The Making of Tan Dan, New Citizens

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.  This podcast, “The First Wave: Stories from the Camps” shatters the story we were all taught: After the Vietnam War, Americans saved the helpless refugees. 

This podcast tells a different story, one of hope, resilience and adaptability, and told by the first wave of Vietnamese refugees to the United States.  My family was among them. My parents escaped Vietnam on April 30, my mother carried me out as a baby. We eventually landed in Fort Chaffee in northwestern Arkansas. 

In the summer of 1975, the U.S. welcomed more than 120,000 Southeast Asian refugees in the aftermath of a decades-long war in Vietnam. It set up refugee camps in the U.S. for the first time, in four states and Guam.  There, the refugees waited to be resettled with American sponsors all over the country. 

What happens when more than 120,000 Vietnamese show up in the middle of America, and what tensions arise as they navigate life in a new country?


Over five episodes, we’ll hear how and why the refugees decided to leave their country and come to the U.S., while thousands of them chose to return to Vietnam, despite the risk of persecution. In the camps, they put out a daily newspaper and ran a radio station to inform and lift spirits. After leaving the camps, they went to live with sponsors across the country, adjusting to life in America.

Much of what Washington learned resettling the refugees from 1975 helped the U.S. to respond to the largest refugee crisis in U.S. history. Once they left the camps, the Vietnamese rebuilt their lives, seeding “Little Saigons” in California, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere, changing refugee policy along the way. 


Listen now to the podcast trailer: