Vietnamese Americans

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Vietnamese Americans
Total population
(1,737,433 including those with partial ancestry
0.6% of the US population (2010)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Vietnamese, American English, French (older generations), Cham
43% Buddhism, 30% Roman Catholicism
20% unaffiliated, 6% Protestantism (2012)[2][3]
Related ethnic groups
Vietnamese people, Overseas Vietnamese, Vietnamese Canadians, Vietnamese Australians, Vietnamese New Zealanders, Southeast Asian Americans, Asian Americans

Vietnamese Americans (Vietnamese: Người Mỹ gốc Việt) are Americans of Vietnamese descent.[4] They make up about half of all overseas Vietnamese (Người Việt Hải Ngoại) and are the fourth-largest Asian American ethnic group and have developed distinctive characteristics in America.

South Vietnamese immigration to the United States started after 1975, after the end of the Vietnam War. Early immigrants were refugee boat people fleeing persecution or poverty. More than fifty percent of Vietnamese Americans reside in the states of California and Texas.[5]


As a relatively recent immigrant group, most Vietnamese Americans are either first- or second-generation Americans. They have the lowest distribution of people with more than one race[clarification needed] among the major Asian American groups. As many as one million people who are five years and older speak Vietnamese at home—making it the seventh-most spoken language in the United States. As refugees, Vietnamese Americans have some of the highest rates of naturalization.[6] In the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS), 76% of foreign-born Vietnamese are naturalized US citizens compared to 67% of the foreign-born from South Eastern Asia and 46 percent of the total U.S. foreign-born population. Of those born outside the United States, 73.1% entered before 2000, 21.2% between 2000 and 2009, and 5.7% entered after 2010.[7]

According to the United States 2012 Census, there were 1,675,246 people who identify themselves as Vietnamese alone or 1,860,069 in combination with other ethnicities, representing the fourth largest foreign-born population from Asia, after India, the Philippines, and China.[7][8][9] Of those, California and Texas had highest concentration of Vietnamese American, which are 40 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The other followed states includes Washington State (4 percent), Florida (4 percent), and Virginia (3 percent).[9] The largest number of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam is found in Orange County, California—totaling 184,153, or 6.1% of the county's population,[10] followed by Los Angeles County, and Santa Clara County. The three counties accounted for 26 percent of the Vietnamese immigrant population in the United States [9] Vietnamese American businesses are ubiquitous in Little Saigon, located in the communities of Westminster and Garden Grove, where they constitute 40.2 and 27.7 percent of the population, respectively. About 41 percent of the Vietnamese immigrant population live in five major metropolitan areas in order from largest Vietnamese population to smallest are Los Angeles, San Jose, Houston, San Francisco, and Dallas-Fort Worth.[9] Recently, the Vietnamese immigration pattern has shifted to other states like Ohio (Cleveland), Oklahoma (Oklahoma City and Tulsa in particular) and Oregon (Portland in particular).

Spread of the Vietnamese language in the United States

Vietnamese Americans are much more likely to be Christians than Vietnamese who are residing in Vietnam. While Christians (mainly Roman Catholics) make up about 6% of Vietnam's total population, they compose as much as 23% of the total Vietnamese American population.[11] Due to the hostility between Communists and Catholics in Vietnam, a disproportionate number of Catholics fled the country after the Communist takeover.

Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1980 261,729 —    
1990 614,517 +134.8%
2000 1,122,528 +82.7%
2010 1,548,449 +37.9%


Vietnamese refugees at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, 1975
Crewmen of the amphibious cargo ship USS Durham (LKA-114) take Vietnamese refugees aboard a small craft, 1975

The history of Vietnamese Americans is a fairly recent one. Prior to 1975, most Vietnamese residing in the United States were wives and children of American servicemen in Vietnam or academia. Records[13][14] show a that a very sparse group arrived to work in various menial jobs during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including future Vietnamese politician Ho Chi Minh. However, their numbers were insignificant. According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization services, only 650 Vietnamese arrived from 1950 to 1974 (as immigrants, excluding those who came as students, diplomats or military trainees.) The Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975—which ended the Vietnam War—prompted the first large-scale wave of immigration from Vietnam. Many people who had close ties with the Americans or with the then Republic of Vietnam government feared the promised communist reprisals. The majority of the first-wave immigrants were well-educated, wealthier and possessed better English proficiency.[15] According to data collected by the U.S Department of State in 1975, more than 30% of heads of first-wave households were in medical professions or in technical managerial occupations, 16.9 percent worked in transportation and 11.7 percent had jobs in clerical and sales industries when they were in Vietnam. Only 4.9% were fishermen and farmers.[16] The evacuation of these high-profile immigrants was organized in three main ways. The week before the Fall of Saigon, fifteen thousand people left by scheduled flights, followed by additional eighty thousand evacuated by aircraft. The last group was carried by U.S. Navy ships.[17] During the spring of 1975, 125,000 of them left South Vietnam, followed by approximately more than 5000 people in 1976-1977.[16] From Vietnam, they arrived in reception camps in the Philippines and Guam, and then transferred to temporary housing at U.S Army bases in the U.S, including Camp Pendleton (California), Fort Chaffee (Arkansas), Eglin Air Force Base (Florida), and Fort Indiantown Gap (Pennsylvania). After prepared for the resettlement, they were assigned to one of nine voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) that helped them to find financial and personal supports from sponsor throughout the country.[15][17]

South Vietnamese refugees initially faced resentment by Americans following the turmoil and upheaval of the Vietnam War. A poll taken in 1975 showed only 36 percent of Americans were in favor of Vietnamese immigration. However, the U.S government expressed their support for Vietnamese immigration. President Gerald Ford and Congress passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act in 1975, which allowed Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States under special status as well as allocating $405 million in resettlement aid for the refugees. To prevent the refugees from forming ethnic enclaves and to minimize their impact on local communities, they were scattered all over the country.[15] Within a few years, however, many had resettled in California and Texas.

A second wave of Vietnamese refugees began in 1978 and lasted until the mid-1980s. The instability of Vietnam politics and economy under the new communist government led to the most tragically unprecedented migration. South Vietnamese —especially former military officers and government employees—were sent to Communist "reeducation camp” to study intensive political indoctrination, famine was widespread while private businesses were seized and nationalized. Besides, the Chinese-Vietnamese suffered when China became Vietnam’s adversary during Sino-Vietnamese War.[15] To escape from these harsh conditions, many South Vietnamese took to the sea, bet their fate on small, unsafe, crowded fishing boats and fled Vietnam. Whereas most first-wave immigrants were of higher classes, with over 70% coming from urban areas, the social status of these "boat people" were more diverse and of generally lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Most of them were peasant farmers or fishermen, small town merchants, or former military officials. Departing from Vietnam, blessed people who had survived from sinking, murdering and raping by pirates were picked up by foreign ships or naval vessels. Their traumatic escape ended up in asylum camps in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, or the Philippines, from which they were allowed to enter countries that agreed to accept them.[15][16][17]

The plight of these “boat people” compelled the United States to act. By the Refugee Act of 1980, restrictions on entry of Vietnamese refugees were reduced. Between 1978 and 1982, 280,500 Vietnamese refugees admitted to the United States.[15] Since 1979, the communist Vietnamese government established the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in response to world outcry, allowing people to leave legally for family reunions and for humanitarian reasons. Additional American laws allowed the children of American servicemen- the Amerasians and former political prisoners and their families to enter the United States. A peak in Vietnamese immigration was in 1992, when many individuals in communist reeducation camps were released or sponsored by their families to come to the United States. Between 1981 and 2000, the United States accepted 531,310 Vietnamese political refugees and asylum seekers.

