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The Vietnamese Americans’ Successful Transition To The United States By Actively Exercising Traditional American Values   Dang Thi Huyen Trang 05 E1
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The Vietnamese Americans’ Successful Transition To The United States By Actively Exercising Traditional American Values Dang Thi Huyen Trang 05 E1






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The Vietnamese Americans’ Successful Transition To The United States By Actively Exercising Traditional American Values   Dang Thi Huyen Trang 05 E1 The Vietnamese Americans’ Successful Transition To The United States By Actively Exercising Traditional American Values Dang Thi Huyen Trang 05 E1 Document Transcript

  • Hanoi, May 2009 2
  • Hanoi, May 2009 ACCEPTANCE I hereby state that I : Đặng Thị Huyền Trang, 05E1, being a candidate for the degree of Bachelor of Arts (TEFL) accept the requirements of the College relating to the retention and use of Bachelor’s Graduation Paper deposited in the library. In terms of these conditions, I agree that the origin of my paper deposited in the library should be accessible for the purposes of study and research, in accordance with the normal conditions established by the librarian for the care, loan or reproduction of the paper. 4
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I would like to express my sincere gratefulness to a number of people without whose support, advice and cooperation, this research project would not have been completed. Firstly, I would like to send our thanks to Dr. Do Tuan Minh for his many precious advice and comments which have helped to strengthen and polish my research right from the beginning. Secondly, our thanks are also due to the participant, Nguyen, for sharing his life story and for the trust he gave in me for keeping his identity confidential. Thirdly, I would like to show my warmest thanks to Mr. Nate Borrett, my big friend and dear host father, for giving me valuable insights into the paper. I also wish to thank our families, teachers and friends, too many to be mentioned individually, for their continuous support and encouragement during the project. Last but not least, I would like to thank those whose works have been used in this study. 5
  • ABSTRACT There is another picture of the Vietnamese life outside Vietnam’s border, the life of the overseas Vietnamese. Though living away from their mother land, the overseas Vietnamese are playing an increasing important contribution to our country’s development, seen through the growing amount of foreign money they send home each year ($8 billion in 2008, according to Vietnamese Overseas Association). However, how they are leading their lives in a foreign land remains less than widely known in their homeland’s literature, as a result of there being not much research on these subjects. As one of the first attempts to do so, the paper chose the United States, the nation of immigrants, which is currently accommodating 1.6 Vietnamese people, more than half of their total population worldwide, as the research field. Aiming at finding out to what extent has their American Dream has been fulfilled, and by what means have they made it happen, the paper studied the case of a middle-aged, middle-classed Vietnamese male who was among the first to arrive in the United States. A deliberate interview carried out via telephone, and the researcher’s participant observation were used as source of data. These two sources were then interwoven into the data analysis process, using interpretative method. Interestingly, the study shows that even though the participant did not really dream the American Dream, he has successfully settled down in America, following his set of principles for success that are not entirely and solely transferred from the traditional American values, but also from the view of a heir to Vietnamese culture. 6
  • TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE Acknowledgement iv Abstract v List of tables and figures x CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1.1 Statement of the problem and the rationale for the study 1 1.2. Aims and objectives of the study 3 1.3. Significance of the study 3 1.4. Scope of the study 4 1.5. Methods of the study 5 1.5.1. Data collection methods 5 1.5.2. Data analysis methods. 5 1.6. Organization 6 CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW 8 2.1. Key concepts 8 2.1.1. Vietnamese Americans 8 Other titles for Vietnamese Americans 8 “Việt kiều”, “kiều bào” and “người Việt hải ngoại” 8 Orientals 8 7
  • The Vietnamese Americans 9 Definition 9 Sociohistorical context 10 Population 10 Location 11 Life in America: challenges and achievements 12 2. 1. 2. The American Dream 14 2.1. 3. Values 16 Definition of “values” 16 How American values were formed? 17 What are the traditional values? 18 Individual Freedom 21 Definition of Freedom: 21 Freedom in America 21 The testament of Freedom in the United States21 Self- reliance 22 Definition of self-reliance 22 Self-reliance in America 22 8
  • The application of self-reliance 23 Equality of opportunity 24 1. Definition of equality 24 2. American outlook on equality 24 3. Definition of opportunity 25 Interpretation of “equality of opportunity” 24 Competition 24 Definition of Competition 24 Interpretation of Competition 25 The practice of competition American 25 Material wealth 25 Definition of wealth 25 9
  • Definition of material 25 Myths and reality of material wealth in America26 The role of material wealth in America 26 Americans’ practices to achieve material wealth27 Hard work 27 Definition of hard work 27 Definition of a hard worker 27 The necessity of hard work in American society28 The persistence of the traditional values 28 2.2. Related Studies 29 2.2.1. An overview of related studies worldwide 29 2.2.2. Overview of related studies in Vietnam 32 2.3. Summary 34 CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY 3.1. Participants 35 3.1.1. The significance of the first generation 35 3.2.2. The participant’s background. 35 3.2. Data collection instruments 36 3.2.1. Interview: 36 10
  • 3.2.2. Participant observation 38 3.3. Data collection procedure 38 3. 4. Data analysis procedure 40 3.5. Summary 41 CHAPTER 4: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION 4.1. Research question 1: The expectations the Vietnamese American had of the life in America before coming to the United States. 42 4.2. Research question 2: The extent to which those expectations have been fulfilled. 45 4.3. Research question 3 and 4: The American values Nguyen has actively adopted in order to achieve success. 46 4.3.1. Practicality 46 4.3.2. Work responsibility 47 4.3.3. Self-reliance 48 4.3.4. Competition 49 4.3.5. Hard work 50 4.4. Summary 52 CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION 11
  • 5.1. Major findings of the research 53 5.2. Suggestions for further research 54 5.3. Contributions of the study 55 5.4. Limitations of the research 56 REFERENCE APPENDICES 12
  • LIST OF FIGURES 1. Figure 1: Vietnamese American Population from 1980 – 2007 11 2. Figure 2: The gap of incomes between the two waves of Vietnamese immigrants. 13 13
  • CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1.1. Statement of the problem and the rationale for the study According to the statistics by U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006, there were approximately 3,000,000 Vietnamese people living overseas. Of all the foreign countries that accommodate Vietnamese people, the United States attracts the largest number of Vietnamese immigrants. In 2006, the number of American citizens of Vietnamese origins reached nearly 1,6 million, more than half of the total overseas Vietnamese population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Because of their large representative number, their ubiquitous communities set up over the United States, and the historical events they are associated with, the Vietnamese Americans play a central role in portraying overseas Vietnamese activities. Vietnamese community in the United States has been drawing public attention recently not only to their healthy and delicate foods, their persistent family traditions and values, but to themselves as a thriving minority who has gained considerable socioeconomic success and whose children serve as academic “role model” in American colleges (Springstubb, 2005). Their contribution and empowerment to the adopted country is widely recognized as the people who turned the least desirable area of Orange Country (California) into a prosperous commercial region, and who at an attention - getting high rate returned to the devastated New Orleans after the savage hurricane Katrina (Leong et al, 2007). Vietnamese economic progress is also seen as the fastest a minority in America has ever made, surpassing the national average income right from the early 1990s (Springstubb, 2005). There has been much evidence about the Vietnamese’s success in the United States, indicators of their American Dream come true. Considering their initial challenges when they first 14
  • landed on the United States carrying nothing more than the clothes on their back and an unprepared mind for becoming immigrants in a society where racism and discrimination still clings to its power, their remarkable accomplishments pose an incentive to find out whether they see themselves as having achieved the legendary American Dream of going from rags to riches. Recently, there are two significant headlines to exemplify the concern mentioned above: In January 2009, the Vietnamese joyfully celebrated on having their very first Congressman, Joseph Cao elected to Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district. Eventually, the Vietnamese have been able to set political footing in the United States, a sign that shows their relatively established economic footing, a glittering evidence of success in America. Very recently, however, another event took place and darkened the picture. In early April, 2009, a Vietnamese American, Jiverly Wong caused a mass shooting at New York Immigration center. The event took the lives of 13 people and drew public attention to the developing Vietnamese community. The gunman is said to have come to that devastating action as a result of unbearable hardship in America, “hitting a wall while struggling to gain a toehold in the United States and improving his English”. His final action was even reported “not a surprise” to the people who know him (Rivera & Schweber, pars. 5-6). Winner and loser - the two examples, though well-known to public, reflect the two extremes of the matter. The mainstream of Vietnamese Americans, who are living and working diligently, appeals to the researcher as a source of inspiration to study and thus, evaluate the materialization of their American Dream, particularly through applying selected traditional American values. The research, choosing a qualitative method, specifically 15
  • case- study approach, will collect details along the course of a pioneer Vietnamese American with a view to rebuilding a meticulous picture of his struggles, and reflecting his personal judgment of his own achievements. 1. 2. Aims and objectives of the study Firstly, the research paper is intended to find out whether a typical Vietnamese American has successfully transitioned to the United States, as a realization of the American Dream. If this is the case, more details will be gathered on his course of actions, and the role of the American values on his achievements. Following this, an evaluation on those values will be made with a view to ordering those values in terms of their significance and practicality. All of these are expected to give a vivid portrayal of the Vietnamese American life in the United States. Briefly speaking, the aims and objectives of the study can be summarized into four research questions as follows: 1. What expectations did the Vietnamese American have before coming to the United States? 2. To what extent have those expectations been fulfilled? 3. Did they actively adopt those American values as guidelines for their success? 4. Did those values prove useful? What did, and what did not? 1.3. Significance of the study The research is among the first studies on the topic of Vietnamese American conducted from Vietnam and is hoped to set the footing for further research. Providing a detailed historical account, the study serves as 16
  • a source for other researchers to refer to, as well as to dig deeper into multiple traits that the Vietnamese American life always has to offer. Also, the study carries practical value in sense that other immigrants can look at the story and draw for themselves some practical insights on success in America. 1.4. Scope of the study Although “Vietnamese Americans” and “the realization of their American Dream” has been set as the general topic for this paper, the research will place a heavier focus on the issue in terms of economic success, which is the most fundamental to any transition, and also the most obvious and measurable in retrospect. Other aspects, though also studied, will receive only a certain amount of exploration. In addition, the traditional “American values” are chosen among many scholars’ amplifications to adopt those proposed by Crandall, Datesman & Kearny (2005). To be specific, those values are categorized into three pairs, including: “freedom and self-reliance”, “equality of opportunity and competition”, and “material wealth and hard work”. Their definition of American traditional values are seen by the researcher as most basic and logically organized. Finally, the sample for this case-study consists of the story of one ordinary Vietnamese American who is among the first to be in the United States, even prior to 1975 when the influx of Vietnamese immigrants started to pour in. With regards to his ample length of time spent there, it is expected to gather a good amount of information, together with insights into the topic being researched. 1.5. Methods of the study 17
  • 1.5.1. Data collection methods Interview and participant observation were used during the data collection process. Specifically, a phone call was made to the participant and was recorded along the interview. During the interview, the participant was encouraged to talk as much as he would like and played the role of a informant, instead of a mere respondent. Semi-structured interview and focused interview, with timely intervention were employed in order to gather as much information and insights as possible. Questions are mainly open – ended and are developed around the four research questions. Participant observation was made possible thanks to the 9 months (from October 2007 to April 2008) the researcher spent living in the same state and joined the participant in many of his activities. The information gathered from this source was used as additional data and also an aspect to compare with the participant’s answers. 1.5.2. Data analysis methods The collected data was initially classified according to the four research questions. The data were then processed using interpretive methods. As the information obtained from the interview plays the central role in addressing the research problem, the recording, as well as the transcript were carefully studied for multiple times for accuracy and uniformity. Highlighted comments or phrases were revisited and compared with other sources, including personal experience and former studies before reaching the final interpretation. Open-ended questions were presented in form of summary. Finally, some typical quotations were cited when necessary to illustrate the data analysis. 18
