Eun Jung Park
MCWP 50, Section 759971
14 March 2013
Research Paper Final Draft
What does it meant to be an American? That question in and of itself is already a difficult one to answer. Then, what does it mean to be a Vietnamese American? Vietnamese American is a term to describe a person with Vietnamese ancestral roots residing in the United States. The influx of Vietnamese Americans can be attested to the “Fall of Saigon” on April 30, 1975, which initiated hundreds of thousands of Southern Vietnamese to emigrate out of Communist Vietnam either by boat or by trekking through Cambodia or Laos to reach Thailand (Povell). As a result of this refugee movement during and after the Vietnam War, the definition of a Vietnamese American is still incredibly vague. In order to move forward, America, as a whole, needs to realize that many of the Vietnamese Americans, especially of the second generation, are still haunted by the stories of the experiences from Vietnam and the boat people. Throughout my paper, I frequently utilize certain terms in order to prove my argument. Primarily, the term, “Vietnamese American”, in the context of my work refers to not only those Vietnamese who immigrate to the United States during the refugee movement, but their future generations as well. My essay defines the Vietnamese American community and analyzes their performance in the United States while connecting it to their refuge to America. The term, “boat people” refers to the countless South Vietnamese people who escaped the Northern Vietnamese Communist invasion of April 30, 1975 regime by boat (Povell). Their journey out of Vietnam was brutal as they faced cramped living areas, rough waters, and pirates that raped, pillaged, and killed many. After their nautical endeavors, the Vietnamese were subject to refugee camps scattered across the Pacific Ocean mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Southern Thailand, and Hong Kong. There they were also treated as foreigners, suffering through malnutrition and poverty. In these locations, many Vietnamese refugees, especially children, could not support themselves emotionally and frequently let fear conquer them (Freeman). Fortunately, however, upon arriving in the United States and becoming Vietnamese Americans, the situations of these displaced souls began improving. Therefore, over the years, many have tried to define the term, Vietnamese American, by placing stereotypes, such as the model minority. Yet, these people cannot be subjected to a stereotype. Instead, they carry this burden that they have never fully understood or experienced, yet it defines who they are as a people: aliens in a foreign land, displaced souls undergoing trauma. Through my essay, I will expose the existential condition of exile behind the definition of all generations of the Vietnamese American community and prove that there is a historical phenomenon that can explain their nostalgic emotions surrounding the Vietnamese refugee movement. Upon arriving in the United States, the Vietnamese refugees as well as their future generations have definitely qualified the stereotype of model minority. A model minority is defined as a group of Asian immigrants that upon arriving to the United States have proven to be “intelligent, hardworking, and docile” (“Model”). While stereotypes are usually a negative distillation of a people, the model minority stereotype, in the case of the Vietnamese American community, may be correct to an extent. Notably, Vietnamese Americans have actually proved to achieve academic excellence. According to Children of the Boat People: A Study of Educational Success, the overall mean GPA for Vietnamese Americans is 3.17 (Caplan). This number is relatively high considering that these non-English speaking students had just recently experienced a traumatic Communist takeover, as well as having to adapt to life in a completely foreign country. Nonetheless, the Vietnamese...
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