The Vietnam War was an immense tragedy for many Americans, but far greater losses were suffered by the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, whose nations were devastated by years of land warfare and bombing. The decades-long diaspora that began at the war's end in 1975 was caused by political and religious persecution and led to the exodus of more than two million refugees. Many of these forced emigrants spent years in refugee camps in Asia. Others, including the "boat people," suffered shocking privations in their efforts to flee. Even those who were fortunate enough to be airlifted to safety in 1975 were faced with starting new lives, often without family, belongings, money, or the ability to make a living, while also adjusting to utterly foreign cultures and climates. More than 30 years later, vibrant Southeast Asian–American communities have grown up throughout the United States, following patterns similar to those of earlier immigrant groups. New generations are thriving, but the road to success is long and arduous.
UC Irvine's Southeast Asian Archive is the most significant collection in the United States that focuses on documenting the refugees and immigrants from the former Indochina—Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. Its national prominence was confirmed by receipt of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2004 which enabled both processing of all archival collections and creation of a digital resource accessible via the Internet.
The archive is a prime example of a collecting effort begun in the right place at the right time, given that the largest expatriate Vietnamese-American community in the world, known as "Little Saigon," is located 12 miles from campus. In addition, 40 percent of the nation's Southeast Asian refugees reside in California. The archive was founded and nurtured almost single-handedly by librarian Anne Frank (who retired in 2007 after 40 years of service to UCI), who was inspired and assisted by members of the local Vietnamese-American community. In the years since the archive began in 1987 as a small collection of pamphlets in a filing cabinet, it has grown to contain more than 3,000 publications, 75 linear feet of vertical file ephemera and serials, and 300 linear feet of archival material.
The archive was founded years before UCI's Department of Asian American Studies was launched in the 1990s. The collection's strength and prominence were significant factors in the successful campaign to establish the program, and the archive has played a central role in research and instruction ever since. Students taking courses in Asian-American, Southeast Asian–American, and Vietnamese-American history visit the archive to locate primary and secondary sources for their research projects. Scholars from throughout the United States and abroad visit to conduct in-depth research.
Anne Frank has received numerous awards from Southeast Asian–American community organizations in recognition of the archive's contribution to the preservation of their history, and the Southeast Asian Archive Advisory Board helps steer a straight course and maintain strong community relations. Finding aids are widely accessible via the Online Archive of California.
Collection profile and Overview: Jackie Dooley
Illustrations: Laurel Hungerford