An Iowa anomaly: Robert Ray and the Indochinese refugees
This dissertation examines the formation and maturation of the state of Iowa’s refugee resettlement program (1975-2010) during the governorship of Robert D. Ray. Though other Indochinese communities are studied, particular attention is devoted to the Tai Dam because the state resettled them as a cluster. Reasons for starting the program, the legacy of the Vietnam War, and Iowans’ varied responses to refugee intake are detailed. It will be proven that Robert Ray wielded more influence over Indochinese refugee resettlement and relief than any other governor. He established his own resettlement agency, admitted 1,500 boat people, influenced the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, and launched a Cambodian relief program that generated over $540,000. In addition to using archival sources, oral history interviews were conducted with more than thirty refugees and public officials. These oral histories bring to light the Tai Dam’s experiences in Southeast Asia as well as in Iowa. The Tai Dam actively influenced the resettlement process by campaigning for relocation to Iowa as a group. Their cultural background helps to explain the Tai Dam’s successful adaptation to the American Midwest.