On being a first-generation Vietnamese American

By Farah Bassyouni Sep 18, 2023

Most people are aware of the fact that after the Vietnam War, Vietnam unified and turned its Southern territory communist. This does not make all Vietnamese communists, at least not publicly. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, many Southern Vietnamese fled to the United States in the hope of escaping their new political leader. This small population of Saigonese refugees carried on the legacy of the State of South Vietnam. This is why, when people come to a Vietnamese American community, they will see a yellow flag with three red stripes instead of the “official” Vietnamese flag which bears a red background and a yellow star. However, it has been 48 years since the original refugees came to America, and the younger generations of Vietnamese in the motherland may not hold any sympathy with those who fled. After the war, the communist government had a strong agenda for social, educational, and economic reforms. meaning that the history of the State of South Vietnam became a memory that only those who lived through it remember. In order to convert Vietnamese citizens to absolute communism, the government must rewrite history. 

This lack of historical knowledge intensified the tensions between Vietnamese citizens and Vietnamese Americans. Before, it was the war between the Northern Vietnamese and the Southern Vietnamese. Now, it has become a secret cold war between the people who lived in the communist society and the refugees’ younger generation. While Vietnamese Americans proudly claim that they are Vietnamese, people in Vietnam disagree to an extent. Many assume that Vietnamese Americans are not allowed to claim they are Viet because they are not living in a communist society. Additionally, most first-generation Vietnamese Americans are anti-communist, which supposedly makes the younger Vietnamese Americans anti-communist as well. Therefore, to prevent anti-communist ideology from emerging into modern Vietnam society, Vietnamese citizens were taught to believe that only communist believers and Ho Chi Minh’s followers are allowed to be considered “Vietnamese”. 

It is quite confusing for Vietnamese Americans and those who migrate to the U.S. They speak the same language, eat the same food and celebrate the same traditions, and only the association with the yellow flag with three stripes makes them non-Vietnamese. For those who migrate to the U.S., like me, it was confusing because, in Vietnam, we were taught that anti-communism is an absolute crime. And to see people proudly repping the yellow flag with my own eyes for the first time blew my mind. Only after I learned more about the objective history of the Vietnam War did I come to realize that it is neither side’s fault. People only know what they are being taught in a society where opposing opinion is prohibited. It is not the younger refugee generation’s fault for “not being communist” because certainly, they would still be considered Vietnamese if the war had not happened and communism was not a requirement to be a Vietnamese citizen. 


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