  • 1.6. An overview of the rest of the chapter The rest of the paper includes five chapters as follows: Chapter 2 – Literature review – provides the background of the study, including definitions of key concepts, description of the life of the Vietnamese Americans, the persistence and application of the American traditional values. Chapter 3 – Methodology – describes the participant and instruments of the study, as well as the procedure employed to carry out the research. Chapter 4 – Data analysis and discussion – presents, analyzes and discusses the findings that the researcher found out from the data collected according to the four research questions. Chapter 5 – Conclusion – summarizes the main issues discussed in the paper, the limitations of the research as well as some suggestions for further studies. Following this chapter are the Bibliography and Appendices. Summary In this chapter, the researcher has elaborated on these following points: 19
  • (1) Statement and rationale for the study (2) Aims and objectives of the study (3) Scope of the study (4) Methods of the study (5) An overview of the rest of the paper In short, these elaborations have provided the framework, and also the general guidelines for the study that follows. 20
  • CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW This second chapter will review the state of the art of the study, specifically the background and a number of studies related to the research topic. To begin with, the key concepts, namely “Vietnamese Americans”, “American dream” and “American values”, along with their subordinates (elements making up the America set of values) will be researched. Following this, a brief review of the related studies will disclose the research gap and hence, justify the aims and objectives of this research paper. 2.1. Key concepts. 2.1.1. Vietnamese Americans Other titles for Vietnamese Americans “Việt kiều”, “kiều bào” and “người Việt hải ngoại” These three terms, despite having the same denotation of referring to the Vietnamese residing internationally over the world., have their own connotation and usage. In Vietnam, as well as in worldwide Vietnamese communities, Vietnamese Americans are popularly known as “Việt kiều”, a Sino-Vietnamese word literally translating to “Vietnamese sojourner” (Takagi, 1998, p.455); and more formally and sentimentally, as “kiều bào”, which is preferably used by Vietnam’s diplomats. However, offshore, the overseas Vietnamese would prefer the title “Người Việt hải ngoại”, whose literal meaning matches up with “overseas Vietnamese”. Among the overseas Vietnamese, the Vietnamese Americans constitute a considerable portion of nearly 1,6 million out of the total 3 million overseas Vietnamese ( U.S. Census of Bureau, 2006). Orientals 21
  • In the Unites States, like other Asian ethnic groups, it is not right from the beginning that Vietnamese immigrants were able to coin their current title. All Asian people were dubbed “Orientals” (Espiritu,1992) as an alienated minority distant from the mosaic America and were often victims of hate crimes. It was not until a number of severe cases of hate crime and legal acts were passed that Asian immigrants received the title as “Asian Americans”. Each Asian subgroup also started to see themselves as Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, and likewise. The Vietnamese Americans Definition Translated to Vietnamese as “ người Mĩ gốc Việt”, Vietnamese Americans can be defined as “the residents of the United States who trace their ancestry back to Vietnam” (Freeman, 2008). The research, when referring to Vietnamese Americans, will focus on only people of Vietnamese origins instead of including Chinese Vietnamese Americans, even though they consist a certain number of the population. Sociohistorical context The influx of Vietnamese immigrants into the U.S started came in two major ways and started in the mid to late 1970s after the fall of Saigon in 1975 as a result of the post-war unrest. The number of Vietnamese immigrants over time is illustrated in Figure 1. The first wave left right in the spring of 1975 and were the privileged group consisting of many government employees, professionals, and the elite who were fortunate to have received direct help from the U.S government afterwards via resettlement camps and the sponsorship program. Their number reached above 130,000 by the end of 1975 (Springstubb, 2005). 22
  • The second wave arrived in even greater number at the end of 1970s and early 1980s. Those in the second wave were less trained, spoke less English, and were mainly made up of farmers, fishermen, and other villagers. Those people had longer and more difficult processing time in the period of “compassion fatigue” experienced in some Asian countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, where they crowded into camps overseen by the United Nations (Springstubb, 2005, p.48). The Vietnamese chose the United States to be the “leading second-asylum” because of the various supportive U.S. immigration policies, including the McCarran – Walter Act of 1952, Refugee Relief Act of 1953, the 1965 Immigration Act, the Orderly Departure Program (1979), and especially the 1980 Refugee Act signed by President Jimmy Carter (Springstubb, 2005; Allen & Turner, 1988). That Vietnamese immigrants could be admitted to the United States under the seventh preference visas and the Refugee Act of 1980 helped eased the way for tens of thousands more Vietnamese to come to America the same year(Springstubb, 2005). Population According to the American Community Survey (2006), the total population of Vietnamese Americans in the United States was 1,642,950, and predictably would make up 0,55% of the U.S. population in 2007. The survey also pointed out that Vietnamese American population is steadily on the rise, from a tiny ethnic group in late 1970s to the second largest Southeast Asian American subgroup (following the Filippino American community). The Vietnamese population is illustrated with Figure 1. 23
  • Vietnamese American Population (1980-2007) 2,000,000 1,500,000 Number 1,000,000 500,000 0 1980 1990 2000 2007 Figure 1: Vietnamese American Population from 1980 – 2007 (United States Census Bureau) Location Prior to 1975, Vietnamese immigration was extremely limited to only about 15,000 Vietnamese allocated randomly over the U.S and were mostly exchange students or spouses of the American servicemen (Springstubb, 2005). There were no pre-established ethnic communities such as Chinatown or Little Italy. Therefore, when the first wave arrived, they had only each other. Moreover, the government Dispersal policy whose purpose was to avoid heavy allocation to only certain places (primarily the four main camp sites in California, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Florida) fragmented the extended family system and prevented reuniting efforts from happening. However, after orienting to life in the new country, many families started to move from rural to urban areas, from regions of severe winter to those of sunshine and mild winter, and above all, to join relatives. San Jose (California) and Houston (Texas) have become the major destinations with highest percentage of Vietnamese in population, making up 11.4% and 6.5% of the city’s population, respectively (Porte & Rumbaut, 2003, p.48). In present-day, a Vietnamese community of various sizes can be found throughout the U.S, from the chilly Iowa to sun-kissed California. California, which is as close to Vietnam as it can get, is always a great attraction to the Vietnamese thanks to its generous government assistance 24
  • program, availability of jobs, and the many shops serving varied Asian communities. Vietnamese people have successfully launched small businesses there, especially along Bolsa Avenue in Westminster, (Orange County) where there are about 200 small Vietnamese businesses and is considered by many “the Vietnamese capital in America” (Allen & Turner, 1988). Also, in Northern California, the San Jose area (better known as Silicon Valley) is also a highly concentrated region of Vietnamese Americans. Life in America: challenges and achievements To the newly arrived several decades ago, their new adopted country provided not only shelter and hope, but also a number of challenges for adjustment. The early challenges comprised the dispersal of family, no pre-established communities, the lack of communication, difficulties in getting a job, and the emotional toll (Springstubb, 2005, p.53-64). The most undesirable challenge was the, discrimination and anti-Asian violence that subjected the already-bewildered immigrants to anti-Asian hate crimes (Avakian, 2002, p.193). After having been in the United States for more than a quarter of a century, the Vietnamese Americans continue to struggle with the continuing challenges related to their immigration. These challenges consist of “the breakdown of the extended family, the disagreement between the generations, racial tension, gangs, and mental-health difficulties” (Springstubb, 2005, p.78; Takagi,1998, p.457), to name just a few. However, despite the persistent trials, the Vietnamese Americans have been making widespread progress in many fields, including economy, politics, and social recognition. However, the gap between the people from the first wave and those from the second wave, though narrowed, is still visible, as demonstrated by Figure 2. 25
  • Economically, they climbed above the national average in 1990 (Springstubb, 2005, p.69). In 1999 only 16 percent of Vietnamese Americans, mostly the uneducated people who arrived in the later wave, still lived under the poverty line, which was slightly higher than the national number of 16 percent. Despite the few opportunities they were given, many experts see this progress as remarkable. Furthermore, as the second generation is entering the workforce, a growing number of middle class has been witnessed and promises a brighter economic picture for the Vietnamese Americans (Springstubb, 2005, p.70). 14,000 12,000 10,000 8,000 1976-1979 arrivals 6,000 1975 arrivals 4,000 2,000 0 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 Figure 2: The gap of incomes between the two waves of Vietnamese immigrants. Socially, there has been a considerable change in public attitude towards the Vietnamese. After the initial friction caused by job competition and the immigrants’ historical background, it didn’t take the American people longer than by June, 1975 to realize the good qualities of the Vietnamese immigrants and considered them “appreciative, dear people” who had gone through great suffering and hadsuccessfully “sold themselves” to the native people, and “are still selling themselves today” (Springstubb, 2005, p.52). In addition, the academic success the Vietnamese children achieve in many American public schools also helped to enhance the group’s public image as student “role model”. As early as 1988, a study showed that Vietnamese students made up 25 percent of the valedictorians and salutatorians in San 26
  • Diego high schools, even though the Vietnamese constituted only 7 percent of the graduating classes (Allen & Turner, 1988, p.180). A recent study done in San Diego revealed that 90 percent of adolescents want to attain at least a bachelor’s degree, and 69 percent intend to earn graduate degree. Earning these degrees means not only the hope of material success, but more importantly, the only way to “get respect,” and “to be American.” In the entertainment industry, a number of Vietnamese - original artists have managed to gain the celebrity status, and even made their way to Hollywood to star in must-see movies. Maggie Q, Dat Phan, and Tila Tequilla are the persons to launch the public image of the Vietnamese community. (see Appendix 2) Politically, the Vietnamese have been able to have their representatives enter a number of political offices in the United States. The year 1992 marked the turning point for the Vietnamese’s political voice after Tony Lam was elected member of the Westminster’s City council. In 2007, Janet Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American county supervisor in the United States, and also the first woman to be elected from the First District. Most notably, in January 2009, the Vietnamese were able to celebrate having their very first Congressman, Joseph Cao elected to Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district. The political influence is important since it not only proves and established economic footing of the community but also will help them to deal with the existing challenges such as racism, language barrier, youth gang activity. 2. 1. 2. The American Dream “Saving for the American Dream was the immigrant’s religion” (Springstubb, 2005, p.68). The idea of American Dream emerged as soon as people discovered the New Land and wrote back to their Queens about its vast resources. 27
  • “Paradise”, as both Christopher Columbus, the man who discovered America, and Amerigo, the man who America is named after, used to refer to America to in their report to Queen Isabella of Spain. They believed they had found their promised land where people could even “send souls to heaven”. America was initially the dreamy place of rebirth to the W.A.S.P (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) who suffered religious suppression and continual wars of religion. English Protestants made up the first group of European immigrants to America, calling the place “New England” (Hoobler, 2003). Freedom to worship and land were the major attractions of the young colonial America The American dream, as advertised to people in Europe by companies, was the place of limitless resources and where babies are born with “no blemishes and tender heart”, in order to attract people to come to the New World. (Hoobler, 2003). These were, of course, used as an exaggerated marketing strategy in order to talk up America, but obviously they were able to touch people’s hope for a place of a new beginning out of the corrupt Europe. After the country gained Independence from the British Empire in 1776, dreams about America is officially stated in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights that assures inalienable individual rights, including provisions for freedom of speech, press, and religion. Over time, the American dream adopted the casual definition of wealth, freedom, and equal opportunity, as put in “The Epic of America” (Adams, 1959): “the dream of a land in which life should be better, richer, and fuller for every man with opportunities for each according to his abilities and achievement.” 28
