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Buddha Is Hiding

Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America

Aihwa Ong
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Buddha Is Hiding
    Book Description:

    Fleeing the murderous Pol Pot regime, Cambodian refugees arrive in America as at once the victims and the heroes of America's misadventures in Southeast Asia; and their encounters with American citizenship are contradictory as well. Service providers, bureaucrats, and employers exhort them to be self-reliant, individualistic, and free, even as the system and the culture constrain them within terms of ethnicity, race, and class. Buddha Is Hiding tells the story of Cambodian Americans experiencing American citizenship from the bottom-up. Based on extensive fieldwork in Oakland and San Francisco, the study puts a human face on how American institutions-of health, welfare, law, police, church, and industry-affect minority citizens as they negotiate American culture and re-interpret the American dream. In her earlier book,Flexible Citizenship,anthropologist Aihwa Ong wrote of elite Asians shuttling across the Pacific. This parallel study tells the very different story of "the other Asians" whose route takes them from refugee camps to California's inner-city and high-tech enclaves. InBuddha Is Hidingwe see these refugees becoming new citizen-subjects through a dual process of being-made and self-making, balancing religious salvation and entrepreneurial values as they endure and undermine, absorb and deflect conflicting lessons about welfare, work, medicine, gender, parenting, and mass culture. Trying to hold on to the values of family and home culture, Cambodian Americans nonetheless often feel that "Buddha is hiding." Tracing the entangled paths of poor and rich Asians in the American nation, Ong raises new questions about the form and meaning of citizenship in an era of globalization.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93716-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    In the fall of 1970, I left Malaysia and arrived as a college freshman in New York City. I was immediately swept up in the antiwar movement. President Nixon had just begun his “secret” bombing of Cambodia. Joining crowds of angry students marching down Broadway, I participated in the takeover of the East Asian Institute building on the Columbia University campus. As I stood there confronting policemen in riot gear, I thought about what Southeast Asia meant to the United States. Were Southeast Asians simply an anonymous mass of people in black pajamas? Southeast Asia was a far-off place where...

  6. Introduction: Government and Citizenship
    (pp. 1-22)

    When I moved from Massachusetts to California in the early 1980s, at a time in which the American public saw Asian Americans as people largely of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean ancestry, I was struck by the range of peoples from the Asia Pacific who lived here. Geopolitical conflicts and economic globalization made the 1980s an especially turbulent era for global population flows, as rising tides of immigrants from Latin America and Asia flocked to urbanized countries. In the San Francisco Bay Area,people of colortook on new dimensions of meaning and entangled possibilities. Taiwanese computer programmers and Indian engineers...

  7. PART I In Pol Pot Time

    • Chapter 1 Land of No More Hope
      (pp. 25-47)

      In Khmer Buddhism, the pillar or column of support(preah kamlaong)refers to the parents, who should be revered as near-deities.¹ The speaker above— I’ll call him Yann²—is a Cambodian teacher who met this woman who had lost everything in a Thai refugee camp; he married her and they later moved to Oakland with their two daughters. They lived in a housing complex that held a lively community of Cambodian refugees. The one-bedroom apartment was dark, the curtains drawn against the California sunshine and the kids playing in the yard outside. When I visited, his wife, an invalid, was...

    • Chapter 2 A Hilton in the Border Zone
      (pp. 48-66)

      On January 7, 1979, the Vietnamese invaded Phnom Penh and deposed the Pol Pot regime. In the months that followed, sporadic fighting and the ensuing chaos pushed more than half a million people toward the Thai border. When the United Nations–sponsored Khao-I-Dang (KID) camp was opened over the border in Thailand at the end of the year, Mrs. Sophat, the woman who had been forced into marriage under Khmer Rouge bayonets, immediately began plotting to escape with as many family members as she could gather. They went to Battambang to look for her first husband’s family: “Only two sisters...

  8. PART II Governing through Freedom

    • Chapter 3 The Refugee as an Ethical Figure
      (pp. 69-90)

      “Why,” I asked Cambodian immigrants I encountered, “did you decide to seek resettlement in the United States? Not France? Or Thailand?” Apparently incredulous at my query, they’d say, “America is the land of freedom—you know, the lady with the light,” lifting up an arm holding an imaginary torch. This shining figure was what kept the war-traumatized refugees going in their long nights in Thai camps. By raising their arms, they elected to go to America, the home of freedom and wealth, far away from the demented Pol Pot regime, the chaos, poverty, and political uncertainty of Cambodia. But they...

