The Vietnamese Diaspora

Việt Kiều is the name often given to Vietnamese people living outside Vietnam. Of the roughly 3 million Viet Kieu now spread around the world the majority left Vietnam as refugees in 1975 or the years following the Fall of Saigon and the Communist takeover. This exodus is often referred to as the Vietnamese diaspora. Unlike the Jewish diaspora this was not the result of foreign conquest and expulsion. It was the product and outcome of the bitter division within a country fighting to reclaim it’s own national identity. Vietnam was officially and artificially divided by the Geneva Conference in 1954 following the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu. Four years earlier the southern part of the country declared its independence and soon became the Republic of Vietnam.

Vietnam is not homogeneous in either population, geography or climate. There are distinct differences in accent and dialect. Central Vietnam adds a third dimension, because it is not like either north or south in these regards. And, there are two distinct climates. Three years ago we left the hot humid south on a train and a few hours later walked out into a cold drizzly rain that persisted for the rest of our stay in the north.

People in the north feel that theirs is the true Vietnamese culture and people in the south think the people in the north are arrogant and lazy. The situation is not unlike the north and south in America. We had our Civil War and Reconstruction and they had their civil war and re-education camps. There’s plenty of pain to go around and it’s not all gone.

But the “Overseas” Vietnamese, the VK, are bringing their experience with other cultures back to the country they left 40 years ago. Almost every day I meet VK who have come back to find out about where they and/or their families came from and if there is a place and opportunity for them here. My newest VK friend is a 26 year old from Seattle. She grew up dirt poor in White Center, one of the Seattle housing projects left over from the Second World War. But family is everything to the Vietnamese and she and her family scrimped and saved and worked hard to help her succeed. And, she did. She graduated early from Seattle University with a degree in accounting and went to work in the audit department at KPMG. She was on her way there, but she wanted to know more about the place she and her parents left. She bagged the audit job and bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam.

She’s been here a year and a half, tried a couple of jobs, and is now part of a start up software firm in its stealth phase. She’s bright, independent, opinionated, beautiful and VERY confident. Her two brothers are happy in the US, but she needed to find out about Vietnam. She’s found out a lot of things she would rather not have known about Vietnamese men and women and about VK men who have returned. More about that in the next post.

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