The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War is considered to be the “war with the difficult memory.” For the United States, it was about being the “liberator” – a fight for freedom and a fight to stop the spread of communism. The Vietnam War is the most unpopular US war in the twentieth century because the US had failed in their efforts to protect South Vietnam from communism. The Vietnam War cost the United States about 58,000 deaths and 350,000 were wounded. There was also between one and two million Vietnamese deaths. About 200,000 Cambodians and 100,000 Laotians died as well. To turn the Vietnam War into a just and successful war, the US provided asylum to many Vietnamese refugees.

As the Vietnam War continued into the early 1970s, the United States targeted major cities in North Vietnam such as Haiphong. The US came under heavy international criticism for putting civilians in danger, but the US said that they were only targeting the North Vietnam military.

In February 1970, National Security Advisor Henry A. Kissinger began secret peace talks with North Vietnam in Paris.

Cambodia wanted to stay neutral throughout the Vietnam War, but on April 29, 1970, South Vietnamese troops went into Cambodia. The US also pursued communist troops who were going through and setting up bases in Cambodia. Cambodia experienced heavy bombing, which was actually ordered by the Nixon administration.

In May 1970, the National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded eight other students during an antiwar protest at Kent State University in Ohio. Some protesters had been throwing rocks and empty tear gas canisters at the Guardsmen. So they opened fire on the crowd of protesters. This shows that there were many people in the US who were against the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

On February 8, 1971, Operation Lam Son 719 took place in Laos. Some South Vietnamese divisions attacked major enemy bases in Laos, but it was actually a North Vietnamese trap. So many South Vietnamese soldiers were killed and injured.

Up until the summer of 1971, Agent Orange was sprayed in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Loas by the US military so that the enemy cannot hide in the weeds or bushes. This was called Operation Ranch Hand. Agent Orange contains a lethal chemical called dioxin. This has caused a lot of damage to the ecology of Vietnam. There is also a connection to reports of cancer, skin disease, and other disorders. The Dow Chemical, who provided the US military with Agent Orange, actually knew of the serious health risks, but they continued to sell it to the US military for use in Vietnam. Many people were crippled or killed due to the use of Agent Orange. Also, some children were born with birth defects.

In October 1972, Henry A. Kissinger announced that peace was taking place, but in December 1972, the North Vietnamese walked out of the Paris peace talks.

In 1972, the US bombers targeted Hanoi and Haiphong. They mined Haiphong harbor to prevent military equipment from reaching the Communists. Also, on November 7, 1972, Quangtri was bombed by the US. This city was very important to North Vietnam because there was an oil pipeline that ran up until 75 miles northwest of Saigon.

Up until 1973, the US has been making efforts to end the conflict between Communist North Vietnam and anti-Communist South Vietnam. On January 8, 1973, North Vietnam and the US continued their peace talks in Paris. In January 1973, the US, South Vietnam, Viet Cong, and North Vietnam signed a ceasefire agreement. Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho signed the agreement. Also in January 1973, US forces were starting to be withdrawn from Vietnam, and US prisoners of war were being released. Despite the Paris Peace Agreement, fighting continued. In March 1973, the last US forces left South Vietnam. For the US, the war was officially over.

Also in 1973, Congress enacted the War Powers Act, which requires the US president to receive Congressional approval before sending US forces overseas.

On April 29, 1975, US Marines and Air Force helicopters began a massive airlift. In 18 hours, over 1,000 American civilians and almost 7,000 South Vietnamese refugees were flown out of Saigon.

On April 30, 1975, the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell to the communists, and the war had ended. South Vietnam had surrendered to North Vietnam, and Vietnam was reunited in the following year 1976. Massive evacuations took place as soon as Saigon fell to the Communists. Soon thereafter, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

In July 1976, Hanoi was named the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Many Vietnamese people, known as “boat people,” fled Vietnam. These refugees escaped on overcrowded and unsafe boats in search of a better life outside of Vietnam. Some boats sank, and some boats even ran into pirates. Many refugees found asylum in other Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. The US also offered asylum to many Vietnamese political prisoners and refugees.

