Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans

Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans

Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans

Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans


In recent years the popular media have described Vietnamese Americans as the quintessential American immigrant success story, attributing their accomplishments to the values they learn in the traditional, stable, hierarchical confines of their family. Questioning the accuracy of such family portrayals, Nazli Kibria draws on in-depth interviews and participant observation with Vietnamese immigrants in Philadelphia to show how they construct their family lives in response to the social and economic challenges posed by migration and resettlement. To a surprising extent, the "traditional" family unit rarely exists, and its hierarchical organization has been greatly altered.


Dao and tinh lived on the first floor of an old yellow rowhouse that had a large front porch filled with broken electrical appliances, including TVs and refrigerators. the neighborhood was a residential one, and the inhabitants were mainly African American. Dao and Tinh did have two Vietnamese American neighbors—one lived above them and another next door. About five blocks away from the rowhouses there were a number of small shops and businesses. There was a newly opened Vietnamese American dentist's office and, close by, an all-night convenience store run by Asian Indians. There was also a pharmacy, a pizza and hoagie shop, and a laundromat. Farther down the street were two Asian food stores; one of them was run by a Chinese family from Vietnam, and the other by an ethnic Vietnamese refugee family.

Nga and Vinh lived about seven blocks from the area described above, on the second floor of an apartment building overlooking a busy street. No other Vietnamese Americans lived in the building, which seemed to house people from an assortment of backgrounds, including a few college students. Across the street and a couple of blocks down from the building was a small cluster of businesses. There was a used clothing store, a laudromat, a pizza shop, and a tv repair shop. There were several ethnic businesses— on one side of the area was an Ethiopian restaurant, and on the other a Laotian grocery store. Also present were a Vietnamese restaurant, a jewelry store, and a hairdressing shop run by Chinese Vietnamese.

Nguyet and Phong lived about five blocks from this area in a large apartment building near a Korean American church. On the front door of the building, in bright orange paint, was prominently scrawled: “Fuck all Americans who live here.” the building was large and partially abandoned. Many of the building's inhabitants were Cambodian refugees. Trash and broken glass were strewn in the halls, whose walls were marked with graffiti.

This study was conducted in an inner-city area of Philadelphia during 1983–85. in many ways, Philadelphia in the early 1980s exemplified, in . . .

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