Definition of Terms - Southeast Asian Americans

SEAAdoc uses the term Southeast Asian American to refer to refugees and immigrants from three countries: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. This term is imprecise, since some immigrants have come from other countries in the Southeast Asia region. Individuals from these three countries have diverse characteristics, but they share the similar historical, socioeconomic, and political circumstances that brought them to the United States. These circumstances include why they came, when they came, and their resettlement patterns.

We avoid using the term Indochinese, a colonial label imposed by the French on the three countries, because it presently has a negative connotation.

At times the term Southeast Asian is used to identify this group of refugees and immigrants, since many newcomers do not identify with being American. As they become integrated into this country, however, it is important to acknowledge them as U.S. citizens and residents and to distinguish them from those still living in Southeast Asia.

Some individuals do not use either Southeast Asian or Southeast Asian American in their everyday lives, preferring to identify themselves simply by their specific ethnic group. The umbrella terms are nevertheless important for both scholarly and public policy purposes.