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The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation

Stories of War, Revolution, Flight and New Beginnings

Sucheng Chan

Publication Year: 2006

The conflict that Americans call the "Vietnam War" was only one of many incursions into Vietnam by foreign powers. However, it has had a profound effect on the Vietnamese people who left their homeland in the years following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Collected here are fifteen first-person narratives written by refugees who left Vietnam as children and later enrolled as students at the University of California, where they studied with the well-known scholar and teacher Sucheng Chan. She has provided a comprehensive introduction to their autobiographical accounts, which succinctly encompasses more than a thousand years of Vietnamese history. The volume concludes with a thorough bibliography and videography compiled by the editor.While the volume is designed specifically for today's college students, its compelling stories and useful history will appeal to all readers who want to know more about Vietnam and especially about the fates of children who emigrated to the U.S.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xvi

In early 1976, less than a year after the fall of Saigon, I gave a lecture in my introductory Asian American history class at the University of California (UC), Berkeley on why more than a hundred thousand Vietnamese had come to the United States. Having been an antiwar activist, what I said was rather critical of U.S. foreign policy, the...

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p. xvii-xvii

...to flow more smoothly, deleting repetitious material, writing the ten chapters in Part I, and preparing the bibliography and videography. I anticipate that most readers will probably not be specialists in Vietnamese or Vietnamese American Studies; that is why I include a succinct presentation of the history of Vietnam and the successive stages ...

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Vietnamese Names

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p. xviii-xviii

In Vietnam, family names (what the British call “surnames” and Americans call “last names”) precede given names (what Americans call “first names”). However, because of the relatively small number of family names in use, the Vietnamese people refer to each other by the last syllable in their given names. For example, Nguyen is the...

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Part I: Historical Overview

Most of the English-language books and articles about Vietnam available to American readers deal with the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. However, that long, bitter, destructive, and very controversial war—a war that devastated the land in all parts of Vietnam and killed several million Vietnamese and some 58,000 Americans—is not ...

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Chapter 1. Vietnam before the Mid-nineteenth Century

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pp. 3-11

Scholars generally agree that the ancestors of the Vietnamese originated in the valleys of the Hong (Red) River and its tributaries in northern Vietnam—an alluvial plain that has sustained a significant portion of the country’s population for several millennia. Archeologists have discovered large ornamental bronze drums, as well as bronze arrowheads, javelin tips, cleavers, sickles, and fishhooks ...

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Chapter 2. French Colonial Rule and Vietnamese Resistance

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pp. 12-19

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the French were no longer concerned just with protecting their missionaries but also with acquiring an empire in Southeast Asia in the name of mission civilisatrice (civilizing mission), the underlying assumption of which was that “uplift” and “civilize” nonwhite and non-Christian peoples by ...

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Chapter 3. Communism and Nationalism

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pp. 20-27

...it purported to offer a “scientific” analysis of history and, in its Leninist form, suggested methods that could be used to guide their nationalist—that is, anticolonial—struggles even though the original formulation addressed the problem of overthrowing capitalism,rather than colonialism. Karl Marx explicated “laws” of historical ...

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Chapter 4. The 1945 August Revolution

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pp. 28-34

By mid-1943, when World War II appeared to be turning against the Germans in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific, the Viet Minh decided the time had come to prepare for a nationwide insurrection. Although the ICP leaders who controlled the Viet Minh still stressed the paramount importance of political work—that is, propaganda and...

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Chapter 5. The First Indochina War

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pp. 35-43

When a French patrol boat captured a Chinese junk carrying petroleum into Haiphong harbor, which the French were blockading, in mid-November 1945, Viet Minh shore batteries fired shots at the French boat. Angered by this action, on November 23 the commander of French forces in Haiphong gave the Vietnamese ...

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Chapter 6. The American Involvement in Vietnam

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pp. 44-56

The Second Indochina War (which Americans call the Vietnam War) involved American combat troops on the ground from 1965 to 1973, so most Americans assume that the United States got entangled in Vietnam only in the 1960s. In reality, American participation in the affairs of Vietnam had begun two decades earlier.1 Not only,...

