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State Historical Society of Iowa Press Release

For immediate release December 16, 2009

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

Smithsonian traveling exhibit recounts journey of Vietnamese immigrants

New exhibit opens Saturday; Ceremony marks 35th anniversary of refugee resettlement in Iowa

(DES MOINES) –A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that explores the history of the Vietnamese-American experience in America visits Central Iowa Saturday.

“Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon: Vietnamese America Since 1975” opens Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009, through Feb. 28, 2010, at the State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. Museum hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and official state holidays. Admission is free and open to the public.

In addition, the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Commission on the Status of Iowans of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage will host an event 1-4 p.m. Saturday at the Historical Building to mark the 35th anniversary of the Southeast Asian refugee resettlement in Iowa.

The event will feature comments from former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray, former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth M. Quinn, representatives from the Asian community and others. There will also be Asian-themed performances, storytelling and refreshments. Admission to the event is free and open to the public. Contact Henny Ohr at 515-339-5302 or henny.ohr@iowa.gov for more information. (Event schedule is below.)

“Iowa has a strong historical connection to Southeast Asian immigrants dating back to the 1970s, when so many refugees left their homeland and relocated to our state,” Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said. “I continue to be inspired by their stories and I encourage Iowans and others to visit the Historical Museum to see this wonderful exhibit.”

Iowa’s landscape changed dramatically in 1975 when Ray responded to President Gerald R. Ford’s request to resettle Southeast Asian refugees. Ray permitted 13,000 Southeast Asian refugees to resettle in the state.

Ray has said: “I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die.’ We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation…Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

“Exit Saigon” explores the history of Vietnamese-Americans – who were not always guaranteed equality and acceptance – as they adapted to life in the United States while maintaining their linguistic, cultural and religious traditions.

Divided into six sections, the exhibit steps through the stages of Vietnamese transition into America. From undergoing America’s war in Vietnam to making their mark in American society, Vietnamese-Americans are a vibrant and diverse ethnic group – nearly 1.5 million in number – and an integral part of the American fabric.

By showcasing themes of challenges, contributions and change, the exhibit emphasizes the vibrant diversity of this ethnic community.

“Exit Saigon” debuted in January 2007 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The exhibit was developed by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program (APAP), with Vietnamese-American scholar Vu Pham as the curator, and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The national tour is supported by Farmers Insurance.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of the Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history that are shown wherever people live, work and play.

Commission on the Status of Iowans of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage (CAPI)

 Exit Saigon Event Schedule
Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009
State Historical Museum
600 E. Locust Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50319

 1:00 – 1:30 PM           Welcome, Hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be served

 1:30 – 2:30 PM           Opening Ceremony

  • Masters of ceremony: Alma Reed, Arlene Samona, and Kristopher Walters, CAPI Commissioners
  • Lao Traditional Music with Lanat (Lao Xylophone) by Thomas Vilavong, Director of Lao Natasin Troupe of Iowa
  • Welcome by Director of Cultural Affairs Cyndi Pederson and Director of Human Rights Preston Daniels
  • Opening Remarks by Vinh Nguyen, CAPI Commissioner
  • “A Promise Called Iowa,” Dan Miller and Sara Frasher, IPTV
  • Traditional Vietnamese Dance performance by the youth of Vietnamese American Community of Iowa
  • “We are Family” by The Sayavongchanhs and the Munns
  • “A Life Saving Experience” by Governor Robert D. Ray and Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn
  • Ribbon Cutting

 2:40 – 3:10 PM           Concurrent Workshop I

  • Taidam Dance Troupe, performing the greeting dance “Sae Khan” and “Candles Dance”
  • Iowa Matsuri Daiko, Students of Valley High School of West Des Moines, will perform dances from Ryukyo and Okinawa, Japan
  • “Refugee Experience: Boat People” by Dr. Truc Nguyen, A Vietnamese-American Chemistry Professor at Mercy College of Health Sciences will share his family’s story from Vietnam to Iowa
  • “About Hmong” by Officer Doua Lor and Mrs. A. Lor, the rich Hmong culture and history will be shared. 

 3:20 – 3:50 PM           Concurrent Workshop II

  • Cambodian Dance Group, performing classical dances that preserve the unique Khmer history and culture
  • Gateway Dance Theatre, Bhil – A folk dance interpreting the lifestyle of the Bhils in North India
  • “Journey from Laos to Iowa” by Mr. Khampheng Manirath, a Lao-American artist will use his own hand-drawn book to illustrate his journey from Laos to Iowa
  • “The Taidam – An Untold Story” by Mrs. Siang Bacthi, the history of Tai Country and about Taidam people who were forced to flee to Hanoi, Laos and Thailand to finally resettle in Iowa will be shared


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


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