  • Gradually, coming to the United States because of the American Dream is no longer a thing to beg of people to do, but to restrain. So many people have made it in America, as they casually put success as to have “a solid job, nice house, nice cars”( West-Olatunji, Frazier, Guy, Smith, Clay, & Breaux III, 2007). The nation’s claimed strength based on its diversity, the social belief that in a land a person can become whatever one wants to be, and a typical optimistic spirit of “you can” in America are colossal appeals to people who want to catch their luck. Nevertheless, this promise America makes to her residents is from time to time challenged by the persisting racism and discrimination profoundly set in the country’s history, which means people of minority origins have narrower access to it. Despite this, many continue to believe in the American Dream will come true, including those experiencing conflicts between their personal values and the surrounding community’s, as proposed by the research by West-Olatunji et al, 2003. In order for the American Dream to be materialized, there are definitely requirements to follow. In other words, in order to become American, the immigrants will need to embrace the American values elaborated in the next part. 2.1. 3. Values Definition of “values” “Values”, as defined by Oxford Dictionary, are “the principles or standards of behavior by a group of people in the society”. Other definitions of value are also made by many scholars and variously stated as: 29
  • “An ideal, a paradigm setting forth a desired and esteemed possible social reality” (Gabriel, 1974, p.149) “Criteria for selection in action” ( Robin Williams) If Gabriel’s definition tends to picture values as “the ideal desired”, which implies it limited practicality under certain circumstances, William’s definition is in favor of a realistic, guiding feature of values in daily activities of the society. This is the conflict often seen when defining values, between the ideal values and the realistic ones. In many views, values are the “high-level ideals that are not intended for universal, literal realization (Luedtke, 2005). In this sense, the two orders of values will play the role of “defining the characteristic tensions of a society” (Luedtke, 2005), like the two opposite ends. However, values should not be looked at as what people idealize and at the same time acknowledge its low possibility to be made true. Values are established so that the society knows the goals it has to reach for. Furthermore, seen from the circumstance of America, an amazing nation, a unprecedented case in this world, where people are often known for their high optimism and where we often hear them utter “Nothing is impossible in America”, as famously declared by Bono, the front man of the famous rock band U2. How American values were formed? Certainly each and every society has its own set of values in order not only to distinguish itself from others, more importantly, to serve the needs and goals of that particular society. In search for the values of the United States, the New World, we must always bear one important thing in mind: its great diversity, from the early days of the country. People coming from different countries, starting from the other half of the 16th century, bringing with them various sets of values to the New World and together started 30
  • “the building of a nation” (Luedtke, 2005). This is to say that the American values were relatively young and were made in quite a different way when compared with others. Distinctively, those values are not what have been selected over time as the working “principles” in order for the individuals to fit in the society. This is not the case in the young United States. Citizens of the new country were not to inherit or follow the established values, but quite the opposite, they were to discover and establish them, in a new land that they left everything behind to come, shape their future, and manifest the ideals which they were not able to find in the Old World, and which would apply to everyone with so many cultural differences. “The Americans were successful in doing so around late 1700s (Crandall, 1997), when the system of basic values began to take shape. That such an amazing thing happened inspired George Santayana, a renowned 20th century philosopher to exclaim: I speak of the American in the singular, as if there were not millions of them, north and south, east and west, of both sexes, of all ages, and of various races, professions, and religions ...because if there are immense differences between individual Americans… yet there is a great uniformity in their environment, customs, temper and thoughts …(Luedtke, 2005). Therefore we see the distinguished significance of the traditional American values, which contributed to holding the whole society together (Fiedler et al, 1995). What are the traditional values? The American traditional values are those proposed by the WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants), and also known as the Protestant values. There have been many attempts to recognize those values in one way or another. To illustrate this point, a number of options have been introduced to cover 31
  • the core values of American ideology. These core values may vary from author to author: Baker, in the book, “America’s crisis of Values: Reality and Perception” (2005), states them as Liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire. Fiedler et al (1995) nominate freedom, idealizing what is practical, volunteerism, psychology of abundance, mobility, patriotism, and progress as the most notable American values. Crandall et al (2005) attributes the American values to individual freedom and self-reliance, equality of opportunity and competition, and material wealth and hard work. Instead of merely naming the values, in the early 1960s, Albert and Williams elaborated on the most important components of the American set of values as follows: i. An activist approach to life, based on mastery rather than passive acceptance of events ii. Emphasis on achievement and success, understood largely as material prosperity. iii. A moral character, oriented to such Puritan virtues as duty, industry, and sobriety. iv. Religious faith v. Science and secular rationality, encouraged by a view of the universe as orderly, knowable, and benign, and emphasizing an external rather than inward view of the world. vi. A progressive rather than traditionalist or static view of history, governed by optimism, confidence in the future, and a belief that progress can be achieved by effort. 32
  • vii. Equality, with a horizontal or equalitarian rather than hierachical view of social relations. viii. High evaluation of individual personality, rather than collective identity or responsibility ix. Self-reliance x. Humanitarianism xi. External conformity xii. Tolerance of diversity xiii. Efficiency and practicality xiv. Freedom xv. Democracy This elaboration, in particular, shares some common elements to make up the American values. However, the way these values are ordered does not seem to reflect the significance of some values as they deserve. For instance, “Freedom” was put almost at the end of the list, while in fact, it should be the center of all American values and even generate other vaues such as “self-reliance”, “democracy”, “an activist approach to life”, “tolerance of diversity”. Notably, it mentions “Religious faith” as a ‘salient feature” (Luedtke, 2005), which is not always picked up by other scholars. Distinctive and influential as this is, since the religious faith of the American mass is different from that of the subject studied here (the majority Vietnamese, whose dominant religion is Buddhism), and for the sake of neutrality of this paper, this value is not going to be discussed here. By and large, all of these four presentations share the common characteristics of the American value set. Clearly, there are plenty of values from different territories, including moral values, family values, economic values, religious values, secular values, and others, and different writers can choose to categorize them in their own way, dropping some or 33
  • terming them differently. However, the cornerstone of all kinds of collection always rests on freedom, which is stated in closely related terms such as Freedom, Individual Freedom, and Liberty. Individual Freedom Definition of Freedom: “Freedom” may be interpreted in many ways and in fact has been given numerous interpretations by philosophies and different schools of thought Considering the context in America, when individual freedom is has always been the core value of society, freedom can be politically understood as “the condition in which an individual has the right to act according to his or her own will” (Wikipedia, The Free Online Dictionary, August 2008). Freedom in America Fiedler et al (1995) assert that by freedom, Americans mean “the desire and the ability of all individuals to control their own destiny without outside interference from the government, a ruling noble class, the church, or any other organized authority” (p. 25). The testament of Freedom in the United States Standing at the centre of all American values, the right to freedom is clearly stated in the Unites States Declaration of Independence (1776) We hold the truth to be self-evident, that all men are… endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. and in the Bill of Rights ratified by Congress in 1791 that required the provisions for freedom of speech, press, and religion. 34
  • Together, these two documents of paramount significance assure that freedom is the most basic of all American values, and it is the responsibility of the government to protect such a right. Self- reliance Definition of self-reliance Briefly defined, self-reliance refers to “the reliance on one’s own efforts and abilities”( Merriam-Webster dictionary). Self-reliance in America The concept of self-reliance took shape from a very early time in America. It is in fact the motto of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s same-titled essay published 1841, in which he encouraged people to draw upon “inner strength” to safeguard against the societal criticism that inevitably fell upon those who took their own paths”, insisting that “The individual is the world” and challenged them to “Go alone”. One hundred years later, after his trip to America, Alexis de Tocqueville, a genius French observer, after his 9-month visit to the United States in 1831, wrote in the remarkable work, “Democracy in America”, what he perceived of the sense of self-reliance here: “They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands”. Inspired by Michel’s de Montaigne’s essays: “Net e quaesiveris extra” – “look to no-one outside yourself” (Baldwin, 2005), the concept of self- reliance has tightly attached to the history of America and as the unique means in order for individual to achieve their “inalienable right” of freedom. 35
  • The application of self-reliance . In today’s society, that means each individual must achieve “both financial and emotional independence from their parents as early as possible, usually by age 18 or 21” (Crandall et al, 1995). This spirit is well- illustrated through the prevalent “do-it-yourself” spirit in the United States, seen from an abundant variety of “know-how” books, to available self- service opportunities, at gas stations, fast-food restaurants ( whose number is big enough to paint the United States as a “fast food nation”), clerkless airline ticket counters, school cafeteria, and many more. Equality of opportunity 1. Definition of equality Equality can be defined as “the rights, treatment, quantity, or value equal to all others in a specific group”, according to the MSN Encarta Dictionary; or as “having the same rights or being treated the same as other people, without differences such as race, religion or sex being considered” (Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary, 2003). 2. American outlook on equality The distinctive trait of the American outlook on the matter of equality is that they have a deep faith that in some fundamental way, all (American) people are of equal value, no one is born superior to anyone else, and that “everyone, no matter how unfortunate, deserves some basic level of respectful treatment” (Althen, Amanda & Szmania, 2003, p.15). This principle is often expressed in the saying: “one person, one vote” conveying the idea that any person’s opinion is as valid and worthy of attention as any other person’s opinion. 3. Definition of opportunity 36
  • Opportunity can be understood as “a time when a particular situation makes it possible to do or achieve something” (Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary 2003). Interpretation of “equality of opportunity” Equality of opportunity is the belief that everyone has a chance to succeed in the United States. However, this does not mean that every one is equal or should be equal, only an “equal chance of success”, regardless of their personal background, including social status, race, or religion. ((Fiedler et al, 1995). Althen et al (2003) even states this in a more assertive way that: “…no matter what a person’s initial station in life, he or she has the opportunity to achieve high standing” (p.15). Competition Definition of Competition Competition is described by Kohn (1986) as a survival instinct, which means the behavior which is neither good nor bad, but exists to further the survival of an individual or species. Interpretation of Competition Fiedler et al (1995) report the Americans’ opinion of competition in life as follows: If much of life is seen as a race, then a person must run the race in order to succeed, a person must compete with others … it is every person’s duty to match their energy and intelligence against that of others in a competitive contest for success. Therefore, competition, as elaborated above, goes along with the equality of opportunity as the key to open the opportunity lock. 37
