Activity 1: Interpreting Images - Vu Min

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A wave of refugees from Vietnam fled their country in 1975. This group of immigrants arrive at a U.S. airport.

In the spring 1975, the United States removed forces from Vietnam and in April, the capital of Saigon was overtaken by the communist forces.  This put numerous supporters of the United States and vulnerable children in danger.  In 1975, the U.S. helped evacuate 125,000 refugees. Two more waves of refugees fled and settled in the U.S. before 1980 when there were 231,000 Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S. As a result of the 1965 provisions for family reunification, a steady stream of Vietnamese immigrants has continued, making Vietnam the sixth-largest foreign-born population in the United States by 2012.

Examine the photograph:

  • What does this image depict? 
  • What are the different ages of the people in the photograph?  What do their various ages tell you about immigration experiences in the 1970s?
  • How did these immigrants travel to the U.S.?  How does that compare to other travel means that you have learned about?
  • Where do you think this image was taken and by whom? Why do you think this picture was taken?
  • Where are the people headed? What do you think will happen next for these immigrants? 
 Min Thu Vu.png

Min Thu Vu came to California from Vietnam in 1975. The audio below details her last hectic days in Saigon.

Vu Min Describes Fleeing Saigon

Vu Min Interview.pdf

Complete transcript of Vu Thu Min's interview.

Read or listen to Vu Min talk about the experience of fleeing Saigon and coming to the U.S. via air. What does her interview tell you about the departure from Vietnam that you can't see from the photograph?

Hensley: And what were the circumstances that led up to it? Why did you choose the United States and how did you feel in general?

Vu Min: "In Saigon, my father taught at the university, as I told you, and I think he was only working part-time as a law attorney. He had quite a lot of American friends in Saigon that he had connections with, and I think he won a case for an American gentleman and taught the last days of April in 1975 while Saigon was very chaotic, because people were starting to leave and we all knew, you know, in our home, that Saigon may fall, but we would have never thought that it fell so quick, see, because it fell on the thirtieth, the last day of April. So, I had the impression that my parents would like to leave, but there were rumors mentioned that to be able to leave, you had to be working for the American government in Saigon or have some connections with the American people to be able to leave, otherwise you have to pay a lot of money to leave and well, my father wasn’t working for the American government or anything like that so. Actually, we didn’t have any hope because we didn’t have enough money either even though we were middle class, but we couldn’t gather such a sum that they asked, you know, to be able to leave. So just one day, that American friend that my father didn’t remember about, he just came to my father and asked whether he would like to leave or not and my father said, “Oh yes, you could be my savior.” So, it was all arranged, but it was kind of terrible because you don’t know anything except you could be leaving at any time. You had to be all prepared. I think that all of us had on hand, you know, a suitcase about this big with some clothes in it, just clothes, because we couldn’t take anything else with us. There were also rumors that they would be all checked at the airport and if you take anything else besides clothes, those would be confiscated. We didn’t put anything in except some clothes, and so I don’t know how long we waited, on week or two weeks, but then on that day, just the kids was home. I was the oldest. My father had a meeting at the University and my mother was at the hair stylist, I remember that. So, when the phone rang and the man at the other side of the phone said, “Well, are you ready? You have to be there at such and such time.” That was fifteen minutes. He only gave us fifteen minutes to be at the place where we would have to be and so, oh my. My mother grabbed her motorcycle and went to the university to get my father and then I rode my [cady]. Well the [cady] is like the motorbike that you see, like the mopeds, so I rode up to the hairstylist and then fifteen minutes afterward we were there. [There was a building] still in the city though and I just remember that it’s just like a private house, but a lot of people were there already and they started to call a list out now and so went then by bus to the airport. At the airport, we had to wait one day and one night before we can board the flight."

Consider the following:

  1. Did gender frame Vu Min's experience? Do you think her experience would have been different if she had not been a young woman at the time of evacuation?
  2. In what ways was her experience shaped by historical events in the 1960s and 1970s?