Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
For Better or For Worse

For Better or For Worse: Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy

Hung Cam Thai
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    For Better or For Worse
    Book Description:

    Marriage is currently the number-one reason people migrate to the United States, and women constitute the majority of newcomers joining husbands who already reside here. But little is known about these marriage and migration streams beyond the highly publicized and often sensationalized phenomena of mail-order and military brides. Less commonly known is that most international couples are immigrants of the same ethnicity.InFor Better or For Worse, Hung Cam Thai takes a closer look at marriage and migration, with a specific focus on the unions between Vietnamese men living in the United States and the women who marry them. Weaving together a series of personal stories, he underscores the ironies and challenges that these unions face. He includes the voices of working-class immigrant men dealing with marginalization in their adopted country. These men speak about wanting "traditional" wives who they hope will recognize their gendered authority. Meanwhile, young Vietnamese college-educated women, undesirable to bachelors in their own country who are seeking subservient wives, express a preference for men of the same ethnicity but with a more liberal outlook on gender-men they imagine they will find in the United States.A sense of foreboding pervades the book as Thai captures the incompatible viewpoints of the couples who appear to be separated not only geographically but ideologically.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4468-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: The intimate details of globalization
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxvi)
  5. A Note on Translations
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  6. Introduction: Marriage and Migration in the New Global Economy
    (pp. 1-19)

    International marriage is currently the primary reason why people migrate to the United States (Rumbaut 1997; United States Department of Homeland Security 2006; USINS 2002). As figure 1.1 illustrates, of all the immigrants entering the United States in 2005, 58 percent came through various routes of family sponsorship.¹ Of all family-sponsored immigrants, as shown in figure 1.2, the largest single mode of sponsorship was marriage with either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Nearly half of all family-sponsored immigrants arrived as international marriage migrants in 2005.² These marriage migrants constituted over a quarter of all the immigrants who entered,...

  7. Chapter 1 The Gift of Modernity
    (pp. 20-35)

    Stories about the cordless telephone circulated for miles. “Every other day during the first month,” Trang Le, a twenty-seven-year-old college-educated woman, said calmly, “Someone would come and take a look at it. People, young and old.”¹ Trang told me this on an early evening in March 2000, when she and I sat in the kitchen of her family’s four-story, six-bedroom house in Dong Huong, a village set amid the tropical scenery of buffaloes, rice fields, and busy markets in the province of Se Long. I could imagine the parade of people who wanted to see the modern cordless phone sitting...

  8. Chapter 2 Convertibility
    (pp. 36-50)

    Teo Doan was a thirty-two-year-old man who worked for his parents at a small sandwich shop in the heart of San Jose’s Silicon Valley, where the second highest concentration of Viet Kieu outside of Vietnam reside. Thirty-year-old Toan Pham was the afternoon janitor at a public elementary school in urban Los Angeles, the metropolitan area with the highest concentration of Viet Kieu in the diaspora. Both men wanted to marry women of Vietnamese origin, but despite their demographic advantage of living in heavily populated Vietnamese metropolitan areas, both returned to Vietnam for wives with the arrangements of family and kin...

  9. Chapter 3 Globalization as a Gender Strategy
    (pp. 51-66)

    At roughly 5 foot 5, forty-two-year-old Bao Hoang was a little out of shape, though not overweight. From his walk and posture, one can tell that Bao had little leisure time, and that work, however flexible he claimed it to be, filled most of his time in Boston. With only a village grade-school education from Vietnam, Bao worked at two low-wage jobs, one in a nail salon, the other at a flea market. He said he enjoyed doing both because, unlike many of his low-wage peers with whom I spoke in this study, he had a lot of contact with...

  10. Chapter 4 The Matchmaker
    (pp. 67-81)

    I met sixty-one-year-old Mai Nguyen in early April 2001 at the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her brother’s family of four in San Francisco’s inner city. It was her usual Wednesday off from work at an electronic assembly line in the warehouse district, not too far from the apartment. The master bedroom in the apartment was taken up by her brother and his wife; two high school nephews occupied the living room; and Mai shared the smaller bedroom with an eleven-year-old niece. Besides this spatial arrangement, the paucity of objects and their careless arrangement in the apartment suggested a familiar...

  11. Chapter 5 Money
    (pp. 82-93)

    At 6:00 a.m., twenty-five-year-old Thoa Dang was dressed neatly in black slacks and a bright yellow short-sleeve shirt as we conducted our first interview over breakfast in a small drugstore she owned near the central business district of Saigon. Thoa asked during our initial phone conversation for me to arrive early because she said that by 6:30 a.m., some breakfast street vendors sell out their best food for the morning. We met at 6:00 a.m. for the first three interviews at the drugstore, and for the last, we met there at 8:00 p.m. Thoa’s choice of time, her work schedule,...

  12. Chapter 6 The Two Unmarriageables
    (pp. 94-122)

    Hours before her husband’s plane was due, Thanh Nguyen and about thirty of her family members and kin were anxiously waiting outside of Tan Son Nhat, Saigon’s international airport. Like those who look forward to the “homecoming” of a family member or a close friend from the Vietnamese diaspora, Thanh’s family was understandably excited on this rainy day in July 2000. For many, the waiting is an event in itself. More often than not, they come to the airport long before the flight’s arrival. Since in most developing Asian cities only passengers can wait inside the airport, the commotion created...

  13. Chapter 7 The Highly Marriageables
    (pp. 123-137)

    Joe ngo, a thirty-six-year-old software engineer, had changed his name from Cuong when he went to college in the United States because that was when he realized that it bothered him when people had difficulty pronouncing Cuong. The changing of his name was not a racial issue for Joe, for people’s mispronunciation of his name was not something he particularly noticed while growing up in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. As a child, Joe had many white friends, and he said that that “made life easier.” Joe was proud that he was able to navigate in the...

  14. Conclusion: For Better or For Worse
    (pp. 138-146)

    This book focuses on social processes involved in international marriage migration, adding to recent scholarly efforts that inquire into the more personal and emotional side of transnational life. As Povinelli and Chauncey remind us, “A troubling aspect of the literature on globalization is its tendency to read social life off external social forms—flows, circuits, circulations of people, capital, and culture—without any model of subjective mediation” (1999, 445). In an effort to remedy this, I follow Max Weber’s (1978) mandate that to recognize social action, we must examine meanings people attach to their behaviors and experience. By focusing on...

  15. Appendix A: Reflections on Methodology
    (pp. 147-164)
  16. Appendix B: Characteristics of the Sample
    (pp. 165-180)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 181-186)
  18. References
    (pp. 187-202)
  19. Index
    (pp. 203-210)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-212)