SETTLING IN A NEW COUNTRY

Bai An Tran

The Vietnam War ended after the withdrawal of five hundred thousand American soldiers. After that, South Vietnam was overtaken by the North Communist regime on April 30, 1975 . As a result, more than two million Vietnamese had to escape from Vietnam. Half of them arrived in the U.S. as refugees, and they had to overcome many significant difficulties. Among them were the new language, deep depression, and economic problems.

The first difficulty that the Viet refugees had to face was the new language. Language is the key to opening the door to one's new country. During the first days in the USA, these newcomers were blind, deaf, and dumb. They saw many things happening around them, but they didn't understand why. They talked to their neighbors in broken English, but that was not real communication. They listened to the radio, but they comprehended little if anything at all.  They were like persons physically inside the American house, but in reality, still standing on its porch, because they didn't have the key to open the doors. In order to overcome this language barrier, the government encouraged them to attend ESL (English as second language) classes, which were organized in many places such as adult schools, colleges, and universities. Those who enrolled in these classes found the key to integrating into American society.

In addition, the Viet refugees had to deal with deep depression. They escaped from their country in panic, so they left all relatives and friends behind. During the escape, many of them had to accept the risk of death to gain freedom. Many didn't make it. Many others suffered at the hands of  pirates who robbed, raped, or killed them violently. Loneliness, combined with sorrow, led to feelings of deep depression among many Viet refugees, some of whom contemplated suicide. In order to overcome their tragic losses, they tried to live together in Vietnamese enclaves. As a result, many social organizations were formed. Vietnamese pagodas and churches were built in many places. Gradually, several Vietnamese Towns were established around the country where people could find special aspects of Vietnamese culture and begin to feel at home in their new land.

The third problem that the Viet refugees had to overcome was the struggle to survive economically. Almost all of them arrived in this country with empty hands. Having so suddenly lost their homes, belongings, and careers, they had to depend on the financial support of the U.S. government and their sponsors. In order to overcome this difficulty, they attended vocational schools to learn job skills. Also, to deal with harsh economic situations, they stuck with traditional Vietnamese customs  such as limiting all entertainment or hobbies, economizing in their purchases, and keeping all members of the family in the same house. As a result, they eventually saved enough money to buy a home, fulfilling the Vietnamese motto: "first, permanent residence, then a good career."

In conclusion, after 33 years of living in the U.S., Vietnamese Americans have successfully overcome many difficulties of the past to participate in mainstream American society. Now people can meet Vietnamese Americans anywhere. They are soldiers fighting in Iraq; the woman who invented smart bombs being used in Iraq today is a Vietnamese called "Bomb Lady." They are officials in the White House, the Pentagon, the congress, and on city councils. They are movie stars in Hollywood and engineers at NASA. Also, among the victims of 9/11 were some Vietnamese. In U.S. immigrant history, the Vietnamese are now preeminent examples of newcomers who have overcame difficulties and enriched this Promised Land.