuminates that. he says, i'm advising someone whonts to make a difference and wants to get involved in that effort would also advise their role is not to be everything for the newcomer. their role is to help them be as self sufficient as as soon as possible. don't create dependencies. that's the worse thing for an individual is to create a dependency. this reflected the government's
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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. so, their goal was to ensure that refugees would not be a public charge, would be economically self sufficient, would have a job and if they were children would go to school. there were also commitments to cultural assimilation. to that end, refugees were spread out across the country, as one person put it, spread thin like butter so they might disappear. there was a desire on the part of refugee policy makers to prevent the formation of immigrant enclaves that characterize refugee and immigrant 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
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conversation about refugee migrations today takes into consideration the needs of government. it takes into consideration the needs of sponsors, of community members. 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
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migration is to listen to oral histories. so, i'm going to call attention to this story. this is a meng woman who currently lives in st. paul, minnesota. and she shared her story through the the oral history project which is at the minnesota historical society. i'll share a few lines i think illuminate some of the challenges she experienced. at the welfare office, he told me 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. he did not know how much struggling we had been through. he did not know 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
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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. for those who went to work to support their own families, then the americans said that now they are taking away our jobs. okay. so, let's unpack this a little bit. what does yer moa feel frustrated with life in america? what are her frustrations? >> she's frustrated because the welfare office is assuming that her story without really knowing her. that kind of 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,
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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 have got on your side and why are you hating us now. 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, "home comer" for today. i want to pay attention to a few
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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, who is quite different from yer 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 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
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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. 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
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were always about surviving in america. the same topic that the adult in my family started the first tight we arrived in the country. it was a conversation that would continue for the next 20 years. how do we survive in america and 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
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to college someday. one thing that's important is it reminds us asian-americans are not a monolithic minority, they're a variety of different 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 established by a lot of these refugees within a span of a generation. i once interviewed a meng woman who described how she gave birth on the side of the mae kong give 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. they swap across the river as troops were shooting at them. i asked after she told the story, what happened to the
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baby. 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. culturally, politically, economically, it's powerful. but i also think we do it to serve by just focusing on success stories. yang is a success story. wen is a success story, award whipping 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
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of resettlement, not simply to correct the narrative but also to convene in contemporary debates about refugees today. so, why don't we visit now. i want to read a few lines from the same essay i quoted at the beginning of this 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 american who is 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
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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. 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, brulss, san bernardino, california, and orlando, florida have people fearing people could be radicals, forgetting those refugees are some of the first victim of the islamic state. here it's a powerful connection to the perception of vietnamese refugees as potential communist infi infiltrators when they were ones fleeing persecution at the hands of communists in asia.
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because the judgments have been rentered on many 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 journey to refugee to boris johns johnson. 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,
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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. you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. c-span3. created by america's television companies as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. the u.s. capital has been home to the house and senate since 1800 but it's the home districts and states that send them to
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washington, d.c. today, take a look at pivotal politicians as we travel the nation in search of their stories. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern. enjoy american history tv this week and every weekend on c-span3. former white house counsel to president nixon john dean now teaches. up next his class on watergate and the nixon on the white house nicken taping system in june of 1973 during the testimony, mr. dean implicated president nixon and administration officials, including himself, in the water gate cover up. he lated pleaded guilty for obstruction of justice and served four months in prison. >> discovering the taping system, was it lucky or inevitable? is what we're looking at. the nixon taping -- the whole story of the nixones


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