Category Archives: enclave

Best Immigration Documentaries: Part 3, Assimilation & Integration

This is the third of my three-part list of the best documentaries that focus on immigration and are great choices for showing in high school and college immigration classes. This third and final part will focus specifically on issues related to socioeconomic attainment, mobility, and assimilation — the individual-, community-, and institutional-level processes involved as immigrants (regardless of their legal status) become integrated into the rest of U.S. society.

Part 1 focused on the historical and global context of immigration and Part 2 looked at unauthorized immigration. The following list is organized by topic and corresponds to the chronological order in which I discuss each topic in my “Sociology of Immigration” course. For each topic, I highlight the documentary that I tend to show the most often, followed by other videos that are good choices for that topic as well.

Assimilation © Corbis

Socioeconomic Mobility and Settlement Patterns

What are the historical and contemporary patterns of educational, occupational, and income attainment on the part of immigrants and how do such patterns compare across waves of immigration, nationality/ethnic group, and in relation to U.S.-born racial/ethnic groups? Also, what are some recent developments regarding where immigrants settle, how they create their own communities and enclaves, and role of these ethnic communities in their overall assimilation process?

Assimilation and Ethnic Identity

In this section, I focus on the assimilation and integration process on the individual level. Specifically, I look at the different forms of forms of assimilation that immigrants undergo, the factors that affect their own personal racial/ethnic/cultural identity, and how community- and institutional factors influence whether immigrants experience upward or downward assimilation through time.

Language, Religious, and Political Incorporation

This section explores assimilation and integration specifically related to native language retention vs. English acquisition among immigrants, their religious patterns and the roles that religious organizations play in their lives, and their patterns of participating in the political process at various levels and in particular, the prospects of immigrants leveraging their growing population size into greater political power.

Emerging Issues and a Changing National Identity

In this final section of my “Sociology of Immigration” course, I reflect back on where immigrants to the U.S. have been — politically, economically, and culturally — and just as important, take a look at where immigration and immigration policy are headed as we move forward into the 21st century and in particular, as we become more culturally diverse, globalized, and transnational.

Looking Backward and Forward: The 35th Anniversary of the End of Viet Nam War

I’ve been a little remiss in mentioning that this year marks the 35th anniversary of the end of the Viet Nam War and the start of the eventual exodus of several million Vietnamese out of Viet Nam since South Viet Nam’s capital of Saigon fell to the communists on April 30, 1975. Around this time 35 years ago, my family and I were temporarily living in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, one of the four major housing centers set up by the U.S. government to process and eventually resettle the first wave of Vietnamese refugees arriving from Viet Nam.

After living in Ft. Chaffee for a couple of months, we moved to Camp Pendleton, CA to take custody of my cousin who had been separated from her parents in the chaos of trying to leave Viet Nam (her parents never made it out) and she was eventually “adopted” into our family. From there, we were resettled into the Los Angeles area and began our lives as Vietnamese Americans.

For me and many Vietnamese Americans in general, this annual reflection on the end of the Viet Nam War is a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, this occasion is a time of sadness as many of us mourn the devastation of the war, how many of our friends, relatives, and family members suffered and even died as a result, and how we had to make the difficult choice to leave our homeland behind, perhaps forever.

On the other hand, this occasion is also a time of thankfulness as many of us reflect on being able to escape to the U.S. where we had the chance to begin a new, and in many ways a better life for ourselves and our successive generations. We reflect on our gratitude of living in a country where our material lives are undoubtedly better but just as important, where we have individual freedoms that our counterparts back in Viet Nam can only dream of.

As a reflection of the two sides of this anniversary of the fall of Saigon and end of the Viet Nam War, two sets of stories capture both the anguish and the elation of this occasion. The first two links present a visual montage of the chaos, suffering, and sadness of the war’s end (some of the photos are rather graphic and may not be suitable for children). The first photo collection is from the Boston Globe.

