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KOCO the public affairs specials are made possible by grants from Disneyland Park announcing its new attraction Star Tours now boarding passengers for a space flight adventure by the Peter and Mary Muth Foundation and by supporting viewers. The Southeast Asian refugee story began on April 30th 1975 the day the long war ended in Vietnam. Those first refugees arrived in a state of extreme emergency bringing with them a little more than their clothing. They lived in fear. For the past 15 years Vietnamese Cambodian and Laotian people that continued to escape by land or on the high seas. My frail boat to find freedom. In spite of many problems they have established homes businesses and a sense of community in America. Their children wear blue jeans enjoy sports sing pop songs and even do rap dancing. They are the Southeast Asian and American success
story. This is the man why shopping center in the busy little Saigon commercial district of Westminster it was created largely from barren land in a dozen years mostly by Vietnamese refugees. But it also includes Cambodians and Laotians. They're part of the more than 100000 Southeast Asians who are making new lives in Orange County. All those changes have taken place since 1975 a short 15 year time span. Adjustment for them is especially difficult because they came suddenly at risk for their lives as refugees not as immigrants. They have profound language and cultural differences to overcome. How well are they done. What are their achievements and their problems. I'm Jim Cooper. And I look at it today.
This dramatic footage was taken on April 30th 1975 in Vietnam on the war's last day. The chaotic scene reflects the urgency and desperation of the refugee evacuation in America's longest war a war that claimed the lives of 58000 Americans and one point three million Southeast Asians. They were swept suddenly by sea and by air to begin life in an arid desolate site. It was completely different from their homeland in Vietnam. With only a few hours notice Marines at Camp Pendleton in Southern California created a tent city. It was the first home for refugees in the first wave of 100 23000 who arrived in the United States. One of the most heroic episodes of the refugees is the continuing story of the boat people. This is an actual rescue on the South China Sea in June 1085 a French service group called Mendocino chartered a ship to make these rescues. Some estimates say that almost half of the million people who tried to
escape by boat perished by drowning pirate attacks or starvation even if rescued many face years in refugee camps hoping for asylum in any country that will accept them. This year the U.S.A. will accept fifty two thousand more Southeast Asian refugees. But there are 100 88000 still waiting in camps. As of January of this year almost a million Southeast Asians are living in the USA. About half of these live in California. An estimated one hundred eleven thousand live in Orange county with about 1 percent of the nation's population. Orange County is home to 10 percent of all the nation's Southeast Asians. Estimates vary from 80 to 100 30000 on Orange County southeast Asian population. A consensus estimate is 100000 Vietnamese 8000 Cambodians and 3000 Laotians a total of one hundred and eleven thousand. This is the booming commercial area along the street in Westminster known as Little Saigon. Much of the area was bare land or small shops 10 years ago.
Professional offices industries newspapers and colorful shopping centers make up a blend of east and west new businesses include 26 acupuncture centers nineteen Oriental herbs stores and two hundred thirty nine Asian restaurants. The Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce said that in the last decade. One hundred businesses were established here now grossing 60 million dollars a year and creating more than 30000 new jobs. Dr. Cole Pham Obstetricians and Gynecologists is president and chairman of the board of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce. He was formerly a captain and medical officer in the South Vietnamese army. He was evacuated by helicopter from the neighing in 1975. What do you regard as the single most important success of the Southeast Asian community here in the United States. After 15 movie is the enemy to have shown to the Americans that stay came here just for the name of Cressy of freedom and they have built to bridge the gap between the Americans people and the Vietnamese people and make them more
harmonious between these two people and I feel like to be in it the I want to now feel very proud of the Vietnamese the South Vietnamese and that I had to fight for the Vietnam War before it's a good cause and now it's a reality. You can see on Eastern Europe becomes try to go to for you to go to the free you know democracy and the freedom which is good from ours. You know before and that's our success not for our richness our money everything. But that's it's the unification and the harmony between the Vietnamese community and the Americans community. A typical success story is that of a new EVF daily newspaper published in Westminster in English its equivalent might be the Vietnamese Daily News. It is now the largest Vietnamese language daily newspaper in the United States with 12000 circulation six days a week. It was founded in 1978 by a publisher yen doe. He started the paper originally as a weekly working out of his garage. He traveled to Hong Kong
recently to help refugees who are still in the camps. With a staff of forty it utilizes modern daily newspaper technology with its own advertising graphic arts circulation and computerized typesetting in teletype machines ladened you is president of the new EVF newspaper he was a prisoner in Vietnam for more than five years before coming here in 1905. What do you see as the mission of this daily newspaper. As you know we are pretty direct this coming year. Some of them. Have.
