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Vietnam to Austin: Seeking Refuge

Refugees from Vietnam left in the thousands and arrived at refugee camps in Guam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Many escaped by boat and others would leave through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) that was facilitated by the US and permitted by the North Vietnamese government in 1979. Some refugees made a home in Asian countries, but most would filter into new host countries in Europe and the United States.

Approximately 500,000 Vietnamese people came to the US through the ODP, but arriving in the US was only the first step. The transition for Vietnamese people to American life had many challenges. Charitable organizations stepped in and offered assistance in grappling with the most basic needs such as housing and employment. Vietnamese refugees found Austin welcoming, with willing Americans helping them navigate a place where the language and their lack of resources created enormous barriers to a normal life.

There were about 2000 Vietnamese refugees in Austin by 1980. Many of them received assistance with their transitional period through the Caritas refugee program and the help of their sponsors such as Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church.

Community Profile: Truc Nguyen

[Truc Nguyen], undated, AR.2009.048(123), "Vietnam to Austin: Restoring Community" Exhibit Collection

Truc Nguyen was one of thousands of Vietnamese boat people who embarked on the dangerous seafaring journey to cross the South China Sea. Nguyen left Vietnam in 1980 on an overcrowded small fishing boat, and eventually made it to a refugee camp in Thailand. He was then sent to Indonesia via Singapore to another refugee camp. Like most Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen received sponsorship that enabled him to come to the United States. In his case, his brother had come to the United States years before and facilitated his sponsorship through a Lutheran church in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.  When Nguyen got off the plane in Chicago in the middle of February, he was a strange sight for other travelers. Wearing a coat given to him by Catholic Charities, he still wore sandals. He also struggled to communicate since he knew hardly any English.  A short time later, Nguyen moved to San Antonio, Texas where an uncle lived. There he landed a job in shipping and receiving for a large company and studied English at night. Ngyuen eventually moved to Austin and has been a part of the leadership of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation since its inception in 2004.