New York City protest of the racist and sexist images in Miss Saigon, April 1991. The photograph of “My Sister” is of a Vietnamese National Liberation Front fighter from the Vietnam War era. Photo by Corky Lee.
Miss Saigon is a Broadway musical about the romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Originally, Jonathan Pryce and Keith Burns, white actors playing Eurasian/Asian characters, wore eye prostheses and bronzing cream to make themselves look more Asian. From April 1989 to May 1990, nearly 100 shows were produced under the agreement between Equity and the League of American Theaters and Producers. 33 of the shows, with 504 roles, had no ethnic minority actors and 12 other productions had only one or two ethnic actors.
“Vietnamese veterans fighting the battle alongside the U.S. troops were, from left: Maj. Tho Hoai-le; 1st Lt. Cung Pham; 2nd Lt. Viet Dang, and Master Sgt. 1st Cl. Son Truong-Nguyen. Hoai-le says he sometimes hears imaginary blasts, or sees his TV burst into hallucinatory flames.” Photograph dated May 15, 1988.
Nguyen Thi Hung and Nguyen Thieu Anh stand with Nguyen Thi Tuyet Oanh and Phuong Van Hao, from left, during a double wedding ceremony at Camp Pendleton on May 22, 1975. (Photo by Sgt E.A.Manthey / USMC)
The camp would eventually reshape Southern California. Many stayed for the warm weather they were accustomed to in Vietnam. In central Orange County, refugees found cheap housing and plentiful jobs in Westminster, where they erected Vietnamese businesses along the strawberry and bean fields. Today, Orange County is home to 150,000 Vietnamese, the largest such population in the country.
Vietnamese Americans protesting Britain’s forcible repatriation policies in front of the British Consulate, Los Angeles, January 1990. Photo: Nguoi Viet Daily News.
In 1989, the British authorities carried out the first forced return of Vietnamese from Hong Kong, using riot police to herd 51 refugees, most of them women and children, onto an airplane in what they hoped would be a secret nighttime operation. But news of the action was reported and photographed, and it led to an international outcry that so embarrassed Hanoi it refused to accept any more refugees who were forced to return.
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.
Vietnamese religious procession in Versailles, 1975.
Photo Credit: Archdiocese of New Orleans
The name “Versailles” refers to “Versailles Arms Apartment,” the New Orleans East public housing project where a tight-knit group of Vietnamese refugees was first resettled in 1975. The refugees have fled their homes twice already in their life time—first from North to South Vietnam to escape communist persecution in 1957, and then to New Orleans from the war in 1975.
Vietnamese refugees at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, 1975