Similar to other groups of Asian American immigrants, Vietnamese American communities have revitalized many urban areas. As a relatively recent immigrant group, most Vietnamese Americans are either first or second generation Americans. As many as one million speak Vietnamese at home, making it the seventh most spoken language in the United States. A recent survey shows that in 83% of Vietnamese American households, Vietnamese is the dominant language. Additionally, as refugees, Vietnamese Americans have one of the highest rates of naturalization among all immigrant groups.
.Vietnamese Americans have adapted to American culture while keeping their traditions and religious values intact. Their value system includes high educational expectations and strong commitment to family ties. Because of the emphasis placed on education, a rapidly growing proportion of established Vietnamese Americans are now moving into professional, managerial, and entrepreneurial positions
As a result of recent normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam, as well as continued high rates of poverty in Vietnam, it is expected that Vietnamese immigration to the United States will continue at a high rate, mainly through family reunification. According to the 2000 census, there are currently 1,223,736 Vietnamese Americans. They are the fifth largest Asian immigrant group behind Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian and Korean, however recent studies have shown that by the year 2010, Vietnamese Americans will surpass all other Asian groups, with the exception of Chinese Americans, to become the second largest Asian-American population in the United States
Three "Waves" of Refugees
The Vietnamese people who worked with the US government or who sympathized with the South feared for their lives once Thieu lost power. In 1975, 130,000 Vietnamese fled to the US with the collapse of the Thieu regime. They escaped with the help of the US, and were mostly young, well educated, English speaking, urban dwellers. 55% were Catholic, and many were able to bring their families intact. Most were kept at relocation centers on US military bases until sponsors were found to help them resettle. This is referred to as the first wave of immigrants.
The second wave of refugees was a more diverse group. It included people with differing ethnicity's, nationalities, religions, and languages. As a group, these people were less educated, less literate (in Vietnamese and English), less familiar with western ways and thoughts, and more rural than those in the first wave. Due to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, military offenses against the hill people of Laos, and the continued anti-Sinitic policy of the new Vietnamese government, 455,000 refugees from SE Asia settled in the US between 1979 and 1983. With relations between China and Vietnam deteriorating, and with the ethnic Chinese remaining in Vietnam being persecuted, at least 500,000 fled from 1977 to 1979. During the second wave, escape attempts were long and arduous, only half those attempting escape are thought to have survived. Hoards of people attempted escape by boat. Travel by boat was filled with peril, many died due to disease, mishaps on overcrowded boats, or at the hands of pirates. Those in Northern Vietnam boated to Hong Kong or to nearby Chinese provinces. From these destinations, many came to the US. Others stayed in Hong Kong, where Vietnamese are currently being held in camps with repatriation to Vietnam planned when Hong Kong returns to Chinese control. Those escaping Vietnam from the South boated to Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Some spent years in internment camps in these countries prior to entering the US. Of those who survived, many suffered malnutrition, disease, and horrible treatment at the hands of camp guards.
A third wave of refugees arrived from 1985 to 1991 and continues to arrive in small numbers. This group included both Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese people who were brought to the US through family reunification programs. Additionally, in 1988 and 1989, the US government negotiated the release of political detainees held in "re- education" camps. Many people in this wave spent years in camps under devastating conditions.
Rural people of the second wave are less likely to speak languages other than Vietnamese. Some have difficulties learning to read and write a second language because as farmers, many were not literate in their native Vietnamese. If they had learned to read and write, they seldom used these skills. Local Vietnamese-American Associations and others have established ESL programs in the Seattle community.
Vietnamese has three basic dialects, all are generally understood by most Vietnamese speakers. It is a tonal language with six basic tones. It is very different from English; verbs do not change forms, articles are not used, nouns do not have plural endings, there are no prefixes, no suffixes, no definitives and no distinction among pronouns. Its complex vocabulary reflects basic cultural values, for example, there are two forms of the verb "to eat", used for people of higher or lower status.
Many refugees of the first wave are bilingual. Older urban people may speak some French, and those who had government jobs in South Vietnam speak some English, or are even fluent.
Many customs are rooted in both the Confucian respect for education, family and elders, and the Taoist desire to avoid conflict. Vietnamese tend to be very polite and guarded. Sparing one's feelings is considered more important than factual truth. Many alter these practices in the US, especially when dealing with non-Asian people.
Traditionally, Vietnamese people list their family name first, then their middle name, with their first (given) name listed as last. Family members use different given names (first names aren't passed down), and the name reflects some meaning. Most names can be used for either gender. Many in the US have adopted western customs of naming.
Vietnamese culture is concerned more with status (obtained with age and education) than with wealth.
