Blue Collar and Buddha is a documentary released in 1987 that explores a rural, working class community with Laotian refugees and the tension between them. The Laotians, escaping violence, came to the United States, and in this town, began to work at furniture factories, which were in need of labor. The anger from some white residents comes from the perception that refugees have it easy, that they don’t taxes and depend on governmental support, and are economic competition, exacerbated by guilt from losing the Vietnam War. Religion also seems to be a large division between the communities. Laotians are majority Buddhist, and frequently attend the temple, although some also attend church because they are sponsored by Christian churches. The temple is the site of multiple terrorist attacks against Laotian refugees, including pipe bombings. Some theorized the attacks were by a fundamental Christian or a Vietnam veteran, and they found that many of the attacks followed national American holidays. Some residents, however, learned to respect Laotians as hard workers and Americans.
I was alarmed by the ease with which some white residents used racial slurs and how the rhetoric they used is similar to rhetoric used today against immigrants and people on welfare. I was also bothered by the general lack of respect for or “othering” of Laotians in the community. I thought it was interesting that many of the white residents came from immigrant families themselves, and that the furniture factories had previously been run with Swedish immigrant labor, which I feel points out some hypocrisy of the town. I think it was important that the documentary emphasized that refugees are not the same as immigrants, because refugees do not have the time to make a plan and usually have to make the decision to leave very quickly. I also think it was interesting that some Laotians went to church out of feelings of obligation to their sponsors, and I wonder how that impacted their culture and whether it continued into the next generation.