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Bill to require K-12 study of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Hmong experiences wins backing in O.C.

Bill to require K-12 study of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Hmong experiences wins backing in O.C.
Vietnamese refugees escape by sea from Vung Tau to wait for U.S. ships to pick them up in 1975. (Associated Press)

Fountain Valley’s City Council on Tuesday formally supported a legislative effort to introduce curriculum to teach California schoolchildren about the Vietnamese refugee experience, the Cambodian genocide and Hmong cultural studies.

State Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) authored Senate Bill 895, which would launch social studies lessons about Vietnamese refugees and their experiences in the United States after the 1975 fall of Saigon.

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Studies also would cover the brutal Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot, who oversaw the killing of 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979, and the history and culture of the Hmong people of Southeast Asia, including contributions of the Laotian Hmong who assisted the United States in the Vietnam War-era “secret army.”

The subject matter likely would resonate with tens of thousands of Nguyen’s constituents in Orange County and eastern Long Beach — including Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo, who like Nguyen was one of the “boat people” who fled communist persecution in Vietnam.

Fountain Valley has a significant Asian American, and especially Vietnamese American, population. According to the U.S. Census, about a third of the city’s 57,000 residents are of Asian descent; of those, about 12,000 have Vietnamese heritage.

Fountain Valley’s Cambodian population numbers a few hundred, but Long Beach has about 20,000 of California’s 114,000 people of Cambodian descent, according to the census. About 100,000 Hmong live throughout the state.

If Nguyen’s bill passes and becomes law, California would need to adopt the K-12 curriculum by 2023. The bill has passed the state Senate and was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week. It would need full Assembly approval by Aug. 31 if it is to pass this legislative session.

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