  • The practice of competition in daily American life: The two extreme results of a competition are expressed as “winner” and “loser”. The American society honors people who like to compete and become more successful by calling them “winners”, while dishonoring those who do not like to compete and are not successful when they try by calling them “losers” (Crandall et al, 2005). For this reason, it is often seen that even in such a harsh competition as presidential campaign, the beaten candidate will have difficulty reentering the race the next time it is held, since Americans people in general, will not maintain much respect for “losers”. Material wealth Definition of wealth Wealth is well-defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English language as “an abundance of valuable material possessions or resources. The word is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo- European word stem. An individual, community, region or country that has an abundance of such possessions or resources is called wealthy. Definition of material Material, here as an adjective, means being connected with money, possessions, etc. rather than with the needs of the mind or spirit (Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary, 2003). In this case, the opposite of “material” is “spiritual”. Myths and reality of material wealth in America This is also mentioned under the name of Psychology of abundance in Fiedler et al (1995, p.27). Throughout history, America has been reputed as 38
  • a “land of plenty” (Crandall et al, 2005). As soon as America was discovered, the myth of this New World with seemingly unlimited resources was made known through the report by Christopher Columbus, and then his colleague, Amerigo Vespuci to Queen Isabella of Spain, in which they described America as “the best that language can describe” (1492) and that “if there is a paradise, … it is not far from here”. After the arrival of the influx of immigrants, America still appeared to adequately cater for her people, as pioneers cheered that “Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm”. Up till now, there have always been stories of people “going from rags to riches”, as an inspiration for immigrants all over the world to come and seek their fortunes in this Promised Land. The role of material wealth in America Material wealth can also be recognized as “material badges” for the Americans (Althen et al, 2003). This is because material wealth has a special significance in the American society for three reasons as Crandall et al (2005) and Althen et al (2003) point out. Firstly, it is “widely accepted measure of social status in the United States”, after abolishing the European system of hereditary aristocracy and titles of nobility (Crandall et al, 1997). Secondly, in the Unites States, “people can, and do, move from one class to another on their own merits or misfortunes” (Lanier, 2005, p.38). Thirdly, material success was also associated with godliness in the Puritan work ethic (Crandall et al, 2005). Americans’ practices on achieving material wealth Althen et al (2003) observed that “regardless of income, Americans tend to spend money rather freely on material goods”, and that “items that were once considered luxuries, such as personal computers, telephone answering 39
  • machines, microwave ovens, and electric garage-door openers are now considered ‘necessities’ by many Americans”. This illustrates for the fact that the quality and quantity of an individual’s material possessions became an accepted measure of success and social status (Crandall et al (2005)). Hard work Definition of hard work Casually defined, hard work is something requiring lots of effort to do, either physicall, mentally or emotionally; labor and toil. (Wiktionary). Definition of a hard worker A hard worker is one who “gets right to work on a task, works efficiently, and completes the task in a timely way that meets reasonably high standards of quality”. (Althen et al, 2003) The necessity of hard work in American society Hard work is regarded as a price to pay for the Americans’ material wealth and always a respected characteristic in the United States. In the time of Frontier America, hard work was seriously required in order to convert the vast underdeveloped resources into material possessions, and acted as the assessment for people’s abilities. (Althen et al, 2003) Nowadays, hard work still widely appreciated. A foreigner often finds Americans more hard working than he/she expects them to be (Althen et al, 2003, p.25). The American society still holds to the Protestant work ethic that the ideal person is a hard worker and a person is often defined and evaluated through the job he or she has (Althen et al, 2003, p.26). For example, the answer to the question “Who is she?” will very likely be: “She is the vice president of U.S. Bank”. 40
  • The persistence of the traditional values The aforementioned values, though not yet reflecting the full picture of American stories, have remarkably been contributing in drawing immigrants to the United States, but also posing challenges before them. It has been thought that the United States has fallen from grace, and their best years are now behind (Baker, 2005, p.2). Some surveys, such as the one conducted in 1993 and 1994 showed that 62 percent of Americans reported that “Americans are greatly divided when it comes to the most important values” (Baker, 2005, p.4). In 2003, the number even climbed up to 67 percent of Americans who reported they “think the state of moral values in the country is getting worse” (Baker, 2005, p.5). Reasons may derive from the remarkable events such as the Vietnam War haunting the 1960s, the Watergate scandal of 1974, and most recently, the event of September 11, 2001, that aroused “fear and doubt” about American civil liberties and their reputation as a land of opportunity (Lanier, 2005, p.222). However, as “no coherent, unifying system of belief emerged as an alternative” to the mainstream Protestant values ( Fiedler et al, 1995), along with the revival of values such as the one taking place in the 1980s, the questionable perception of “crisis of values” has inspired Baker (2005) to carry out his exhaustive and fastidious study on whether this crisis is real. The final answer maintains that despite all those divisions, America still holds onto her fundamental values. We can find a similar voice, and also a back-up argument for Baker’s finding in Lanier (2005) that states: “threats to our civil liberties are being accepted on a daily basis, despite the warning, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, ‘those who would sacrifice their essential liberties for a little safety will soon have neither” (p.222). 2.2. Related Studies 41
  • 2.2.1. An overview of related studies worldwide Immigration, ethnicity and the American dream have been discussed at length for their own appeals, their importance in the field of American studies, and their great socioeconomic roles in understanding and managing such a diverse society. Therefore, a great deal of studies on the same topic or similar topics are available. The one featuring the most research on Vietnamese Americans is the same titled book by Tricia Springstubb (2005) in which the author gives a comprehensive picture of the Vietnamese from their context leading to immigration, their landing, initial adjustment, their challenges, the community’s current prosperity, as well as to give some thoughts on the future. However, while this book is a good general guide on broad issues, and though voices and experiences of the Vietnamese people can be found here and there, the book does not go in depth into any of the issues. Being a minority group in America, Vietnamese Americans also share many experiences as other ethnic groups, especially the Asian ones. The thorough research on “Asian Americans panethnicity” by Yen Le Espiritu (1993), whose main areas in this book include legal redress, anti-Asian violence, the development of Asian American Studies programs, social services, and affirmative action of the whole group in order to achieve their legal rights. The book also illustrates how Vietnamese Americans came to cooperate other Asian groups in order to fight the discrimination they faced and become nowadays’ successful minority groups, revealing a big part in their struggle with life in the new land. With the growing significance the Vietnamese community is contributing to the United States demographical and social features, they have become an indispensible part in any Atlas books of ethnicity in America, some of 42
  • the must-named ones are: “Atlas of Asian – American history” by Avakian (2002) and “ We the People: An Atlas of America’s Ethnic Diversity” by Allen & Turner (1988). These two huge work of labor make it very convenient for later researchers with maps, charts, colored photographs, chronologies, quotes, and more, so as to see the panorama of different ethnic groups, as well as have easy access to a variety of demographic illustrations. Besides, Vietnamese Americans and Asian Americans are usually the targets of journal researches and often mentioned in publications such as The American Journal of Sociology, The Journal of American History, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development on topics including their socioeconomic gains, their self – identity, academic achievements, and others. Findings from those are of great help in terms of long-term data, methodology and expertise perspectives. A vivid description of life in the United States with reference to different ethnic groups can be found in the two books: “Immigrant America” (1996) by Portes & Rumbaut, and “Living in the USA” by Lanier (2005). By drawing on recent census data and other primary sources, Portes and Rumbaut revise our understanding of immigrant America in a sweeping and multifaceted analysis. They probe the dynamics of immigrant politics, examining questions of identity and loyalty among newcomers who are quot;in a society but not of it,quot; and explore the psychological consequences of varying modes of migration and acculturation. They look at patterns of settlement in urban America, discuss the problems of English-language acquisition and bilingual education, and explain how immigrants incorporate themselves into the American economy. 43
  • The topic of “traditional American values” have also attracted a great number of researches, among which “ American Ways” by Crandall et al (2005), and “Making America: the society and culture of the United States” (Luedtke, 2005) are two remarkable and comprehensive works. Both give a dynamic account of the American experience and the revelation of the traditional values that have attracted people to the United States for well over 200 years and traces the effects of these values on American life. The values proposed by Crandall et al are also the framework for this paper’s literature review. Resting on a broad scale covering diversity, the family, education, government and politics, religion, business, and recreation (Crandall et al, 2005) and landscape, immigration, and urbanization; to manners, literature, and the arts; social organization and values; religion, science, philosophy, and law (Luedtke, 2005) the two books provide a fascinating and complex portrait of America circa 1990, and are recognized as the powerful and distinguished contribution to the literature in American and immigrant studies. The stability of those traditional values is proved and guaranteed with “America’s crisis of values” by Baker (2005). The question of values has been with America for a certain length of time, and there has been some change in people’s perception of the stability of those traditional values, which leads to the question whether this crisis of values is real, as the one happened to the W.A.S.P identity in the 1960s. This book explores the moral terrain of America today, analyzing the widely held perception that the nation is in moral decline, looking at the question from a variety of angles, examining “traditional values, secular values, religious values, family values, economic values, and others”. Using unique data from the World Values Surveys, the largest systematic attempt ever made to document attitudes, values, and beliefs around the world, this book 44
  • systematically evaluates the perceived crisis of values by comparing America's values with those of over 60 other nations. The evidence shows overwhelmingly that America has not lost its traditional values. As such, it preserves the ideological foundation of the nation. 2.2.2. Overview of related studies in Vietnam Although internationally there have been renowned researchers related to this topic, few have been found in Vietnam. There are certain limitations that explain the situation: American studies as a subject at school is not yet solidly established in Vietnam, thus appropriate attention has not been given to this rich subject. Even in Vietnam National University, Hanoi University of Languages and International Education where American Studies have been taught to forth- year English students for many years, research on country studies in general, and in American Studies were not permitted until this year (2009). In other words, the background we have for American Studies is quite basic and requires a considerable amount of additional contribution. The second reason lies in the limited access to this topic. Books by foreign authors are hard to find, and if found, are quite expensive, while the libraries are not resourceful enough and we do not have access to the electronic database, plus the geographic difficulties when it comes to data gathering. The situation is being gradually improved, though, for example, the opening of the American Center (by the United States Embassy, Hanoi) where books are constantly imported and updated, school libraries receive more books, as well as the emergence of book merchants ( such as Xuhabasa) who sense scholars’ and students’ greed for reference books, it still takes more time before we produce respectable works on this topic. 45
  • Finally, the relation between Vietnam and the United States has just been normalized since 1995 with the signature of PNTR treaty. Such a period may not yet be enough for all the historical frictions of the past to pass away in order to ease the way for insightful researches. However, it is not to say that there is no mention of such topic on American studies or Vietnamese Americans. News on the Vietnamese communities overseas are constantly updated on popular newspapers and e-newspapers. VnExpress, one of the most well-known e- newspaper even reserves one section called “Vietnamese throughout five continents” (Người Việt năm châu) to give news about numerous events happening to the worldwide Vietnamese communities all over the world, not just in the United States. Another e-newspaper, Vietbao (Vietbao.vn) is even specialized in “bringing information about Vietnam to the world”, and the Vietnamese communities also make up a large part in the news here. Besides, news about the overseas Vietnamese appear in many media channels here, but an in-depth, deliberate study on this topic is hard to find. 2.3. Summary: This chapter has reviewed the key terms with close relation to their historical account and contemporary situation. Each term that was mentioned, even the subordinate ones, may take an elaborate and thorough explanation, and some issues still attract opinions from different directions. Aware of this, the researcher only tries to give a presentation of what seems the most appropriate and cohesive to each other. Finally, reviewing related studies, especially those from Vietnam, has revealed a research gap 46
