The photographs in the Smithsonian's exhibit "Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon: Vietnamese America Since 1975" capture the desperate journey more than one million Vietnamese refugees made to the United States when Saigon fell in 1975, and the hope they found when they got here. As their country crumbled around them, Vietnamese refugees came here by any means possible. For many, as we see in one photo, that meant climbing over the fortified walls of the American embassy in Saigon, hoping for sanctuary. Others headed out to sea on leaky, overcrowded fishing boats. We see images of the decrepit, weather-beaten vessels, dangerously overloaded with refugees, who became known as the "boat people."
Once they arrived, they were placed in resettlement camps (four military bases) where, as shown by one small boy watching an Ivory soap commercial on television, they were given a crash course in American culture. Other photographs in the exhibit show a Buddhist monk dressed in traditional orange-colored robes, culture groups participating in Fourth of July parades and immigrants returning to their homeland to help those who were left behind. And, in the photo that perhaps most shows the transplants had truly become American, Vietnamese survivors of Hurricane Katrina, once again forced from their homes, sort through boxes of donated clothing and food following the storm.
While "Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon" includes images of Vietnamese refugees suffering hardships, the most captivating photos are the ones that show the happy and hopeful new lives they created for themselves, including a shot of a group at a Tet Festival (Lunar New Year) celebration. They are proudly standing with their American-born children who are wearing traditional costumes, and their Hispanic congresswoman. (Yep, we're a melting pot.) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Through November 30. Houston Community College, 3100 Main. For information call, 713-718-5015 or visit www.vietam.org. Free.
Mondays-Saturdays. Starts: Aug. 21. Continues through Nov. 30, 2008