Coming to a better life in America: Vietnamese Immigrants in the United States. Part 3: Avoiding Conflict Between Sponsors and New Immigrants

Thứ Tư, 15 Tháng Mười 201400:00(Xem: 12900)
Coming to a better life in America: Vietnamese Immigrants in the United States. Part 3: Avoiding Conflict Between Sponsors and New Immigrants

One writer said, “It is truly amazing how a group of people coming to the United States with nothing but hopes and sorrows are able to find a place in society.” This refers mainly to the early refugees coming to America. Nowadays, everyone coming from Vietnam is coming as an immigrant and the present day migration procedure can almost be called a luxury when compared to the bravery and tragedies of the Vietnamese who escaped from the country by land or sea. But no matter when or how people come from Vietnam, they face basically the same challenges in adjusting a new life in a new country.

The key to avoiding conflict between sponsors and new immigrants is for each group to understand what has happened in the lives of the other group. But this is easier said than done.

Sponsors who have lived in the US for 20 or 30 years expect new immigrants to go through the same adjustment experiences as they did, and remain true to Vietnamese cultural teachings. But if we look at TV programming in Vietnam now, we can see why the new immigrants have much different expectations for their new life in America. In 1990, HBO was only available to foreigners in Vietnam and all other programming was strictly controlled to avoid politically or culturally sensitive content. These days, almost all American and European shows and films are available to all Vietnamese. The shows paint a picture of successful, comfortable lives outside of Vietnam. 

And we cannot forget the tremendous effect of social media on younger people of all countries. Teenagers in Vietnam who spend hours with Facebook each day are not likely to worry about losing their Vietnamese cultural heritage after they reach America.

It is not surprising that the younger immigrants from Vietnam expect their lives to improve greatly as soon as they step off the plane. They have no way of knowing how far TV is from reality in America. When they do learn the reality of surviving in America, disappointment can create conflict between immigrant and sponsor. This is especially obvious among teenage immigrants and younger fiancées and spouses who may have been very traditional in Vietnam but, after they are exposed to American life, their traditional background starts to disappear. 

We need to help younger immigrants to understand that coming to America is an opportunity of a life time, not only to better their life, but the lives of their children and their grandchildren. And at the same time, the older generations must realize that young Vietnamese were born into a different world than the one that existed in 1975. During the past 40 years, social and cultural values have changed, not only for the younger Vietnamese, but also for the whole world. When we attempt to help new immigrants to adjust to America, we must also accept the fact that sometimes they do not share the same values that have existed in Vietnam for centuries. This is an unfortunate fact but an inescapable one.

Refugees of the 1980’s and recent immigrants cannot possibly share the same world view. This is not just because of the age gap. There is a huge distinction between an immigrant and a refugee. “Immigrants choose to come to a new life, whereas refugees were forced to flee – often for their lives.”

Recent immigrants have to deal with culture shock and the difficulties of adjusting to a new language and a new society. Fortunately for them, they do not have to overcome the acute sadness of the refugees who lost the people and the homeland of their past. We cannot expect new arrivals to share the memories of the older generation of Vietnamese immigrants and we cannot expect the older generation to be completely sympathetic with the modern ways of the youth.

Trying to adjust to American life is not just a matter of becoming fluent in English. There are so many aspects of American society that are different from Vietnamese culture.

Americans praise independence and self-reliance, while Vietnamese stress the need for the support of extended families and a supportive community of people with the same values.

A music student in Vietnam must follow the directions of his teacher. The teacher tells him how Beethoven or Bach must be played. An American teacher tells his students that they should discover their own path, their own interpretation of the music. The same thing happens in life. Vietnamese elders expect the youth to behave in a certain way, while American society encourages freedom and self-expression. Certainly this is confusing to the new immigrant who wants to integrate into American life while at the same time remaining true to his Vietnamese values.

Vietnamese culture puts a strong emphasis on being part of the We. Your individualism is below the need of the many. This is how families survived traditionally. America, on the other hand, tells you to look out for number 1. It tells you to follow your dream, to have individual ambition. Take care of yourself first. Go on a quest. A young Vietnamese person must negotiate between his own needs and dreams with those of his family. For Asian immigrants, to learn to negotiate between the I and the We is the most important lesson to learn, a skill much needed in order to satisfy to both cultures.

Q1: Some USC sponsors encouraged his/her relatives to study English and the Western Society world before coming to America only to be denounced by the sponsoring relatives? How important for them to learn new things before going to the USA?
A.1. Some sponsors may think that people can’t really learn about another culture through language study and books, but language study and books are certainly a good starting point. Much better than relying on rumors or second or third hand information about life in America.

Q2: Often the sponsor told his/her relatives to think twice before making a decision to be immigrated to the US, citing life is very hard to make ends meet in the America. Is this a conservative way of thinking or just a way to dash the hope of his/her relatives to immigrate to the US?
A.2. In this case, the sponsor is being realistic, based on his personal knowledge and experience. Life can be hard in America. The streets are not paved with gold. But America is also a place of personal freedom, and numerous opportunities to enhance life. The advice about a hard life in American should be balanced by the chances of success if people are willing to persevere.

Q3: Does the individualism life in the US make overseas Vietnamese less helpful and more distancing to his/her relatives in Vietnam?
A.3. Struggling financially to make a living in a new country may mean that money going back to Vietnam will be rather small at first. But the amounts may increase with time because no one can forget the people in their previous life in Vietnam.
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