The First Wave

The First Wave

Written on 04/16/2021

On April 18, 1975, less than two weeks before the fall of Saigon, President Ford authorized the entry of 130,000 refugees from the three countries of Indochina into the United States, 125,000 of whom were Vietnamese. This first large group of Vietnamese in America has become known as "the first wave." Those in the first wave who arrived in the mid- to late-1970s, typically had close ties with the American military and therefore tended to be the elite of South Vietnam.

According to data collected by the United States Department of State in 1975, over 30 percent of the heads of households in the first wave were trained in the medical professions or in technical or managerial occupations, 16.9 percent were in transportation occupations, and 11.7 percent were in clerical and sales occupations. Only 4.9 percent were fishermen or farmers—occupations of the majority of people in Vietnam. Over 70 percent of the first wave refugees from this overwhelmingly rural nation came from urban areas.

Now, issues of intergenerational differences, family changes, political involvement, and empowerment, as well as the development of economic centers around the United States, are becoming more important for forward-looking Vietnamese Americans. A second- generation of Vietnamese Americans that see themselves as Americans rather than unwilling exiles is emerging. 

"All the same, as Greece turns away Syrian migrants, its Balkan neighbors close their borders, and thousands of asylum-seekers die at sea, it’s worth remembering that decades ago, despite widespread public opposition and xenophobia, a country opened its doors to those seeking safe, dry land. And they, in turn, left a lasting mark on a new home."

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