Vietnamese woman stares at a mass grave © Associated Press/Horst Faas

The second photo collection comes from the Denver Post.

U.S. Marines taking cover in the entrance of a pagoda in a village near the Ben Hai river © Associated Press/Kim Ki Sam

Reflecting the other side of this occasion, two stories represent how Vietnamese Americans have built their lives in the U.S. in the decades since while at the same time while still keeping in touch with the legacy of the Viet Nam War. The first article is by Andrew Lam and he profiles “Viet Kieu” (overseas Vietnamese) who have returned to the land they left and how they’re helping rebuild the country:

Nguyen Qui Duc, a Vietnamese refugee who became an American radio host and the author of the memoir Where the Ashes Are, has found yet another incarnation in his mid-50s: Bar owner and art curator in Hanoi, Vietnam. Why would he come back to the country from which he once fled? “Home is where there’s a sense of connection, of family, of community,” he said after struggling to find a single answer. “And I found it here.”

Duc is one of nearly 500,000 Viet Kieu — Vietnamese living overseas — who return to Vietnam yearly, many only to visit relatives, but others increasingly to work, invest and retire. The majority of the people who return are from the United States, where the largest Vietnamese population overseas resides. Indeed, 35 years after the Vietnam War ended, the Vietnamese diaspora is now falling slowly, but surely, back into Vietnam’s orbit. . . .

Vietnamese overseas are playing an important role in Vietnam’s economic life. According to Vietnam’s Chamber of Commerce, in 2008, despite the slowdown in the world economy, Vietnam received overseas aid of more than $7.4 billion. The Vietnamese government said that the diaspora is reducing poverty and spurring economic development. Official development assistance pledged to Vietnam in 2008 by international donors was $5 billion; the overseas population contributed $2.4 billion more.

The second article from the Denton Record Chronicle (TX) highlights similar experiences of “coming home” from the perspective of Vietnamese orphans who fled their country decades ago and are now looking to reconnect in a very personal way:

Thirty-five years ago, Ho and Cope left South Vietnam with the entire Cam Ranh City Christian Orphanage, a war-forced evacuation that would bring them all, improbably, to Buckner Children’s Home in Dallas.

Last week, Thomas Ho and Ty Cope each made their first trip back to Vietnam as part of a reunion of the Cam Ranh/Buckner orphans. Now, suddenly, they were in an identity drama, trying to determine whether a Vietnamese man who had been in touch via the Internet really might be Cope’s dad. Ho talked to the man in Vietnamese for a moment, then pulled away to translate. “He said, ‘I’m very happy. My son! My son!’ ” . . .

Life can take momentous turns, and no one knows that better than the Cam Ranh/Buckner orphans, who were together again last week in their homeland. There were 69 originally, and two dozen came to the reunion, nearly all traveling thousands of miles from Dallas or elsewhere in the United States.

They’re middle-aged now, and middle-class. Most have college degrees, and their professions include architect, banker, computer programmer, nurse, teacher and social worker. They represent a spectrum of assimilation. Many of the younger children were adopted out of Buckner and soon lost their language. The older kids would stick it out, attending Skyline High and speaking Vietnamese among themselves. But they all retained – and still do – a deep bond. . . .

They’ve been having reunions every five years in Dallas, but at the last one, they committed to going back to Vietnam. They raised money, created a website, established an archive of photographs from the Cam Ranh and Buckner days, and ordered reunion T-shirts and ball caps with the slogan “Get Love, Share Love.” After all the planning, the reunion got under way Wednesday, with a big contingent boarding a bus in Ho Chi Minh City (still popularly known as Saigon) heading north toward Nha Trang and Cam Ranh.

Thirty-five years ago, they were orphans on the run, headed the other way.

These two sets of stories and image illustrate not just the sadness and joy that many Vietnamese Americans experience as the reflect on their lives both in Viet Nam and the U.S., but they also represent the “duality” and transnational nature of our identities as Vietnamese Americans. That is, it does not have to be a contradiction to assert our identities as both Vietnamese and as American. As particularly exemplified in the two articles about Vietnamese Americans returning to their land of birth, our two sets of experiences actually complement each other.

