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For Better or For Worse

Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy

Hung Cam Thai

Publication Year: 2008

Marriage is currently the number-one reason people migrate to the United States, and women constitute the majority of newcomers joining husbands who already reside here. But little is known about these marriage and migration streams beyond the highly publicized and often sensationalized phenomena of mail-order and military brides. Less commonly known is that most international couples are immigrants of the same ethnicity.

            In For Better or For Worse, Hung Cam Thaitakes a closer look at marriage and migration, with a specific focus on the unions between Vietnamese men living in the United States and the women who marry them. Weaving together a series of personal stories, he underscores the ironies and challenges that these unions face. He includes the voices of working-class immigrant men dealing with marginalization in their adopted country. These men speak about wanting “traditional” wives who they hope will recognize their gendered authority. Meanwhile, young Vietnamese college-educated women, undesirable to bachelors in their own country who are seeking subservient wives, express a preference for men of the same ethnicity but with a more liberal outlook on gender—men they imagine they will find in the United States.

A sense of foreboding pervades the book as Thai captures the incompatible viewpoints of the couples who appear to be separated not only geographically but ideologically.


Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title PAge, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: The Intimate Details of Globalization

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pp. ix-xviii

Fifteen years after my family and I left Vietnam as boat refugees, I returned to the country as a young adult on a personal and an intellectual journey to understand transnational lives––personal because in my adulthood I discovered my own transnational connections there, and intellectual because of my childhood in rural America. ...

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pp. xix-xxvi

This book required more time, money, movements, and emotions than I had ever imagined it would cost me. First, I am grateful to the transpacific husbands and wives and their families who shared the stories of their lives with me. ...

A Note on Translations

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

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Introduction: Marriage and Migration in the New Global Economy

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pp. 1-19

International marriage is currently the primary reason why people migrate to the United States (Rumbaut 1997; United States Department of Homeland Security 2006; USINS 2002). As figure 1.1 illustrates, of all the immigrants entering the United States in 2005, 58 percent came through various routes of family sponsorship.1 ...

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Chapter 1: The Gift of Modernity

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pp. 20-35

Stories about the cordless telephone circulated for miles. “Every other day during the first month,” Trang Le, a twenty-seven-year-old college-educated woman, said calmly, “Someone would come and take a look at it. People, young and old.”1 Trang told me this on an early evening in March 2000, when she and I sat in the kitchen of her family’s four-story, six-bedroom house in Dong Huong, ...

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Chapter 2: Convertibility

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pp. 36-50

Teo Doan was a thirty-two-year-old man who worked for his parents at a small sandwich shop in the heart of San Jose’s Silicon Valley, where the second highest concentration of Viet Kieu outside of Vietnam reside. Thirty-year-old Toan Pham was the afternoon janitor at a public elementary school in urban Los Angeles, the metropolitan area with the highest concentration of Viet Kieu in the diaspora. ...

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Chapter 3: Globalization as a Gender Strategy

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pp. 51-66

At roughly 5 foot 5, forty-two-year-old Bao Hoang was a little out of shape, though not overweight. From his walk and posture, one can tell that Bao had little leisure time, and that work, however flexible he claimed it to be, filled most of his time in Boston. With only a village grade-school education from Vietnam, Bao worked at two low-wage jobs, ...

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Chapter 4: The Matchmaker

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pp. 67-81

I met sixty-one-year-old Mai Nguyen in early April 2001 at the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her brother’s family of four in San Francisco’s inner city. It was her usual Wednesday off from work at an electronic assembly line in the warehouse district, not too far from the apartment. ...

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Chapter 5: Money

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pp. 82-93

At 6:00 A.M., twenty-five-year-old Thoa Dang was dressed neatly in black slacks and a bright yellow short-sleeve shirt as we conducted our first interview over breakfast in a small drugstore she owned near the central business district of Saigon. ...

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Chapter 6: The Two Unmarriageables

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pp. 94-122

Hours before her husband’s plane was due, Thanh Nguyen and about thirty of her family members and kin were anxiously waiting outside of Tan Son Nhat, Saigon’s international airport. Like those who look forward to the “homecoming” of a family member or a close friend from the Vietnamese diaspora, Thanh’s family was understandably excited on this rainy day in July 2000. ...

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Chapter 7: The Highly Marriageables

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pp. 123-137

Joe ngo, a thirty-six-year-old software engineer, had changed his name from Cuong when he went to college in the United States because that was when he realized that it bothered him when people had difficulty pronouncing Cuong. The changing of his name was not a racial issue for Joe, for people’s mispronunciation of his name ...

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Conclusion: For Better or For Worse

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pp. 138-146

This book focuses on social processes involved in international marriage migration, adding to recent scholarly efforts that inquire into the more personal and emotional side of transnational life. As Povinelli and Chauncey remind us, “A troubling aspect of the literature on globalization is its tendency to read social life off external social forms ...

Appendix A: Reflections on Methodology

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pp. 147-164

Appendix B: Characteristics of the Sample

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pp. 165-180


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pp. 181-186


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pp. 187-202


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pp. 203-210

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813544687
E-ISBN-10: 0813544688
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813542881

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2008