Also by the early of 80s, there has been a secondary immigration within the United States. Initially, Vietnamese refugees were scattered around the country wherever they could find sponsors. The majority (27,199) settled in California, followed by 9,130 in Texas and 3,500 to 7000 each in Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, Illinois, New York, and Louisiana. However, over years, due to the harsh climate and other economic and social factors, these immigrants began a secondary immigration to other warmer states, such as California and Texas where they could get closer to the Vietnamese community, better jobs and welfare benefits.[15][16][17]

Initial challenges and issues

Language barriers

After suffering from losses of war and psychological trauma, the Vietnamese immigrants had to overcome severe challenges to adapt to a totally different culture. Language was the first barrier that few adult Vietnamese refugees with limited English proficiency could overcome. While English uses inflection to convey nuances of phrases or sentences, Vietnamese is primarily a tonal language and the variation in tone can be used to distinguish meanings of a word. For example, the sound “ma” can have up to six meanings depending on the tonal variation, including “ghost”, “but”, “horse”, “rice plant”, “mother” and “tomb”.[15] Another characteristic of Vietnamese that makes it significantly different from English is its use of status-related pronouns (as with some European languages, such as German). For instance, while the pronoun “you” is the only commonly used second person singular pronoun in English, there are many Vietnamese pronouns that can be used for the second person singular, depending on gender (“anh” or “chi”), social status (“ong”, “ba”), and relationships (“ban”, “cau”, “may").[16]

Familial issues and generational cultural divide

Vietnamese, like other Asians, emphasize maintaining high parental power within a family. However, the majority lifestyle in the U.S is a challenge to this traditional value. Vietnamese American parents with children growing up in the U.S. have worried about declining authority over their children. For example, while corporal punishment is widely accepted in Vietnamese society as an effective way to educate children, this practice in U.S. society may be considered child abuse.[15] Moreover, while older and newly arrived Vietnamese Americans use extreme politeness dealing with others and avoid expressing open disagreement, the straightforwardness in expressing attitudes practiced by young Vietnamese Americans may upset older people in the Vietnamese American community as their behavior can be seen as "disrespectful".[16]

Poor mental health

Emotional health was considered an issue faced by many Vietnamese refugees. War-related losses and stress adapting to a totally different culture led to stress disorders among these refugees.[15] Many of these emotional health problems encompassed a wide array of severe mental illness, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, adjustment disorder, somatization, panic attacks, manic schizophrenia, and generalized anxiety. Additionally, many children - those who made up roughly 40% of the resettled refugees - suffered from increased conduct disorders and operational defiant disorders. A study conducted in the year 2000 by Chung et al. highlighted a number of these aforementioned mental health issues. This study examined psychosocial adjustment issues for two varying groups of Vietnamese refugees who migrated to the United States as very young children, and the participants were given the following three surveys: The Suinn-Lew Asian Self-Identity Acculturation Scale, the Social Support Questionnaire, and the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist. The results from the three surveys accounted for cultural assimilation or lack thereof, how closely each individual related to his or her culture of origin in contrast to American culture, and where each individual places on scales for generalized anxiety and depression, respectively. He separated these groups into first and second wave refugees. First wave SEAR are defined as being those who arrived in the United States between the years 1971 and 1975, and second wave SEAR are those who arrived between 1980 and 1985. In wave two, 6% of those tested by Chung et al. were less than 6 years of age when they arrived in the United States, in contrast to the first wave group which contained roughly 85% of pediatric refugees under the age of 6. Chung et al.’s research showed that these young refugees experienced significant periods of emotional and mental distress throughout their lives, both short- and long-term.[18]

Political activism

Vietnamese Americans parading with the South Vietnamese flag during Tet

According to a study by the Manhattan Institute in 2008, Vietnamese Americans are among the most assimilated immigrant groups in the United States.[19] While their rates of cultural and economic assimilation were unexceptional compared to other groups (perhaps due to language differences between English and Vietnamese), their rates of civic assimilation were the highest among all the large immigrant groups.[19] Vietnamese Americans, being political refugees, view their stay in the United States as permanent and became involved in the political process in higher rates than other groups.

