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  • Defining the Overseas Vietnamese1
  • Louis-Jacques Dorais (bio)
Louis-Jacques Dorais
Université Laval
Louis-Jacques Dorais

Louis-Jacques Dorais is Professor of Anthropology at Université Laval in Québec, Canada. He is the author of sixteen monographs and several dozen articles and book chapters on southeast Asian communities, on the Inuit, and on linguistic issues. These include Exile in a Cold Land: A Vietnamese Community in Canada (Yale Southeast Asia Studies, 1987); Les Communautés cambodgienne et laotienne de Québec (Université Laval, 1988); and Inuit Communities: An Introduction to Social Relations and Community Studies (Nunavut Arctic College, 2001).


1. This article stems from research undertaken among Vietnamese Canadians over a twenty-year period (1978-1998). The author wishes to thank the office of the Canadian Secretary of State for Multiculturalism (now the Department of Canadian Heritage), which funded most of this research, and Sarah-Ann Gilmore, Éric Richard, and Stéphanie Tailliez, who administered the interviews whose excerpts appear throughout the text, as well as Diaspora's editor, Khachig Tölölyan, who made many useful suggestions. Some ideas presented here were originally discussed at the symposium on Diaspora and Displacement organized at Brown University, 15 April , 2000, by Drs. Wanni W. Anderson and Robert G. Lee.

2. Such a high number would include both ethnic and non-ethnic (principally Chinese and Khmer) overseas Vietnamese, as well as their offspring born abroad (who might now number almost a million individuals). According to various estimates (cf. Dorais, Cambodians, Laotians), Chinese from Vietnam account for approximately 40% of overseas Vietnamese.

3. Some groups actually straddle categories. The Tibetans, for example, are mentioned by Bruneau as a political diaspora, though Lamaist Buddhism is also intimately linked to their identity (McLellan). The Sikhs, too, may be considered an example of a religious and political overseas community.

4. Like Bruneau, Tölölyan emphasizes the importance of formal organizations engaged in these tasks, describing, for instance, one of the most enduring diasporas, the Armenian, as "institutionally saturated" ("Elites and Institutions" 130).

5. Social and economic problems were linked to the forced nationalization, in 1978, of most South Vietnamese private businesses; to the denial of the right to hold a job to thousands of former South Vietnamese civil servants and military who had just been liberated from re-education camps; to the forced relocalization of many urban dwellers to poorly equipped rural new economic zones; and to the refusal of most Western countries to provide economic aid to Vietnam.

6. These people are generally called "ethnic" Vietnamese, in order to distinguish them from those residents—or former residents—of Vietnam whose ancestry is Chinese (the Hoa Kieu), Khmer (the Khmer Krom), or something else. In the following pages, the expressions "Viet Kieu" and "overseas Vietnamese" will only apply to the ethnic Vietnamese.

7. This identity is principally grounded in a history—taught in Vietnam's schools and transmitted through various other means (oral and written literature, the media, etc.)—of unending struggle against China (Vietnam became independent from China in 939 CE, after more than a thousand years of annexation, and has had to defend its independence many times since), colonial France, and other invaders.

8. A desire to maintain relations among overseas communities and a wish to preserve contacts with the country of origin (provided it is still in existence) constitute the last two criteria of Tölölyan's definition.

9. More complete details on these interviews and the data they yielded may be found in Dorais, "Identités transnationales."

10. Or, in two cases, partly ethnic: a man with a Khmer father, and another with a Chinese mother.

11. All interviews were conducted in French; translations to English are by the author.

12. Because the Vietnamese language uses the Latin alphabet, e-mails can be sent in Vietnamese, with proper diacritic symbols if one possesses a Vietnamese font.

13. Ancestor worship consists in perpetuating the memory of deceased family members (on the father's side) through prayers and food offerings made on selected dates (death anniversaries; lunar New Year; family events such as births and weddings). Many households permanently display a small altar with photos of their ancestors.

14. Some...


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