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Ethnic Origins

Ethnic Origins: The Adaptation of Cambodian and Hmong Refugees in Four American Cities

Jeremy Hein
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    Ethnic Origins
    Book Description:

    Immigration studies have increasingly focused on how immigrant adaptation to their new homelands is influenced by the social structures in the sending society, particularly its economy. Less scholarly research has focused on the ways that the cultural make-up of immigrant homelands influences their adaptation to life in a new country. In Ethnic Origins, Jeremy Hein investigates the role of religion, family, and other cultural factors on immigrant incorporation into American society by comparing the experiences of two little-known immigrant groups living in four different American cities not commonly regarded as immigrant gateways. Ethnic Origins provides an in-depth look at Hmong and Khmer refugees—people who left Asia as a result of failed U.S. foreign policy in their countries. These groups share low socio-economic status, but are vastly different in their norms, values, and histories. Hein compares their experience in two small towns—Rochester, Minnesota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin—and in two big cities—Chicago and Milwaukee—and examines how each group adjusted to these different settings. The two groups encountered both community hospitality and narrow-minded hatred in the small towns, contrasting sharply with the cold anonymity of the urban pecking order in the larger cities. Hein finds that for each group, their ethnic background was more important in shaping adaptation patterns than the place in which they settled. Hein shows how, in both the cities and towns, the Hmong’s sharply drawn ethnic boundaries and minority status in their native land left them with less affinity for U.S. citizenship or “Asian American” panethnicity than the Khmer, whose ethnic boundary is more porous. Their differing ethnic backgrounds also influenced their reactions to prejudice and discrimination. The Hmong, with a strong group identity, perceived greater social inequality and supported collective political action to redress wrongs more than the individualistic Khmer, who tended to view personal hardship as a solitary misfortune, rather than part of a larger-scale injustice. Examining two unique immigrant groups in communities where immigrants have not traditionally settled, Ethnic Origins vividly illustrates the factors that shape immigrants’ response to American society and suggests a need to refine prevailing theories of immigration. Hein’s book is at once a novel look at a little-known segment of America’s melting pot and a significant contribution to research on Asian immigration to the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-283-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  6. Part I Ideas

    • Chapter 1 Immigrants and Culture
      (pp. 3-24)

      The colonization by France of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the mid-nineteenth century initiated the historical forces that would bring Southeast Asian refugees to the United States in the late twentieth century. During the intervening years the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the Chinese Revolution in 1949 augmented national liberation movements in French Indochina. American military intervention to oppose the spread of Communism began as the colonies gained independence in 1953 and 1954. The United States directly entered combat in 1965 and withdrew its troops in 1973, although fighting between pro-American and Communist troops continued for another two years (Chan...

    • Chapter 2 Ethnic Origins
      (pp. 25-42)

      The sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s (1994, 60) influential theory of racial formation is based on the idea that “everybody learns some combination, some version of the rules of racial classification.” This socialization occurs very differently for natives and immigrants, however. Members of a native minority, such as African Americans, develop a racial identity and an awareness of racial inequality from an early age through parental and peer socialization (Demo and Hughes 1990; Jackson et al. 1991). Conversely, immigrants undergo a process of resocialization as they encounter new racial and ethnic identities and inequalities in the United States.


  7. Part II Peoples

    • Chapter 3 Khmer
      (pp. 45-59)

      Cambodian refugees come from a “hybrid culture” (Chandler 1996, 80) and thus arrive in the United States thinking that ethnic boundaries are porous and that ethnic identities are liminal. A well-known origin story symbolizes their worldview. It concerns an Indian prince named Kambu, who travels to Southeast Asia and marries a dragon-princess (Osborne 2000). The region at this time is covered by ocean and the father-in-law dragon drinks enough water to leave dry land for the couple to live on. This new country is named Kambuja, after the prince, from which the name Cambodia is derived. Milton Osborne (1988, 22)...

    • Chapter 4 Hmong
      (pp. 60-76)

      Only 350 miles separate Angkor Wat from the Plain of Jars, the area of Laos where the Hmong once claimed autonomy (see figure 3.1). Yet the Hmong and the Khmer have opposite ethnic origins. A well-known story about Hmong origins illustrates this difference. A brother and sister become the only humans to survive a devastating flood (Dang 1993; Livo and Cha 1991). To maintain the species they are forced to mate, but this union produces a gourd-shaped egg rather than a child. The siblings cut the egg into pieces and plant them in different parts of their farm. This gardening...

  8. Part III Places

    • Chapter 5 Small-Town Hospitality and Hate
      (pp. 79-100)

      Whites accounted for nearly 100 percent of residents in Eau Claire and Rochester when refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia began arriving in the mid-1970s. The first arrivals came directly from Southeast Asia via the federal resettlement program organized by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. At the migration’s peak, two hundred to three hundred refugees flew into the small regional airports over the course of a year. Others moved to Eau Claire and Rochester after initially settling in another part of the United States, pushed by unfavorable conditions in large urban areas...