In November 1982, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, was dedicated. Maya Ying Lin, a 22-year old Yale architectural student, designed it. It consists of two black granite walls forming a “V”, and it lists the names of the Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

Many Vietnamese are fairly new immigrants here in the US. Also here in the US according to Yen Le Espiritu, Vietnamese refugees became the anti-Communist model minorities. This is what the US wanted especially since the Vietnam War was not successful for them. Espiritu calls this the “We-Win-Even-When-We-Lose” syndrome. The US focused on the Vietnamese refugees who had the “rags-to-riches” accomplishments. They focused on those who were successful and assimilated into US culture. The US gave them education, opportunities, and social mobility. The US government wanted the Vietnamese to feel that they belonged. But did they really feel like they belonged? Many of the Vietnamese were refugees so they were forced to leave Vietnam with little or no possessions. They had to leave everything behind. Some people were even split from their families. The Vietnamese in the US still had to go through challenges especially in adapting to the new culture here in the US. Many people in the US need to be aware of what happened during the Vietnam War and the challenges many Vietnamese refugees went through here in the US. One’s understanding of Vietnamese American history must go beyond their lives here in the US; they have these other stories of being in Vietnam and leaving or escaping Vietnam.


Espiritu, Yen Le. “The ‘We-Win-Even-When-We-Lose’ Syndrome: US Press Coverage of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the ‘Fall of Saigon.’” American Quarterly 58:2 (2006) 329-352.

Written by Camille Garcia

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The Death of Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin (pictured above) is a Chinese American whose life ended on June 23, 1982, days after he was violently beaten by two white Chrysler autoworkers Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz.

On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was at Fancy Pants, a strip club in Detroit, Michigan, for his bachelor party. Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were also at the strip club – sitting right across from Chin and his friends. Ebens thought Chin was Japanese and blamed him for the troubling US auto industry. According to journalist and activist Helen Zia, the nation’s trade with Japan had been blamed for the closing and cutbacks of many auto plants in Detroit. Ebens actually told Chin, “It’s because you little [censored] that we’re out of work!” So after that remark, a fight took place. A parking attendant broke up the fight, and they were all thrown out of the club. After, Ebens and Nitz actually searched for Chin for about 30 minutes, and they even paid another man to help them. They found Chin at a crowded McDonald’s. So Ebens and Nitz went up to Chin, and Ebens hit Chin’s leg with a baseball bat. Chin tried to escape, but Nitz held him while Ebens hit Chin in the head with the baseball bat at least four times. Some people described it as if Ebens was going for a home run. Ebens was arrested and taken into custody at the scene by two off-duty officers who had witnessed the beating. Chin was rushed to Henry Ford Hospital. He died after four days in a coma, on June 23, 1982. This was also five days before he was supposed to get married.

On March 16, 1983, Wayne County Judge Charles Kaufman found Ebens and Nitz guilty of manslaughter after a plea bargain and sentenced each of them to three years probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court fees. These sentences showed no justice for Chin’s death. No one’s life is only worth $3,780. The prosecuting attorney, Chin’s mother, and many witnesses were not even present at the trial. Judge Kaufman actually said, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail. You don’t make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal.” This verdict angered the Asian Pacific American (APA) community around the country. It seems like because Ebens and Nitz are white they received a very lenient punishment for the crime of manslaughter. It is barely even a punishment. If these men were African American or Asian American, would the sentences be different? Most likely yes. In one of my past Asian American Studies courses, I learned that you could kill a dog and get 30 days in jail, and even 90 days for a traffic ticket.

Helen Zia and lawyer Liza Cheuk May Chan led the fight for federal charges. In November 1983, the US Justice Department filed charges against Ebens and Nitz on two counts – one count for violating Chin’s civil rights and the other for conspiracy. In June 1984, Ebens was found guilty of violating Chin’s civil rights but not of conspiracy. So he was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but he was released on a $20,000 bond. On the other hand, Nitz was cleared of both charges.

