VIETNAMESE. Before 1975 the few Vietnamese living in Texas were primarily military personnel sent for training, students, and "war brides." With the collapse of the Saigon regime in April 1975 the first major influx of refugees arrived, some coming directly from Vietnam and others through resettlement camps. Despite the fact that these new residents were mostly well-educated members of the old elite who had been forced to flee from the new communist regime, Texans did not welcome them. Public sentiment as expressed in letters to congressional representatives ran more than ten to one against accepting the refugees. The next large immigration took place in the late 1970s as a result of the arrival of the refugees who escaped the communist regime by boat, the so-called "boat people." These were more varied in their background and included a high percentage of individuals with a Chinese heritage. Since that time many Vietnamese have relocated to Texas from other cities in the United States. The major reasons for moving to Texas were economic opportunities, the nearness of resettlement camps, the climate and geographic similarity of places like Rockport to Vietnam, and, eventually the growth of Vietnamese communities, including support groups, media, and stores catering to their needs. Vietnamese generally moved to urban centers such as Houston, Dallas, and Austin and to seacoast areas. In 1981 Texas had the second largest number of Vietnamese of any state, 40,000, and Houston had more than any American city outside of California. In 1985 the total Texas Vietnamese population was estimated at 52,500, but the actual number was probably larger.
The earliest refugees had held high government or professional positions in Vietnam, but they had difficulties finding similar occupations in Texas, in part due to language, professional requirements, and prejudice. Many moved to other work, including blue-collar jobs and management of small stores and restaurants. The boat people were even less prepared to enter the Texas job market and usually took up blue-collar occupations. Although the majority of the boat people had been farmers, few became involved in agriculture. Fishing grew in importance. Unemployment was high among Vietnamese for the first decade after their arrival, but it declined to less than 5 percent between the late 1970s and 1987.
Most Vietnamese did not gain citizenship until the 1980s. Their memories of Vietnam and the role they played there, however, make them generally strongly anti-communist. Also, because their heritage has made them suspicious of government and the law, it is difficult for the police and census takers to gain their confidence, a fact which makes it hard to estimate their number. The Vietnamese reflect their homeland's varied religious background and are a mixture of Catholic, Buddhist, Confucian, and local sects. Some have joined Protestant churches in Texas due to efforts by local congregations to aid them. Some have congregations of their own, such as Queen of the Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in Port Arthur. The Vietnamese strongly support education, and their children are enrolling in and graduating from high schools and institutions of higher learning at rates higher than most non-Asian ethnic groups. At the same time, the Vietnamese community is attempting to maintain its cultural heritage; population centers such as Austin, Houston, and Dallas cultivate radio, television, theater, martial arts, publication, ethnic shopping centers, ethnic holidays and ceremonies, and other means of maintaining the Vietnamese language and heritage.
The large influx of Vietnamese into Texas cities and towns led to some tension. Originally there were problems with other minorities in housing projects. The 1975 wave of Vietnamese immigrants purchased homes as soon as they were able, but did not concentrate heavily in particular sections of cities, and the housing conflicts of earlier years had relaxed by the late 1980s. Difficulties also developed in fishing industries on the coast. Small Vietnamese shops raised competition in retail business, and cultural differences at work sometimes caused conflict. A common response to these problems has been the founding of organizations such as the Vietnamese Doctors Association, the Vietnamese Students Association, and the Texas Association for Vietnamese American Education, all chapters of national organizations. In Austin an influential association, the Vietnamese Heritage association, was formed in the late 1980s. In 1989, fourteen years after the fall of Saigon and the Nationalist, pro-American government, more than a million Vietnamese had resettled in the United States. After a few years of struggle with the language barrier, many Vietnamese were successful professionals-doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, teachers, engineers, computer programmers. Among them, nevertheless, the "refugees' dream" is strong-the desire to go home and reshape their old country into a free, democratic nation.
John H. Leba, The Vietnamese Entrepreneurs in the U.S.A.: The First Decade (Houston: Zieleks, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Fred R. von der Mehden, The Ethnic Groups of Houston (Houston: Rice University, 1984).