    • Chapter 6 Ethnic Succession in the Urban Pecking Order
      (pp. 101-124)

      In small midwestern cities Southeast Asian refugees brought a new kind of diversity, but in Chicago and Milwaukee they were just the latest installment in a century of ethnic succession. Southern blacks began arriving in Chicago and Milwaukee during World War I, followed by Mexicanos, Chicanos, and Puerto Ricans during the 1940s and 1950s, and then more African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. The proportion of racial and ethnic minorities in both cities expanded as white residents left for the suburbs during the 1970s. Their departure coincided with the new immigration from Asia and Latin America as well as...

  9. Part IV Identities

    • Chapter 7 Asian American
      (pp. 127-143)

      “Asian” is commonly used by government officials, the media, and social scientists to name people. It appears on all documents that ask about a person’s race, from birth certificates and college admission forms to surveys by the U.S. Bureau of the Census and sociologists. “Asian” is thus a fundamental element of American diversity and a central identity in the racial and ethnic adaptation of immigrants from places such as China, India, Korea, and Southeast Asia.

      Yet Asian Americans are an extremely diverse population (Espiritu 2004). The largest ethnic group, the Chinese, accounts for only about one-quarter of all Asian Americans....

    • Chapter 8 American Citizen
      (pp. 144-162)

      Many policy makers think of U.S. citizenship as one of the last identities that can foster a sense of unity in our increasingly diverse society. President Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race recommended developing programs “for both immigrants and those born in the United States, that would promote a clear understanding of the rights and duties of citizenship. These types of programs would help to promote national identity and cohesion” (President’s Advisory Board on Race 1998, 91). Immigrants have several incentives to naturalize, a peculiar term that means acquiring the same legal status as those born in the country acquire at...

  10. Part V Inequalities

    • Chapter 9 Societal Racism
      (pp. 165-183)

      “The American dilemma” is one of the most enduring phrases to emerge from twentieth-century social-science research. Gunnar Myrdal (1944/1962) coined this term in his landmark study of African Americans’ inequality in the United States. His book quickly became “an epoch-making work [that] brought to broad public notice for the first time the fact that . . . Jim Crow segregation was unjustified and indeed un-American” (Fredrickson 2002, 167). A Swedish economist with an outsider’s perspective of American race relations, Myrdal was struck by a contradiction in the United States (McKee 1993), which he dubbed “the American dilemma”: American democracy values...

    • Chapter 10 Group Stereotypes
      (pp. 184-196)

      In everyday life, inequality often manifests itself as prejudice, a prejudging of individuals on the basis of their group membership. Stereotyping is one of the central mechanisms in prejudice (Fiske 1998). People with prejudices have preexisting negative beliefs about particular groups, and they apply these stereotypical generalizations to individuals whom they identify as members of these groups. Coming to terms with group stereotypes is thus an inevitable part of immigrants’ racial and ethnic adaptation.

      Walter Lippmann (1922/1965) provided one of the first widely accepted definitions of stereotypes, and he emphasized that they are irrational. Lippmann contrasted their origins in our...

    • Chapter 11 Institutional Discrimination
      (pp. 197-207)

      Racial and ethnic stereotypes are among the vilest manifestations of social inequality, but the actual deprivation of rights results from discrimination, which means unequal treatment. Discrimination often involves the abuse of power by individuals whose positions in institutions enable them to make decisions that harm other people (Jones 1997). One of the most central aspects of immigrants’ racial and ethnic adaptation to American society is recognizing the existence of such institutional discrimination in the United States.

      Immigrants’ perceptions of discrimination in a host society are usually explained by examining events that occur after their arrival. Ethnic competition theory posits that...

    • Chapter 12 Political Mobilization
      (pp. 208-224)

      Severe prejudice and discrimination against a people transform them into a minority group because they are more likely than other people in the society to repeatedly experience social inequality. In the first social science definition of the concept minority, the sociologist Louis Wirth (1945, 34) noted that “the existence of a minority group implies the existence of a dominant group enjoying higher social status and greater privileges.”

      American history demonstrates that minority groups sometimes fight back, and immigrants’ political reactions to inequality are an important component of their racial and ethnic adaptation. Members of a disadvantaged community often discuss the...

  11. Part VI Implications

    • Chapter 13 Conclusion
      (pp. 227-246)

      Policy makers, journalists, and social scientists often attribute the new challenges of diversity in the United States to the fact that blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are becoming a larger proportion of the population in major cities, populous states, and American society as a whole. Many note that this change is occurring at a time of heightened scarcity and competition brought on by the globalization of the postindustrial economy. These are the headlines that attract the most attention, but demography and economics alone cannot explain why American society confronts additional racial and ethnic dilemmas before it has resolved older ones.


  12. Appendix A Overview of Methodologies
    (pp. 247-252)
  13. Appendix B Details of Methodologies
    (pp. 253-264)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 265-274)
  15. References
    (pp. 275-296)
  16. Index
    (pp. 297-310)