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Keeping Up with the Nguyens: When Poor Immigrants Return to the Homeland

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Asian American / Asian Research Institute - CUNY

25 West 43rd Street

Room 1000

New York, NY 10036

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This lecture focuses on the social and personal sides of monetary flows in the Vietnamese diaspora. With few exceptions, the private use of money has been considered too personal and too mysterious for migration scholars to tackle, unless they examine “development issues,” such as daily household expenditures. Prof. Hung Cam Thai will focus on low-wage Vietnamese immigrants in the United States, who make up a significant portion of the aging Vietnamese diaspora, but also pay equal attention to their left-behind family members in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. These immigrant family members generally work in precarious jobs with little stability; most are high school graduates, but none are college graduates, which means they face severe barriers in accessing stable jobs and other social benefits that are increasingly closed to members of the low-wage labor market. These individuals generally live with “insufficient funds,” yet regularly send money back to Vietnam, as well as spend it lavishly when they make return visits. In this lecture, Prof. Thai documents why these immigrants give such generous financial support to their left-behind family members, and why they spend beyond their means upon return visits, despite living in precarious situations abroad.

Hung Cam Thai is professor of sociology and Asian American studies at Pomona College, where he is currently chair of Asian American studies. Prof. Thai is also the former Director of the Pacific Basin Institute, and former chair of sociology. He received a sociology Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Prof. Thai's first book, For Better or for Worse: Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy (Rutgers, 2008), is a study of international marriages linking women in Vietnam and overseas Vietnamese men living in the diaspora. His second book, Insufficient Funds: The Culture of Money in Low Wage Transnational Families (Stanford, 2014), won the American Sociological Association’s 2015 Best Book Award on Asia from the Asia/Asian America Section, and the 2016 Best Social Sciences Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies. Insufficient Funds examines how and why transnational families in the Vietnamese diaspora spend, receive, and give money.

A recipient of fellowships from the Haynes Foundation, Hirsch Foundation, Freeman Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, National University of Singapore, and the Institute of East Asian Studies at Berkeley, Prof. Thai has given more than 100 invited lectures and conference papers in 17 countries. He is currently writing a book about the different forms of social exclusions, systems of social categorization, and symbolic superiority in contemporary Vietnam.

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Asian American / Asian Research Institute - CUNY

25 West 43rd Street

Room 1000

New York, NY 10036

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