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Former refugee turned professor shares her story

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Valerie Valadez
Staff Writer

Yen Le Espiritu, professor of ethnic studies at UC San Diego, discussed Vietnamese refugees and indigenous people on Monday at Pomona College. Around 40 community members filled the Hahn Lecture Hall.

Espiritu came to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee herself in 1975.

“Literature on refugees is so focused on problems,” she said adding she wanted to change the discourse on the topic. This informed her career choice, she said.

After traveling the Pacific, Espiritu said her family landed in the city of Perris.

“I was living in a largely black and brown community going to an under-resourced school,” Espiritu said, adding that this experience also informed her career choice.

Espiritu talked about the Vietnam War where she said the United States made it a mission to rescue refugees.

She then showed slides of images, including two refugee sites that the Vietnamese were placed in during the war in Guam and the Philippines.

Espiritu explained the difficulties that the Vietnamese faced. They had to learn English and job skills that were needed in the U.S.

She described the refugee processing center as the last station they had to be approved at before migrating to the United States.

The people were relocated when the Vietnamese refugees arrived.

“These people were moved farther away from schools, grocery stores, and gas stations,” Espiritu said.

Not only were the refugees being displaced, but the people from the Philippines were being displaced as well.

Espiritu showed a map of the route that her family took as they migrated to the United States.

She said that Canada and Australia along with the United States were places that took in refugees.

Amber Lee, a sophomore math major at Pomona College, said this issue does not get the recognition it deserves.

“I feel like often refugees are victimized, so learning that refugees were being rescued for the better is a great advancement,” Lee said.

Mari Tucker, former director of the Draper Center at Pomona College, highlighted the similar struggles that refugees and indigenous groups faced.

“Both groups were forced to leave their home, so they share an experience of forced migration,” Tucker said.

Valerie Valadez can be reached at valerie.valadez@laverne.edu.

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