Vietnam has one of the highest migration rates into the US. There are now about 1.3 million Vietnamese-Americans in the US, and they are among the highest foreign-group living in the country. Their influence can be seen everywhere. Hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants can be found in every state, and many of the current dishes loved by Americans have some Vietnamese influence in them. This is a mutually beneficial relationship meant to foster the excellent care and compassion that each country has. This relationship did indeed have a dark past. One tells a story of hardships and struggle. But one that also narrates how compassion and love for our fellow human beings can rise above all. This is the story of Vietnam’s boat people and how they migrated to the US in 1978.
Vietnam in the 1970s
The 1970s was a tough time for Vietnam. The Vietnam War has been raging for about five years during this time, and both the US and Vietnam were devastated by the conflict. Other nations were also part of this conflict, but their involvement is minimal compared to these two countries.
By the start of the 1970s, Americans were already slowly evacuating their troops. Eventually, in 1973, President Nixon agreed with the Paris Peace Accords and pulled back American troops in Vietnam. During this time, many supporters of democracy in the country felt like they were being abandoned. The socialist regime eventually took over the country in 1975 during the Fall of Saigon. By the end of the war, about 58,000 American soldiers and millions of Vietnamese soldiers (both North and South) have died, with many more wounded. This devastating blow to the country was enough to question the destiny and lives of many others who have survived.
Two more wars eventually followed right after this great conflict. The first was the Cambodian-Vietnamese War in 1978, and the second was the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. These two wars resulted in thousands of Vietnamese deaths, many of which were civilians.
In the next few years, a great migration followed one that has changed the overall relationship of the US and Vietnam.
The Great Immigration
The immigration of the Vietnamese people to the US started during the Vietnam War. About 125,000 Vietnamese migrated to the US during the Fall of Saigon. But it was nothing compared to the number that escaped the country in 1978.
800,000—that’s the approximate number of Vietnamese people who wanted to leave the country in 1978, with some experts claiming that the great exodus has numbered more than a million people. The socialist take-over and the casualties of both soldiers and civilians during the last three wars have left these people yearning for a better life. None of these people knew what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go. All they know that anywhere else is better, as long as it’s not Vietnam. Thousands of Vietnamese families hopped into boats in hopes that someone will eventually rescue them from the disaster.
These Vietnamese vagrants were eventually called the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’ because they lived in rickety boats in hopes of a rescue. Some of them did get rescued by sailing ships in international waters. But some were killed in the process. Among these people, some were able to become citizens of the UK while others were accepted in France. However, most of these migrants settled in the US.
There were reports of thousands of Vietnamese flooding into the US, and many more were about to come. Lawyers specializing in immigration were flooded by paperwork, and immigration officers were overwhelmed by the number of immigrants that needed to be checked. However, gradually, the numbers waned, and the great immigration was controlled. About 231,000 Vietnamese people lived in the US during the 1980s. A number that was soon to double.
The great immigration resulted in the millions of Vietnamese-Americans we have right now in the US. The 231,000 Vietnamese who lived in the US during the 1980s eventually doubled in size by the 1990s, with the population reaching about 543,000. By 2010, this number reached the millions, which continually grows up to this day. The result of the great migration was a better relationship between the US and Vietnam. They are now considered to be good partners, with thousands of Americans visiting the country every year. If it weren’t for the compassion of various individuals during a time of desperation, this relationship wouldn’t have grown, and both countries would have grown bitter with one another because of the tragic history they have shared.
Immigration plays a big role in a country’s growth. Today, we are lucky to experience Vietnamese culture right on our doorstep. Not many countries have this opportunity. Many policies are being implemented to foster the relationships between the two countries, and many are optimistic about this as it is predicted to strengthen in the next few years.