“Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon”

In June, the Washington, D.C., Vietnamese American community celebrated the opening of the exhibition “Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon: Vietnamese America since 1975” at the Eden Center in Falls Church, Va. Produced by the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Program and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, “Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon” recounts the journeys of those who left war-devastated Vietnam to begin new lives in the United States.

Photo: (Click on thumnail for fullsize image.) The Fourth of July Parade in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Gerald Martineau for the Washington Post)

Images of overcrowded refugee camps across the Pacific Rim provide a visual starting point, conveying the profound sense of displacement experienced by war-weary people. When the U.S. government opened its gates to thousands of Vietnamese in 1975, emigrants faced the idea of permanent resettlement with a mixture of survivors’ guilt and overwhelming relief. Once here, equality and acceptance were not always guaranteed, but Vietnamese Americans have adapted to life in the United States while maintaining their linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions.
A celebration of cultural diversity, Exit Saigon explores civic and political issues as well as the intergenerational tensions experienced by families as they negotiate new lives in a new country.

Visitors contemplate an exhibit at "Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon" (Photo by Ahyoung Yoo)

Visitors contemplate an exhibit at "Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon" (Photo by Ricky Leung)

“Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon” invites visitors to share and remember the Vietnamese refugee experience. It is significant that the Eden Center, in the heart of the metro area’s vibrant Vietnamese American community, surrounded by shops and restaurants, provides a venue for those visitors less likely to seek out a traditional museum. It is significant that a former shopping center has transformed into an exhibition hall. “Exit Saigon” explores the themes of challenge, contribution and change, emphasizing the vibrant diversity of the Vietnamese-American community. As one longtime supporter of APAHP explains, “America continues to embrace diversity. America’s investment in the Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and 1980s has paid off. The story of the Vietnamese Americans has just begun.”
“Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon” originally opened at the Dillon Center in 2007. It will travel the country until 2010. An online curriculum guide is also available for middle-school students.

Posted: 27 July 2009
About the Author:

Ahyoung Yoo is a M.A. degree candidate at the University of Oklahoma and an intern in the Asian Pacific American Program, where she conducts research on contemporary Asian American art.

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