"Thua" (meaning please) is added in front of the first name to show respect. To show respect, Vietnamese will bow their heads to a superior or elder. When talking, one should not look steadily at a respected person's eyes.
To address people formally, use Mr. or Ms. or a title plus the first name. There are several titles of respect in Vietnamese, but they aren't used in English.
Women do not shake hands with each other or with men.
Many may greet by bowing slightly to each other, they may join hands. Usually, higher ranking people are greeted first (the family head).
Display of Respect
To avoid confrontation or disrespect, many will not vocalize disagreement. Instead of relaying negative communication, people may not answer a question. It is disrespectful to touch another person's head. Only an elder can touch the head of a child.
Praising someone profusely is often regarded as flattery, and sometimes even mockery. Most people are very modest and deflect praise. Insults to elders or ancestors are very serious and often lead to severed social ties.
Many will smile easily and often, regardless of the underlying emotion, so a smile cannot automatically be interpreted as happiness or agreement.
Vietnamese often laugh in situations that other cultures may find inappropriate. This laughter is not ridicule or beratement.
Breaking a promise can be a serious violation of social expectation. It is very difficult to re-establish a lost confidence.
When inviting a friend on an outing, the bill is paid for by the person offering the invitation.
Vietnamese may not take appointment times literally, and will often arrive late so as not to appear overly enthusiastic.
When giving gifts, often the giver discounts the item, even though it may be of great value. The recipient of a gift is expected to display significant gratitude that sometimes lasts a lifetime. Some may be reluctant to accept a gift because of the burden of gratitude. Vietnamese may refuse a gift on the first offer, even if they intend to accept it, so as not to appear greedy.
Speaking in a loud tone with excessive gestures is considered rude, especially when done by women.
Summoning a person with a hand or finger in the upright position is reserved only for animals or inferior people. Between two equal people it is a provocation. To summon a person, the entire hand with the fingers facing down is the only appropriate hand signal.
Influenced by Buddhist theology and Confucian philosophy, Vietnamese believed that fate in marriage, as well as wealth and position, were preordained, though choice could play some role in activating a positive or negative fate. Traditionally, children lived with their parents until marriage, then the couple moved to the husband's father's household. The extended family arranged marriage, but individuals were usually consulted on the choice of their mate. The typical engagement lasted six months, with little contact between the bride and groom prior to the marriage. Traditionally the marriage was at one of the couples' homes. Men usually married between 20 and 30 years, and women at 18 to 25 years. Women kept their maiden names legally but used their husband's name formally.
As western influence increased in Vietnam during this century, parents began to take more of an advisory role in the choice of their child's mate, and arranged marriages are starting to decline. In the US, most young Vietnamese date in the same way as American youth. Though rarely given absolute choice, family still bears heavy influence over the decision to marry. There are a variety of different wedding practices, most common in Seattle are Buddhist and Christian ceremonies. Divorce is uncommon, even in the US, and is considered shameful, especially for the woman. Many Vietnamese community leaders in the US are concerned about the growing divorce rate. In Vietnam, a man is responsible for his spouse until death.
Based on Confucian tenets, men have higher status than women, and sons are valued more highly than daughters. Traditionally, an ideal man should develop through four steps. First, he must learn how to cultivate himself and next, to govern his family. If he does this successfully, he can rule the country, and pacify the world. To do this he must be merciful and kind, adhere to the rites and ceremonies of family and social hierarchy, help the needy, be strong and determined, and be trustworthy and loyal.
A traditional Vietnamese woman is governed by three basic tenets from Confucianism. First she must submit to her father, next obey her husband, and then if widowed, obey her eldest son. She is considered "virtuous" if she is an effective homemaker, a good cook, and has the appearance of modesty coupled with feminine grace. Ideally, she is soft spoken, and above reproach for her moral conduct. In reality, in Vietnam and in the US, mothers are not docile. The mother is considered the home minister (noi tuong) and is responsible for family harmony, the family budget, and family schedules. She also makes decisions with the father.
Tasks were divided along gender lines in Vietnam; fathers typically worked outside the home. With the war, many men were absent from the home and women took on more independence out of necessity. This trend has continued with migration to the US. Many of the jobs available in the US were of lower status and fit the expectations of refugee women, but not of refugee men. Refugee men have been forced to take work with less status than they could have done in Vietnam. This has created a situation where many families are dependent on the income of the mother, causing readjustment of family roles and expectations. Due to the effect of migration and Western influence, traditional gender roles are changing, and Seattle families display varying degrees of traditionalism.