In September 1986, a federal appeals court overturned Ebens’ conviction because it was believed that an American Citizens for Justice attorney was coaching prosecution witnesses improperly. In April 1987, the Justice Department ordered a retrial, but this time in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the time, Cincinnati had little exposure to Asian Pacific Americans. Out of 200 prospective jurors interviewed, only 19 said that they had encountered an Asian American, and they were all dismissed. Many people in Cincinnati had little if any understanding of the hatred people in Detroit had against the Japanese. In May 1987, the Cincinnati jury of 10 whites and two African Americans cleared Ebens of all charges. How can a jury who do not have any knowledge of the concerns of Asian Americans judge this trial fairly? In the end, Ebens never served any time in jail for his crime.

In July 1987, a civil suit ordered Nitz to pay $50,000 in $30 weekly installments over the following 10 years, and it also ordered Ebens to pay $1.5 million, at $200 per month for the first two years and 25% of his income or $200 per month thereafter. Ebens never paid any of it.

In September 1987, Lily Chin (pictured above), Vincent Chin’s mother, left the US and went back to Guangzhou province in China because she greatly disliked the legal system of the US. Lily Chin has been fighting for justice for her son since the beginning. She has talked throughout the country trying to make people aware of what happened despite her difficulty in speaking English. Before her death, Lily Chin established a scholarship in Vincent’s memory, which is administered by American Citizens for Justice (ACJ).

Who Killed Vincent Chin? is a 1987 documentary about what happened to Vincent Chin by Renee Tajima and Christine Choy. It was nominated for a 1989 Academy Award for Best Documentary. I highly encourage you all to watch it if you have not already.

In the end, some Asian Americans believed that Vincent Chin’s death supported the idea that they are seen as “perpetual foreigners” and that they will never be true Americans – a feeling of not belonging to the US. His death represented anti-Asian sentiment in the US. Chin’s murder might actually have been the beginning of a pan-ethnic Asian American movement. Many Asian Pacific Americans were motivated to form groups such as the ACJ, a pan-Asian American activist group that actually demanded a retrial against Ebens and Nitz. There were other APA groups such as Chinese for Affirmative Action, Japanese American Citizens League, Organization of Chinese Americans, Filipino American Community Council of Michigan, and Korean Society of Metropolitan Detroit that helped ACJ by staging rallies, organizing demonstrations, and launching a letter-writing campaign to charge Nitz and Ebens with violating Chin’s civil rights. It was also the first time when people who had Asian ethnic backgrounds united as one group of Asian Pacific Americans – they were not just Chinese American, Japanese American, or Filipino American, but they united as Asian Pacific Americans. It was about becoming aware of and standing up against the discrimination and racism directed toward the APA community.


Zia, Helen. (2010). Detroit Blues “Because of You [censored]” In J. Y. Wu, & T. C. Chen, Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader (pp. 35-54). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Written by Camille Garcia

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The Asian American Dream

Since the beginning of the wave of Asian immigrants into the American atmosphere, the Asian population has always had difficulty of integrating into the American society and being recognized as equal American residents. This hardship was due to multiple reasons but mainly because of historical events involving Asian countries and America, pertaining to war, and the fact that they were immigrants. Even though as time elapsed, Asian Americans who were born in America were still having this difficulty of finding their “home within home”. Eventually Asian Americans started to find their voice and advocate against this civil injustice and the American country begun to give recognition to their voice. The beginnings of Asian Americans’ breakthrough of integration didn’t start taking action till the 1900’s. My blog will focus on the breakthrough of Asian Americans into careers that was originally permitted to only White Americans.

The year 1974 was a noteworthy period for Asian Americans and their goal of breaking through the harsh boundaries of government office. During this year, Norman Y. Mineta became the first Japanese American to be elected to Congress. This although was not Mineta’s first breakthrough. In 1970, he was elected mayor of San Jose, California, which made him first Asian American to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city. This achievement was not only significant to the Asian American population but also to himself and his family. Mineta was born in the United States from Japanese immigrants. During World War II, him and his family were forced to relocate to a Japanese American internment camp. From being treated with minimal civil liberties to being looked upon as a substantial office holder this only symbolizes the transformation of the position Asian Americans held in the country.

