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While “Laotian” is used in this article, the usual adjectival form is “Lao”, not “Laotian”. However, to avoid confusion with the Lao ethnic group, “Laotian” is commonly used to describe the people of Laos.
The history of the southeast Asian nations of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are both shared and unique. Events in one nation often spilled across mutual borders, affecting people throughout the region, as was the case with the Vietnam War. In addition, all three countries have been influenced by outside nations such as France and China. At the same time, each country consists of different peoples and cultures. For example, while Laotians and Cambodians are predominantly Buddhist, Vietnamese traditionally hold a mixture of Confucian and Taoist beliefs. Moreover, each country has large ethnic minorities living within its borders. For this reason, it is best to treat each nation as individual. However, when it comes to exploring the history of immigration to Canada, the three nations share more similarities than they do differences.
Immigration from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam to Canada is a modern occurrence. The first southeast Asians to journey across the Pacific were Vietnamese students in the 1950s. These students were awarded scholarships by the Roman Catholic Church. Due to France’s long involvement in Vietnam, many Vietnamese spoke French; consequently; most of these students chose to study in Quebec. While some returned home, many continued to live in Canada upon graduating. Until 1975, scholarship students (some also won scholarships through the Colombo Plan) made up the small stream of immigrants from southeast Asia.
The year 1975 was important in the histories of all three southeast Asian nations. It was in that year that Communist parties gained control of all three countries. After years of fighting with first France, then the United States, the Communist North Vietnamese finally took control of South Vietnam. In the same year, Laos’ monarchy was overthrown by Communist forces and the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia, led by the despotic Pol Pot.