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.
As for you last paragraph, I completely agree; going into the film, I did not know what year it was produced and was a bit worried because of the extremely racist and ignorant attitudes of the white people. Now that you point out that it was produced in 1987, I now understand. I in no way believe their treatment of the Laotian population was acceptable just because of the time period, but it is true that people from past generations were not always educated regarding appropriate treatment and, quite honestly, basic human decency, towards those they perceived as “other” within their community. I also found it quite hypocritical that the white people came from immigrant families and had the audacity to condemn others for trying to make a life in another country, especially since they were practically forced from their home. Because of this, the emphasis on the difference between immigrant and refugee is extremely important, but either way, I believe the white citizens of Rockford were insensitive and extremely callous in both their opinions and manner through which they expressed opposition.
You were right to have pointed to the hypocrisy present within the white city-goers’ rhetoric. Fewer than three generations ago, many of these people’s ancestors were coming to America for the first time looking for work. Still, because the Laotians are newer, (and likely also because they’re Asian,) people feel comfortable making disgusting generalizations about them. I was interested in your first paragraph’s comment about religion being a major factor. While I agree with you that the Laotians’ tendency to practice Buddhism may have certainly “othered” them to a degree, I thought religion overall was one of the few areas where Laotians were somewhat respected. Mostly I’m referring to the fact that Laotians often converted to Christianity, and very rarely did I see them receive criticism for that. However, I’m also referring to the fact that any snide comments made about Buddhist practices remained just that. I’ll be honest, as disgusting as it was, I think the attack on the temple was mostly targeted due to the high probability that it would have many Laotians in it at a given time. I could, of course, be wrong, though.
I agree with all of your comments here. Personally, I think I took in the adoption of Christianity by these refugees to be a bit more significant but that is probably because I approached my analysis as looking at the two opposing perspectives. I found it to be very significant in how the white Americans when asked about the Laotians they saw them as estranged and one woman noted that when she began working with them she “didn’t know what they were” showing their resistance towards these outsiders. When talking about religion there was the one woman I remember specifically who said that “I see myself as Christian. And I see myself as Buddhist. I am both” these refugees saw the similarities in religion and used it as a binding between the two in my opinion but I am not positive.
Nice job! I’m glad that you also see connections to today.