Recent scholarship distinguishes “socialization processes due to unique experiences during a critical imprinting experience among Vietnamese immigrants from an explanation that relies on duration of time spent in the United States. Immigrant cohorts, as instantiated in waves of immigration, are of course related to years spent in the destination country..."[20] However, there are “substantive within-group differences among Vietnamese Americans and that the classical linear assimilation hypothesis does not adequately explain political incorporation. Although naturalization does appear to increase steadily over time, with earlier waves more likely to have acquired citizenship, the same pattern of associations does not appear for our analysis of registration and voting. Notably, it was the third wave of Vietnamese immigrants who were most likely to cast ballots in the last presidential election.”.[20]

The relationship between Vietnam and the United States has been the most important issue for the most Vietnamese Americans.[16] As refugees from a Communist country, many Vietnamese Americans are strongly opposed to communism. In a poll conducted for the Orange County Register in 2000, 71% of respondents ranked fighting communism as "top priority" or "very important".[21] Vietnamese Americans regularly stage protests against the Vietnamese government, its human rights policy and those whom they perceive to be sympathetic to it.[22] For example, in 1999, protests against a video store owner in Westminster, California, who displayed the current Vietnamese flag and a photograph of Ho Chi Minh peaked when 15,000 people held a vigil in front of the store in one night,[23] causing debates regarding free speech. Membership in the Democratic Party was once considered anathema among Vietnamese Americans because it was seen as less anti-communist than the Republican Party. However, their support for the Republican Party has somewhat eroded in recent years, as the Democratic Party has become seen in a more favorable light by the second generation as well as by newer, poorer refugees.[24] However, the Republican Party still has overwhelming support; in Orange County, Vietnamese Americans registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats at 55% and 22%, respectively,[25] while the National Asian American Survey in 2008 showed that 22% identify with the Democratic Party while 29% identify with the Republican Party.[26] Exit polls during the 2004 presidential election show that 72% of Vietnamese American voters in the 8 eastern states polled voted for Republican incumbent George W. Bush compared to only 28% who voted for the Democratic challenger John Kerry.[27] In a poll conducted prior to the 2008 presidential election, two-thirds of Vietnamese Americans who made up their mind stated they would vote for the Republican candidate John McCain, in stark contrast to the other Asian American groups surveyed.[26] The Republican Party's particularly strong voice of anti-communism tends to make it more attractive to older Vietnamese Americans and first generation Vietnamese Americans, especially with their arrival to the US during the Reagan Administration. Although most Vietnamese are registered Republican, most young Vietnamese lean toward the Democratic Party. An AALDEF poll found that Vietnamese Americans from the ages of 18 through 29 favored Democrat Barack Obama by 60% during the 2008 Presidential Election.[28] According to a PEW survey in 2012, 47% of registered Vietnamese American voters identify or lean Republican compared to 32% for Democrats; however, among Vietnamese American overalls (including non-registered voters), 36% lean Democrat compared to 35% Republican.[29] Recently, Vietnamese Americans have exercised considerable political power in Orange County, Silicon Valley, and other areas. Many have won public offices at the local and statewide levels in California and Texas. One Vietnamese American, Janet Nguyen, serves in the California State Senate; one, Andrew Do, serves on the five-member Orange County Board of Supervisors, one each has served as mayor of Garden Grove, California, Rosemead, California, and Westminster, California. Several serve or have served in the city councils of Westminster, Bao Nguyen, mayor of [30] Garden Grove, San Jose,[31] Hubert Vo, serves as house representative in Texas [32] and places as varied as Clarkston, Georgia.

In 2008, Westminster became the first city to have a majority Vietnamese American city council.[33] In 2004, Van Tran, a Republican candidate and Hubert Vo, a Democratic candidate, were elected to the state legislatures of California and Texas, respectively. Viet Dinh was the Assistant Attorney General of the United States from 2001 to 2003 who was the chief architect of the USA PATRIOT Act. In 2006, as many as 15 Vietnamese Americans were running for elective office in California alone,[34] a sign of the growing maturity of the community. Young Vietnamese, who served in military service has become more popular and gained widespread attention in the media. In August 2014, Fort Hood Col. Viet Xuan Luong became the first Vietnamese American general in the U.S. history.[35] For federal elective office, at least four candidates have run for a seat in the United States House of Representatives as their party's official candidate.[36]