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Chapter 7. The Fall of Saigon and Its Aftermath

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pp. 57-70

As North Vietnamese troops routed ARVN forces in the Central Highlands, President Nguyen Van Thieu ordered his army commanders on March 15, 1975, to abandon the area and to retreat southward to establish a more defensible front line. The highest-ranking general in the region vehemently protested Thieu’s order, saying it was immoral to...

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Chapter 8. The Plight of the Ethnic Chinese in Vietnam

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pp. 71-77

Between 1978 and 1989, several developments affected the out flow of refuge-seekers from Vietnam: that country’s persecution of its ethnic Chinese residents, the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia that led to China’s retaliatory invasion of Vietnam, the reactions of Vietnam’s neighbors that became countries of first asylum...

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Chapter 9. An International Refugee Crisis

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pp. 78-85

In the fall of 1978 and the early months of 1979, the simmering resentment felt by the people and their leaders in the countries of first asylum boiled over into fury when refuge-seekers showed up in large ships,each carrying several thousand passengers, in Malaysia, Indonesia,the Philippines, and Hong Kong. Their appearance marked a turning...

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Chapter 10. Ending the Indochinese Refugee Exodus

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pp. 86-96

A second Geneva Conference held on June 13–14, 1989, and attended by over seventy countries came up with a Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) to deal with the continuing outflow of refuge-seekers. At that point, despite the huge numbers resettled since 1979, the number of “boat people” in the countries of first asylum had risen again to...

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Part II: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight, and New Beginnings

...“I was born in Vietnam into a world at war. Our life was war. We lived and breathed war. We waited for peace, longing night after night, longing and longing in the darkness only to see flares burst into bombs and hear the weeping of people who had lost their relatives....Women had to be brave as they said goodbye to their men ...

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Chapter 11. A Tragedy: From Vietnam to America

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pp. 99-115

The author, a thoughtful and observant young man, and his family left Saigon on April 25, 1975, on a U.S. military transport plane when he was seventeen years old. He wrote this account in 1980 based on the notes he took during his journey. Like the narrator’s family, many of the people who fled just before Saigon fell had originally come from North Vietnam. Almost a million people, a large percentage of...

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Chapter 12. A Journey Called Freedom

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pp. 116-126

The author left Saigon with her family on April 28, 1975, in a U.S. cargo plane when she was seven years old. Unlike many of the urbanites evacuated as Saigon was about to fall, the narrator and her family came from rural origins. Her parents were farmers and the family was Catholic. However, after Americans became involved in the war in Vietnam, her father found a job as a security guard at the American...

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Chapter 13. My Autobiography

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pp. 127-135

The author left Saigon with her family on a U.S. naval vessel on April 29, 1975,when she was thirteen years old. Amid the chaos, her father was left behind. In despair, the narrator’s mother almost returned to Vietnam when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided a ship to those who had arrived in Guam but wanted to return to their homeland. At the last minute, however, the mother...

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Chapter 14. How It Feels to Be an Asian American

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pp. 136-142

The author left Saigon with her family on April 29, 1975, on a U.S. helicopter that flew them to a dock where they boarded an American ship when she was four years old. Her family belongs to the Chru ethnic group—one of several dozen mountain-dwelling ethnic groups that the French colonial government called collectively “Montagnards.” The U.S. Army’s Special Forces, formed in 1952 and...

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Chapter 15. Integrity through Change

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pp. 143-151

The author left Saigon with her family in a U.S. helicopter that delivered them to a U.S. Navy ship on April 30, 1975, when she was thirteen years old. Her mother had worked for the U.S. Air Force for twelve years; that connection was what qualified the family for evacuation. Part of this narrative is based on diary entries and reveals a little-known fact: after the runways at Tan Son Nhut Airport were damaged, the...

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Chapter 16. A Place to Call Home

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pp. 152-157

The author and her family left Saigon on April 30, 1975, on a boat belonging to the South Vietnamese Navy commanded by one of her father’s friends when she was eight years old. Like the author’s family, about half of the people who fled Saigon were not evacuated by U.S. aircraft, as commonly assumed. Rather, they made their own way on whatever boats were available to ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet...