  • which the researcher desires to make a contribution with this case-study from a Vietnamese point of view. 47
  • CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY The previous chapter has given a brief and selective review of the key concepts and what has been researched related to the topic. Having the theoretical background established, in this chapter, the research will turn to a practical approach with a view to justifying the accumulated data through a detailed account of how the case-study method is applied. An in-depth report will be submitted with regards to the sampling decisions, description of the participants, data collection instruments, and data analysis method and procedure. 3.1. Participants The case study involved one participants who belongs to the “first generation” group of Vietnamese Americans. 3.1.1. The significance of the first generation After around 25 years’ being in America, the first generation of Vietnamese Americans are still dominant today and still take the lead in representing the community. This role will soon be changed hand, with the aggressive rise of the younger, second generation; though, until this moment, the first generation is the richest source of information needed for this research, being both the practitioners, witnesses, and evaluators of how the American values prove workable in helping them secure a new life in America. 3.2.2. The participant’s background. Nguyen is a middle-class 56 year-old Vietnamese American man who works as an engineer for Rockwell Collins, a huge international company that provides aviation and information technology products. He lives with his wife in Marion (Iowa). They have four daughters who live in Des 48
  • Moines (Iowa) to study and work. Nguyen was among the first Vietnamese people to come to the United States in 1971 as a international student at a Texas university, even prior to the influx of the first Vietnamese wave in 1975. The political disorder that year prevented him from coming back to Vietnam after his graduation, and thus, he had to stay in the United States ever since. Nguyen is perceived as a enthusiastic, kind-hearted and knowledgeable person who actively participates in a variety of voluntary services. He describes himself as “quite successful, busy, hard working” and is satisfied with what he has able to achieve. 3.2. Data collection instruments This case study will chiefly be based on two methods to gather data: interview and participant observation. Due to geographic difficulties, questionnaires, though desirable, do not prove feasible as a data-gathering tool in this case. During the whole data collection process, the researcher always tried to follow the three principles of case study data collection proposed by Burns (2000), i.e. using multiple sources, maintaining a chain of evidence, and recording data. 3.2.1. Interview: Interview is seen as one of the most important sources of information (Burns, 2000, p. 467), and essential to case study approach. The interview aims at getting in-depth information about the interviewee’s perception of his achievement, and the importance of the aforementioned American values to his achievements. Not only does the interviewer hope to yield a vivid illustration of how those values contributed to shape the reality, but also to indentify and compare with other evidences provided by other previous studies. 49
  • The style of interview will mostly range from semi-structured to unstructured since it is believed that these kinds of interview provide the interviewer with a great deal of flexibility while offering the interviewees adequate power and control over the course of the interview (Hoang & Nguyen, 2006, p.45). More importantly, during the interview, the interviewee can be “more of a informant than a respondent” (Burns, 2000, p.467), which gives the interviewer more access into this historical account. Besides, from time to time, the researcher will utilize focused study, in which the interviewee is asked to elaborate on facts already known from other sources (including books and the researcher’s personal experience) as a means to verify or associate with them. The interviews were carried out via telephone call and lasted 75 minutes in total. During the time, the interviewee was encouraged to answer each question as thoughtfully as possible. After the interview, a short follow-up session was done with a view to clarifying the interview summation and interpretation. The interview questions were classified into three main parts: their background information, self - assessment of achievement and comments on the importance of adopting American values in their life. For the first part, the interviewee was asked to give a short introduction including some demographic information such as age, occupation, and family; then a brief account of their life story from the time of departure from Vietnam until present – current situation. After that, he was given questions of his former expectations from life in the United States, and the extent to which his expectations were fulfilled. Finally, he was given questions aimed at finding out whether he actively adopted the American values as a means of social conformity in order to come close to success, or if there were any values he found inappropriate to his case. The interviewee’s answers to the 50
  • second and third group of questions will help to evaluate this paper’s thesis statement. 3.2.2. Participant observation Participant observation – i.e. observation carried out with the observer’s interaction with the person studied, proves to be a good supplementary data collecting tool in this case. Having spent 10 months living in the same city with Nguyen., socializing with his family quite often, and joining him in many of his voluntary services as well as recreational activities, the researcher was able to observe and put into record a certain amount of data about Nguyen. For the sake of objectivity of the study, the information observed will be used as additional data and to compare with the interview answers , and will be cited only in neutral and obvious areas such as hard work and self- reliance. All the information observed is open to confirmation by the subject studied. 3.3. Data collection procedure Phase 1: The first phase was spent on the preparation for the data collection process, which included the designing of two interview schedules and documenting the observation. The interview questions were designed bilingually and in close relation with the research questions and with reference to the information gathered from observation. The observation process, which was done during the previous year, was revisited and noted with remarkable characteristics. At both processes, the ultimate ethical principle of keeping the participants’ personal information confidential was strictly followed by the researcher. 51
  • Phase 2 Desired participants were contacted at this stage to give their consent and be scheduled for the recorded interviews. Emailing is the main channel of communication. The researcher introduced the topic, some key concepts and the focused areas so as to help the interviewees get prepared. In the meantime, interview questions were drafted and sent for feedback before reaching the final version. Phase 3 Interviews were conducted at this phase with a careful manner, as the researcher was fully aware of the decisive importance of this data collection method. Firstly, the researcher briefly explained to the interviewee the format and the intended length of the interview, and asked if he had any questions before the interview could begin. During the interview, the interviewer mainly played the role of a careful listener after asking one question at a time, encouraging the interviewee to elaborate on his answer. Besides, the interviewer was alert and adaptive, adding questions where necessary, as well as making timely intervention when the interviewee went off track. Although the recorder was turned on, notes were made on attention-taking points for future examination. It was also at this phase that the observation info was utilized for the participant to verify and, if possible, add more value to. Since “unexpected situations are new opportunities, not threats” (Burns, 2000, p.469) and were welcomed. Above all, the researcher was deliberately self-monitored in order to guarantee the consistent neutrality in the interest of the interview’s reliability. In order to achieve this, several tips were made use of, such as minimizing the use of direct questions, instead using non-direct probes (for 52
  • instance, “What happened next?” or “What do you think?”); and using the words or terms used by the interviewee ( Burns, 2000, p.470). Phase 4 This last stage of finalizing data is of great importance. The interview was thoroughly transcribed and studied. The results received were checked back with the research problems in order to indentif any unexpected information. Necessary changes were made to adjust the research tool. 3. 4. Data analysis procedure The collected data was initially classified according to the four research questions. That is to say, all of the data collected from the interview and information gathered from researcher’s observation were to answer the four research questions. The data were then processed using interpretive methods. Specifically, the following steps were followed to analyze the data gathered through the interview: (1) listening to the recording of the interview, (2) examining the recording while reading through the transcript ofthe interview (to assess for accuracy), (3) reading through the transcript two additional times while highlighting comments or phrases that require attention. (4) clustering highlighted statements into summary statements on the right margin of the transcript, (5) creating domains of meanings from the clustered summary statements Open-ended questions were presented in form of summary. Finally, some typical quotations were cited when necessary to illustrate the data analysis. 53
  • 3.5. Summary This chapter has given a deliberate account of the methods employed to gather and analyze data. Being aware of the difficulties a case-study research often encounters in terms of guaranteeing reliability, validity and neutrality, the researcher tried to give a detailed account of how the study was carried out and how interpretations were made as a means to justify for the applied approach. The outcomes will be elaborately presented and discussed in the next chapter. 54
  • CHAPTER 4: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION In the previous chapter, the methodology used in this study has been clarified in terms of participants, the research instruments and the process of data collection and data analysis. In this chapter, all collected data will be analyzed and discussed to yield the answers to the four research question respectively. The four research questions being answered here are: 1. What expectations did the Vietnamese American have before coming to the United States? 2. To what extent have those expectations been fulfilled? 3. Did they actively adopt those American values as guidelines for their success? 4. Which values prove useful? And what did not? The data will be reviewed in close connection with the literature presented in chapter 2. Information that is similar to, as well as implicative of new findings will both be highlighted. 4.1. Research question 1: The expectations the Vietnamese American had of the life in America before coming to the United States. Nguyen is quite a special case since he did not come to the United States in either major waves of immigrant reviewed in chapter 2, and had had 4 years’ studying in a American college before becoming an immigrant. Therefore, there was a shift between his expectations before coming to the United States, and after knowing his stay would be permanent. Also, much reality and practicality are found in his “American Dream”. 55
  • Nguyen’s initial purpose on coming to America was “go abroad to study, and then go back to contribute to our country”. His choice of America was because he was interested in technology, and America was known to be the most progressive and modern country in the world. Therefore, his expectations from America, was not focused on the quality of life, but of education and what he could take away from the advanced education system and bring back home. When he decided to stay to the United States, it seemed he had seen much reality so as to still place too much expectation on the dream, or “illusion” of life in America, or in other worlds, the American Dream, as he described that of other later comers: Many people before coming here had the dream, like an illusion of an easy and successful life because everything is open to all, people are free to take their own actions. However, on coming onshore, it dawned on them that, not all people could succeed… In order to justify his statement, it should be noted that prior to his arrival to the United States, Nguyen had had the chance to interact with Americans as his English teachers, his father’s partners, as well as watching American movies in the evenings. Though not to a great extent, these interactions did prepare Nguyen for American ways he was going to be surrounded with. Moreover, having witnessed life there for four years and experienced the time when language was a major barrier, he had been well aware of many obstacles to overcome should a person wanted to obtain a good life in the new land. When asked what his dream was, his answer was to continue to work, retire with good health, still be able to do voluntary services, and move to Florida where the climate and the plants were similar to those in Ho Chi 56
  • Minh City. His comment on his dream was it was “very simple”. It was in fact simple, and very practical. It is seen that to Nguyen, to have a dream is to achieve it. He did not state his dream in a broad, ambiguous way – even after being reminded of the definition of the American Dream - but very describe his dream explicitly and deliberately. He acknowledges more than once about the progressive peculiarities of the American society, such as “everything is easier in America, since the economy here is better. People are free to do business, free to speak their mind, free to do many things”. However, he was also aware of the many additional challenges to the newcomers, saying that “even the successful people had a lot of difficulties because of the language, culture, and many other things to overcome if they want to be successful”. This again confirms the practicality in his expectation. Interestingly, Nguyen made a critical point that there were no clear cuts among the American Dream, the Vietnamese Dream, or any other dreams of people from other countries. In contrast, the dream varies with regards to time, space, and the scenario at that particular point of time. Most importantly, the decisive factor is the person, that is, how much expectation that person has. In other words, the American Dream is no longer unique as it has been praised that it could be inspired, nurtured and realized only in America. In short, after a number of questions aiming at drawing his definition of the American Dream, his answer still consistently insisted that to dream meant to set achievable goal, without glamorously or dreamily coating it. This is quite unexpected by the researcher as an answer to the question of the American Dream. 57
