The roots of the Vietnamese Student Union were sewn well before its establishment in 1977. After the Fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975, harsh living conditions and political persecutions prompted the mass exodus of over a million refugees. Political refugees who immigrated to America fled from these difficulties only to face new ones. Many struggled with having to assimilate to American culture and surviving in a new homeland.
After these initial years, more Vietnamese students began enrolling at UCLA. In 1977, Vietnamese students at UCLA formed the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA). The collaborators emphasized the preservation of the Vietnamese culture and heritage. It was through their efforts, such as annual Vietnamese culture nights, that the organization retains its cultural identity. In 1978, VSA established the Refugee Aid Project to ease the transition of political refugees from life in Vietnam to one in America. This project then broke off as an independent organization called the Vietnamese Refugee Aid Committee (VRAC). After many years as independent organizations, VSA and VRAC eventually reconciled that the self-empowerment of Vietnamese students at UCLA was key and decided to rejoin forces. Thus, to reflect this reunification, the two organizations came together to form an organization called the Vietnamese Student Union (VSU).
Thirty-seven years later, VSU continues to seek the preservation of the Vietnamese culture and heritage. This is done through cultural events such as Cà Phê Ấm and Vietnamese Culture Night, two events that allow students to showcase their talents through dance, art, and music. The Vietnamese Student Union also expands its services to cater to the educational, social, and political welfare of the Vietnamese community on campus and off campus. For example, VSU’s Black April Commemoration allows students the opportunity to learn about the Fall of Saigon, each other’s stories, and the political implications of the war.
VSU has two major projects that target the educational needs of the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian community. The Higher Opportunity Program for Education (HOPE) serves at-risk students in Westminster High School in Orange County and San Gabriel High School in Los Angeles. Through the Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention project (SEA CLEAR), VSU offers academic support services, holistic development, and wellness workshops. SEA CLEAR not only prioritizes academics and retention but also addresses issues and struggles relevant to the children of the refugees of war. Together, these projects find ways to use campus resources to respond and contribute to the community’s educational needs.
VSU provides an environment conducive to producing networks for social support among Vietnamese students. With this and various events it puts on, students are provided the opportunity to develop one another as student leaders and potential activists. We hope that these relationships and experiences enrich college life for these students and extend beyond graduation. In all, the organization serves as the official voice of all Vietnamese students on the UCLA campus. It is our ultimate objective to allow this voice to resonate across the entire campus and communities beyond.