"The Gift of Freedom" and Other Stories: Narratives about Rescue and Migration during and after the Vietnam War

By Nicole Tiao

Picture of Amerasian Child with Mother

Reproduced for educational purposes from Texas Tech University's The Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive to show an Amerasian family resulting from the Vietnam War.

This website examines different Vietnamese refugee narratives, with a focus on the American salvation narrative regarding Vietnam after American withdrawal. We will emphasize the Amerasian Homecoming Act because, as part of Professor Edward Miller and Professor Bryan Winston’s class on oral history, I conducted an interview with Stephen Le. Stephen left Vietnam in 1992 through the Amerasian Homecoming Act, which helped Amerasians—children of American soldiers and Vietnamese women born during the Vietnam War—and their families immigrate to the United States. An example of a Vietnamese mother with her Amerasian daughter is shown in the picture above.

The American salvation narrative describes the American attempt to redefine the legacy of defeat in the Vietnam War by “saving” its former Vietnamese allies from Communist rule.  We will examine the production of the American salvation narrative in both American and Vietnamese refugee accounts.

We will use Mimi Nguyen’s The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages and Phuong Tran Nguyen’s Becoming Refugee American: The Politics of Rescue in Little Saigon to interpret a collection of oral history interviews with Vietnamese refugees. We will examine the American salvation narrative’s use of “the gift of freedom,” which is the idea that the US bestows freedom to refugees. As Mimi Nguyen discusses, "the gift of freedom" turns freedom into an object of exchange that is controlled and regulated by the US state. Though this site focuses on the "gift of freedom" and American salvation narrative, as we conducted close analyses of refugee stories, we found other narratives appeared that did not cast the US as the savior.

We will begin this website by highlighting the oral history interview with Stephen Le, the starting point for this entire project. We will examine the American salvation narrative present in the Amerasian Homecoming Act. We will specifically analyze the production of the "gift of freedom" narrative and its associated racial hierarchy in American attitudes toward the Vietnam War, the Amerasian Homecoming Act, and refugee narratives. Through this website, we hope to develop a more robust understanding of freedom, questioning American assumptions about its existence, the American role in "creating" freedom, and what freedom means to refugees.