The movie Blue Collar and Buddha details the prejudices against Laotian refugees expressed by the citizens of the small town called Rockford, Illinois, and the way in which said refugees handle the discrimination and stigmatization of their presence within the United States as a whole. The documentary is most definitely older because of the inappropriate language the white people used to describe the African American and Laotian populations within their town. For the majority of the scenes, the Americans drank in a bar while they discussed their disgust toward Laotians. The general consensus was that white people believed Laotian and “Indo-Chinese” individuals received enormous sums of money from the government through welfare and existed within a better socioeconomic status than native born citizens such as themselves.
The white people seemed incredibly resentful and harbored anger that could not be expressed intelligently because of their lack of poise and education on the subject. The owner of the bar in particular could not maturely explain her feelings regarding the refugees, therefore, she resorted to distasteful racial slurs. She mentioned that African American and Laotian individuals were able to purchase homes and expensive cars, when she herself who worked tirelessly barely made a living. The majority of Rockford citizens claimed that the refugees did not deserve what they received, and viewed them as immigrants rather than refugees. Refugees are people who are forced to flee their country because of extenuating factors such as religious persecution, economic crisis, or political conflicts, and do not have a choice in the matter. They seek asylum in America because of sheer necessity rather than desire. Immigrants on the other hand have time to make a decision and plan their trip to the United States of their own volition; according to the documentary, refugees have on average between two hours and two days to make a decision to leave their country and come to America because of the immediate danger surrounding them. The white Americans do not seem to understand the extent to which the Laotian immigrants experienced hardships in their nation state, therefore, they cannot sympathize with their struggles. At the same time, some of the resentment of course stems from racism rather than a lack of economic functionality.
Another group of individuals who strongly detest the Laotian presence in the United States is ironically Vietnam War Veterans. On the one hand, the men feel guilt for losing the war and simultaneously ruining the lives of Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese citizens. On the other hand, they are rather angry they must put up with their noticeable presence within American, and even have to compete with them for job opportunities. Some of the men have the audacity to say that Laotian refugees are favored in terms of job opportunities, when in reality, they are very heavily discriminated against specifically because of their ethnicity and nationality. Personally, I believe that, because Vietnam Veterans were not received well upon arrival after losing the war, some of the men take their aggression out on the Laotian refugees who cannot properly speak English; they become extremely frustrated with their lack of language skills, as demonstrated by the one story a Vietnam veteran told in the documentary. He said that one man came into his place of work and demanded that he receive his money, and was acting erratically; the Vietnam Vet had to subdue the Laotian. Following this encounter, the veteran went and got intoxicated; the man was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The Laotian refugees also discussed their association with various religions, including both Christianity and Buddhism. Many of the refugees were Buddhist upon arrival, but integrated aspects of Christianity because of their gratitude towards those who helped them come into America; they became Christians as a symbol of respect. The Laotian immigrants made it quite clear they did not care what religion someone was; forcing a specific cultural practice onto another person was not their intention.
At the same time, the refugees were of course offended and distraught by the instances during which white Americans shot into Buddhist temples with the possibility of killing people. To make the matter worse, the police did not thoroughly investigate the crimes, with one officer even chalking the horrific act to the “work of kids”. Culture is extremely important to Laotian refugees, as seen through their description of the Buddhist New Year celebration, therefore, attacks against their heritage were disappointing for me to learn about. They most definitely did not intend to steal American jobs, nor flaunt their wealth derived from the impoverished American welfare system; they only came to America in hopes of building an acceptable life, which is impossible without even the smallest amount of support from American citizens. Many white people who worked in factories did see Laotian refugees as equal because of their demonstrated work ethic, with one woman calling Laotian immigrants “first-class Americans” who she would let into her home. If the majority of Rockford felt this way towards the refugees, their adjustment and daily lives would be much easier.
I assumed they were talking about Rockford, VA, not Illinois, so I’m glad you clarified that bit! haha.
You say that the movie is obviously older because of the inappropriate language the white people used. I really wanted to reiterate that it’d be ignorant to assume that language isn’t still used today. Obviously, norms and socially accepted slurs and the capacity for them has definitely shifted, but whether you think the probably extra ignorant crowd at the bar, most likely selectively picked by the producers to show the worst of the worst prejudice, expressed their feelings in an “immature” way or not, I don’t think you should lean to immediately invalidating their feelings. Especially in the case of the Vietnam Veteran soldier group, I didn’t find their resentment ironic at all. One man even stated his persistent attempts to become accustom to the Laotian immigrants, and whether that effort was honest or true, which is partially doubtful considering his contemptuous attitude which seems well-established, he opened up about his suffering of PTSD. It actually seems very sensible that they associate their embarrassing loss against the Vietnam Asian natives to anger with other Asian groups immigrating to their homeland after the war. The frustration with the immigrants not speaking English was not exclusive to these war vets, but was also reflected in the Sheirff’s department, and we can assume this frustration is a cultural barrier shared with all of the local people. I will remind you there was debate over whether the law enforcement strenuously investigated the bombings and to be mindful of the bias the documentary was pushing rather than believing the accusation off the bat.
It made me really happy you did recognize the elderly woman in the factory who seemed very welcoming to the Laotian immigrants, promoting equal rights. It shows you did acknowledge both ends of the straw here.
I did really admire the attention you directed when differentiated an immigrant from a refugee and how the American people truly did not care to distinctly the two. In a way as well, I’m not sure I was go as far as saying the Laotian people expected different treatment necessarily because they were refugees and not immigrants, but I definitely think they expecting more sympathy because of that. Surprised by utter resentment by the majority of these ignorant nativists in Rockford, we saw small excerpts of families wishing the Americans would understand their conditions better as a refugee and ultimately reduce such blame they projected and assigned to the Laotians because that would disregard that their immigration was forced and not a choice. Very strong point in your analysis!
Nice job. By the way–there are white people who use this type of language, or even worse, they use more coded language with the same implications.
You make a really good point about why many of the white people of Rockford are uneducated on the experiences of the Laotian refugees and how this affects how they talk about it. Seeing how many of these interviews conflate being an immigrant and a refugee which to them means that they came to take away jobs rather than the intention of fleeing dangers in their countries. Seeing how many of them believe that the Laotian refugees want to flaunt and take wealth from them is frustrating and their behavior towards Laotian refugees is affected by these beliefs.
Unlike the white Americans at the bar, I feel mixed towards the war veterans. On one hand, I believe that both the refugees and the veterans deserve government benefits, and I can see how the veterans are treated poorly by the government both in health and financial benefits. On the other hand, I don’t like how they blame this mistreatment on the refugees rather than the government, I understand that their mental issues from the war affect how they view the Laotian refugees but it still makes me feel uneasy seeing how they talk about them. Unlike the white Americans though, it seems that the veterans have more complicated feelings about the refugees since one of the notes that even though they don’t like the refugees they still don’t like them being severely mistreated.
I agree that if the town treated the refugees like the white factory workers treat them there likely wouldn’t have been as much separation and vitriol between the two communities. It was nice seeing how the factory workers treated the Laotian workers with respect and I wish that more people recognized that not only Laotion refugees are coming from a dangerous situation and do not intend to hurt the community economically.