  • 4.2. Research question 2: The extent to which those expectations have been fulfilled. Nguyen views himself as a “agreeably successful” person who has acquired success “in many fields”. When asked whether he were confident he would be successful in America the time he knew he would be living there, his answer was “ of course I was!”, followed by his long laugh. Nguyen comfortably asserted that he had fulfilled many of his earlier expectations, and his “percentage of success” surpassed that of his failure. Even when asked in what field he felt he was most successful at, his response was: “I think I seem to have success in every field (laugh)”. He has a decent job, the one he has been working persistently for the last 32 years; is able to take care of his immediate family, and also his extended family, helping them to come and start over in America. Indeed, everyone who is employed by Rockwell Collins can be really hopeful about the future. The researcher once conducted an interview with a senior manager at Rockwell about the company’s practices of Human Resource Management, and was told about multiple benefits employees received such as good salary, rewards, incentive pay plan, coverage of health insurance – notably from preferred providers, and even dental and eye care. Therefore, it is not surprising that anyone that has been working there for a finds himself/herself achieving the middle-class dream in America. In addition, Nguyen has four daughters and all of them went to college, two have graduated and the other two will graduate soon. Sending four children to college in America is no easy job, considering the costly tuition fees. Furthermore, all of his four children were given the chance to learn 58
  • other subjects of art, such as piano, figure-skating, and martial arts. In order to afford all of this required not only hard work, but definitely a decent income. Nguyen also stated that “In terms of material and financial status, I think I have enough. I think I am satisfied. I can pay for mortgages, my car, and my daughters’ education”. Even though Nguyen shows a high I-think-I- have-enough spirit, if the American dream can be casually put as “to have a solid job, nice house, and nice car”, and to enter the middle class, then many will view that the American dream seems to have come true to Nguyen. 4.3. Research question 3 and 4: The American values Nguyen has actively adopted in order to achieve success. As stated in previous chapter, this two research questions are to provide a vivid illustration of the steps the participant take in order to come close to success, and to gather as many insights as possible about the importance of those values. 4.3.1. Practicality The first value on Nguyen’s list is to be practical, which was expressed through the way he set his goal: “I always build up my goal step by step. Once I have achieved one, I build the next one higher, gradually. I set the extent of success I want. I don’t set the goal too high so as not to always feel I am failing”. This value was not reviewed in chapter 2, neither was it often placed at the top of American values, thus it was quite surprising to see it appear firstly, and keep coming back many times later. However, “idealizing what is practical” is a highly esteemed American spirit, favoring “what works is what counts” , as elaborated in Fiedler et al 59
  • (2005). During the interview, Nguyen gave more than just one example of this imposing principle, and another was: For example, whenever I have a new contract, I must sit down and talk with the clients, to find out what they want, and how I can design the product to meet their needs. If there is something I feel impossible to achieve, or if the client wants something unusual, I have to make it clear with them if it cannot be accomplished. And if they insist, I’ll tell them how much I can do about it, and what is really impossible.. With regards to his profession as an engineer who often builds delicate and high technology products such as spacecrafts and GPSes (Global Positioning System), it is obvious that being highly practical is the key to success. 4.3.2. Work responsibility Another related principle, also not explicitly named by Nguyen, was the sound attitude to work, or work responsibility. He demonstrated the qualities to be successful as follows: A product that is hastily made has no qualities . In order to be successful, we always have to be dedicated to what we do, we cannot afford to do things hastily and without adequate attention, just to get it done. The “work responsibility” value is linked to, and also demonstrated with “competition” that will follow further on. 4.3.3. Self-reliance On appraising the three traditional American virtues, including self- reliance, competition, and hard work, which are considered to be the prices 60
  • to pay for the three other core American values – freedom, material wealth, and equality of opportunity, Nguyen said that he totally agreed with the two virtues, competition and hard work, but not so much with the first one, self-reliance. Self-reliance, in Nguyen’s opinion, is only “partially true”. He understands self-reliance as to rely on oneself only, without any dependence on others. He acknowledged that “The key thing is don’t depend on others, only by doing so can you be successful”; and that “ What you can do by yourself, you have to”. Nevertheless, he maintained that “self-reliance alone does not work”, arguing that before you do something, you must look at yourself and see if you are able to. If yes, go for it. If no, don’t take it. But we of course can try. By trying it means we not only count on our own ability, but also must seek for external sources. As can be seen, Nguyen viewed cooperation as a necessary medium to get the job done, representing the team work spirit often advocated in the workplace. Nguyen did not go to the extreme of “looking to no one outside yourself” , expecting nothing from any man, and considering himself as “standing alone”, but still cited “external source” and cooperation as necessary means to complete, for example, his big projects. This is a very interesting response. Nguyen is undoubtedly an independent man, coming here alone, climbing up the career ladder with his own efforts and so far has had a satisfactory life built by his own hands. These are his practices. Meanwhile, his response reflects his consistent appreciation of , and attachment to collectivistic culture associated with Vietnam (Zhou & Bankston, 1998). Nguyen also admitted his incomplete assimilation with the American culture when saying that: 61
  • I had some time studying at home, which means I had been kind of “trained” and “molded” before coming here. Seeing me and my wife, you could tell we had not completely been taken over by the American ways, not 100%. In short, Nguyen’s response to the issue of self-reliance shows his approval of this virtue, yet he did not understand it with the extreme meaning, but quite moderately, supported by his high practicality and incomplete acculturation. The flexibility in applying this virtue is seen as a wise measure to deal with challenges and guarantee the best possibility for a job to be completed. 4.3.4. Competition While considerately following the virtue of “self-reliance”, Nguyen showed an absolute favor toward the next virtue, “competition”. In his opinion, competition is necessary because: ..whenever we do anything, there must be competition for us to feel motivated and try to perform better than others. And only when you have the motivation to surpass others can you be successful… He then gave an account of the competition he had to practice at work: In my work, every time my company has a contract with its big customers, like Boeing, if I want to win the contact over other big competitors, I will have to bid. Like, they say they want to make these appliances on the plane, or the spacecraft, and they specify the requirements, then I have to tell them what I can do and give the price for that. The competition at work is that I have to make things of really high quality, satisfy their requirements, and give a reasonable price. A reasonable price does not mean cheaper than what our rivals offer, but it 62
  • means I can perform difficult tasks and my machine is tougher than that of others. And that’s what makes them buy our products. Nguyen’s competitiveness is seen through his stable job and business at Rockwell. He has never been unemployed during the last 32 years’ working there, but in fact, is continually given many projects, one after another. This did not apply to everyone, as Nguyen also noted. His competitiveness is also seen to secure the equality of opportunities he received from Rockwell. He was rewarded with bonuses, or promotion, good projects, and career development. The MBA course he took was paid for by Rockwell, and thus he is now doing both engineering and project management. While discrimination is still alive in the United States, and companies, including Rockwell, are still striving to achieve diversity awareness and tolerance through “Diversity training course”, Nguyen represents a good example of successfully competing at the workplace. 4.3.5. Hard work Hard work is seen by Nguyen to be “necessary at all time”. And he ultimately practices it. The feature of his work often requires him extra working hours in order to meet the deadline specified in the contract. Following is what Nguyen said about his work: I always find myself busy. I try to finish my job… Many times until very late at night. I am not paid by the hour, but by the work. The way I work is that after we sign the contract, and agree on the day of completion, I am responsible to guarantee it will be due on time. So when the deadline approaches, and I feel the work has not really been settled down, I’ll have to work extra hour to make sure it is. Especially when something goes wrong, I have to stay at work until very late to fix it. 63
  • Demanding as his engineering job is, there were times when Nguyen did two jobs at the same time. Once he and his wife opened a small business, and he recalled that “when I go home after work, or during the weekend, when people went on holiday, we had to see to our business”. Another time, he taught an evening class at Hamilton College (Iowa)1. As a result, “after work, I would teach the class, make tests, do grading, and so on”, he said. According to the researcher’s observation, Nguyen was a very active and energetic person. Besides his paying job, Nguyen also took part in many voluntary activities in order to raise funds for the pagoda, including selling beverage and fast-food at football stadium during football season, then selling ice-cream and popcorn at volleyball matches, and being an usher at the local cinema, and probably he also did many other things the researcher did not have the chance to attend. Through his various activities described above, it is clearly seen that Nguyen actually applies the principle of hard work to his daily life. Markedly, many of the activities that keep him busy are not the paying ones, but were dedicated to the community. 4.4. Summary In this chapter, the collected data has been presented and analyzed in details in order to answer the four research questions. Major findings and highlighted issues will be summarized the conclusion chapter, the last chapter of this paper. 1 The college’s name has been changed to Kaplan University recently. 64
  • CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION The previous chapters have provided a detailed account of how the research was conducted, including the research problem, its current state of the art, the methodology implemented, and the analysis of the data collected. This concluding chapter will summarize the major findings of the research, its contribution, and limitations, as well as making suggestions for further research. 5.1. Major findings of the research The data collected from the 1-hour-10-minute interview, in correlation with the researcher’s participant observation proved helpful in assessing the hypothesis proposed in the thesis statement, that is whether the Vietnamese Americans have successfully transitioned to the United States by actively applying the traditional American values. Four research questions are, hence, answered through this case study. The American Dream did not appear to be a mighty pull factor in Nguyen’s case as it often appealed to many waves of immigrants. This is partially because of the particular context of the participant, who did not initially plan to be relocated to the United States, but to come back to Vietnam after graduation. The participant, however, was well aware of the advantages of the American society such as freedom, opportunity, and progress. Even so, he did not seem to have constructed a dream based on those fertile conditions, maintaining the attitude that it did not matter where, but who and how. The representative Vietnamese American, Nguyen, found himself to be successful in many aspects including both life and work. Though he did not 65
  • dream the American dream, he in fact set progressive goals to achieve, and gladly reported to have fulfilled many of them. The principles Nguyen founds to be helpful to his success include: practicality, work responsibility, competition, hard work , and self-reliance. The first two principles, though not presented in the paper, appeared on top of Nguyen’s list. Meanwhile, the value of self-reliance, which is closely attached to the most basic American value of freedom, did not receive Nguyen’s ultimate approval. Self-reliance , necessary as it was thought to be, would not work alone. This evaluation might be attributed to his incomplete cultural assimilation, work experience, or personality. The rest two values, competition and hard work, were fully supported by Nguyen. Stories were told, and insights were given to illustrate how Nguyen applied those values to his daily life. In short, based on the case of Nguyen, the research has come up with an interesting response to the proposed hypothesis, which is: despite not having nurtured a big dream, Nguyen, by making his own efforts, effectively practicing the American values, and wisely adapting them to his native culture and the scenario, has been able to achieve a full life of his definition. 5.2. Suggestions for further research The data collected and the research’s findings have raised new issues that may appeal to other researchers. Firstly, further research might aim at discovering how inspiring the American Dream still appears to Vietnamese people in particular, and American immigrants in general. In the case of Nguyen, he did not claim 66
