Explore Ethnic Groups - Vietnamese

Vietnam is surrounded by China, Laos, Cambodia, and the South China Sea. Eighty-five percent of the population is ethnic Vietnamese, and the rest is comprised of groups such as the ethnic Chinese, Hmong (or Mong), Montagnards, Tai, Meo, and Cham. Many of these hill tribes have remained distinct, trying to maintain their cultural traditions and languages. The ethnic Vietnamese speak southern, central and northern dialects of Vietnamese, with some variation in vocabulary and phonetics. Their written language uses Roman script with diacritical marks as introduced by French Catholic missionaries in the early 17th century.

The Vietnamese constitute the largest refugee and immigrant population from Southeast Asia, and the 2000 U.S. Census counted over one million people residing throughout the nation. This is a diverse population that arrived in various refugee and immigrant waves or groups, including war brides, international students, 1975 refugees, “boat people,” orderly departure refugees, Amerasians, and former re-education camp survivors. Those who left Vietnam included numerous ethnic Chinese, many of whom escaped as “boat people” after China invaded Vietnam in the late 1970s. Given the lengthy time period over which immigration occurred, some individuals, such as some war brides and international students, have been here for more than 30 years, while others, including re-education camp survivors and their families, arrived more recently. When and how they left Vietnam makes the population extremely diverse in terms of their adaptation patterns and socioeconomic status. There are both affluent families who are financially comfortable and families who struggle to earn a living wage.

The 2000 U.S. Census counted 1,223,736 Vietnamese living in the United States. The majority are in California (484,023) and Texas (143,352), but the population is increasing in states such as Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C./Virginia, Washington state, and other states. The Hmong have established a number of sprawling commercial districts. In Southern California, the interconnected cities of Westminster, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana in Orange County have officially designated themselves as part of a single Little Saigon community. Population clusters in nearby San Diego and Los Angeles counties also have expanded.

In northern California , San Jose has the largest Vietnamese commercial areas. Smaller commercial and residential concentrations exist in Oakland , Sacramento , and San Francisco . Cities such as Boston , Houston , Chicago , Seattle , and Falls Church (Virginia) also have growing commercial districts as more Vietnamese migrate to these areas, where employment is viable and housing is more affordable. As they become socialized to American society and their population concentrations grow, he Vietnamese are learning how they can influence the local political, social, and economic decisions that affect their communities.