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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



This Master’s thesis uses the Indochinese Refugee Foundation of Lowell, Massachusetts, a federally funded social service provider, as a case study in the local politics of Southeast Asian refugee resettlement. I argue that the Foundation’s archives offered an opportunity to study the local implementation of the “economic self-sufficiency” mandate of the 1980 Refugee Act, which led the Foundation to increasingly scramble to get refugees off of the welfare rolls and in the labor market as quickly as possible. I conclude that this served to push refugees into low-wage, unskilled, insecure positions such as electronics assembly, and also led to an institutionalized neglect of the broad range of services refugees required. This neglect had a hand in creating the very poverty the Act originally sought to prevent. The archive also offered the opportunity to highlight two unexpected ways that Cold War militarism reshaped urban landscapes. First, the demography and culture of Lowell were profoundly reshaped by refugees resettled partly as a result of American Cold War foreign policy in Southeast Asia. Second, the expansion of Defense Department funded high-technology temporarily revitalized the city’s economic base and drew refugees to the city with the promise of employment.


First Advisor

Jennifer Fronc

Second Advisor

Christian G. Appy