A Vietnamese women and her American friend were startled as they walked past a Falls Church storefront recently by screams of "Chink!" and other racial insults from a group of teen-age bystanders.
A newly arrived Indochinese refugee family answering a newspaper advertisement for an Arlinton apartment was told it had been rented. Later that day a social worker, suspicious that racial discrimination might have occurred, was told that the apartment was, in fact available.
During a discussion period an eighth grade social studies class in Arlington bombarded the teacher with questions: Why has America accepted so many refugees, the students wanted to know. Why are refugees getting special treatment and depriving Americans of jobs and housing?
There are just three examples of a disturbing phenomenon area social service workers say is becoming increasingly apparent: an emotional American backlash against the estimated 18,000 Indochinese refugees who have settled in the Washington metropolitan area.
None of the incidents mentioned by more than 15 are officials in interviews was as dramatic as last year's violence in Seadrift, Tex., when a long-simmering dispute over fishing rights resulted in the shooting death of a white fisherman and a wave of firebombings of Vietnamese fishing boats.
Officials say, however, that incidents including racial slurs, instances of suspected housing discrimination, vandalism against Indochina businesses and unprovoked assaults on Indochinese students in local public shools have escalalted recently. They say one underlying cause is resentment by low-income black Americans who must compete for jobs and inexpensive housing.
"There's quite a lot of backlash but much of it shows up in little ways," said Patricia King, director of Project Pair, a federally funded mental health which has the largest refugee population in the Washington area.
"It's very hard to prove discrimination because people are very careful about like, 'Well, we don't rent to Vietnamese.' But in Arlington generally there's this feeling that minorities are not wanted," King said.
"It's the same old baloney about neighborhoods making the decisions about what they want," said Ronald T. Sequin, who until recently was Arlington's Indochinese coordinator. "The truth is, Arlington is very conservative and a lot of people don't want anyone moving in who's different."
"We didn't see a backlash in the beginning, but now it's coming to the surface," said Nguyen Ngoc Bich, an Indochinese community organizer in Arlington.
John Yarling, resettlement director for Arlington's Catholic Charities, agreed. "Sometimes landlords will say they have these income requirements, but at some places those rules just pop up when you mention Vietnamese," Yarling said.
The Washington area currently has the third largest concentration of the estimated 294,000 refugees who have come to the United States since Saigon fell five years ago. (California and Texas have larger Indochinese populations.)
President Carter's decision last year to double immigration quotas and admit 14,000 refugees per month means that the Indochinese population in this area could double by 1981.
In Arlington, the county's estimated 8,000 Indochinese have also established a flourishing and exotic retail center in Clarendon, a rundown commercial stretch along Wilson Boulevard now lined with Vietnamese jewelry stores, groceries and an Oriental department store.
Indochinese community leaders say that several of these businesses have suffered smashed windows, acts of vandalism that they believe to be the work of non-Asians. Arlington police say they have not received reports of these incidents.
Bich said that Indochinese are frequent reluctant to report crimes -- or even acknowledge that they have been victims -- because they fear dealing with any government and believe reporting will only bring fruther reprisals.
But while local officials say antirefugee sentiment is growing, some federal officials charged with overseeing the resettlement effort, estimated at $1 billion this year, say they are unaware of such problems.
"I'm not aware of any great problems [with backlash] out there," said Derek Schoen, a spokesman for the newly reorganized and expaned Office of Refugee Affairs at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. "There's a lot of community support for the refugees."
That assessment is not shared by some local officials who work directly with refugees on a daily basis.
It also contradicts a recent report by HEW's inspector general, which says that "negative public opinion is increasing significantly" and that "given existing programs and resources . . . continued tension" is likely. "This is becoming an intensely emotional issue," the report said.
Some officials, including susan Eisler, directory of Northern Virginia Family Service, see the backlash as the fallout from an unpopular war many Americans would rather forget. Refugees are a constant reminder of that legacy, they say.
