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Little Saigons

Staying Vietnamese in America

2009
Author:

Karin Aguilar–San Juan

Little Saigons

Explores how Vietnamese refugees and immigrants retain their identities in the United States

With a comparative and race-cognizant approach, Karin Aguilar-San Juan shows how places like Little Saigon and Fields Corner are sites for the simultaneous preservation and redefinition of Vietnamese identity. Intervening in debates about race, ethnicity, multiculturalism, and suburbanization as a form of assimilation, she elaborates on the significance of place as an integral element of community building and its role in defining Vietnamese American-ness.

A well-researched, thoughtful, and often eloquent study, Karin Aguilar–San Juan’s multi-site (Orange County and Boston) and multi-generational approach brings historical concreteness to her deployment of theory. Her critical empathy for her subjects enables theorization without erasing their voices.

Arif Dirlik, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Karin Aguilar–San Juan examines the contradictions of Vietnamese American community and identity in two emblematic yet different locales: Little Saigon in suburban Orange County, California (widely described as the capital of Vietnamese America) and the urban “Vietnamese town” of Fields Corner in Boston, Massachusetts. Their distinctive qualities challenge assumptions about identity and space, growth amid globalization, and processes of Americanization.

With a comparative and race-cognizant approach, Aguilar-San Juan shows how places like Little Saigon and Fields Corner are sites for the simultaneous preservation and redefinition of Vietnamese identity. Intervening in debates about race, ethnicity, multiculturalism, and suburbanization as a form of assimilation, this work elaborates on the significance of place as an integral element of community building and its role in defining Vietnamese American-ness.

Staying Vietnamese, according to Aguilar-San Juan, is not about replicating life in Viet Nam. Rather, it involves moving toward a state of equilibrium that, though always in flux, allows refugees, immigrants, and their U.S.-born offspring to recalibrate their sense of self in order to become Vietnamese anew in places far from their presumed geographic home.

Little Saigons

Karin Aguilar-San Juan is associate professor of American studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Little Saigons

A well-researched, thoughtful, and often eloquent study, Karin Aguilar–San Juan’s multi-site (Orange County and Boston) and multi-generational approach brings historical concreteness to her deployment of theory. Her critical empathy for her subjects enables theorization without erasing their voices.

Arif Dirlik, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

The writing is lively and engaging.

Choice

An important and timely contribution to the comparative and multi-sited study of Vietnamese Americans, and the complexity of crafting selves and creating community.

Journal of Vietnamese Studies

This study participates wholeheartedly in the continuing struggle for self-articulation and representation for unevenly acculturated, classed, and emplaced members, patrons, residents, and citizens of these two Little Saigon communities. Together with these constituents and their communities, this book will be read, taught, understood, and appreciated.

Journal of Asian American Studies

The book is pitched as an ethnographic and interview-based exploration of two Vietnamese enclaves . . . but its greater contribution comes from the way it conceptually explores the notion of ‘community’ for Vietnamese refugees as it takes form within the local context.

American Journal of Sociology

This book makes a number of helpful contributions to the literature on Vietnamese Americans and to the broader literature on ethnic communities. It correctly calls our attention to the fact that Vietnamese residential concentrations are responses to the physical spaces and social structures they confront in this country, and not simply products of migration and settlement. It provides a fresh look at the oft-made observation that the selfidentification of immigrant group members results from the interplay of responses to the cultural and structural setting of the host society and selective memories of the land of origin.

Contemporary Sociology

Little Saigons draws upon a large body of literature on race, identity and immigration in the course of its impassioned rebuttal of status quo views of American immigration. Unlike most studies of immigrant populations, Little Saigons is not primarily concerned with recording the standpoint of the immigrant community itself or summarizing its fate in relation to that of other migrant populations. Readers who are already critical of mainstream scholarship may find the book both innovative and satisfying.

Ethnic and Racial Studies

Aguilar-San Juan’s book is an especially valuable addition to the Vietnamese-American studies literature as it represents one of the few detailed book-length examinations of the growth and transformation of contemporary Vietnamese enclave communities in the United States.

Multicultural Review

Aguilar-San Juan’s work in Vietnamese American communities provides much needed insight into immigrant communities in America, and Little Saigons would appeal to those readers particularly interested in immigrant identity formation.

Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement

Karin Aguilar-San Juan’s multisited study of one ethnic group in two disparate locations offers an insightful comparative sociological approach to the scholarship on community formation.

Journal of American Ethnic History

Little Saigons

UMP blog Q&A: Staying Vietnamese in America

9/30/2009
Q: What's the story behind your book's compelling cover photo? Where was it taken and who does it feature?
I took this photo in January 1999. It was during the time of the protests in Orange County’s Little Saigon, sparked by a storeowner and a poster image of Ho Chi Minh. Many days before, the storeowner had been escorted out of his Hi-Tek video shop by a SWAT team in full riot gear. He had made several incendiary statements about “freedom” (timed with Martin Luther King Day) that did not sit well with certain groups of Vietnamese -- particularly those who are ex-political prisoners. Many of those men spent up to 15 years in political detention in Viet Nam; for good reasons, their rage constantly simmers.
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