Vietnamese Amerasians: A Study Of Identity Construction

Vietnamese Amerasians: A Study Of Identity Construction

University of Texas, Arlington
December 2010
78 pages

Ky-Giao C. Nguyen

Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Arlington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Sociology

“We define who we are by defining who we are not” (Daniel 1996). What happens when we don’t know who we are not, how can we determine who we are? What if the markers of family connections, community alliances and citizenship are missing and there are no peers with whom to make comparisons? “What are you? Where are you from?” Hispanic, Filipino, sometimes even Native American rather than Asian, are ethnicities often ascribed to Vietnamese Amerasians (children of Vietnamese and American parents). Curiously, for such a personal question, the reaction from others to the response “Vietnamese Amerasian” is often rejection or disbelief. For years, Amerasians have struggled with their place in society, within the U.S. based Vietnamese-American community as well as in the larger U.S. and Vietnamese societies. The life of the Amerasian born and raised in Vietnam is an example of the identity construction and socialization of persons whose lives were marginalized times three through denial of citizenship by country, desertion by family, and rejection by community. Triple marginalization is defined for my purposes as lack of national, familial, and societal affirmation of self. This triple marginalization offers no tangible core of positively valued identity, thus forcing the Amerasian to either accept the labels assigned or forge on to create their own identity. Loss of family, lack of community, and statelessness continues to haunt Amerasians today. The quest for a place to belong, a family to come home to, and a country to acknowledge them still influences their decisions and actions, in ways both detrimental and advantageous to the preservation of an identity built without solid foundation.

This project is a historically situated, qualitative research based look into the internal and external construction of identity of the Vietnamese Amerasians born during the Vietnam War, individually and as a group. For primary data collection, I utilized my membership in a local Amerasian organization to participate in regularly scheduled group discussions. I evaluated the transcripts of organized conversations among twenty subjects participating in group discussions sponsored through a local Amerasian organization, over five months, from March 2009 through July 2009. During the course of this research, I discovered that while individual participants’ lives were lived separately, there was a commonality to the experiences that helped each come to some definition of self. The members fell into three distinct groups: those who renounce any and all claim of their heritage, becoming wholly Americanized; those who completely immerse themselves in the Vietnamese communities, living much as they did prior to arriving in the U.S.; and those who learn to fluidly move between their two cultures, picking up nuances of themselves wherever they happen to exist, rarely clinging to just one identity.

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