Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Thomas Joel Wilson files on Vietnamese refugees,
Date (inclusive): 1987-1989
Collection number: MS-SEA023
Wilson, Thomas Joel
0.2 linear feet
University of California, Irvine. Library.
Special Collections and Archives.
Irvine, California 92623-9557
Abstract: This collection contains Vietnamese refugees' stories written or collected by Thomas Joel Wilson, and letters from Wilson,
as founder of Project Ngoc and chairman of Project Deliverance, related to the refugee camps in Southeast Asia.
Collection open for research.
Property rights reside with the University of California. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and
their heirs. For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Head of Special Collections and University Archives.
Thomas Joel Wilson files on Vietnamese refugees. MS-SEA023. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine,
California. Date accessed.
For the benefit of current and future researchers, please cite any additional information about sources consulted in this
collection, including permanent URLs, item or folder descriptions, and box/folder locations.
Gift from Thomas J. Wilson, circa 1989.
Thomas Joel Wilson graduated in mathematics from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). In the spring of 1987, he initiated
a new class, designed to let students earn college credit while becoming political activists on behalf of Vietnamese refugees.
The class was inspired by the Santa Ana-based Project Deliverance and the San Diego-based Boat People SOS Committee, two groups
seeking to help people who fled the Communist regime in Vietnam. The purpose of the class, Wilson said, was to mobilize support
for people who escaped Vietnam only to be victimized by Thai pirates, warring factions in Kampuchea and Thailand, and a system
that often kept refugees trapped in Southeast Asian camps for years. Wilson, a former elementary school teacher who was working
at that time on a master's degree in mathematics, sought faculty support for the class because of his increasing awareness
of Vietnamese refugees' problems. For years, close Vietnamese friends had told him harrowing stories about their escape from
Vietnam. Known as "Project Ngoc" or "Project Pearl", the class was actually named after a young girl, a character in a short
story Wilson wrote based on Vietnamese boat people's testimonies. That story, which Wilson photocopied and distributed on
campus in spring 1987, was partly responsible for the success of the class.
Project Ngoc initially started as a course under Biological Sciences. Since University rules did not allow the students to
write letters to representatives or raise money, they decided to help alleviate the tragedies by bringing the project beyond
the limitations of the classroom and by forming an organization in the hope of realizing more concrete projects to assist
the refugees. Students were sent to lobby at the capitol and volunteers went to refugee camps in first asylum countries. There
Wilson met his future wife, Dinh Thi Kim Huyen, who had left Vietnam for Thailand in January 1988 and was detained in the
Ban Thad refugee camp as an "economic migrant." She eventually helped Wilson to learn and translate Vietnamese when he was
working in Site II and Ban Thad camps.
Wilson was also the chairman of Project Deliverance, an organization concerned with the plight of Vietnamese land refugees,
from its inception in 1986. In March-April 1989 he founded a committee to produce a set of recommendations for the International
Conference on Indochinese Refugees, which was to be held in Geneva (Switzerland) in June of that year. Thereafter Wilson became
a Tustin High School physics teacher. Project Ngoc continued as a not-for-profit organization until it was disbanded at the
end of the 1996-1997 academic year as a result of the resettlement or repatriation of most Vietnamese refugees.
Scope and Content of Collection
This collection contains Vietnamese refugees' stories written or collected by Thomas Joel Wilson, and letters from Thomas
Joel Wilson, as founder of Project Ngoc and chairman of Project Deliverance, related to the refugee camps in Southeast Asia.
The collection arranged by form of material and then chronologically.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
Wilson, Thomas Joel--Archives.
Wilson, Thomas Joel--Correspondence.
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975--Refugees--Archives.
California--Emigration and immigration--Archives.
Asia, Southeast--Emigration and immigration--Archives.
Genres and Forms of Material
Index Terms Related to this Collection
Online Archive of California.
Southeast Asian Archive.
The following collections in the Southeast Asian Archive contain related materials:
- Project Ngoc Records. MS-SEA016. Special Collections and Archives.
SEA Archive newspaper clippings vertical file.
Wilson's short story about Ngoc Lan is also available online through the website of the Vietnamese Boat People Connection