Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America

Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America

Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America

Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America


"In this tour-de-force ethnography, acclaimed anthropologist Aihwa Ong trains her awesome ethnographic and theoretic talents on the brutal forces reconfiguring citizenship in a globalized world of war refugees, economic immigrants, and technicians of the modern soul. A work of breathtaking brilliance, beauty, perception and compassion that should bestir Buddha and the rest of us to action."--Judith Stacey, author of "Brave New Families

"In this impressive and substantial work, Ong brings together rich ethnographies of Southeast Asia immigrants with a conceptually deft and poignant analysis of the human technologies of citizen-making. At stake is no less than a radical rethinking of the conditions of life, the meaning of the human, and a conception of power beyond the confines of traditional sovereignty."--Judith Butler, author of "The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection

"Ong's vivid ethnography, filtered through her astute theoretical gaze, transforms and enlarges our understandingsof immigration and citizenship in an increasingly multicultural nation. Ong closely follows the everyday lives of Cambodian refugees in California, as they struggle to make sense of, selectively embrace, and talk back to American demands for personal autonomy, narcissism, greed, and materialism, which fly in the face of Cambodian values of compassion, community, and reciprocity. Like her subjects' lives, this book is a marvelous and remarkable achievement."--Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of "Death without Weeping


In the fall of 1970, I left Malaysia and arrived as a college freshman in New York City. I was immediately swept up in the antiwar movement. President Nixon had just begun his “secret” bombing of Cambodia. Joining crowds of angry students marching down Broadway, I participated in the takeover of the East Asian Institute building on the Columbia University campus. As I stood there confronting policemen in riot gear, I thought about what Southeast Asia meant to the United States. Were Southeast Asians simply an anonymous mass of people in black pajamas? Southeast Asia was a far-off place where America was conducting a savage war, supposedly against communism. American lives were being lost, and so were those of countless Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and others.

This rite of passage into American society was to shape my attitude about U. S. citizenship. As a foreign student, I was at a disadvantage, ineligible for most loans, fellowships, and jobs. My sister, a naturalized American, could have sponsored me for a green card, but the bombing of Cambodia, symptomatic of a wider disregard for my part of the world, made American citizenship a difficult moral issue for me.

More than a decade later, when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, I encountered refugees fresh from Indochina. As a new mother, I was grappling again with the meanings of citizenship. My son's birth engendered a new struggle with the moral implications of becoming a naturalized citizen. Becoming American is bigger than merely acquiring a new legal status, or the right to vote in the United States. We are told that “Citizenship is one of the greatest privileges the United States confers upon alien-born residents, ” but . . .

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