Refugee Camps

Depicted here is Camp Pendleton, a United States Marine Corps base located near Oceanside, California in the United States within the San Diego County. This base was established in 1942 in preparation for World War II to train Marines and since then, has trained about 200,000 during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In 1975, following the mass surge in Vietnamese refugees after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, Camp Pendleton set up temporary housing facilities to provide shelter for these new refugees while they wait to get processed for resettlement. There were five main camps that were set up alongside Camp Pendleton which were Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and in Guam. 

Life in these camps wasn’t easy for many Vietnamese refugees as they had to learn to adapt to life in the United States. This includes having to take mandatory English classes, learning about the American work environment, cultural adjustment, and learning the importance of economic independence (which aimed at reducing the likelihood of people becoming permanent dependents on public assistance). In addition to this, many camps dealt with overcrowding as each tent on Camp Pendleton housed up to 20 people at a time. To cope with all the challenges faced at these camps as well as the scars left by the recent war, many individuals held on to their connections to family even closer as it gave many the comfort to continue forward with their new lives in a new environment.

Time for recreation was also available for individuals living at these camps. As shown in the image above, children also are able to engage in play with one another. There were also films that people could watch (although they entirely consisted of American films) to pass the time. Meals were also an adjustment for many as the traditional American hot dogs and burgers were drastically different from the traditional dishes in Vietnam as well as the portion sizes oftentimes were too large in comparison. Employment became a factor of concern, as many were pressured to look for opportunities while at the camps so that they could eventually be able to support their family and live somewhere else. Other options for resettlement outside the camps include the use of host families that would take in Vietnamese refugees to help them adjust to American life but also allow them to leave the camps.

Many would reside at these camps for upwards of multiple years before they either chose to resettle in the neighboring community, move back to Vietnam as conditions become safer, or be approved for resettlement at a different country.

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