Not only were Asian Americans breaking through in the positions of government, but they were also breaking through the boundaries of other careers that never before were open for Asian Americans to pursue. For example in 1985, Ellison Onizuka pursued to be the first Asian American astronaut. His first lift off was on the Space Shuttle Discovery mission and after completing 48 orbits around Earth he returned. He then passed away on the Challenger mission due to an explosion. This choice of career was difficult enough for any American to achieve, but for an Asian American to uphold this profession is a momentous step of the goal for Asian Americans to completely integrate into American occupations.

Integrating into these rigid careers was hard enough for Asian American men but what about for Asian American women? Asian American women had even more difficulty into occupying the profession of their dreams because being women alone had less liberties than men, and being of Asian descent had less liberties than of all American descent, so the combination of the two only made Asian American women’s goal of integrating into American-held professions very problematic. This hardship though did not hinder the desire of Asian American females to obtain their aspiration. For example in 1989, Julia Chang Bloch became the first female Asian American U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Nepal.

Asian Americans always fought for their right to full freedom and equal opportunity as an American citizen in the United States. Breaking into rigorous careers that America had to offer was only the first step and beginning to the rise of Asian Americans position and influence in the United States.


Written by Darlina Brockway

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Heritage Week

For centuries of Asians and Pacific Islanders inhabiting within the borders of the United States and becoming a prominent minority group within the American population, it was about time that this community should be recognized officially as an important factor to the history and present day of this country. In order for Asian Americans to feel recognized, some presented the idea of having a period of time within the year in which the country can celebrate and recognize the Asian heritage and culture in the United States. This notion started with a campaign, in the mid 1970’s, in order to obtain Congressional Resolution to assign one week in May and call it Asian Pacific American Heritage Week.

Jeanie F. Jew, who was a board member of the Organization of Chinese Americans, mainly advocated this concept. Her motivation behind this idea was that she was frustrated that Asian Pacific Americans were not included as a recognized society in the celebration of the United States and she wanted to acknowledge the impact that Asians had on the country, such as her great grandfather that helped build the Transcontinental Railroad.

Through government contacts and legislation, in 1977, a couple bills were introduced to call upon the President of the United States to proclaim Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week, starting the week of May 4, 1979. The reason behind this choice of date was due to two significant historical events that took place during that time period. One was the arrival date of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States, recorded as May 7, 1843, and the date of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which was May 10, 1869.

On October 5, 1978, after the bill going through Congress and receiving the optimal amount of supporters, President Jimmy Carter signed the Joint Resolution into law which proclaimed the week of May 4-11 Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. Eventually after ten years of advocacy, the celebrated week was extended to the whole month of May.

This month is celebrated in numerous ways in which the Asian heritage is celebrated and recognized by all the population in the United States. Asian culture is demonstrated through festivals, which displays traditions such as music, art, style, games, food, etc. Every part of the country may celebrate this month slightly different but they all have the commonality of Asian descent in the presentations of culture. This goal of obtaining a period time in the year in which the country can acknowledge and celebrate the Asian American legacy in the United States is one of the biggest achievements for the Asian American community.


Written by Darlina Brockway

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$20,000 in Reparations for the Japanese American Internment

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This order allowed for Japanese people to be placed in “war relocation camps,” more commonly known as internment camps. This act stemmed from racial prejudice against the Japanese. In the first half of the 20th century, waves of Japanese immigrants started coming to America. Japanese people took jobs in the labor and farming industries, and anti-Japanese sentiments grew because Americans believed they were taking their jobs. Anti-Japanese sentiments only increased after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Many people supported the internment of the Japanese. Columnist Henry McLemore said, “I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd ’em up, pack ’em off and give ’em the inside room in the badlands… Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.” McLemore’s comments represented the opinions of many Americans at this time. Even newspapers were blatantly racist against the Japanese. An editorial from the Los Angeles Times says, “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched…. So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere… notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American…. Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion… that such treatment… should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race.” Some people thought that a Japanese person could never be a true American, even if he or she was a loyal citizen of the country.

