Name to collectively describe the Vietnamese
overseas community (Kieu
means 'to reside' in Vietnamese). Individual members of the diaspora
are known as Nguoi Viet Kieu
The history of the Viet Kieu started well before the Chinooks left the American embassy. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the French recruited Vietnamese as indentured labour, where they worked in places as disparate as New Caledonia and Madagascar. The more privileged went to France for education. Some, like Ho Chi Minh who ended up in Europe, encountering and becoming inspired by various Marxist and Trotskyite movements like the Communist International. One thing led to another and it ended up with the Vietnam War.
Immediately after the fall of Saigon in 1975 many Vietnamese who were associated with the government of South Vietnam sought and received refuge in the United States and France. Four years later a brief war between China and Vietnam triggered another exodus, this time consisting of mostly ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese escaping pogroms, but also other political detainees recently released from re-education camps. Entire families headed out on the open seas, often without any maritime experience, on rickety fishing vessels. If they avoided pirates and bad weather, the lucky ones reached refugee camps in Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
The next step was waiting for resettlement in third countries. Some were sponsored by their families who had already reached a safe haven. Others had to wait for whatever country had places available. While most headed to the United States, Australia or Canada, other countries as different as Japan and Iceland took in migrants.
Meanwhile Vietnamese with sufficient loyalty to the Communist Party were able to get engaged on contract labour work in friendly countries in the Soviet block and the Middle East.
Doi Moi, Vietnam's own perestroika, started in the late 1980s and led to an improvement in both the economy and the human rights situation. The numbers illegally departing Vietnam fell, and were largely economic refugees seeking a better life abroad rather than fleeing political or ethnic persecution. From the early 1990s countries stopped accepting Vietnamese as asylum seekers as a matter of routine. This led to riots at the Whitehead Detention Centre in Hong Kong as a backlog of Vietnamese seeking resettlement grew. Instead, more Vietnamese migrated to the West as part of family reunion programmes.
In the opposite direction came Vietnamese who had earlier been sent to East Germany, Bulgaria and other former Socialist countries, where the local governments had sought their repatriation. Many returned from Iraq just prior to Desert Storm.
There are now around two million Vietnamese abroad. Over half live in the United States, in particular in San Jose, Orange County, San Fransisco and Texas. A further 300,000 live in France, 200,000 in Australia, 200,000 in Canada and 80,000 scattered around the former Soviet Union. The number of second generation Viet Kieu is closely approaching the first, but how strongly they associate themselves as citizens of their adopted country and as kin of Vietnam is often a personal choice. Their own identity is called into question when they return back to Vietnam and encounter the locals, who find it hard to relate to Viet Kieu as either foreigners or Vietnamese. There is still an air of distrust and envy between the Viet Kieu and the North Vietnamese, although the younger generation on both sides are more ambivalent.
The West has benefitted from the talents and industriousness of the Viet Kieu. What remains is to see if the Viet Kieu will be a conduit for Western values into Vietnam - something the Commies don't like. Perhaps the question has already been answered. The greatest irony is that Uncle Ho, the founder of the modern Vietnamese socialist state, was himself a Viet Kieu.