Mytoan Nguyen-Akbar, one of our two new colleagues this semester, just received word that her paper, The Tensions of Diasporic ‘Return’ Migration: How Class and Money Create Distance in the Vietnamese Transnational Family, was awarded winning honors by the Society for the Study of Social Problems. That society is an interdisciplinary community that includes practitioners, scholars, advocates, and students. I asked Mytoan to tell us a little bit about what she does in the winning paper, and here’s her reply:
My general interests are on the political economy of labor migration, states, and civil society. I wrote this paper, titled “The Tensions of Diasporic ‘Return’ Migration: Money, Class, and the Vietnamese Transnational Family,” because it addressed a social paradox that had become apparent for the children of immigrants who had obtained upward mobility and were coming into contact with their non-migrating relatives back in their parents’ homeland: on the one hand, they were giving large sums of money and gifts out of a sense of class guilt and privilege because of their success as migrants, and on the other hand, they felt the need to set boundaries between themselves and their relatives because of the sets of cultural demands imposed upon them. To elaborate on how this paradox existed, I became a participant observer to the work, leisure, and family lives of transnational high-skilled workers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. These individuals and myself shared a common background: our parents had arrived to the US as refugees of the Vietnam War, and we were now going “back” as adults to further our careers in Vietnam. In my case, it was to complete my PhD in Sociology. The stories in the field that I encountered re-affirmed for me that the children of immigrants often navigate multiple axes of social class, cultural, and gendered differences as return migrants to their parents’ homeland. For those who were in the so-called “1.5” generation of Vietnamese Americans, even though they looked like, spoke, and were aware of local Vietnamese cultural norms, they were now caught in a world where they still felt like foreigners – neither Vietnamese enough to fit into society there, nor American enough to be recognized as complete foreigners to the land. On top of that, they were also navigating reunification with extended relatives that their families had maintained contact with since the War. Since publishing this paper with the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, many scholars and readers have told me how relatable these experiences are to their findings in diverse communities from countryside Chinese migrants finding greater opportunities to Shanghai, to Cook Island creative class migrants going back and forth between Raratonga and New Zealand.
This award helped to fund my attendance of my first-ever annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, which is a conference that embraces theoretical and applied scholars and public sociologists. Knowing that my scholarship was recognized by this community was a huge honor and was a great way to wrap up my completion of the PhD and time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Congrats, Mytoan! That’s great news.