Professionals who provide special educational services to as many as 10% of the children in the Vietnamese American community will benefit from increased knowledge of this population. This article serves two purposes: (a) to review Vietnamese immigration patterns, history and cultural beliefs, medical traditions, attitudes toward education, and family structure; and (b) to report the results from a survey of Vietnamese Americans regarding attitudes toward disabilities. Specifically, the attitudes of a group of 43 Vietnamese Americans toward children with disabilities are described. Through a discussion of the responses of two immigrant groups to a 29-item survey instrument, the first generation and the group known as the "1.5 generation" revealed their attitudes toward inclusion of children with disabilities and communication disorders. A deeper understanding of the Vietnamese American community might lead some practitioners to offer more appropriate educational programming that is mindful of the children served.
Special educators are interacting with an increasingly diverse population of families who require special services. As teachers enter the 21st century, there is a growing need to become knowledgeable about families from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, in addition to learning the most appropriate educational strategies to serve them. Because of rapid changes in the global economy, immigration policies, and technology, special educators are finding themselves having increased contact with children and families who are culturally different and in need of academic services. In many large and small communities, school providers need to acquire additional knowledge regarding different cultural practices to manage their classrooms appropriately and mindfully.
When professionals seek new knowledge about issues of cultural diversity, there is sometimes the tendency to overgeneralize characteristics associated with one culturally diverse group to all culturally diverse populations. This tendency can be modified through the study of different cultures. An examination of cultural differences shows that different beliefs, values, and communication styles really do "make a difference" in intercultural encounters (Ting-Toomey, 1999). Although it may appear difficult to locate specific literature on a particular population, information is becoming increasingly available from a broader base of researchers, access to specific populations, language differences, and use of interpreters. Barriers to conducting cross-cultural research are slowly being removed (Huer & Parette, 1999). A careful reading of the literature reveals that resources are emerging to assist in understanding populations that have recently immigrated to the United States. One such group is the Vietnamese American population.
Instructional personnel in educational settings may be asked to provide special services to as many as 10% of children within the Vietnamese American community. It is quite probable that many teachers are unaware of traditional Vietnamese medicinal practices and potential interactions between historical religious beliefs and health care. In the first part of this article, a brief summary of the Vietnamese American history, immigration patterns, and family structure is provided to instruct special educators about the culture and traditions of the families they may serve. In the second part, a summary of the responses of Vietnamese Americans is shared so professionals may learn the attitudes of one population they may serve. A group of Vietnamese Americans were willing to communicate with people outside their community by providing personal opinions. Such information is invaluable for practitioners in education and health care because of the scarcity of data pertaining to Vietnamese Americans.
There are several practical uses for such information. First, teachers might review this article to familiarize themselves with Vietnamese American history. Cultural and historical differences between immigrants from different countries should be perceived as important to special educators because an understanding of the values of individuals from different cultures provides accurate information rather than the continuation of old stereotypes and misconceptions. For example, Vietnamese American families are eclectic, tending to borrow remedies from several different medical approaches (Holleman, 1991). A family who only applies home remedies may not be a family who readily seeks the advice of their child's teacher. A family who looks primarily to religious models for explanations of disability may be less inclined to adopt educational models of assistance. The knowledgeable practitioner must understand the changing family practices to provide education to the family about services for which they are eligible. Therefore, this article serves two purposes:
1. to review Vietnamese immigration patterns, history and cultural beliefs, medical traditions, attitudes toward education, and family structure, and
2. to provide the results from a survey of Vietnamese American attitudes toward disabilities.
VIETNAMESE IMMIGRATION HISTORY
Although the Vietnamese American population is an important Asian group in the United States, relatively little is known about its specific history or culture. The population shares some characteristics with other Asian and Pacific Islander groups, yet many aspects of its history and culture are unique. For example, Vietnam was under Chinese control from 111 B.C. to A.D. 939 (Duiker, 1983, cited in Holleman, 1991). At that time, a variety of Chinese beliefs and traditions were introduced to Vietnam, including the religions and philosophies of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, and the system of Chinese medicine. European merchants and missionaries arrived in Vietnam during the 16th century (Holleman, 1991). The French established a political foothold and instituted changes in government and education, including Western medical practices and the introduction of the Latin alphabet version of written Vietnamese.
Large numbers of Vietnamese immediately fled the country with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Most of the individuals in this first wave were upper or middle class, well educated, Catholic, and English speaking (Egawa & Tashima, 1982). Many Vietnamese had originally fled from North Vietnam when the country was divided and had been associated with the South Vietnamese government. These refugees were temporarily relocated in refugee camps in Southeast Asia, then sent to relocation camps in the United States. Although refugees were initially resettled across U.S. locations, many refugees later moved to be nearer to friends or relatives in warm regions of the country (Zhou & Bankston, 1998).
Further events in Vietnam were the trigger for a second wave of immigration. Tension with China prompted many Sino-Vietnamese, primarily from the south, to flee Vietnam (Zhou & Bankston, 1998). Other Vietnamese also left on foot or in leaky boats, facing the dangers of storms and pirates. These "boat people" had less education and lower incomes than the first wave of emigrants, and an estimated half perished in transit (Trueba, Cheng, & Ima, 1993; Zhou & Bankston, 1998). The United States passed the Refugee Act of 1980 in response to this second wave and widened the scope of resources available to assist refugees or individuals who fled their native country and could not return because they feared persecution and physical harm.
The continuing persecution of individuals in Vietnam resulted in a third wave of immigration, constituted primarily of soldiers, political prisoners, and Amerasian individuals (Zhou & Bankston, 1998). Under the Orderly Departure Program of 1979, former military officers and soldiers in prison or reeducation camps were allowed to fly to the United States with their families, resulting in the immigration of 200,000 individuals by the mid-1990s. The Humanitarian Operation Program of 1989 also permitted more than 70,000 current and former political prisoners to immigrate to the United States. Finally, the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1988 allowed the children of Vietnamese civilians and American soldiers to immigrate with their families to the United States. Many of the Amerasian children were orphans who had lived on the street, received no formal education, and been subjected to prejudice and discrimination in Vietnam (Zhou & Bankston, 1998). The Amerasians and their families received instruction in English and other skills in refugee camps before arriving in the United States.
Vietnamese Immigration Patterns Into the United States
Since 1975, numerous Vietnamese immigrants and refugees have entered the United States. In 1997, the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1997) estimated that there were 849,000 Vietnamese in the United States, or 8.4% of the total Asian and Pacific Islander population (Nguyen, Dale, & Gleason, 1998). Projections indicate that Vietnamese Americans are likely to be the third largest Asian and Pacific Islander population by the year 2000.
Half of the Vietnamese American population in the United States resides in California (Zhou & Bankston, 1998). Although originally dispersed across the country, many Vietnamese Americans have internally migrated to the west, south, and northeast. The states with the largest Vietnamese American populations are California (50%) and Texas (more than 10%). The states of Virginia, Washington, Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts, as well as the large metropolitan areas of Houston, Washington, DC, Seattle, and New Orleans, contain Vietnamese American …