This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, when Vietnamese refugees began fleeing their homes and resettling in the United States.
They weren’t always welcomed.
In 1975, then California Governor Jerry Brown opposed the resettlement in Vietnamese refugees in his state. Those refugees were met with the same resistance and opposition that is being directed toward Syrian refugees today. Refugees back then were labeled “communists.” Today, we mistakenly call them “terrorists.”
Though the labels have changed over time, the impact is the same: it instills fear, hostility and hate.
The Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) was formed in the 1970s to respond to short-term resettlement needs facing Vietnamese refugees in Seattle. Dan Evans, the Republic Governor of Washington state at the time, was among the first in the United States to welcome and resettle Vietnamese refugees — an act of kindness and compassion that the Vietnamese community has never forgotten. It was an interfaith effort by churches and community groups that involved Buddhists, Catholics, Christians and secular Vietnamese refugees.
As the Vietnamese community grew and became established in the U.S., VFA broadened our mission to serve a variety of refugee and immigrant communities in education, early learning and civic engagement. Today, we serve nearly 200 refugee and immigrant youth each year. These students speak over 20 different languages and represent numerous countries, cultures and faiths from around the world.
VFA stands in support of welcoming refugees of all backgrounds, including Syrian refugees, to Washington state. We are proud that Washington has been and will continue to be a state that welcomes those fleeing persecution and war, regardless of their nationality or religious affiliation. These are values that VFA’s board, staff and community share. We welcome all efforts that make our community, state and country more inclusive and diverse.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that refugees contribute to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our state. For example, many members of the Vietnamese community are now established home owners, veterans, tax payers, job creators, teachers, civic leaders and much more. They become productive members of society who also serve and protect our country. The Vietnamese community has grown from refugees in desperate need of help, to the ones ready, willing and able to lend a helping hand to new refugees from places like Syria.
This week, our nation will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when we share our gratitude and appreciation of friends, family and community. Let us honor this holiday by showing our compassion and humanity to those in need.