Insufficient Funds: The Culture of Money in Low-Wage Transnational Families

Insufficient Funds: The Culture of Money in Low-Wage Transnational Families

Insufficient Funds: The Culture of Money in Low-Wage Transnational Families

Insufficient Funds: The Culture of Money in Low-Wage Transnational Families

Synopsis

Every year migrants across the globe send more than $500 billion to relatives in their home countries, and this circulation of money has important personal, cultural, and emotional implications for the immigrants and their family members alike. Insufficient Funds tells the story of how low-wage Vietnamese immigrants in the United States and their poor, non-migrant family members give, receive, and spend money.

Drawing on interviews and fieldwork with more than one hundred members of transnational families, Hung Cam Thai examines how and why immigrants, who largely earn low wages as hairdressers, cleaners, and other "invisible" workers, send home a substantial portion of their earnings, as well as spend lavishly on relatives during return trips. Extending beyond mere altruism, this spending is motivated by complex social obligations and the desire to gain self-worth despite their limited economic opportunities in the United States. At the same time, such remittances raise expectations for standards of living, producing a cascade effect that monetizes family relationships. Insufficient Funds powerfully illuminates these and other contradictions associated with money and its new meanings in an increasingly transnational world.

Excerpt

This book tells the story of money and migration among transnational families in the Vietnamese diaspora, with a specific focus on families of low-wage immigrants living in the United States and their left-behind non-migrant relatives in Vietnam. It is about the culture of money, as experienced by those who give, those who receive, and those who spend, as well as about those who left and those who stayed put. This nearly forty-year narrative begins with the mass exodus of Vietnamese emigrants after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, picks up again with the post-1986 reentry of Vietnam into the world economy after a decade hiatus of economic progress, and picks up yet again in 1995, when the United States and Vietnam resumed diplomatic relations after a twenty-year suspension.

The people you are about to meet include members of transnational families whom I met and interviewed in Vietnam. Their stories give us a sense of how migrants sacrifice for their left-behind relatives back home, as well as why they are compelled to give and spend money. At the same time, these stories tell us about a global culture of relative consumption that has prevailed in many economies of the developing world, owing to increasing numbers of transnational migrants making return visits and spending money there. the ways . . .

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