Some Vietnamese Americans have recently lobbied many city and state governments to make the former South Vietnamese flag instead of the current flag of Vietnam the symbol of Vietnamese in the United States, a move which raised objections from the Vietnamese government.[37] Their efforts resulted in the California and Ohio state governments enacting legislations to adopt that flag in August 2006. From June 2002 onward, in the USA, 13 States, 7 Counties and 85 Cities have adopted Resolutions recognizing the yellow flag as the Vietnamese Heritage and Freedom Flag.[38][39][40]

During the months following Hurricane Katrina, the Vietnamese American community in New Orleans, among the first to return to the city, rallied against a landfill used to dump debris near their community.[41] After months of legal wrangling, the landfill was closed, which the activists consider a victory, and the Vietnamese-American community in New Orleans became a political force.[42][43] In 2008, Anh "Joseph" Cao, a Katrina activist, won Louisiana's 2nd congressional district seat in the House of Representatives as a Republican, becoming the first Vietnamese American elected to Congress.[44]


Income and employment

Vietnamese Americans' income and social class levels are quite diverse. In contrast to Vietnamese refugees who settled in France, but similarly to their counterparts who arrived in Canada and Australia, refugee arrivals in the United States were often of lower socioeconomic standing in their home country and had a more difficult experience in integration due to greater linguistic and cultural barriers.

Many Vietnamese Americans are middle class professionals who fled from the increasing power of the Communist Party after the Vietnam War, while others work primarily in blue-collar jobs. Initially, occupations of most of first-wave immigrants were low-paying jobs in small services or industries.[45] Overtime, they made efforts to get licensing requirements for their former jobs or retrain in new fields and advanced to middle or upper middle class.[15] In contrast, for second-wave and subsequent immigrants, getting employed was even harder due to their limited educational background and job skills. They mainly found in blue-collar jobs and worked over the clock for their living. Popular occupations held by these refugees were technical jobs, such as electrical engineering and machinery assembling.[16] In San Jose, California, for example, this diversity in income levels can be seen in the different Vietnamese American neighborhoods scattered across Santa Clara County. In the Downtown San Jose area, many Vietnamese are working-class and are employed in many blue-collar positions such as restaurant cooks, repairmen, and movers, while the Evergreen and Berryessa sections of the city are middle- to upper–middle-class neighborhoods with large Vietnamese American populations—many of whom work in Silicon Valley's computer, networking, and aerospace industries. In Little Saigon of Orange County, there are significant socioeconomic disparities between the established and successful Vietnamese Americans who arrived in the first wave and the later arrivals of low-income refugees.

Many Vietnamese Americans have established businesses in Little Saigons and Chinatowns throughout North America. Indeed, some Vietnamese immigrants have been highly instrumental in initiating the development and redevelopment of once declining older Chinatowns, as they tend to find themselves attracted to such areas. Like many other immigrant groups, the majority of Vietnamese Americans are small business owners. According to Survey of Business Owners in 2002, personal services and repair and maintenance are operated by more than 50 percent of Vietnamese-owned firms. The 8-year period between 1997 and 2002 witnessed a rapid growth of Vietnamese-owned business at 50 percent.[46] Throughout the United States, many Vietnamese—especially first or second-generation immigrants—open supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries specializing in bánh mì, beauty salons and barber shops, and auto repair businesses. Restaurants owned by Vietnamese Americans tend to serve ethnic Vietnamese cuisine, Vietnamized Chinese cuisine, or both, popularizing phở and chả giò in the United States. In 2002, 34.2 percent of Vietnamese-owned business were located in California, followed by Texas with 16.5 percent.[46]

Phước Lộc Thọ, the first Vietnamese-American shopping center in Little Saigon, California