Not used to that way of life yet. In the same building with the newspaper is a complete television studio. A one hour community TV show is produced here each week and airs on Channel 18 live on quad is President producer and host of The Freedom television weekly series. He was a TV producer an educator in Vietnam and was evacuated by air from Saigon in 1975. I asked him what he is trying to accomplish with the TV program. Jim I have to lend composedly and producing leaving the program moving here firstly we want to educate developers people of the United States. To live. To a bike with the lawn regulation and to adapt to the new society with Jack even now. Secondly I would like to keep defending this
culture among the venomous people and giving them a slang that. Tried to have to children to learn the venomous language. So when they grow up. And know how to speak they have communicate with their grandparents. This simulation of Southeast Asians into American life is taking place in small businesses every day. This is the fish market and the men watch shopping center in Little Saigon open in 1080 to buy a refugee couple. This is their second bigger dong y fish market in Garden Grove which opened in 1989. As with most Southeast Asian they had little besides hard work to start this business. Every imaginable kind of fish many favorites of the Vietnamese community are delivered here throughout the day. Who in law is the owner. He works seven days a week 12 to 16 hours a day. He employs 18 people in both stores. Formerly a shrimp dealer in Saigon he escaped in one thousand seventy five on the high seas in a small river boat 40 feet long crammed with 70 refugees. In the
USA he worked two jobs at the same time to earn the downpayment on his home. Then mortgage the home to start the business. Working just as hard as she lay his wife in Saigon she was in her second year of law school when she also escaped by boat in 1975. Like her husband she started life here in tent city at Camp Pendleton. She worked first at an electronic assembler then McEwen in 1079. In 1981 they were married in 1088. Both became U.S. citizens. You and your husband both were refugees escaping by boat in 1975. As you look back on your life. What does it mean to you being in United States. Very important thing this is a freedom. You want to do. Even I'm growing. In my country but I cannot get whatever I want. I only get when I get to nice. That's the important thing.
What is your dream for the future. Of the. United States. I want to. You know. I spend my save that I wish I could have. I'm going to have run you know. Every state have a simple one tank. The Air Force on the Southeast Asian Americans still have many problems to overcome. This is an English as a Second Language class at the Vietnamese community center of Orange County. This center in Santa Ana was founded in 1978 to help refugees in their problems of English language deficiency depression. Health care needs job training and services to you. The center is also a place for meeting friends for playing games and remembering common experiences from a
land 9000 miles away. It's also a resource center for new coming refugees to learn basic ways of life in the USA and to find jobs. Orange County now is one hundred fifty thousand people getting some kind of welfare refugees amount to twenty one thousand six hundred fifty three of these cases or 14 percent of the total. But it's down from 16 percent two years ago and far less than 10 years ago. Getting a hot lunch is a happy event for Southeast Asian people who are poor and many of whom are seniors here they can have a hot lunch every day for only a dollar 35 cents. The board of directors mostly refugees themselves proudly announces a new one million dollar center will open this fall in Santa Ana. My Kong is president and founder of the Vietnamese community of Orange County. She's a refugee having escaped in the last evacuation flight from Saigon in 1975 and was in the first group to live in tent city here. She works now as a county mental health coordinator for 13 percent of the welfare
rolls in Orange County are made up of Southeast Asians. Does that bother you. Well if you look at it 10 years ago I can remember in 1975 I can see that most maybe almost the last very last number if you were with today with the 14 and if you look back two years ago it's only it's 16. So really have a decrease through books and GATES I think that is headed toward a very good. Right. Another problem facing the refugee community is the Southeast Asian gangs which have sprung up in Orange County. These gangs enter the houses of Southeast Asians Rob and beat family members and threaten them with further harm if they report these crimes of the police. Westminster police have given the problem a high priority. Detective Marcus Frank of the Westminster Police Department is a specialist on the growing Southeast Asian gang problems including the estimated 20 Vietnamese Cambodian and Laotian youth gangs now operating here. How
bad is the Southeast Asian gang problem. Well in the county of Orange because the influx of the Southeast Asian. Population at any given time besides the 20. Indochinese gangs that are operating within this area were probably impacted by another 50 gangs from outside the immediate area outside the county and outside the state. They're significantly different from the Occidental gangs in that they see you know Chinese gangs claim no turf or territory. Their primary motive is economic gain. They're after money pure and simple. And they've just found out it's more efficient to do crime in a group than it is to do it individually. And that's exactly how the gang problem first came up. Although gang problems involving a small number of Southeast Asian youths have received many headlines there's a much bigger story of academic achievement by the vast majority of Southeast Asian students. This is our new school one of 35 such free schools