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Chapter 17. The Coming of Age of a Chinese-Vietnamese American

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pp. 158-170

The author came from a large, well-to-do ethnic Chinese family in South Vietnam.The seventh child in a family of eleven children, she recalls how government officials“visited” them, took an “inventory” of the family members, and confiscated their car,bicycles, and television set after three of her older sisters and oldest brother escaped in1977. The second batch of family members to escape, in 1978, included the narrator,...

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Chapter 18. My Father and I

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pp. 171-180

The author’s family originated in North Vietnam. He, his mother, and sister escaped from Vietnam in October 1978 when he was seven years old while his father, an official in the South Vietnamese government,was incarcerated in a re-education camp. The most amazing aspect of their flight was that it was the father who managed to make the arrangements for the escape even though he was under close surveillance....

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Chapter 19. The Pain in My Heart

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pp. 181-189

This is a rare account of an ethnic Chinese family that lived in a village in rural North Vietnam and escaped to the People’s Republic of China in early 1979 when the author was eight years old. The existing literature to date has failed to include the approximately quarter million people who sought sanctuary in China, rather than in the countries of first asylum in Southeast Asia, as part of the refugee exodus from...

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Chapter 20. The Never-Ending Struggle

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pp. 190-197

The author’s ethnic Chinese family lived comfortably before the fall of Saigon. Even though her father was poverty-stricken during his youth, in time he owned the largest automobile dealership in town. After the Communists captured Saigon, the family’s socioeconomic status declined drastically when her father was forced to become a common laborer. Communist cadres also confiscated whatever they wanted in her...

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Chapter 21. An Unfinished Journey

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pp. 198-206

The author escaped from Vietnam with his uncle’s family in mid-1979 when he was twelve years old. Since his father was a judge, the Communist authorities sent him to a re-education camp. To feed her children, his mother scraped together earnings from various jobs and from selling sandwiches on the street. She sent her children out of the country one by one—a common practice to ensure that at least some family members...

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Chapter 22. From Vietnam to Germany to the United States

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pp. 207-218

The author’s parents owned a photography studio in Saigon and had a booming business during the war as they had a contract with the U.S. Army. His family failed in their first attempt to escape from Vietnam in 1978, but his mother and two of his brothers succeeded in a second try in 1979 and made their way to Germany. The author, his sister, and his father finally managed to escape in 1982 when he was...

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Chapter 23. Vietnam Memories in America

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pp. 219-227

The author’s father worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the South Vietnamese government, so he was a prime candidate for imprisonment in a re-education camp. Though the family tried to flee just before Saigon fell, their attempt failed. After seven years of incarceration, the authorities released the narrator’s father but forced the family to move to a New Economic Zone. Finding life “unbearable” in ...

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Chapter 24. My Transition to Being an Asian American

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pp. 228-240

After two failed escape attempts, the author and his grandmother came to the United States via the Orderly Departure Program in 1984 when he was fifteen years old. He is the only author in this book who arrived via that venue. The narrator painfully reveals that not all Vietnamese families are as close knit and harmonious as Vietnamese would like the world to think. After his parents divorced when he was...

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Chapter 25. At That Time in My Life

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pp. 241-250

This autobiography contains one of the most detailed accounts we have of what children learned in school in Vietnam after 1975. Two days before Saigon fell, the author’s father, a captain in the South Vietnamese Army, asked his wife to take their children out of the country. The family managed to get on one of the last American ships to leave, but just as the gangplank was being pulled up his mother ran back...

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pp. 251-254

Even though the life stories in this book are not representative, in the sociological sense, of all the refuge-seekers who fled Vietnam for the reasons discussed in the Preface, several common themes can be discerned: the immense suffering, deprivation, loss, and violent up-rooting that every family who fled Vietnam experienced; the resolute...


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pp. 255-273

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 274-304

Selected Videography

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pp. 305-307

Index, About The Author

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pp. 308-325

E-ISBN-13: 9781592135028
Print-ISBN-13: 9781592135011

Publication Year: 2006