The traditional Vietnamese family is patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal, often with two to four generations under one roof. There is the immediate family (nha) and the extended family (ho). In Vietnam, the immediate family is the nuclear family plus the husband's parents and the grown sons' spouses and children. The extended family is the immediate family plus family members of the same name and relatives residing in close proximity.
Family members are expected to work and behave for the good of the group. Families may publicly denounce a member who is ill behaved, they may also pronounce family achievements. Each member has a designated kinship term, and these are used when addressing one another. The father has ultimate responsibility and acts as an authority leader while delegating tasks and involving others in decision making. The father also leads the family in ancestor worship. In Vietnam, the father often worked outside the home, while the mother cared for the children and managed the household. Grandparents helped with childcare, and children helped with various chores. Younger siblings are to respect and obey older siblings, and aunts and uncles are treated as parents.
In the US, household structures vary greatly. One study of refugees in Oklahoma City showed 57% of households were only nuclear families, 12% included extended family (grandparents, etc.), 13% were people living alone. Another study elsewhere showed more households included extended family than nuclear families. The population of Vietnamese in the US is young; the median age for males and females is in the low twenties. Also, Vietnamese-American families appear to be the only group of Asian-Americans with a significant number of families headed by women (14.2%). Many of these women are war widows, were separated in flight from Vietnam, or have husbands still in Vietnam.
The elderly parents are taken care of until they die.
"Children sit where their parent's place them." This traditional Vietnamese expression characterizes the Confucian based parent-child relationship. Though parents in Seattle have adopted various degrees of western parenting styles, they take their responsibility to teach their children very seriously. The first priority is to teach filial obedience and respect, the second is to provide as much educational success as possible. In many homes, homework must be completed when arriving home from school, and television is only allowed on the weekends. If the parents don't feel the teacher is providing enough homework, they may make homework assignments themselves, or write questions for the child to answer.
In Vietnam, corporal punishment was the norm. In the US, parents are aware that this is not commonly accepted and they have had to change methods of discipline. Some parents state their children are harder to control here than they would have been in Vietnam and are frustrated that their children seem to lack respect for their elders.
Refugee families have had to deal with many issues in adapting to their new home. In Vietnam, elders were the leaders in families, had the strongest influence in decision making, and were respected and sought after for advice. Younger family members were to be obedient and respectful. Also, elders held property rights of the family, and could retire once their children could support the family.
When these elders were transported to the US, they lost their property and much of their material goods. Many elders who want to work outside the home are unable to because of their lack of training for available work, their age, and lack of English skills. They can become very socially and culturally isolated while their younger family members become more Americanized. This can create a fundamental role reversal: the elders no longer have power, money or land, and become financially dependent on their children. Because they are culturally isolated, they are no longer sought after for advice. This creates much tension in families where elders feel ignored and disrespected, while their children become more culturally proficient and adapt ways their elders do not approve of.
Common Accultuation Issues
Many Vietnamese people have adopted western customs, but it is important to remember that these customs are not necessarily internalized, especially by older refugees. It seems that the Vietnamese community in the US has a mixture of western and Vietnamese beliefs. Nguyen Quoc Tri summarized and compared American versus Vietnamese philosophy as follows: Americans generally believe that human nature is evil but perfectible; that humans should have mastery over nature; they live oriented to future time; they are accustomed to movement, migration and mobility; they value accomplishment, individuality and self-reliance.
In contrast, Vietnamese traditionally believe that human nature is basically good but corruptible; that man should strive for harmony with nature; they live oriented to the past, not the future; they are traditionally attached to one place, the ancestor's land; they value the process of being or becoming, mutual dependence and lineality.
In Vietnam there are many religions and this diversity extends to the US. Confucianism underlies many Vietnamese traditions shared by people of various religions.
Buddhism: This was the predominant religion in Vietnam, practiced by an estimated 90% of the population prior to the war. In Seattle, the majority of Vietnamese are Buddhist. There are two main forms in Vietnam. The southern Hinayana believe only monks and nuns can achieve enlightenment, while the northern Mahayana believe laymen can attain enlightenment as well.
Confucianism: More a code of behavior than a religion, it emphasizes filial piety and obligation, altruism and the belief that man creates his own destiny. Music, respect for authority (including teachers), and social rites are very important.
Taoism: Founded by a Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu, this religion teaches that the goal of becoming an Ultimate and Unconditioned being can be achieved through thrift, humility and compassion. Taoists may worship many gods, and value simplicity, patience, and contentment. They avoid confrontation and strive for harmony both between men and between man and nature. Some Taoist groups also worship deities or other religions. They have an organized clergy and temples. Though many Vietnamese do not practice this religion, Taoism has strongly