in Southern California operated by the Vietnamese cultural association that meets in the parochial school rooms at blessed at Sacrament Church in Westminster on Sunday afternoons. Unlike many of their parents the students are fluent in English but need training in reading writing and speaking the Vietnamese language. 4000 children attend these schools every Sunday in Orange County and Los Angeles County. In addition to their week long regular public schools. This is a second grade class the teacher is trying while the children are learning to speak and write in Vietnamese. The other team teacher is cam home. Both escape and avoid me like all the teachers they volunteer their time so that these first generation children may learn of their Vietnamese culture. To recently when founded to school in Westminster in 1079 and is now president of the Vietnamese Cultural Association of Southern California she arrived here as a refugee in 1975. I asked her what she sees as the biggest value in
operating this school. We were wrong. Come. Closer we want to move the Brits through correspondence here and. We also want to know what horrible come from. Why do become rules. Everyone's like wait this is a classroom at Fountain Valley High School. It's a course in health education for limited English proficiency students the teacher is Longleat formerly a language teacher in Saigon and the first refugee school teacher hired in Orange County in 1075. He was formerly an interpreter for U.S. military commander General Westmoreland and for U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge He's president of the Vietnamese American scholarship foundation of Orange County. I asked him how he accounts for the high scholarship among many Southeast Asian students. Right I would say that because the people all have. To leave their country and here they have to start I do
live all over again and they know that the only way they can advance in this society is through education. And traditionally after cation is very high the value of aid in Southeast Asia. One of the measurements of academic achievement is qualifying to get into the University of California. This is the UC Irvine campus to enter the university system. Students must be in the top 12 and a half percent of their high school classes go last tickly in the current freshman class of twenty three hundred forty four students at UC Irvine. Forty one percent are Asians the Southeast Asian students make up twelve point six percent of the entire class and they rank highest of any ethnic group in graduating grade point averages from their high schools. Dr. Patrick Healy is an associate professor of biological sciences and is director of instructional development services at the University of California at Irvine Southeast Asians are among the highest grade point average and incoming freshman to UC
Irvine. What motivates them. There is at least I've found a tremendous value in the culture for education and for professional advancement linked with this I think there's a tremendously strong support from the family of the families both economically in terms of time will support their students here at UCI and I suspect elsewhere. JR When is a graduate student at UCI in computer science escaped Vietnam by boat in 1978 and was rescued at sea by an Indonesian ship. His parents moved here in 1981 and they also escaped by boat. When you talk to the other South East Asian students what the biggest thing on their mind. The pressure especially because we value education this is quite important and we need to study. And also we cannot deny identity. We like
to feel young. We like to know more about it and we would like to have a chance to study for example Vietnamese. Some of them cannot quite speak fluently or write in the enemies and so we would like to have a chance to stay there. This is the nonprofit Cambodian family center in Santa Ana. Cambodian refugees and their children make up only about 8000 out of the more than 100000 Southeast Asians now living in Orange County. The organization was founded in 1980 out of a serious need for English language training for Cambodians. This is an English or the second language course employment services prenatal clinics youth sports programs consumer education and counseling are all provided here. Hirsch has been executive director of the Cambodian family center for the past seven years. You're concentrating a lot of your energies on the youth here at the center right is that
I think that they need our help right now. Most of the educated parents were killed during the time of the Communist conveyor Rouge regime in the 70s. And so now that they're here a lot of the parents had been farmers not very educated in their own countries they didn't need to be farm life was fine. Now they're here and they're struggling to learn English themselves the parents so the kids don't have that kind of strong parenting influence in the homes. They need positive models. They live in atmospheres in environments where there's a lot of trouble there's gangs there's drugs there's crime all around them. They need something they need support and that's what we're trying to do give them some positive models and give them some skills where they can have a hope for the future. Ken Lim as a board member of the Cambodian family center he's a refugee. Coming here from pan then 1081. She started work for minimum wages at the CDI 3M medical devices company and is now a material planner in charge of scheduling Productions.
