Political and Cultural Receptivity
Ethnic Vietnamese were received and treated differently in the USA and Cambodia. While the former country embraced political and cultural policies of multiculturalism and the latter emphasized Khmer nationalism, these different contexts of reception motivated the development of transnationalism among ethnic Vietnamese Catholics in these countries.
Refugee Status and Multiculturalism in the USA
Most Vietnamese who arrived in the USA received political protection as ‘refugees’ or ‘political asylum’ because they were fleeing from the 1975 communist takeover of South Vietnam. They were permitted to resettle in the USA through a 1965 amendment to the Immigration and National Act of 1952 (Campi 2005). This policy defined ‘refugees’ as individuals who were fleeing from communist countries and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Even though their large influx exceeded the limit of 17,400 individuals annually, Vietnamese were permitted to resettle through the parole authority, which was created in 1952 to admit large groups of refugees beyond the quota (Kennedy 1981, 141).
In addition to the legal recognition as refugees, Vietnamese arriving in the USA were also encouraged to integrate culturally. Initially, they were intentionally dispersed throughout the country by policies of resettlement in order to avoid ‘another Miami,’ a large and expanding Cuban enclave that had raised anxiety among the American public by the mid- 1970s (Rumbaut 1995). Contrary to the anti-Vietnamese environment in Cambodia, these concerted efforts of integration on the side of the USA reflected a view that refugees and immigrants such as Vietnamese could gradually become Americans’ (or hyphenated Americans) by shedding their ethnic characteristics.
However, within the American ethos of multiculturalism during the latter twentieth century, Vietnamese had voluntarily re-congregated into ethnic communities through secondary migration during the late 1980s and 1990s (Zhou and Bankston 1998, 295). They have built several Vietnamese ‘Little Saigon’ enclaves throughout the USA, notably in
Orange County (which has the largest number of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam), San Jose (the second largest Vietnamese American community), and Houston. These self-mobilized ethnic concentrations have been essential to the resettlement process of Vietnamese in the USA. They are able to tap into supportive social networks, employment opportunities, rebuild ties with old family and friends, and mobilize responsive political representation.