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Iowa Public Television

A Promise Called Iowa

A Promise Called Iowa documents how Iowa became a place of refuge and freedom for many Southeast Asians. It tells that story with the people who lived the history: the political and public officials who made it happen, the private individuals who made it work, and the refugees who found a new home in Iowa.

In the summer of 1975, after Saigon had fallen, President Gerald Ford wrote to every governor asking them to help resettle the 130,000 refugees who had escaped from South Vietnam. Iowa's Governor Bob Ray responded. And many Iowans responded to Ray's committment to help.

The first refugees to arrive in Iowa were the Tai Dam, a distinct ethnic group that had been forced out of their homelands in Vietnam, escaped to Laos, and then had to escape again to Thailand. Over time, Iowans would embrace Vietnamese, Cambodians and Lao of differing ethnicities, helping them start a new life in Iowa as the fallout from war in their homelands destroyed many lives.

Ray's humanitarian response started Iowa down a road it is still travelling today. Iowa is the only state with a state government entity certified by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees: the Bureau of Refugee Services. Iowa is the only place where state government, along with the private resettlement agencies, welcomes the dispossessed.

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