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A GENERATION REMOVED | LESSONS AND LEGACIES / 25 YEARS
AFTER VIETNAM

A Generation Removed: WAR REFUGEES FIND A HAVEN IN ORANGE COUNTY AND CHANGE IT FOREVER

Poll Finds Immigrants Feel Increasingly Settled In and Satisfied Here

April 28, 2000|SCOTT MARTELLE and MAI TRAN | Times Staff Writers

As Vietnamese immigrants enter their second quarter-century of life in Orange County, a new poll finds that they have grown increasingly critical of Vietnam's Communist government and more attached to their adopted home.

And while the poll of 400 Vietnamese adults in Orange County found refugees retain close cultural ties to their homeland, they are largely satisfied with their lives here, said Cheryl Katz of Baldassare Associates, which conducted the survey for The Times' Orange County edition.

"Many of them have now lived here for a number of years, and the United States is becoming home to them," said Katz. "They still have strong ties to their homeland. But of those under 35, the majority would choose to stay."

The survey found 43% of Vietnamese in Orange County would remain in the United States if the Communist government fell, up from 36% in a similar 1994 poll.

Among those who would stay is survey respondent Bich Nguyen, 30, who made 13 failed attempts to flee Vietnam before finally leaving legally in 1991.

"I'm very happy to be in a free land," the Garden Grove resident said. "I love my homeland, but I oppose the Communist regime. ... They keep dragging our country down, not striving for progress."

While the percentage who would return to Vietnam remained stable at about 35%, the percentage who are undecided dropped from 28% in 1994 to 22%, reflecting what Katz described as growing attachment to the United States. An accompanying shift of opinion against the government of Vietnam was shown by the share of respondents who have a "very unfavorable" impression of the Communist regime--61% in the current poll, up from 47% in 1994.

The trend might stem from increased communication in recent years after moves toward normalization of trade and diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam, Katz said. The poll found four out of five Vietnamese in Orange County call or write friends and relatives back home.

"There's more back-and-forth between the two nations, and people have a more accurate idea of what's going on there," Katz said.

Lan Nguyen of Anaheim is among those who keep up with news from home via Vietnamese newspapers and broadcasts and through personal connections.

"My friends in Vietnam keep me updated. My friends here also keep me updated. They phone or fax the news," said Nguyen, 54. "Although I live here, my heart is still there ... but I don't like the regime, so I won't go back."

Protests last year over the display of a Communist Vietnamese flag and a photo of longtime Communist leader Ho Chi Minh in a Little Saigon shop and an exhibit of Vietnamese art in Orange County also stirred strong feelings, Katz noted.

Political issues aside, the survey found results that jibe with what sociologists describe as the traditional assimilation pattern of first-wave immigrants gathering into ethnic enclaves for social and economic support. Those enclaves then dissolve over time as succeeding generations forge emotional and cultural links to the new society at the expense of the old.

"It's the great human drama," said Robert Slayton, chairman of Chapman University's history department. "You see things that really match the classic immigrant patterns of trying to build a community and establish local businesses to provide an economic base and services to local people. You go to Little Saigon now and find things you can't find in the standard Ralphs."

The poll found a majority of Vietnamese in Orange County remain loyal to Vietnamese businesses, particularly in the Little Saigon neighborhood of Westminster and Garden Grove, and also depend on Vietnamese-language news and entertainment media.

For example, 57% of respondents feel that Little Saigon is the most important place to them. Although that figure is down from 64% in the 1994 poll, the new survey found 69% prefer doing business with other Vietnamese.

And four out of five receive some or all of their news from Vietnamese newspapers or magazines, 58% listen to Vietnamese-language radio every day and one in four watch Vietnamese videos or movies daily.

Overall, 95% of Vietnamese believe their lives are going well in Orange County, with crime identified by about one-third as the most serious problem confronting their community here. Those results are similar to a UCI survey of Orange County residents as a whole last fall in which 92% said they felt that their lives are going well and 27% said they believed that crime posed the county's most important public policy issue.

For Bao Vu of Garden Grove, the satisfactions of life in America are easier listed than measured. Vu, 70, lives thousands of miles from his homeland but is surrounded by his grandchildren. And he has both his health and his freedom.

"Much more than I would have if I stayed in Vietnam," he said. "Life here has been good. . . . I'm not asking for much because many people's dreams are to come to America, and I am already here."

About the Poll

The poll was conducted by Baldassare Associates for The Times' Orange County edition. The random telephone survey of 400 Orange County adults with common Vietnamese surnames was conducted from March 20 to April 3. Respondents were offered the choice of being interviewed in Vietnamese or English. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Statistically, this means there is a 95% chance that the results would fall inside that range if every adult resident with a common Vietnamese surname in Orange County were interviewed. For subgroups the margin of error is larger.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Vietnamese Life in Orange County

Twenty-five years after the fall of Saigon drove a wave of refugees from South Vietnam to the United States, Vietnamese in Orange County hold strongly to their traditions and language while embracing life in America.

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