In other words, Vietnamese Americans have benefited greatly from the generous opportunities available to us here in the U.S. to rebuild our lives and to enjoy freedoms that we otherwise would not have back in Viet Nam. Despite the past and ongoing struggles, our successes as Vietnamese Americans reinforces the best of what the U.S. can be — the “land of opportunity” for millions of people around the world. It is with these experiences as Americans that we can put our knowledge, skills, and resources to good use back in Viet Nam and around the world.

At the same time, our Vietnamese heritage has also enriched American society in many ways — culturally, as we share our food, traditions, and experiences with our neighbors and economically, as our “Little Saigon” and “Versailles” communities have revitalized urban areas to the benefit of residents from all backgrounds.

As Americans from all backgrounds reflect on this 35th anniversary of the end of the Viet Nam War, I think it’s important to acknowledge what has been lost, but also the many things that all of us have gained in the years since as well.

Struggles and Opportunities for Immigrant Minority Businesses

I previously wrote about data showing that in many ways, racial minorities are hurt more than Whites by the current economic recession, largely because in many occupations and industries, people of color are overrepresented among those who are recently hired, have less overall years of job experience and therefore, are more likely to be laid off.

However, a large part of daily life for many communities of color, particularly immigrants, centers on local small businesses. How are they doing in the recession? As New America Media points out, while they struggle just like almost all area of American society these days, they still remain focal points for cultural and social life within many communities of color. In addition, many entrepreneurs say the recession actually offers some interesting opportunities:

Recession or not, Mexican businesses that serve up traditional foods like conches, paletas, tacos and sopes to locals in San Francisco’s Mission District remain popular social gathering places in the neighborhood. But sales are another story.

“There used to be lines of people out the door. It’s not like it was,” said Estela Valle, 56, describing the drop in customers at her panadería, La Mexicana Bakery . . . Since the economy collapsed, Valle says she has seen a 40 percent drop in business. But the bakery continues to be popular among the usual crowd of housewives and construction workers, says Valle; they are just buying less. . . .

Nail salon owners, many of them Vietnamese immigrant women, say their businesses are slumping along with the economy.
Susan (Xuan) Le, owner of Susan’s Nail and Spa in Oakland, has been a manicurist for 20 years, and she says this is the hardest time. . . .

“People can’t afford it. They can’t afford to pay rent and eat, how can they have money to pay for manicures and pedicures?” she said. “They are coming back, but it’s taking longer than before. If they used to come every two weeks, now they’re coming in once a month. My income is cut in half.” . . .

While [others] cut back, Quyen Ton is venturing out on her own. After 14 years as a manicurist in other peoples’ shops, she decided to start her own business: White Daisy Nail Spa in San Francisco. “I have the skills and am good with customers. I had the ability and confidence to run my own business. I wanted to see if I could make a go of it, and make a better living,” Ton said.

Ton said a bad economy didn’t deter her. Instead it gave her an opportunity. “The good thing is that it’s easy to get a lease, they don’t require a lot, and it’s easier to negotiate a lower rent,” said Ton.

Certainly immigrant minority small businesses and their owners are just like other American businesses and workers — the recession has led to tough times and many businesses struggle to stay afloat. As the article describes, many immigrant minority owners have had to change and adapt to the economic downturn just like anybody else.

Nonetheless, the article illustrates some interesting points about immigrant business owners — even though sales are down, they are still prominent fixtures in their communities as places where people can congregate, socialize, maintain relations with friends and neighbors, and in doing so, perhaps share information about jobs, social services, or other ways to better survive the recession.

In other words, many immigrant minority businesses are more than just a place to buy goods or services — they can also serve as spaces for ethnic groups to maintain ethnic solidarity. This collective process also serves as an informal kind of networking and social support that can have many direct and indirect benefits for community members in times of economic difficulty.