The younger generations of the Vietnamese-American population are well educated and often find themselves providing professional services. As the older generations tend to find difficulty in interacting with the non-Vietnamese professional class, there are many Vietnamese-Americans that provide specialized professional services to fellow Vietnamese immigrants. Of these, a small number are owned by Vietnamese Americans of Hoa ethnicity. In the Gulf Coast region—such as Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama—some Vietnamese Americans are involved with the fish and shrimp industries and have accounted for between 45-85% of the shrimping business in the region. However, the dumping of imported shrimp, ironically from Vietnam, has affected their source of livelihood.[47] In California's Silicon Valley, many work in the valley's computer and networking businesses and industries, although many were laid off in the aftermath of the closure of many high-technology companies. Recent immigrants who do not speak English well tend to work in menial labor jobs like assembly, restaurant/shop workers, nail and hair salons. As much as 80% of nail technicians in California and 43% nationwide are Vietnamese Americans.[48] The work involved in nail salons takes skilled manual labor, but requires only limited English speaking ability. Some Vietnamese Americans see working in nail salons as a fast way to build wealth and many will send earnings back to Vietnam to help family members abroad. This concept and economic niche has proven so successful that visiting overseas Vietnamese entrepreneurs from Britain and Canada have also adopted the Vietnamese American model and opened several nail salons in the United Kingdom, where few previously existed. Over years, Vietnamese Americans professions have become more diverse. According to data from the U.S Census Bureau 2012 ACS, 32 percent of Vietnamese Americans have worked in service occupations. Other occupations have attracted many Vietnamese American are management, business, science, and art occupations and jobs in production, transportation, and material moving industries.

Vietnamese Community at Portland Rose Festival parade

Vietnamese Americans have come to America primarily as refugees, with little or no money. While (on a collective basis) not as academically or financially accomplished as their East Asian counterparts, (who generally have been in the US longer, and did not come as war or political refugees but for economic reasons), census shows that Vietnamese Americans are an upwardly mobile group. Although clear challenges remain for the community, their economic status improved dramatically between 1989 and 1999. In 1989, 34 percent of Vietnamese Americans lived under the poverty line, but this number was reduced to 16 percent in 1999, compared with just over 12 percent of the U.S. population overall. A 2012 study showed that the median household income among Vietnamese immigrants was $55,736 which was higher than for the total immigrant population ($46,983).[9]


English proficiency

In 2012, Vietnamese immigrants had higher proportion of those who were Limited English Proficient (68%) compared to other Southeast Asian groups (47%) and the total U.S foreign born population (50%). Only a small percentage of Vietnamese Americans stated that they only spoke English at home (7%), lower than other groups.[9]

Views toward education

According to Vietnamese social attitudes, the educational achievements of children can be considered a source of pride for the whole family. Many Vietnamese parents pressure their children to excel in school and to enter professional fields including science, medicine and engineering because the parents feel insecurity[citation needed] stemming from their chaotic past and view education as the only ticket to a better life. Vietnam's traditionally Confucianist society values education and learning, contributing to success among Vietnamese Americans. Many have worked their way up from menial labor to have their second-generation children attend universities and become successful. Compared to other Asian immigrant groups, Vietnamese Americans are quite optimistic about their children's future. 48 percent of Vietnamese Americans believed that their children’s standard of living will be much better than theirs.[49] According to ACS in 2012, about 23.5 percent of Vietnamese immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher.[7]


While quickly adapting to a new country, Vietnamese Americans have made strong efforts to preserve their traditional culture by teaching their children Vietnamese, wearing their traditional dress- ao dai in special occasions and mastering their cuisine in their own Vietnamese restaurant throughout the U.S. Among culture characteristics values by the Vietnamese, maintaining family loyalty is the most important. Traditionally, there were more than two Vietnamese generations living under one roof. While American families are generally nuclear, Vietnamese usually view family consist of “both maternal and paternal grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins”. When adapting to American culture, most of Vietnamese American families have taken nuclear families pattern while trying to keep close ties with their extended families.[16]

Vietnamese family culture is also reflected in their ancestor worship tradition. On the anniversary of an ancestor's death, or “ngay gio” almost all of families and relatives gather in a festive meal and share stories about their children, works, or community.[15] In a typical Vietnamese family, parents often see themselves having a vital role in the maturity of their children. According to a survey, 71% Vietnamese American parents said that being a good parents is one of the most important things in their lives.[49] Generations of Vietnamese were taught to help their families and relatives members unquestioningly. For many Vietnamese Americans, they have often expressed their concerns for relatives in Vietnam by sending American goods and money as well as being their sponsors for these relatives’ trips or immigration to the U.S. In 2013, total remittances sent to Vietnam via formal channels reached $11 billion, representing a tenfold increase since the late 90s.[9]

