Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 9 No. 2 | Summer 1987 (Portland) /// Issue 34 of 41 /// Master# 34 of 73

children into the berry fields to earn money for their father’s twenty-six escape attempts before the one that succeeded. Her eldest son, now at Harvard, represents the pinnacle of parental success. “Vietnamese women are like willows,” says Vominh. “They bend low in the wind, but they come back again, straight and tall, at the right time.” LONELINESS IS KILLING THEM As representative as the success tales may be of the strength and versatility of the Indochinese community, they are not the whole story. Refugees have also been compared to disaster victims with the attendant symptoms of shock, grief, helplessness, and psychological numbing against anxiety. Many have great difficulty adapting to the new language and culture in the short time allotted for this purpose. Currently refu- gees are guaranteed eighteen months of standard welfare support before they are expected to become self-suffic ient. Nonetheless their unemployment rate is 35 percent. Bui Thuong, a Clackamas County social worker from Vietnam, points out that this figure is misleading because most Indochinese live in extended family groups in which at least one member is gainfully employed. Such extended families make refugees more self sustaining but also mask poverty and cases of major cultural disorientation. Con Dinh Nguyen, a man here without any of his family, has suffered the consequences of the lack of a kinship network in dealing with the American legal sys- tern. Three years ago, Nguyen was completing a left turn into a parking lot when his rear fender was clipped by an oncoming car. Subsequent negotiations with the driver and his insurance company, | mediated by an interpreter, fed him to : expect a check to cover damages to the car he was driving. After a series of miscommunications and court action, he has been ordered to pay $750 for damage to the car that hit him. He doesn’t understand what happened. A refugee in this situation must struggle against feelings of powerlessness and discrimination. The wound to his faith in the justice of the American system is deeper than the substantial impact on his finances. Nguyen’s ally in this ordeal has been the Reverend Ha Nga “Jimmy” Cillpam, an evangelical pastor from the Montagnard tribes of the Vietnam highlands. Like the Hmongs in the mountains of Laos, the Montagnards were recruited to the American side during the war. After being airlifted out of Vietnam in 1975, Cillpam and an American missionary, John Newman, organized a rescue operation that helped more than a thousand people escape. Headquartered in Portland, Cillpam now spends much of his time in Greensboro, North Carolina, with a community of 200 Montagnards or jetting around the world on behalf of his non-profit organization to aid refugees in camps and resettlement communities. “ Loneliness is the problem that is killing them,” he says of individuals for whom exile is a more painful experience than they willingly admit to an outsider. To survive they try to remain spiritually immersed in their own culture wherever they find themselves. One family lost custody of their fourteen-year-old daughter because she was beaten after they discovered a sexual liaison, a culturally sanctioned action from tl|||L viewpoint that is simply ' illegal here. The physical and political devastation of the war made the region literally un irw \ habitable for hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians associated > ith the American side. Even before the Ame l- s cans withdrew, the war had produced nearly a million ahd a half casualties and •' over ten million refugees in South Vietnam alone. In 1975 130,000 Indochinese, all but 5,000 from South Vietnam, were evacuated to America, in part as a means of restoring the U.S. government’s humanitarian image. According to U.S. Depart- » n t of Health and Human Services figs, the Vietnamese refugee population today slightly exceeds 500,000, and the number of arrivals has leveled off at less than 25,000 per year. Gradual decreases are predicted for the future. The total number of Southeast Asian refugees in America in 1986 was 807,500. Another 800,000 refugees were resettled elsewhere, with the greatest numbers in China, Canada, Australia and France. Oregon’s 18,068 Southeast Asians, at last count, constitute 89 percent of the total refugee population in the state. According to IRCO’s records, one Oregonian in every 135 is a refugee. California has by far the largest population of Southeast Asians—315,400 in 1986; Oregon has the tenth largest group in the nation. The original intent of the resettlement program in the U.S. was to prevent the formation of ethnic clusters, purportedly to facilitate assimilation but largely as a way of deflecting impact on existing communities. After living in camps in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Florida and California, refugees were dispersed throughout the United States. They took it upon themselves to regather into homogeneous communities through what sociologists call “ secondary migration.” Such communities provide economic and emotional support for displaced persons and are bulwarks against the effects of racism and discrimination. Mutual assistance associations, or MAAs, represent an old Indochinese strategy of forming self-help groups wherever they have settled. There are now more than 500 operating in the United States, some