The vast majority of the approximately 700,000 Vietnam-born persons living in the U.S. arrived here as refugees from 1975 to the present. While there are many shared cultural traits among all the Vietnamese-Americans, such as the Vietnamese language and strong emphasis on the extended family. The first group of refugees to come to the U.S. in 1975 was educated and urban professionals (and their families) who were airlifted directly from Saigon. They were closely associated with American interests in Vietnam, so many spoke English and were familiar with American culture. This group has for the most part gone on to resume their professional lives in the United States, including serving as staff members of social service agencies, which assist more recently arrived Vietnamese.
In contrast, the second wave of Vietnamese refugees, arriving from the late 1970's through the mid 1980's, included a much higher proportion of merchants, farmers and other rural Vietnamese who escaped Communist Vietnam in small boats. These "boat people" suffered extreme hardship and loss through the refugee process, often remaining in harsh refugee camps for years. Many who came from rural origins or limited educational backgrounds have had a more difficult time adapting to urban U.S. life - while others from rural backgrounds found that intelligence and persistence are stronger than 100 generations of rural deprivation. This photograph is of a woman and children shortly after being picked up in the South China Sea in 1979.
Finally, the third wave, continuing to arrive to the present, come to the U.S. under more "orderly" programs, typically on the basis of their statuses as political prisoners in Vietnam, or offspring of Vietnamese women and American fathers ("Amerasians"), two groups who faced serious discrimination in Vietnam. They come with their families, in the case of Amerasians, more often than not the father is unknown or otherwise out of the picture.
Because of their experience as refugees, Vietnamese-Americans on the whole are at high risk for many communicable diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis B and parasitism as they arrive to the U.S. Over time, as many face accessibility barriers to medical care because of such factors as limited English skills, transportation difficulties, and cultural misunderstandings, they are at risk for more chronic problems like hypertension, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. In addition, many Vietnamese refugees also suffer mental health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a result not only of the horrors they experienced as refugees but also due to the adjustment difficulties in attempting to retain their traditional values in the face of the dominant American culture.
Traditional Vietnamese perceptions of health
Between 1975 and 1995, thousands of refugees left Vietnam to build their new life in the United States. The Vietnamese, with the Cambodians and Laotians, make up the largest group