    • Chapter 4 Refugee Medicine: Attracting and Deflecting the Gaze
      (pp. 91-121)

      On a sunny afternoon in San Francisco, a young Cambodian man wearing a U.S. army jacket told me the nightmare that recurred in his dreams. Sometime in the early 1970s, he and his brother had been captured by Pol Pot’s troops. One day, he managed to escape. Hiding behind bushes, he saw soldiers kill his brother and another prisoner. Their hearts and lungs were torn out and hung on a fence as a warning to others. In the silence following the story, the survivor held out his hands, as if cradling the remains of his brother. Then, shuddering imperceptibly, he...

    • Chapter 5 Keeping the House from Burning Down
      (pp. 122-141)

      Phauly Sang, who was from a petit bourgeois family in Phnom Penh, told me about her arrival in San Francisco in 1980:

      I was with five other people: my younger sister, her husband, my nephew, and two boys, who were my brother-in-law’s brothers. Our sponsor was the International Institute. At the airport, the man who met us was not Cambodian. He said, “I am Laotian.” His name was Tamni, and he took us to the house of a Cambodian landlady in Oakland.

      The next day, I and my sister were sick. We had flu. It was cold, and my sister,...

    • Chapter 6 Refugee Love as Feminist Compassion
      (pp. 142-167)

      In a rundown part of San Francisco, the police were briefing a group of Cambodian refugees at the Self Help Center about crimes in the Tenderloin neighborhood.¹ Suddenly, Mrs. Mam, a tiny old woman standing beside her husband, blurted out, “My husband abuses me all the time. What should I do—should I remain calm about it, or what?” The audience gasped in surprise. Then Sarah, a community activist who was acting as the mediator between the police and the Cambodians, replied, “I would not in my life allow anyone to harm me. If the police are not a good...

    • Chapter 7 Rescuing the Children
      (pp. 168-192)

      While most poor Cambodian American families adjusted to the demands of life in urban America, conflict between parents and children became a recurring theme for some families. The previous chapter provided a glimpse of estranged and battling spouses in the community, but even more heartbreaking were struggles with children. Although fights between couples often resulted from disagreements over welfare checks or outside liaisons, conflicts with children usually stemmed from the parents’ loss of moral authority over them, and the children’s efforts to develop their own identities when faced with the daunting contradictions between parental expectations and the influence of the...

  9. PART III Church and Marketplace

    • Chapter 8 The Ambivalence of Salvation
      (pp. 195-228)

      Pilots flying over the night skies of the northern San Francisco Bay Area seldom miss noticing a multispired temple looming out of the Oakland hills, a beacon of light that helps guide some safely to their destination. At night or in broad daylight, this white temple, evocative of a fairyland palace, can be seen by Cambodian Americans living in the flatlands of East Oakland (figure 8). For many young refugees, the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church)¹ represented a guide to the mysteries of salvation and redemption to be found in...

    • Chapter 9 Guns, Gangs, and Doughnut Kings
      (pp. 229-250)

      The preceding is a letter sent by a Berkeley resident toThe New York Times,in response to a report about criticisms of immigrants going on welfare.¹ As it points out, the labor contractors for garment sweatshops were often Asian immigrants themselves, forced by the terms set by manufacturers and retailers into cutthroat competition with one another, and often unable to pay workers the minimum wage.²

      Cambodian refugees, including children, tried to work; but for the majority—having less than a high-school education and limited proficiency in English—remaining on welfare was their only option,³ because their skills relegated them...

  10. PART IV Reconfigurations of Citizenship

    • Chapter 10 Asian Immigrants as the New Westerners?
      (pp. 253-274)

      The first quote, penned by a Caribbean novelist who had absolutely no intention of lingering in California, is an older interpretation of mainstream American visions of the state, circa 1980.¹ But for new Asian immigrants, California is the Old World’s New World, the West of the East, a place where the Pacific ends and a hypermodernity (skipping over the old modernities of Europe and the American eastern seaboard) begins. Asian immigrants are the quintessential American dreamers, seeking, in Naipaul’s words, “rebirth and self-realization in a spacious land uncontaminated by memory, tradition, and restraint”—or at least, seeking through hard work...

  11. Afterword: Assemblages of Human Needs
    (pp. 275-286)

    The figure of the entrepreneurial citizen appears to be dominant at this moment in history, even in this time of national crisis occasioned by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There is much deserved celebration of the heroism and sacrifice of firefighters, policemen, and other rescue workers. Almost immediately after the attacks, the trader subject was hailed as having a key role in saving the national economy, in rallying the stock market as the heart of American capitalist might against the threats of a faceless, borderless enemy. A print advertisement taken out by the securities company...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 287-322)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 323-333)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 334-334)