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Family Tightrope

Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans

Nazli Kibria
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Family Tightrope
    Book Description:

    In recent years the popular media have described Vietnamese Americans as the quintessential American immigrant success story, attributing their accomplishments to the values they learn in the traditional, stable, hierarchical confines of their family. Questioning the accuracy of such family portrayals, Nazli Kibria draws on in-depth interviews and participant observation with Vietnamese immigrants in Philadelphia to show how they construct their family lives in response to the social and economic challenges posed by migration and resettlement. To a surprising extent, the "traditional" family unit rarely exists, and its hierarchical organization has been greatly altered.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2099-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Assimilation, Adaptation, and Immigrant Life
    (pp. 3-23)

    Binh¹ was born in 1933 in North Vietnam, in the province of Binh Ninh, in a village that was heavily Catholic. Of his eleven brothers and sisters, only two were alive today, the rest having died from either illness or the effects of war. Binh’s father had told him that their family had lived in the village for at least three generations, and until his grandparents’ generation, they had been village notables (lý trươܳˀng). When Binh was ten years old, his father had gone south to work on a rubber plantation owned by the French. His father had inherited a...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Study and the Setting
    (pp. 24-37)

    Dao and Tinh lived on the first floor of an old yellow rowhouse that had a large front porch filled with broken electrical appliances, including TVs and refrigerators. The neighborhood was a residential one, and the inhabitants were mainly African American. Dao and Tinh did have two Vietnamese American neighbors—one lived above them and another next door. About five blocks away from the rowhouses there were a number of small shops and businesses. There was a newly opened Vietnamese American dentist’s office and, close by, an all-night convenience store run by Asian Indians. There was also a pharmacy, a...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Vietnamese Roots
    (pp. 38-72)

    Exile from the homeland is a common theme in the writings of the fifteenth-century Vietnamese poet and nationalist Nguyen Trai. The presence of the exile motif in so much Vietnamese literature reflects the turbulence of Vietnamese history, especially in the contemporary era, a time in which migration and separation from home have been far from uncommon experiences for Vietnamese.

    For the Vietnamese refugees that I studied, their migration to the United States was not the first but rather one of several relocations experienced by themselves or their families in recent times. In this chapter I explore these relocations, as well...

    (pp. 73-107)

    The Vietnamese immigrants recounted feelings of euphoria in the days immediately following arrival in the United States. There was excitement at being in a country that carried images of great material wealth and personal freedom. The material prosperity of the United States was confirmed by the abundance of food and other goods at stores, a finding that initially delighted my informants. But this initial elation soon dwindled. It was replaced by often overwhelming anxieties about the task of building a new life¹ and of regaining the middle-class status that had been lost in the years following 1975. Eventually, Vietnamese Americans...

    (pp. 108-143)

    The immigrant experience, particularly in its early years, is typically one that is imbued with a sense of uncertainty and liminality—of being in a dynamic state of transition. For Vietnamese Americans, especially men, changes in the relations of men and women were central to the experience of disorder that accompanied settlement in the United States. There was a widespread feeling that a breach in the world had transpired. This feeling found expression in a tongue-in-cheek description, recounted to me by several men, of the transformation in gender relations that had been brought about by the move: “In Vietnam the...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Generation Gaps
    (pp. 144-166)

    On the morning of April 4, 1991, three brothers—Loi, Pham, and Long—told their parents they were going fishing. After leaving the house, they were joined by another young Vietnamese American male, Cuong Tran, aged seventeen. But instead of making their way to the Sacramento River, the four proceeded to a nearby Good Guys electronics store, armed with two nine-millimeter pistols. What followed was a eight-and-a-half-hour siege in which they held forty people hostage at the store. Although the exact motives of the young men were unclear to observers, it was later reported that the gunmen had talked to...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Changing Contours of Vietnamese American Family Life
    (pp. 167-172)

    Among the many changes in family life that had been generated by migration to the United States for Vietnamese Americans, perhaps the most basic one was that it had created new feelings of ambiguity and uncertainty about family arrangements. Doubts about whatfamilymeans and what it should mean are, of course, not exclusive to Vietnamese Americans but are in fact endemic in contemporary U.S. society. According to Judith Stacey, this uncertainty about the concept of family is reflective of the current “postmodern” era of U.S. family life. This is an era in which there is no single dominant model...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-180)
  12. Index
    (pp. 181-184)