Orange County's Vietnamese community--one of the largest outside Southeast Asia--sees gangs and crime as its worst problems and assistance in learning English as its greatest need.
A sampling of the county's estimated 100,000 Vietnamese residents suggests that nearly two-thirds of them perceive at least some anti-Vietnamese prejudice here, although most say that they have not experienced it personally. On the subject of quality of life, 54% say their lives in Orange County are going "very well," and another 42% say they are going "somewhat well."
These are among the findings of the most recent Times Orange County Poll, a survey of opinions and attitudes in the county's Vietnamese community.
The poll paints a picture of a somewhat insular community, where Vietnamese is the main language in 83% of the households, 76% of the population still has contact with friends and relatives in Vietnam and 61% spend their money mainly in Vietnamese stores and restaurants.
"This is a community with surprisingly strong ties to the people and traditions of their homeland," said Mark Baldassare, the UC Irvine professor whose firm conducted the poll. "It's also a community with little consensus about future relations with Vietnam or the course of assimilation here in the United States. Fears of victimization by fellow Vietnamese and of discrimination by whites dominate the concerns of this group."
Those surveyed were almost evenly divided on whether renewing U.S. diplomatic ties with Vietnam would have a good effect on Vietnamese residents in this country. They also were nearly evenly split on whether they would visit Vietnam if relations between the two nations were to be normalized.
"That's surprising," Baldassare said. "This is perhaps the most heated subject in the Vietnamese community today. To some extent, it's a political issue, but I think it's also a personal issue. Some members of the community see benefits of future ties while others cannot forget the past."
Among the other findings of the poll:
- Slightly more than half of those surveyed disapproved of the recent decision to lower the quota on Vietnamese refugees coming into the United States so that more Soviet refugees could immigrate here. More than one-quarter, however, favored continuing some sort of immigration restrictions on Vietnamese refugees.
- Eight in 10 said they believe that, given the same grades, Vietnamese and white students have an equal chance for college admission.
- Close to two-thirds said their households strongly adhere to Vietnamese customs and traditions, and another 35% said they adhere "somewhat."
- Almost half said the children in their families are not expected to marry someone who is Vietnamese.
The Times Orange County Poll of 400 adult residents was conducted Jan. 21-26 by Mark Baldassare & Associates of Irvine. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.
Those surveyed were asked what they thought was "the most serious problem facing the Vietnamese people in Orange County today." No answer was suggested in the interviews.
Concern on Gangs, Crime
Forty-one percent volunteered that gangs and crime constitute the biggest problems, and the concern was uniform regardless of age, income level or length of residency in the United States. The only variance was by gender; 50% of women considered gangs and crime the most serious problems, compared to 31% of men.
"This is one of the most significant findings of this poll," Baldassare said. "When you find 4 out of 10 mentioning it, it's quite clearly a pressing problem in the Vietnamese community. The issue of crime and gangs in Orange County as a whole is not ever noted as a serious problem by more than 10% of the population (in other polls)."
Said one Vietnamese resident who requested anonymity: "We have a tremendous problem with gang members. They extort money. At the restaurants, they eat free. The owners complain to other Vietnamese but don't tell police. If they tell, the police make arrests, but when these gang members get out on bail, the restaurant has trouble later.
"In Vietnam we would have put them in jail already. We had secret police who could do that. We need them here. I know the law says you cannot stop them and that this is a free country, but they know that, too. That's why it's hard for police to stop them."
Despite the expressed concern about gangs and crime, the desire for better police protection was far down the list of what those who were interviewed thought were "government programs . . . most needed for the Vietnamese people living in Orange County." Only 17% listed police protection as the greatest need.
Employment and business development programs were mentioned by 25% of those asked about the biggest needs of the Vietnamese community, but the largest single segment--33%--said English language classes were the greatest need.
Asked how much prejudice there is against Vietnamese people in Orange County, 23% of those surveyed answered "a lot" and another 39% answered "some"--a total of 62%.
HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED The Times Orange County Poll was conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates of Irvine, which interviewed 400 Vietnamese adults by telephone Jan. 21 to 26. Those surveyed were given a choice of being interviewed in English or Vietnamese.
An equal number of men and women were interviewed in households selected at random throughout Orange County from telephone listings of common Vietnamese names. The sample reflects the age and geographic distribution of Vietnamese households in Orange County. The margin of error for a sample of this size is plus or minus 5%.