  • the American Dream to be a source of inspiration to him, due to his particular situation, which was not abundant. But at the time he made the decision to stay and become American citizens, thousands of his compatriots were on the way to the United States. Therefore, it will be worthwhile surveying the influence of the American Dream on those later comers. Secondly, the issue of self-reliance may attract a number of follow-up researches. Since self-reliance is said to be “perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of American character to understand” (Fiedler et al, 2005), people coming from other cultures may not take it to its full extent, for which Nguyen is an example. Accordingly, more research into this issue will be necessary to find out to what extent American immigrants practice self-reliance; and if there are any differences between their perception and their practices. Lastly, the cluster of American values may be a source of inspiration for further research to dig deeper into, especially the values not elaborated in this paper. 5.3. Contributions of the study Generally, the study will be of benefit to teachers and students of American Studies, and also the people who intend to go and live abroad, specifically the United States. For teachers and students of American Studies, this paper may serve as a source of reference on the topic of Vietnamese Americans. As a matter of fact that the American Studies program being taught at English Department (Vietnam National University – Hanoi University of Languages and International Education) not yet includes this topic, students who are 67
  • interested in learning about part of American demographics, and also part of the Vietnamese life, may find the information carefully incorporated here useful. Teachers of American Studies may also benefit from this study by organizing discussion in reference to some concerns raised here, and particularly from the suggestions for further research. For people whose intentions are to go and live abroad, and those who have just arrived, this case study research presents an interesting story of success, enriched with insights of an experienced early comers, hoping to give not only inspiration, but also preparation and reflection. Hopefully they will be able to relate to their own situation and find some useful experience to help them better cope with the life in America. 5.4. Limitations of the research Even though the researcher has put considerable efforts into this paper, a number of limitations are detected in terms of data collection instruments and data analysis. Due to geographical difficulty, this case-study had to rely on telephone interviewing. The sound quality was not good at the interviewee’s end, therefore it was not convenient for the interviewer to elaborate or intervene in the interviewee’s answers. A certain amount of the data collected, for this reason, had to be revised and rearranged according to the interviewee’s intention, not the initial questions. Data analysis poses another remarkable problem, since even to an experienced researcher, it is not easy to interpret data of a qualitative research. This study’s researcher, however, is quite a beginner at doing this type of research and thus, had a number of difficulties with interviewing 68
  • skills or incorporating various modes of analysis into the data interpretation. The case-study method itself is also another limitation to generalization and reliability. So it will be not feasible to generate statistical generalization from this research. In order to make up for those limitations mentioned above, the researcher has tried to build up a comprehensive theoretical background, a “grasp at the issue” required before doing any qualitative research. Also, the research focuses on circumstantial uniqueness of the case, not on the mass representation. Therefore, interpretation actually depends on each individual reader, likewise, any generalizations should be reader-made ones. 69
  • REFERENCES Adams, J.T. (1959). The Epic of America. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Allen, J & Turner, E. (1988). An Atlas of America’s Ethnic Diversity. New York, USA : Macmillan. Althen, G., Doran, A.R., & Szmania.S.J. (2003). American ways: a guide for foreigners in the United States. Boston: Intercultural Press. Avakian, M. (2002). Atlas of Asian-American history. New York : Facts on File. Baker, W.E. (2005). America’s crisis of values: reality and perception. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Baldwin, N. (2005). The American revelation : ten ideals that shaped our country from the Puritans to the Cold War. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Crandall, J., Kearny, E.N., & Datesman, M.K. (2005). American ways: an introducation to American culture. New York: Longman Espiritu, Y.L (1992). Asian American panethnicity:bridging institutions and identities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Fiedler, E., Jansen, R. & Norman-Risch, M. (2005). America in close –up. Harlow: Longman. Luedtke, L. (2005). Making America: the society and culture of the United States. Washington, DC: The office of English language programs, US Department of State. 70
  • Freeman, J.. Vietnamese Americans. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-07 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761587517/vietnamese_americans.ht ml Hoobler, T. & Hoobler, D. (2003). We are Americans: the voice of the immigrant experience. New York: Scholastic Nonfiction. Kohn, A. (1986). No Contest – The Case Against Competition. Boston New York London: Houghton Mifflin Co. Lanier, A. (2005). Living in the USA. Boston: Intercultural Press. Leong, J.K et al (2007). Resilient History and the rebuilding of a community: The Vietnamese American Community in New Orleans East. The Journal of American History. [Electronic version]. 770-779. Nguyen, H. (2009). Kiều hối năm 2008 đạt 8 tỉ USD. VnExpress. Retrieved April 28, 2009 from http://www.vnexpress.net/GL/Kinh- doanh/2009/01/3BA0A26D/ Portes, A. & Rumbaut, R.G. (1996). Immigrant America : a portrait. Berkeley : University of California Press. Rivera, R. & Schweber, N. (2009, April 4). Before Killings, Hints of Plans and Grievance. The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2009 from http:// www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/nyregion/05suspect.html?_r=1&fta=y Springstubb, T. (2002). The Vietnamese American. California, USA: Lucent Books Inc. 71
  • Takagi, R. (1998). Strangers from a different shore: a history of Asian Americans. New York: Little, Brown and Company. Tocqueville, A. (2003). Democracy in America. New York: Penguin Classics Zhou, M., & Bankston, L. C. (1998). Growing up American: How Vietnamese children adapt to life in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. West-Olatunji, C.A., Frazier, K.N., Guy,T.L., Smith, A.J., Clay,L., & Breaux,W. III. (2007). The Use of the Racial / Cultural Identity Development Model to understand a Vietnamese American : A research case-study. Journal of Multicultural Counselling and Development. [Electronic version], 35, 40-51. 2006 American Community Survey: Selected Population Profile in the United Statesquot;. United States Census Bureau. 72
  • Appendix 1 : INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTION Below is the transcription of the interview between the researcher and the participant, Nguyen. For convenience, in the transcription, the interviewer will be presented by “T”, and Nguyen by “N”. T: Hi there! Do you hear me well? N: It’s okay. What about at your end? T: It is very good. Let’s get started. The interview is intended to last 45 minutes, but of course it can be more if you have much to say. And there are 3 main parts, your introduction, your brief account of your life in the United States, and lastly some of your thoughts on your life there during the time. Are you ready so that I can turn on the recorder? N: Alright. T: Can you give a brief introduction of yourself now, including your occupation, place of residence, and your family? N: Okay. I have been working as an engineer at Rockwell Collins ( an international company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that produces aviation and information technology systems) for 32 years. I live with my family in Marion, Iowa, and I have 4 daughters, all of them are grown-ups now. My youngest daughter will be graduating from college next year. T: Alright. Can you recollect and tell me when and under what circumstances did you go to the United States? N: Oh, I came here in 1971 as a student, after I finished my high school in Vietnam. My initial plan was to attend college in the United States for 4 73
  • years, then would come back to Vietnam to work. Then due to some changes and events, I had to stay in the United States permanently. My wife also comes from Saigon, like me, but we never met then. She came here 4 years after me, and we met at our school in Texas. After I graduated, we got married and since I found a job in Iowa, we moved from Texas to live here. At that time, my wife did not finish college, so during the first year after our marriage, I went to work, and my wife also worked a little for a short time, but then we decided that she should go back to school to get the degree. She did so and graduated some time later. Not so long afterwards, we had children so my wife had to quit her job and stay at home to take care of our children. It was until they were old enough to attend school that she went back to work again. T: Thank you. So what are you doing exactly? Your job? N: I am now an engineer. When I just got out of school, I did electricity, hardware. But then I jumped to software, after 7 or 8 years. In 1993 or 1994, I decided I should take a course in business, and enrolled in an online course with the school in Florida. After 18 months of rigorous learning, I got the MBA degree. After that, I continued to work for Rockwell, still in engineering, but also involving management. T: What is your position at work now? How many people working for you? N: I am doing engineering, and management, but this is project management. Whenever we have a new contract, I will be in charge of that project and select people in the company and form a group to work for me. We still work under our manager, but I’ll be responsible for that project. So sometimes I may have many projects to do at the same time, and we will deal with one to another. 74
  • T: Alright. Now let’s look back a little bit. Before coming to the United States, I mean, while you were still in Vietnam, did you have chance to interact with American people and learn about their culture? N: Oh, back at that time, I was young, still attending school, and I had a few extra English course at a English center. The teachers were mostly British, only from time to time they had American teachers, and those were the people I was able to communicate with. Also, my father worked with the Americans, so I also had some acquaintance with them, but only to a small extent, not much. And about the American culture, I just went to school, and in the evening watched a little bit American channel at home. That’s it… But when I was young, I always thought I would go abroad to study, and then go back to contribute to our country. I made up my mind like that right then. Any countries would do, but I thought of America the most often since it was the most progressive country in the world. So after finishing my high school, I did all the necessary paperwork and went to the United States. It was after I went to the United States that I got to know many foreign friends. I did not know many back home. T: You said, you used to watch American TV in the evening, and you must have learnt something about the American culture through their programs? N: Yes. Because there were American soldiers in Saigon then, and the show was only on in the evening, after coming home from school, I watched both Vietnamese channel and American channel. I liked some movies such as “Wild wild West”, movies about cowboys. Therefore if there was music show on the Vietnamese channel, I would choose to watch it, otherwise I would switch to the American one to watch movies. 75
  • T: And the American channel was broadcast in English only? N: Yes. These programs were to serve the American soldiers, but as I lived nearby, I was able to catch the wave. There were only 2 channels then in total, one Vietnamese, one American, and television was not very developed then, and only broadcast in the evenings, so I just watched either of them. T: Do you like the American shows? N: Uhm, I watched the cowboy movies, and as a young boy, I liked the shooting scenes, so I watched those movies. I still remember the drama “Wild wild West” that sometimes still appears on TV here, that show is really old. T: Okay. Now, your initial reason of going to America was that it was the most progressive country, most progressive place to study? N: Yes, since I was interested in technology, and America was the best place then. I had that thought right on entering senior high school. There were Americans in Vietnam then, firstly. And through learning I knew America was the most modern country in the world. T: After you got the news you had to stay in the United States, how did you feel? N: I felt a bit upset, because my initial plan was only to go there to study, then I would come back, but it was no longer impossible, so I decided to stay here. So upsetting as it was, I tried to keep myself busy all the time, as you could see, both my wife and I were busy all the time, so I did not have the time to… Like the first year I was at college here, I felt very sad. I was not able to make friends so I just brought some Vietnamese music tapes 76
  • with me, songs like “Thousand miles away”, and “Separation”, and listened to them in my room. T: Yeah. Did you feel a bit worried then, on knowing you’d have to stay there permanently? N: At first, I was only worried about my family that was still in Vietnam. After the issue had been solved, my family was able to come here, I felt no longer worried. T: What expectations did you have about the life you were going to lead in America? ( confusing question) Do you think you would be able to be successful here? N: Many people who came here … T: Excuse me, uncle, I mean, in your case only. Did you believe you would be successful and enjoy the good of the American society? N: The life here, you saw with your own eyes. Everything is easier in America since the economy here is better. People are free to do business, free to speak their mind, free to do many things. There’s one thing; however, that people have the freedom to do whatever they want, but success does not come to all. Many people before coming here had the dream, like an illusion of an easy and successful life because everything is open to all, people are free to take their own actions, right. However, on coming on shore, it dawned on them that, not all people could succeed. Even the successful people had a lot of difficulties because of the language, culture, and many other things to overcome if they want to be successful. 77
