By Ben Jansson
Lesson Title/Topic: Understanding the Vietnamese Journey to America (1975-1990)(Conflict-Journey-Refugee)
Class: 7th grade, Middle School, USA, 28 students
Teacher (T), Questions and Introduction
What is the difference between voluntary and involuntary?
Share picture of a family passing through customs in USA
Immigrant/Voluntary minorities (Noel, p. 88)
Share picture of people fleeing war
Refugees/Involuntary minorities (Noel, p. 88)
Today we will explore the journey of a large number of Vietnamese people as they left
their country following the Vietnam war. Beginning in 1975 many Vietnamese fled their
homeland to avoid ongoing persecution and new regional wars as well as the oncoming
invasion of North Vietnamese communist forces (Rkasnuam and Jeanne Batalova,
2012). Many ended up in refugee camps in South East Asia and from there many
resettled in the United States (among other nations) (Rkasnuam and Jeanne Batalova,
Lets try to understand this particular situation in history, with these particular people in
their particular struggle and then we should be able to see the commonality with others
in similar situations. Because war and displacement are not isolated to this situation
Our activity is in three steps. The three steps of our activity correspond to the three
waves of immigration by Vietnamese to other nations.
Place all student desks to the side of the classroom (out of the way)
Divide class into two groups (7/21)
Group A (7 students/ one side of the room)
Group B, C, D (21 other side of the room and divide 21 into three groups of 7 each)
*(T) Many Vietnamese fleeing their country left a still raging war in 1975, they left their
homes without knowing their future or even how they would survive their journey to a
safer place. North Vietnamese forces were getting closer and closer to occupying the
last remaining areas of South Vietnam. (Rkasnuam, H. & Batalova, J., 2012). The
uncertainty must have been overwhelming.
*Handout bandanas to the three groups B, C, D and ask them to blindfold themselves.
(No peeking please)
Group A Student Reads: The first wave of around 125,000 Vietnamese beginning in
1975 consisted of many people who had helped the U.S. military and the South
Vietnamese military government in the war. They were in danger since they aided the
war against the communist forces. The USA and other foreign governments had to help
get these particular people out of Vietnam. (Rkasnuam, H. & Batalova, J., 2012)
Several Group A students cross the room and bring back all of Group B. (No talking
and Group B remains blindfolded).
Group A Student Reads: The second wave of immigration began around 1976 and
continued into the 1980’s. This group of people became known as the “Boat People”.
Simply named because many fled Vietnam in fishing boats. This group left Vietnam
fleeing a new war with China. The total number of those who reached the safety of other
nations by boat is estimated at around 800,000. However those who died from storms at
sea, lack of food and water and piracy is estimated to be between 200,000-400,000.
(Rkasnuam, H. & Batalova, J., 2012), (Tanaka G. 2020).
Several Group A students cross the room and bring back all of Group C (However
halfway across the room some Group C students are taken to one side of the room and
left there and told they are lost at sea).
Group A Student Reads: The third wave extending into the 1990’s consisted of family
reunification, including families of mixed parentage: half American/half Vietnamese
joining families already in America. Also, some refugees were still in camps in South
East Asian countries from earlier immigration waves. They left for a third country
(including America) in the early 1990’s.
(Rkasnuam. H. & Batalova, J., 2012)
Several Group A students cross the room and bring back all of Group D.
Now group C, who are lost, can be rescued.
All students can take off their blindfolds.
(T) When refugees come to a new country, they may not know the native language, life
may be completely unfamiliar. Simple things at home become impossible tasks. Now,
together, you must work with your group and without speaking unscramble the message
in front of you. It represents a challenge many of these particular refugees may have
experienced in trying to quickly learn a new language and culture. Many refugees from
Vietnam in the late 1970’s, and 80’s were from rural areas and had little English
knowledge (Rkasnuam, H. & Batalova, J., 2012).
All students form groups of 4 (7 total groups).
Each group is handed a worksheet with a simple three word phrase scrambled
Students work together without speaking to unscramble the three word phrase
(Each group has a different three word phrase and there are hints provided)
Part IV Conclusion
Discuss activity, feedback, stimulate more questions to investigate, discuss
Present students with options to explore topic further, websites, books.
Hein Duc Do, (1996) The New Migrants from Asia: Vietnamese in the United States.
OAH Magazine of history. Oxford University Press. Jstor.org, Vol 10, No 4 Asian
American History, pp 61-66.
Tanaka, G (2020) A Vietnamese refugee Tells her story. “Stories of the Present,”
Rancho Santiago Community College Centennial Education Center
Rkasnuam, H, Batalova J. (2012)Vietnamese immigrants in the United States in 2012.
Migration policy institute. www.migration polic.org
Noel J. (2018) Developing Multicultural Educators. Waveland Press, Illinois.