Few examples of backlash are as blatant as that of the unidentified woman called The Washington Post to express her approval of a grisly hit-and-run accident in Manasas in which an 8-year-old Vietnamese girl was killed.
It "served the girl right," the caller said. "They ought not be here in the first damn place. I live in Arlington and I'm sick of seeing those slopes [derogatory slang for Indochinese]. They don't even have sense enough to stay out of streets."
"Mostly it's a quiet sort of thing," said Jack Hiland, associate director of the Montgomery County Department of Social Services. "People don't jump up at County Council meetings and sceam aabout the presence of refugees. But we've gotten a lot of resentment from our regular clients who've been on the welfare rolls for a long while, that regugees are using up funds getting special treatment."
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter L. Frankland Jr. said that while "people have made off-the-cuff type of comments to me that there are already too many refugees in Arlington, no one has said anything in an official capacity."
But last month, in its official capacity, the board unanimously rejected a request by the Metropolitan Washington YMCA for approval of a temporary shelter that would house two refugee families per month -- not more than 12 persons -- to be located in a neighborhood of $150,000 homes near the Falls Church boundary.
The YMCA proposal, which was endorsed by the county Planning Commission, the professional planning staff and approved for safety by the fire marshal, also initially recieved the backing of two civic associations, including the one where the shelter would be located.
The approval was withdrawn after more than 20 residents, mobilized in a last-minute campaign, turned out and urged the board to reject the proposal, although the neighborhood also contains a group home for mentally retarded adults.
"We're not opposed to the refugees problem," one resident told the board, saying that he feared instead that approval of the shelter would creat "a barracks that would have a catastrophic effect on every single-family neighborhood in Arlington" and would have "a domino effect that could never be reversed."
In voting down the proposal, Frankland echoed the fears of many who testified that the 12 refugees, many of whom had spent weeks aboard leaky boats escaping from Indochina and months in squalid refugee camps, might be "overcrowded" in the four-story, five-bedroom house. County codes permit a 14-member family to occupy the house.
"I can't imagine trying to run one house with two families," said Frankland, who recalled his salad days as a young Army officer when he and his wife shared a kitchen with their landlord. "That was some experience." Frankland said ruefully, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
But some see the rejection as the most insidious form of backlash, a kind of subtle discrimination that is hard to prove and even harder to combat.
In the past 15 years Arlington has changed dramatically from the a nearly all-white suburb peopled by retired military personnel and upwardly mobile bureaucrats and their families to an urban county with a large foreign-born population consisting of Indochinese , Hispanics, Koreans and Arabs.
Some say the growing backlash results from the fear that the refugee influx will mean higher taxes at a time when American's middle class is feeling financially strapped.
"The refugee program was oversold and underfunded," said Roger conner, director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "When the Carter administration decided to double immigration quotas it did not calculate or advertise the costs because it wasn't politically opportune."
"Who pays the price?" Conner continued. "Local government -- where the buck stops -- and the poor and disadvantage who need social services. The social service pie is not growing, either at the federal or local level. In a better world, we would be taking money away from defense and putting it into areas like refugees, but that's not the real world."
In Arlington, the competition between refugees and native Americans including blacks, for low-cost rental housing is becoming increasingly pronounced.
"The refugees are taking housing away and that's already a big problem for low- and moderate- income people" said Audrey Moten, a longtime Arlington resident who is black. "I don't blame them, I blame the federal government for letting so many come here."
Traditionally Arlington has attracted large numbers of refugees because of its social service programs its proximity to downtown Washington and its abundant stock of moderate-cost housing.
But in the past year the explosive rate of condominium conversions has drastically reduced the supply of inexpensive housing; currently more than 6,000 rental units in Arlington area slated for conversion of demolition.
"I don't think things are going to get better very fast," said one local refugee worker. "Refugees are not the hot item they were last summer. The public gets sort of bored. People are interested in Russia and Iran."
Indochinese community leader Bich agreed. "If the economy get worse -- and I have no reason to think that it won't -- then I think we should watch out for some deteriorating relationships."