In providing a space and social structure within which members collaboratively provide and access informal resources to/with each other, churches frequently perform similar functions as well. Taken together, such immigrant minority institutions can provide a form of social “safety net” for ethnic groups and may help to lessen some of the more negative consequences of the recession.

The History of the First Suburban Chinatown

Whether you’re Asian American or not, I presume that you have heard of, and have probably visited, at least one Chinatown around the U.S. As history shows us, such Chinatowns were created largely out of necessity by Chinese immigrants who, in many cases, were restricted in terms of where they could live and what kinds of jobs they could have.

All of these “traditional” Chinatowns and other Asian enclaves are located in central urban areas in cities like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and others. Through the years, they’ve seen their ups and downs but since the influx of some 20 million Asian immigrants after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, many Chinatowns have grown, expanded, and flourished.

In fact, particularly in southern California and New York City, the arrival of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean immigrants was so large that the original urban Chinatowns had no more room for them. Also, many of these newer Asian immigrants were more affluent and didn’t want to settled for the crowded and noisy residences in these older urban enclaves and instead, wanted to “cash in” on their middle class status and live in the suburbs.

With this in mind, beginning in the early 1980s, the first suburban Chinatowns emerged in Monterey Park (San Gabriel Valley), CA and Flushing (Queens), NY. Professor Susie Ling of Pasadena City College has just written a very interesting and informative history of Asians in the San Gabriel Valley, which dates back even earlier than the 1965 Immigration Act and how the first suburban Chinatown in the country developed there. Here are some excerpts:

According to the 1990 census, Monterey Park had a majority 56 percent Asian population. Inevitably, White flight took place and more Mandarin Chinese - followed by populations of other Asians - started to migrate to the other suburban communities of San Gabriel Valley including Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead, etc.

After some initial resistance, public libraries and schools began to embrace multilingualism and multiculturalism. Alhambra High School established Mandarin into their foreign language curriculum. Alhambra Rotary is very ethnically diverse and supports myriad community activities. Since 1991, the City of Alhambra and the City of San Gabriel have jointly sponsored a Lunar New Year parade. . . .

Of course there are problems in the San Gabriel Valley. Development has led to congestion. Unemployment, homelessness, and drug abuse are real. There are Asian gangs, Latino gangs, and even mixed gangs. There have been racial squabbles at each of the local high schools. Asians are underrepresented in certain professions and overrepresented in certain industries.

But for the young generation of San Gabriel residents, diversity is norm. As happily as they embrace new technologies, they accept social change and think it is normal. Multilingual, multiracial, and multicultural, they are comfortable in diversity and they expect diversity. The Asian American youth do not know that they are “supposed to” major in engineering and not in sports.

They would not understand why they would want to or “should” date someone of their own ethnic background, as many of their uncles and aunties have mixed marriages. With cultural tolerance is a great celebration of other forms of diversity, from disability, to sexual orientation, to lifestyle. These kids are the Asian American generation that owns the San Gabriel Valley.

Having studied cities like Monterey Park in graduate school, I am fascinated by how its development into the country’s first suburban Chinatown represents a very complex, sometimes volatile, but always fascinating mix of globalization, demographic change, ethnic succession, and cultural pluralism. For those who’d like to learn more about it, I recommend The Politics of Diversity: Immigration, Resistance, and Change in Monterey Park, California. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

As I’ve written about before, these kinds of suburban Chinatowns and other Asian ethnic enclaves are, more than likely, going to become more numerous and bigger as (1) The Asian American population continues to grow significantly and (2) urban Asian enclaves such as Chinatown are slowly becoming gentrified as urban developers and city planners continue to attract residents — especially affluent ones — back to central urban areas.

Nonetheless, while it’s always nice to see more of these types of suburban enclaves that are focal points of diversity and racial/ethnic pluralism, you can only make history once and that is Monterey Park’s/the San Gabriel Valley’s distinction: the first truly suburban Chinatown in the U.S.