Like most Southeast Asian groups, Vietnamese Americans celebrate holidays based on a lunar calendar. Tet is usually considered the most important holiday of the Vietnamese. Occurring at the end of January or in early February, it marks the beginning of the lunar new year. While the full holidays usually lasts up to 7 days, only the first three days are celebrated on which people spend time to visit their relatives, teacher and friends. Also on Tet, Vietnamese people show their gratitude toward their ancestors by preparing memorial feasts with traditional food such as square and round sticky rice cakes ("bánh chưng" and "bánh dày" ) and visiting their ancestors' graves.[15][16][17] For Vietnamese Americans who celebrate their traditional holiday in a new country, Tet celebration is quite simpler. In California, Texas and other states with well-developed Vietnamese communities, Vietnamese Americans celebrate Tet by visiting their relatives and friends and watching community-sponsored dragon dances. Visiting temple or church on this holiday is also a popular activity shared among Vietnamese people around the country.[16][17] Besides Tet, Trung Nguyen (Wandering Souls' Day) occurring on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month and Trung Thu ( Children's Day or Mid-Autumn Festival) held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar are also celebrated by many Vietnamese Americans. On Trung Nguyen holiday, food together with money and clothes made of special paper are prepared to worship the wandering souls of ancestors. Along with Tet, Trung thu may be the most joyfully celebrated holiday by children. They usually form a procession while holding their colorful lanterns and follow the parade of lion dances and drums.[15][16][17]


The plurality of Vietnamese Americans are Buddhist (43%);[2] many practice Mahayana Buddhism,[15][16] Taoism, Confucianism and animist practices, including ancestor veneration, that have been influenced by Chinese folk religion.[50] Approximately 29 to 40% of Vietnamese Americans are Roman Catholic; a legacy of the fear of communism in Vietnamese Catholics from Operation Passage to Freedom.[51] There is also smaller but increasing percentage of those who are Protestants .[50] Like other ethnic groups, there is also a small number of Vietnamese Americans who are irreligious.

There are approximately 150 to 165 Vietnamese Buddhist temples in the United States, with most adopting a mix of Pure Land (Tịnh Độ Tông) and Zen (Thiền) doctrines and practices.[52][53] Most temples are small, consisting of a converted house with one or two resident monks or nuns.[52] Two of the most prominent figures in Vietnamese American Buddhism are Thich Thien-An and Thich Nhat Hanh.[53]

Societal perception and portrayal

As with other ethnic minority groups in United States, Vietnamese Americans have come into conflict with the larger U.S. population, particularly in how they are perceived and portrayed. There have been degrees of hostility directed toward Vietnamese Americans. For example, on the U.S. Gulf Coast, the white fishermen complained of unfair competition from their Vietnamese American counterparts resulting in hostility. In the 1980s, the Ku Klux Klan attempted to intimidate Vietnamese American shrimpers.[54] Vietnamese American fishermen banded together to form the first Vietnamese Fishermen Association of America to represent their interests.

Some studies[55] show that there is a real world basis to the "valedictorian-delinquent" perception of Vietnamese American youth. Based on field work in a Vietnamese American community, social scientists[who?] argue that Vietnamese American communities often have dense, well-organized sets of social ties that provide encouragement to and social control of children. At the same time, these communities are often located in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods at the margins of American society. Vietnamese children who maintain close connections to their own communities are often driven to succeed, while those who are outsiders to their own society often assimilate into some of the most alienated youth cultures of American society and fall into delinquency.[56] Recent studies have indicated that juvenile delinquency among Vietnamese Americans may have increased in the 21st century, as ethnic community ties have weakened.[57]

Ethnic subgroups

While the census data only count those who report themselves to be ethnically Vietnamese, the way some other ethnic groups from Vietnam view themselves may affect census reporting.