Internees were housed in “tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind.” An internment camp in Wyoming was a barbed-wire surrounded reserve with unpartitioned toilets, cots for beds, and a ration of 45 cents daily for food. Most were unprepared for the freezing winters in the Midwest and only had the clothes on their backs to keep themselves warm. Many Japanese people came to use the phrase “shikata ga nai,” meaning “it cannot be helped” to describe their resignation to the conditions they were put under. The picture below shows a Japanese family awaiting evacuation.

On December 18, 1944, the Supreme Court claimed Executive Order 9066 unconstitutional because citizens of the United States, regardless of cultural descent, could not be detained without cause. On January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded. The internees were given $25 and a train ticket to return home.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided $20,000 in reparations to the surviving detainees of the Japanese American internment camps. This act was controversial because although it was good that the United States government acknowledged that their treatment of the Japanese Americans was wrong, some people were offended because it was as if the US government thought they could fix everything by paying them off to get rid of the guilt and stigma for what they did. Even today there is anger and resentment about the Japanese internment camps and the prejudice and racism within the United States government. This act signed by Ronald Reagan 44 years after the internment camps ended exposed the shortcomings of our government and how slow we are to act and apologize, but also gave the hope that we are making a positive change towards trying for more equity and unity. This reparation paid provides hope that one day there will be a brighter future for the treatment of Asian Americans in the United States.


Written by Erica Yee

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The Joy Luck Club

In 1989, Amy Tan published the best-selling book, The Joy Luck Club. This book tells the story of four Chinese mothers and their daughters, recounting the stories of their lives both in China and in San Francisco. The characters tell their story in the form of vignettes.

The mothers have deeply moving stories to tell of their lives in China. One mother, An-Mei Hsu had a mother who was raped and became a concubine to a wealthy man. She committed suicide by eating Chinese pastries laced with opium and left An-Mei to her husband’s care. Another mother, Suyuan Woo had to leave her home in China during WWII and abandoned her babies by a tree. These are two examples of the many hardships the mothers had to go through while living in China.

The daughters were born in America, so they have extremely different backgrounds than their mothers. One daughter named June feels enormous pressure from her mother to become a gifted musician as a child and constantly rebels against her wishes. Another daughter, Rose is married to a white man with a racist mother. These life differences make it difficult for the mothers and daughters to understand one another.

A recurring motif is the generational gap and miscommunication between the mothers and daughters. These characters try to see past these differences to understand one another. Another motif is the idea of repeated history. The notion of retelling past stories so that one can learn from the past generation’s mistakes persists throughout the novel.

The Joy Luck Club became very popular and was made into a movie in 1993. It was widely praised by most, but some people criticized the book, saying it perpetuated racist stereotypes about Asians. Whether the impact was negative or positive, the book definitely had an impact on Asian Americans and the way they are seen in society today. This book discussed relationships between mothers and daughters and how cultural differences can negatively affect these relationships as well as teach both sides something about the other. People reading The Joy Luck Club can often relate to the stories being told because many of us have had problems with family due to generational gaps, language barriers, and immigration. This book gives an outsider insight as to what an Asian American’s life might be like. It touched upon struggles people had to go through in China as well as assimilation and cultural differences here in America.

Although this book has been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes, I believe that overall, the impact of this book has been good for our culture. At the time this book was written, there were not very many famous Asian American authors and not enough stories on the lives of Asians. The Joy Luck Club was one of the first books of its time to appeal to a widespread audience. It brings up some serious issues of family relations and the difficulty of cultural and language barriers. Many people, including myself, are able to relate either to the stories presented or to the characters themselves. This book was a stepping stone to having more Asians depicted as three-dimensional characters in the media and in our culture today.


Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Putnam’s, 1989.

Written by Erica Yee

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