5th Marianas History Conference Day 7 - 10

Page 105

Operation New Life

Vietnamese Refugees and US Settler Militarism in Guam

By Dr. Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi

University of California, Los Angeles

Abstract: Drawing from archival research conducted at the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) and the Nieves M. Flores Memorial Library, as well as oral histories conducted between 2016-18, this presentation will detail the processing of Vietnamese refugees in Guam during Operation New Life. From April to November 1975, the US military in Guam processed over 112,000 refugees from Vietnam. I argue that the humanitarian rhetoric that newspapers and politicians used to describe Operation New Life in 1975 retroactively justified the US military's presence in Guam, and by extension, positioned Vietnamese refugees in a structurally antagonistic relationship to Chamorro decolonization struggles that challenge what Juliet Nebolon calls "settler militarism." In this presentation I will emphasize moments of cross-racial encounter and refugee refusal, highlighting the stories of Chamorros who played key roles during Operation New Life as well as Vietnamese refugees who expressed agency in the camps.

Hi everyone! I am so excited to be here today. I am tuning in from Los Angeles, California, the traditional homelands of the Tongva/Gabrielino peoples. The title of my presentation today is “Operation New Life: Vietnamese Refugees and U.S. Settler Militarism in Guam.” This research is very personal to me, as my mother and grandmother were Vietnamese refugees who were processed on Guam during Operation New Life.

On 5 April 1975, with the Fall of Saigon imminent, Chamorro Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo sent a telex to President Gerald R. Ford, asserting Guam’s willingness to participate in the “highly commendable humanitarian act” of Operation Babylift and “assist you in the nation’s effort to provide relief for the refugees and orphan children from South Vietnam.”1 Two weeks later, Guam was transformed from a U.S. military outpost for combating communism during America’s War in Vietnam, to the first major U.S. processing center for South Vietnamese refugees displaced by that war.2 Although an unincorporated territory on the 1

Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) Working Papers #68, Inventory of the Paper of Governor Ricardo Jerome Bordallo, compiled by William L. Wuerch, Magdelar S. Taitano, Carmen F. Quintanilla, Darien R. Siguera, Box 31, “Correspondence: Operation New Life, 1975.” Other secondary sources date the latter part of this telegram to March 27 or April 18, suggesting that this language was perhaps used on multiple occasions.

2 Citing

the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, the Ford administration authorized the parole of some 150,000 Vietnamese in 1975. These “parolees” would remain nonresident aliens until legislation reclassified them as aliens admitted for permanent residence. See “After Action Report: Operations New Life/New Arrivals: U.S. Army Support to the Indochinese Refugee Program, 1 April 1975-1 June 1976,” I-A-5.