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July 12, 2013

Study: US Vietnamese Tend to Live in Separate Communities

by Trung Nguyen

Vietnamese Americans are as segregated as African Americans, and there has been little change in the trend in the last two decades, according to research by Brown University about the six main Asian groups in the United States.

Census data from 1990, 2000 and 2010 were used to assess the social and economic integration of Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese Americans into the local communities of their adopted land.

In an interview with the VOA Vietnamese Service, John Logan, professor of sociology at Brown University, said it is true that Vietnamese Americans are segregated from whites like most Asian nationalities, except the Japanese.

“On average, across the country, they are almost as segregated from non-Hispanic whites as are African Americans. That’s a surprise because we think of Asians as being much more spatially integrated into communities,” Logan said.

“There are two kinds of sources of this separation. One is presumably that there’s a lot of choice going on, that Vietnamese are choosing, for example, a good place to live in a residential enclave that’s really very Vietnamese. And so the choice to have a better life, in some respects, to support your culture – that’s got to be a big factor. The other factor simply is that in fact there are a lot of Vietnamese who don’t have as many choices about where to live, and they need to live in a community that they can afford and for many immigrants that means living in an immigrant community with cheaper housing, and possibly getting help in finding a low skill job from other people in the community.”

Logan said the Vietnamese are one of the largest minority groups in the United States, and in the last 10 years, there was a growth of about 60 percent to 70 percent in the number of Vietnamese in the country.

In comparison with other Asian groups in the research, Vietnamese Americans had the highest rate of poverty and receipt of public assistance.

The influx of Vietnamese refugees into the United States after the Vietnam War is one factor explaining why they are more economically disadvantaged than other groups.

“Compared to other Asian groups, I would say what is relevant to know, is that Vietnamese on average have lower education, lower income and higher likelihood of being unemployed than other Asian groups,” Logan said. “They’re actually doing pretty well compared to Hispanics or African Americans in the United States. But if you compare them to Filipinos, or Koreans or Chinese, they are not doing nearly as well”.

Logan also noted that there exists great diversity in any ethnic group, and that there are people in the Vietnamese community who are extremely successful.

Many Vietnamese immigrated in the United States as refugees and were unable to reestablish their pre-immigration economic position, the report says.

Professor Nguyen Ngoc Bich, chairman of National Congress of Vietnamese in the United States, echoes that view, saying Vietnamese refugees have faced a lot of hurdles, both financially and spiritually, before they settled down in a new country.

“Indian and Chinese Americans are immigrants who saved for their trip to the United State,” he said.  “Meanwhile, a majority of Vietnamese came to the United States as refugees and without much money.”

“Therefore, they had to rely on each other to survive, as it was difficult for them to borrow from the bank. They had nothing to make a deposit. Vietnamese overcame a lot of difficulties when they first came here”.

Bich, however, said the segregation of Vietnamese should not be overgeneralized, as many people coming from Vietnam are living in different parts of the United States and among local white communities.

Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled Vietnam for the U.S. after the Vietnam War, and many of them took risky trips by boat.

There are millions of Vietnamese Americans living in the U.S., making them the largest overseas Vietnamese community in the world.

This story also appears on VOA's Vietnamese site.