The Yale Undergraduate Research Journal


!e end of the Vietnam War led to the migration of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees to the United States a"er political and economic upheaval. As another result, the refugees’ years of warfare, trauma, death, and injury began to manifest as unprecedented mental health issues that American physicians and researchers sought to understand. In this paper, I argue that American medical professionals— in good faith—operationalized [Vietnamese] culture to help themselves and their colleagues understand the mental health issues of Vietnamese refugees. Yet this operationalization acted as a double-edged sword. Viewing Western mental health discourse through the lens of Vietnamese culture aimed to help experts better understand Vietnamese refugees’ perceptions. But it also acted as a means to exclude, ostracize, and ultimately de#ne the refugee population as the “other.” !rough this inclusion of culture as a player in medical and mental health intervention, the psychological treatment of Vietnamese refugees demonstrates a longstanding tension that surrounds the role of culture, tradition, and ethnicity in public health work.