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Vietnam to Austin: A Shattered History

It is believed that the history of Vietnam dates back over 4,000 years ago. Because of a thousand years of Chinese imperial domination, much of the Chinese governmental and societal structure was adopted. In the 19th century, European colonial rule and the influence of Buddhism and Christianity shaped the country; however, the Vietnamese still kept alive a vibrant culture and language of their own through poetry and folk traditions.

France withdrew its colonial interests in 1954. Soon after, the United States began supporting the republican government of South Vietnam against the Communist government of North Vietnam. For the next 21 years, Vietnam became a contested battleground and on April 30, 1975, South Vietnam surrendered to the North after the Communist North Vietnamese Army took control of Saigon. The War in Vietnam had a tremendous human impact. American casualties are well documented: 2,500,000 Americans served, 58,135 Americans died in the war, 303,616 were wounded, and 35,000 American civilians were killed. But while Vietnamese statistics are far less exact, the war had a much larger impact on them. Over 1.9 million Vietnamese (North and South) died in the war, 3.2 million were wounded, and over 14 million lost their homes and became refugees. In South Vietnam alone, the war created 300,000 orphans and 131,000 widows. After the fall of Saigon until 1982, more than 1.2 million Vietnamese resettled in 16 countries, including the US. It is estimated that over a million of these immigrants left Vietnam by boat, called “Boat People,” and over 500,000 did not survive the trip.

Community Profile: Nancy Bui

[Nancy Bui and children], undated, AR.2009.048 (156),

[Nancy Bui and children], undated, AR.2009.048 (156), "Vietnam to Austin: Restoring Community" Exhibit Collection

Nancy Bui was a journalist in Vietnam, a country she hardly recognized after the North Vietnamese won the war. Bui was unable to cope with the persecution and oppression she faced as the government interfered and censored her reports about the community and also harassed her family and put her on continual surveillance. She and her children made their harrowing escape on Vietnamese New Year in 1979. Today, she is a tireless community leader and advocate. She served as President of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation and a talk-show host for Vietnamese Public Radio in Austin.