A fraction of Vietnamese Americans consists of Hoa people who immigrated to Vietnam during the last few centuries. In 2013, the Hoa made up about 11.5% of the Vietnamese American population.[58] As a result, some Vietnamese Americans also speak fluent Cantonese (although with Vietnamese influence, as the dialect spoken differs slightly from Cantonese spoken by immigrants hailing from Guangdong, China and in Hong Kong). Vietnamese Americans of Hoa ethnicity generally code-switch between Cantonese and Vietnamese when conversing with Hoa immigrants from Vietnam, and are mostly able to speak to ethnic Vietnamese. Teochew, a comparatively obscure language, essentially unknown in the United States before many speakers arrived in the 1980s, is also commonly spoken by another group of Hoa immigrants, but is not used in general discourse. A small number of Vietnamese Americans may also speak Mandarin as a third or fourth language, in some aspects of business and interaction.

The population distribution of Hoa people in the United States varies. For instance, many Hoa immigrants tend to reside in communities where there is a concentration of ethnic Vietnamese (such as in "Little Saigon" in Orange County, California or San Jose), while others have chosen to intermingle and concentrate with Chinese diasporas (namely with emigres from Mainland China and Hong Kong) as can be seen in San Francisco and Los Angeles in California and in New York City.[citation needed]

Eurasians and Amerasians

Some Vietnamese Americans are racially Eurasians—persons of European and Asian descent. These Eurasians are descendants of ethnic Vietnamese and French settlers and soldiers and sometimes Hoa during the French colonial period (1883–1945) or during the First Indochina War (1946–1954).

Amerasians are descendants of an ethnic Vietnamese parent or a Hoa parent and an American parent, most frequently of White, Black or Hispanic (of any race) background. The first substantial generation of Amerasian Vietnamese Americans were born to American personnel (primarily military men) during the Vietnam War (1961–1975). Many such children were disclaimed by their American parent and, in Vietnam, these fatherless children of foreign men were called con lai, meaning "mixed race", or the pejorative bụi đời, meaning "the dust of life."[6] Since 1982, Amerasians and their families came to the United States under the Orderly Departure Program. However, not many Amerasians could be reunited with their fathers and usually arrived with their mothers. In some circumstances, they were even took advantage by going with false families created to escape from Vietnam.[17] Many of these initial generation of Amerasians, as well as their mothers, experienced significant social and institutional discrimination both in Vietnam—where they were subject to denial of basic civil rights like an education, the discrimination worsening following the American withdrawal in 1973—as well as by the United States government, which officially discouraged American military personnel from marrying Vietnamese nationals, and frequently refused claims to US citizenship lodged by Amerasians born in Vietnam whose mothers were not married to their American fathers.[59][60][61] Such discrimination was typically even greater for children of black or Hispanic (of any race) servicemen than for children of white fathers.[62]

Subsequent generations of Amerasians (particularly children born in the United States), as well those Vietnamese-born Amerasians whose American paternity was documented by their parents' marriage prior to birth or by subsequent legitimization, have generally faced a much different, arguably more favorable, outlook.[63]

The American Homecoming Act, passed in 1988, helped over 25,000 Amerasians remaining in Southeast Asia to emigrate to the United States. Nonetheless, although granted permanent resident status, many have yet been unable to obtain citizenship; and many have expressed feeling a lack of belonging or acceptance in the U.S., because of differences in culture, language, and citizenship status.[64][65] The Amerasian Naturalization Act of 2005 would have granted automatic citizenship to many of these Amerasians, but the bill died in committee without being passed.

Ethnic Khmer and Cham

Over a million Khmer and a large population of Cham are native to Vietnam. Some Vietnamese American refugees are ethnic Khmer (Khmer Krom) or Cham.

Notable Vietnamese Americans

See also

Further reading

  • Chan, Sucheng, ed. . The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight, and New Beginnings (2006) 323pp
  • Tran, Tuyen Ngoc, “Behind the Smoke and Mirrors: The Vietnamese in California, 1975–1994” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 2007). Dissertation Abstracts International, 2008, Vol. 69 Issue 3, p1130-1130,
  • Min Zhou and Carl L. Bankston, Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States (1998) New York: Russell Sage Foundation
  • Chung, R. C., Bemak, F., & Wong, S. “Vietnamese refugees’ level of distress, social support, and acculturation: Implications for mental health counseling. Journal of Mental Health & Counseling. 2000; 22: 150–161.


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