You came here as a single woman and you made it in your job. What kept you going. I'm a kind person. I don't want to you know I want. The independent independence and I am. In this country as does a lot of opportunity that which is I like the best so I saw a lot of thing that I can do I can go up so that's one thing that you know keep me moving all the time. American acculturation is the most graphic and dramatic with the young. These you born here like basketball other sports and rap dancing. The Laotian refugees make up only about 3000 of the Southeast Asians in Orange County. These include the Laotian lowland people as well as among people who come from the mountainous highlands of Laos. Among more strong allies of the U.S. forces during the war most of
the Laotians here were farmers and many have since moved to Fresno where they make up a community of 20000 again mostly farmers. This is a lot of family a childcare center in Huntington Beach one of the facilities operated by the Lao people as a community service. Operated by the Lao Family organization the day care center enabled their parents to hold down jobs to meet the high cost of living in Orange County. John Ryan pursuit supervisor of all indoor Chinese programs for the Santa Ana Unified School District including 2000 children use a lot of ocean and arrived here as a refugee a 978 he speaks eight languages. What are some of the biggest successes that you see for the entire Southeast Asian community in this past 15 years. I think for us for day is a movement in that mind moving from the stage of being a refugee to an immediate end and to the citizens of this country so they know now for sure I want to be here. For many many more years
to come to this doctor thing as a debt for you country to destock to participate actively. Paul Vang is analogy both of the supervisor for the Orange County Social Services Agency. He was formerly an existing province of Laos and is a member of the Hmong community is a refugee. Having arrived in 1976 one of the biggest problems you see here among Southeast Asians who are on welfare. The biggest problem is that the families are large. They have many kids. Who want to work. Their salary from as much as the grant they're receiving here. That's why they asked the welfare of their own. What are you trying to do to get them to get off welfare and to get jobs and be productive. As far as are economic needs we are to get education. To learn trades and also
to try to search the way for the wife to get a job. If both of them could get a job I think the money they will receive will be enough. One of Orange County's biggest traditional celebrations now is the annual Tet festival held each January on January 27 28. More than 100000 people attended this year's holiday in Little Saigon an important annual event for all of Southeast Asia's dragons old and new dances ancient songs and cultural joy I should in the year of the horse. As a tet celebration shows a new culture is evolving that will be part Asian and part American. What will that future culture be. As we now 70 years old have been the most famous among Vietnam's composers folk singers and
authors for 50 years. He's a refugee having escaped from Saigon in April of 1975. But his fame as a folk singer and composer has followed him here. He's now retired. What about the challenge to younger people the second generation to retain the culture of Southeast Asia. Do you feel that the culture can be saved that can be retained that can be cherished in future years. Yes. But you know sometime you know I wish to have you know I'm going to write to me why not do what you need me you know. Sure but no you're right and right there you're right the single you know they have a lot of they want to get you know a taste. So maybe in future years what we're looking at is a culture that is in both world yet part of Southeast Asia part of USA.
Yes. But you know I used to say that the rhythm is music and the essence of American music dancing you know. So if you are going to come by and not you know you have something ready. These are the gods of prosperity longevity and fortune all dedicated to success. But how do you measure success. Most Southeast Asians I talk with believe their most important achievement is not economic gain or material possessions. They're more proud of becoming independent and productive citizens. They have familiar community problems from poverty to crime to healthcare needs. They value education and learning not only to speak the English language but to enjoy the spirit of the free American society. There's a Vietnamese word I heard again and again too. It means freedom.
Perhaps putting that freedom of opportunity to work in their own lives is their biggest success of all. Jim Cooper for KSEE TV. With with. The A. Yahoo Kaos Eve public affairs specials are made possible by grants from Disneyland Park announcing its new attraction Star Tours now boarding passengers for a space flight adventure by the Peter and Mary Muth Foundation and by supporting viewers.
Public Affairs Special
Episode Number
Southeast Asians: An American Success Story
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PBS SoCal (Costa Mesa, California)
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Episode Description
111,000 Southeast Asians from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia now reside in Orange County, and the population was in 1975 with the refugee evacuation from the war-torn region. The program looks at how these new residents and citizens of the United States have adapted to the culture and how they have infused their own culture within their new environment. Vietnamese newspapers and television programs help refugees and immigrants assimilate to American culture. Problems with depression, health care, and gangs are issues that Orange County is dealing with.
Episode Description
This item is part of the Hmong Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
Episode Description
This item is part of the Southeast Asian Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
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Talk Show
Local Communities
Race and Ethnicity
Public Affairs
Copyright 1990 KOCE-TV Foundation
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Moving Image
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Host: Cooper, Jim
Interviewee: Pham, Co
Interviewee: Dieu, Le Dinh
Interviewee: Khoa, Le Van
Interviewee: Loi, Chi
Interviewee: Cong, Mai
Interviewee: Frank, Marcus
Interviewee: Nguyen, Teresa
Interviewee: Le, Long
Interviewee: Healey, Patrick
Interviewee: Nguyen, Thieu
Interviewee: Hirsh, Rifka
Interviewee: Lim, Kieng
Interviewee: Luangpraseut, Khamchong
Interviewee: Vang, Paul
Interviewee: Duy, Pham
Producer: Miskevich, Ed
Producing Organization: PBS SoCaL
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: AACIP_0090 (AACIP 2011 Label #)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:08
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Chicago: “Public Affairs Special; 42; Southeast Asians: An American Success Story,” 1990-04-23, PBS SoCal, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “Public Affairs Special; 42; Southeast Asians: An American Success Story.” 1990-04-23. PBS SoCal, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Public Affairs Special; 42; Southeast Asians: An American Success Story. Boston, MA: PBS SoCal, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from