with significant power and resources, providing a range of social, educational and economic services. Because most of the leaders of these associations represent the controlling classes of the fallen regimes, they are a kind of expatriate reconstruction of earlier society. Reflecting a preference for investing authority in individuals rather than institutions. MAAs have played a major role in the rapid organization of refugees into cohesive and productive communities here. For those with middle and upper class backgrounds, the incentive to succeed in America motivated by the desfe to / regain lost s ta tu s ^o r others froriyless/ prestigious backgrounds, particularly those from rural areas who have tended to come in l i e latter waves of migration, motivation is more at the level of basic survival and the hope of transcending the old hierarchies. The resulting tensions among^ub-groups are not likely to be observable by the outsider but do result m very different styles of assimilation, perhaps most apparent among the youth population and in the sometimes problematic relations between the first generation of immigrants and their children. WORLD VIEWS IN COLLISION ▼ TThen Vinita Kylin boarded an W \ ] I airlift in Cambodia with her W W / infant daughter and. three- W / year-old son, she d idn ’ t know that she would never ▼ V see her husband again. Six months later she was a working mother in Portland, leaving her children in daycare and eventually holding two jobs to make ends meet. When her son was seven, she realized he was not communicating or responding in a normal way and suspected a hearing defect. But when his teachers told her that at school he was quite verbal and outgoing, she understood that the real problem was that he did not understand Cambodian. Kylin experienced one of the greatest fears of Indochinese parents, the loss of her children’s minds to the dominant culture. She quit one of her jobs and enrolled both children in Cambodian language and culture programs. They balked at first, but eventually developed an appreciation for their national heritage. Kylin tells of one family who lost custody of their fourteen-year-old daughter because she was beaten after they discovered a sexual liaison, a culturally sanctioned action from their viewpoint that is simply illegal here. Relationships between adult and youth generations are now at their most critical juncture. Parents have lived most of their lives in their home countries, while their children are preparing to live their lives here. Many of the adults believe they are fighting for cultural survival. Part of their dream of returning to their own countries is the expectation that their children will go with them and be the generation to redeem their lost rule. Bui Thuong says the younger generation will be the new leaders in the re- habilijation of their own countries, for whicMjhey wilt need both their western | education and their eastern cultural com- I m it rO n t . /JP a s t memories are s t ill strong,” he says, “ and parents want their j children to remember that they still have ( fa f t i ly in Vietnam with whom they will be reunited some day.” Asked if the children share this view, he replies, “ if they don’t, we remind them.” Southeast Asian youth think a lot about the differences between the two cultures and can be critical of both— of Americans as outspoken to the point of rudeness, of Asians as- deferential to the point of self-defeat. Others acknowledge that young people may remain in the west but want them to retain the eastern values of family responsibility and respect for elders that seem lacking among American adolescents. Hongsa Chanthavong, Business Consultant at IRCO, and his wife Kham Phanh , p re s id e n t of the Lao tian Women’s Association, express this moderate view—“ let them select the best from both cultures.” What they like best in this culture is the educational system, in part because they know that in Laos their children would have lowest priority for educational opportunities, but also for its quality. While they may take issue with egalitarian relationships between students and teachers, they praise the collaborative atmosphere in American classrooms and the importance placed on the process of learning rather than test results. It is easy to forget what Indochinese teenagers have been through and the odds against which they struggle in school. They appear cheerful, attractive and cool, distinguished by their own style within contemporary trends, a mixture of Hong Kong and Lloyd Center. It is remarkable to realize that many have arrived quite recently with little or no Eng lish and some times no prev ious schooling, not to mention the ordeals they've been through, the family disruptions they've sustained, and the amount of time they’ve been on the road to get here. These matters aren’t what they are thinking about now, however, or at least aren't what they talk about. They are concentrating on fitting into their own peer culture, the American high school, and like any group of students, they represent a wide range of capabilities and talent. Hy Truong, a senior at Roosevelt High, is one of the exemplary Vietnamese teenagers often featured in the media. An honor student in science, she is president of the Vietnamese Club, treasurer of the National Honor Society, member of a leadership class in community service, and candidate for a university scholarship to study pharmacy. Last year she 14 Clinton St. Quarterly—Summer, 1987