  • The young people seemed to find it easier to adapt to life here. I know some old people who became bored shortly after and wanted to go home. It is easier to young people of your age, but even when young, some people were able to fit in the new society, others might still have difficulties. So it depends on the person. Not everyone can succeed. T: Did you yourself have some dreams about America? N: I was quite luckier than many others in the sense that I came here when I was still very young, as a freshman. So at least I had that school time to adjust to the new life, gradually. I had some time studying at home, which means I had been kind of “trained” and “molded” before coming here. Seeing me and my wife, you could tell we had not completely been taken over by the American ways, not 100%. But we are still luckier than many people who came later since we came here to study, we were young then. Like you, I think you wouldn’t have much difficulty fitting in. T: On knowing you’d permanently settle down in the United States, were you confident you’d make it ? N: Make it , in what context? In the United States, or in Vietnam? T: Of course in the United States. N: Yeah I had to change my mind. Naturally we always expect to be successful in life. But successful to what extent depends on each person. T: But you were confident in your success, weren’t you? N: Of course I was. (laugh) 78
  • T: Okay. So it has been more than 25 years now, do you feel you have fulfilled many of your former expectations? N: Yes, I have fulfilled quite a lot of them. Like other people, I want to be successful on as many fields as possible. Some it was true, some not. But I think I am quite lucky since I succeeded more than I failed, I mean, have more percent of success than failure. T: In what field did you feel you are most successful ? N: I think I seem to have success in every field (laugh), though not as big as I expected, but I got some success in everything. My job is good, I have never been unemployed. About family, I am able to take care of my family, we have 4 daughters, and they all got education, two have graduated, one is going to this May, and the last next year. So I think it is good. I was also able to help my family in Vietnam to come over here, and they are also successful making a good living here. So overall, I think I am successful. What I feel I fail at is only what I have not been as successful as I’d have liked to. Is my answer satisfying? T: Yes, it is. You know on coming here, people are often said to bring along with them the American Dream. Do you think the American Dream has come true to you? N: If it should be called the American Dream, my dream is that I will continue to work until I retire, and until then I am still in a good health condition to do the things I want, like volunteering, as you know, helping the elderly people, and the pagoda, anything I can offer to help with. I also wish that when I retire, I will have enough savings to move to Florida so 79
  • that I can enjoy the better climate there, and see the trees, the fruits that are similar to Saigon, the place I was born and raised. So that’s my dream, very simple, isn’t it? (laugh) T: Yes, right. But the American Dream, you know, is glamorously described like this: a dream of life will be better, richer, and fuller for every man and he will be able to reach his full potential. N: The American Dream is similar to the Vietnamese Dream, don’t you think? So that dream, even though you are Vietnamese, American, or whatsoever, what that dream is like depends on the time and space, the place they live, and the situation at that point of time. It all varies. The dream also depends on how much expectation that person places on it. If that person sets the goal appropriately, within their reach, he/she will be able to feel that he/she achieves it. But if the goal is set too high, the person will feel he/she is failing. So that’s why I say it depends on the person. T: How do you see yourself? N: I always build up my goal. Once I have achieved one, I build the next one higher, gradually. I set the extent of success I want. I don’t set the goal too high so as not to always feel I am failing or complain I am failing. It is not true. Some people are like that, including Vietnamese people, as well as American people. So if you feel you have enough in life, that’s enough. But if we compare two people, one who makes $100,000 a year and one $1 million, it is not certain whether the latter feels he is rich enough. Someone may look at their incomes and say the one making $1 million is richer, but for example, the person who earns less but can arrange his life around, have enough conveniences at home, then that person is rich. But the other, if always wishes to have this, and have that, he will never feel he has had 80
  • enough, he still thinks he is poor. That’s my viewpoint. It depends on the person. T: I see you as a successful person. So in order to be that accomplished, what are some principles you have set up and followed in life and work? N: Yeah. For example, whenever I have a new contract, I must sit down and talk with the clients, to find out what they want, and how I can design the product to meet their needs. If there is something I feel impossible to achieve, or if the client wants something unusual, I have to make it clear with them if it cannot be accomplished. And if they insist, I’ll tell them how much I can do about it, and what is really impossible. For instance, here, in the United States, when they want to construct a spacecraft, they have to do it step by step, until they are able to launch it out to the space, and onto the moon. You see? T: Yes. So what do you think are the qualities necessary to be successful? N: The qualities? You mean, the qualities of the product we must ensure with the customer? A product that is hastily made has no qualities. In order to be successful, we always have to be dedicated to what we do, we cannot afford to do things hastily and without adequate attention, just to get it done. T: Right. According to what I read, three characteristics are necessary for success in America: self-reliance, competition, and hard work. Do you always have to apply these values? N: This is what you learned here in the U.S.? T: Oh, that’s what I read from books. 81
  • N: Okay. Self-reliance, it is true in one sense, and untrue in another. First of all, whenever you want to do something, you have to evaluate your capability, what you can do. So you mean self-reliance is you do everything by yourself, without any help from others? T: Yeah, it means, look to yourself only. Don’t depend on others. N: Okay. The key thing is don’t depend on others, only by doing so can you be successful. However, there is this one thing: self-reliance alone does not work. For example, before you do something, you must look at yourself and see if you are able to. If yes, go for it. If no, don’t take it. But we of course can try. By trying it means we not only count on our own ability, but also must seek for external sources. Let’s say, for small projects, you can handle them yourself. But when it comes to big projects, you must ask for external help, from others, in order to get the job done. But for sure, never depend on others to do our work. What you can do by yourself, you have to. Only what you are not able to, you can still continue with it by asking for help, so as to be successful with it. So, self-reliance is only partially true. Competition, is right. Because whenever we do anything, there must be competition for us to feel motivated and try to perform better than others. And only when you have the motivation to surpass others can you be successful, right? I just wonder between the clean and dirty competition, since you see both of them in life, and in doing business. Competition that is done by using your effort and ability to sell yourself is good, yet we also witness, in the market, some people compete by trying to sink others, that’s not good. So it also has two sides. 82
  • Hard work is necessary all the time. It is because if we are really persistent with doing something, like our Vietnamese proverb meaning “Rome was not made in one day”2. So a job that you fail at the first try doesn’t mean you will always fail. You only fail when you surrender, and give it up. T: Do you have some stories to share on the competition you have to make? N: Okay, in my work, every time my company has a contract with its big customers, like Boeing, if I want to win the contact over other big competitors, I will have to bid. Like, they say they want to make these appliances on the plane, or the spacecraft, and they specify the requirements, then I have to tell them what I can do and give the price for that. The competition at work is that I have to make things of really high quality, satisfy their requirements, and give a reasonable price. A reasonable price does not mean cheaper than what our rivals offer, but it means I can perform difficult tasks and my machine is tougher than that of others. And that’s what makes them buy our products. Got my point? T: Yes, I do. N: You want more stories on this? T: If you have more, please tell me. Like stories about studying at school or applying for a job? N: Okay, when you are taking a course, and at the end of the course, you have to come up with a project. In order for you project to get high marks, you have to think of something really unique, really different. It means you have to do what never been done by anyone, or perhaps it has been, but 2 “Có công mài sắt có ngày nên kim”, as it goes the Vietnamese way. 83
  • you add something new to it. So you have to create difference from other and use that feature to compete. T: Oh thanks. Can you illustrate how hard working you are? N: Yeah, I always find myself busy. I try to finish my job. American workers are often said to be hard-working, but not true to everyone. When there is a lot of work, I have to stay at the workshop to finish it. T: Till what time do you stay? N: Many times until very late at night. I am not paid by the hour, but by the work. The way I work is that after we sign the contract, and agree on the day of completion, I am responsible to guarantee it will be due on time. So when the deadline approaches, and I feel the work has not really been settled down, I’ll have to work extra hour to make sure it is. Especially when something goes wrong, I have to stay at work until very late to fix it. T: Have you ever had to do 2 jobs at the same time? N: At my company? T: Oh no. I mean, at the company, and also one more job outside. N: Okay. I did so for a while. My wife and I used to open a small business once. So when I go home after work, or during the weekend, when people went on holiday, we had to see to our business. Also, I used to teach evening class at Hamilton college, it name has been changed into Kaplan, you may know it. T: Yes, I do. I received invitations from the college. 84
  • N: Oh. I taught there for one year. So after work, I would teach the class, make tests, do grading, and so on. That year was really tiring so I stopped after one year. T: Only several more questions. The United States is famous for its value of “equality of opportunities”. Do you think it applies to you? N: Oh, okay. That’s what American people often say of their country, that the country give people the equal opportunity to compete with each other. It may be right, but not totally so. It also depends on what environment. I have to say the United States indeed gives people many opportunities, but whether the opportunities are equal is not so true. There are still traits of discrimination, but they know how to conceal it. And the equality of opportunities is true only to some extent, and varies from one place to another. Like, when you go to work, there are companies that are very open and give a lot of opportunities, while others don’t. The company I am working for, it is huge and very famous, but the opportunities it gives to foreigners are not so generous. T: What are those opportunities? N: Opportunities are like quick promotion, big promotion. For example, the while American people have easier and quicker access to promotion. I think the equality of opportunities here, compared with other countries, is better. However, it is not complete. T: What are the opportunities that Rockwell gave you? N: They are, uhm, if you work well, you got bonuses, or promotion, or they gave you good projects, and education opportunity. The MBA course I attended was paid for by Rockwell. Yeah they give me many opportunities. 85
  • So you see I am always busy, since I am always given work to do. Some people are given once, and not again. Or they are given the projects they don’t like. T: Are you satisfied with your material wealth now? N: In terms of material and financial status, I think I have enough. I think I am satisfied. I can pay for mortgages, my car, and education for my daughters’ education, I think that’s enough. T: Alright. I think that’s all for the interview. It has lasted more than 1 hour. Thank you so much! May I talk with co Lan a bit? …. 86
  • APPENDIX 2: THE RICH AND FAMOUS VIETNAMESE AMERICANS Joseph Cao is a New Orleans lawyer and a U.S. Representative from Louisiana's 2nd congressional district. On December 6, 2008, Cao defeated nine-term Democratic U.S. Representative William Jefferson with 49.6 percent of the vote to Jefferson's 46.8 percent. Cao is the first Vietnamese American as well as the first native of Vietnam to serve in Congress. Maggie Q , Vietnamese: Lý Mỹ Kỳ (born May 22, 1979 to an American father and a Vietnamese mother), is an American actress and former fashion model. In 2006, she starred alongside Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III. In 2007, she appeared in the Bruce Willis movie Live Free Or Die Hard, the fourth film in the Die Hard franchise, and in Balls of Fury. Janet Q. Nguyen (born 1976) is the County Supervisor from the First District of Orange County, California. She is the youngest person to be elected to the board of supervisors, the first woman to be elected from the First District, and the first Vietnamese-American county supervisor in the United States. Tila Nguyen (born Thien Thanh Thi Nguyen on October 24, 1981), better known by her stage name Tila Tequila, is an American internet celebrity, television host, author, model, entertainer, actress, and singer songwriter. She is known for her appearances in Stuff, Maxim, Time, Penthouse, her role as host of the Fuse TV show Pants- Off Dance-Off and her position as the most popular artist on MySpace (according to page views) circa April 2006. 87