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People of Vietnamese Heritage


Chapter 38

People of Vietnamese Heritage Susan Mattson and Larry D. Purnell

Overview, Inhabited Localities, and Topography Overview Vietnam is located at the extreme southeastern corner of the Asian mainland, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea, alongside China, Laos, and Cambodia. With a population of over 90 million in a land mass of 127,330 square miles (CIA World Factbook, 2011), it is relatively narrow in width, but its north–south length equals the distance from Minneapolis to New Orleans. Vietnam consists largely of a remarkable blend of rugged mountains and the broad, flat Mekong and Red River deltas, which mainly produce rice. Other features are a long, narrow coastal plain and other riverine lowlands, where most ethnic Vietnamese live. Much of the rest of the country is covered with tropical forests.

Longevity for females is 74.92 years, and for males, 69.72 years. The fertility rate is a low 1.91 children per female (CIA World Factbook, 2011).

Heritage and Residence The Vietnamese are a Mongolian racial group closely related to the Chinese. The population shares some characteristics with other Asian and Pacific Islander groups, yet many aspects of its history and culture are unique. Vietnam was under Chinese control from 111 BC to AD 939 (Huer, Saenz, & Doan, 2001). At that time, a variety of Chinese beliefs and traditions were introduced to Vietnam, including the religions and philosophies of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. In addition, the system of Chinese medicine was adopted widely. European merchants and mis- sionaries arrived in Vietnam during the 16th century, and the French established a political foothold and instituted changes in government and education, includ- ing Western medical practices (Huer et al., 2001).

The terms Indochinese and Vietnamese are not syn- onymous. Indochina is a supranational region that in- cludes the countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Vietnam alone has eight different ethnic groups, the

majority (86 percent) of whom are Viet (CIA World Factbook, 2011). One factor in providing proper health care to Vietnamese in America is understanding that they differ substantially between and among themselves, depending on the variant cultural characteristics of cul- ture (see Chapter 1in this book). Clear differences exist among Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians with respect to premigration experiences, which influence subsequent manifestations of psychological distress.