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Members of the Thai Association of Southern California pictured with the king and queen of Thailand in Beverly Hills during their visit in 1960. (Courtesy of Nixon Vayupakparnonde)

Thais’ fast-growing influx and their regional concentration in the Los Angeles area is a recent phenomenon that has yet to be thoroughly documented. Thai migration has passed through three stages of the immigration pattern. The first stage, pioneer migration, coincided with the two postwar decades, when only a handful of educated, middle-class Thais immigrated each year. The second stage, group migration, was ushered in by the change in American migration laws; it was marked by a slow but steady increase in numbers and by a gradual change in the composition of the migrant flow. At the present time, the thrid stage, or mass migration, is occuring. Unlike other Southeast Asians, such as the Cambodians and Vietnamese, Thais are not political refugees fleeing persecution or civil strife back home.  

In the summer of 1975, Vietnamese children sing and play Ring Around the Rosie while learning English words. Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps.

Two days before the war ended—on April 30, 1975, when Saigon fell—Marine General Paul Graham received a call that Camp Pendleton was to be one of four military bases to receive a mass influx of Vietnamese immigrants. By the next morning the immigrants had begun to arrive and, in less than 24 hours, the base managed to construct temporary housing, in the form of tent cities, for 18,000 people. Most of the refugees brought only the clothes they were wearing.