How to Build
New Life News
Chinese from Indochina
January 1985 Volume 2 Number 1
Act Think Strangely or Why Indochinese Act Think Strangely?
Americans divorce more, raise more disobedient children, disrespect elders
and aggressively court the opposite sex? Why can arranged marriage work in
Indochina and why are Indochinese shy with the opposite sex? Why do
Indochinese refugees more often study computers and pure science than
Americans who grew up in a technological society? To understand the answers
to questions like these is the key to refugee ability to survive and thrive
in the United States. And it is the key for native-born
American-Indochinese mutual appreciation and resolution of common social
problems created when a new immigrant group attempts to settle in a
radically different culture. In that constructive, bridge-building spirit,
this issue of New Life News addresses these questions for the examination
of both its Indochinese and its native born American audiences.
to understanding all these differences just mentioned can be found in
comparing the states of technological development in the two respective
parts of the world. Each stage of development involves its own problems and
its own benefits. A culture has grown up around each of the two
technological worlds to help people cope with these problems and best enjoy
the benefits. First let's paint a Chinese water color - using just a few
brush strokes to show each technological world and the society and culture
which grows around it.
life and economy revolves around small farms and small family businesses in
small countries. To keep this relatively poor, but adequate economy running
along smoothly, these sensible things happened and worked well enough to
keep the system intact for hundreds if not thousands of years: parents
could teach the children how to live and survive in this society in the
same way that they and their ancestors had done it.
everyone could agree on things and live peacefully together, this
relatively successful system could survive and flourish.
it in different terms, Indochinese societies became traditional, respecting
ancestors, and following strictly the examples of the tried and true way things
were done in the past. Change in society was slow or non-existent. There
was no strong need to change.
Indochinese societies saw the usefulness of conformity, sameness,
homogeneity of culture and burying interpersonal differences and conflicts
that did arise. This created a relatively comfortable, peaceful environment
in which people could be happy and businesses and farms could be run
successfully as they always had been.
system did sustain itself successfully for thousands of years in China and
Indochina until Westerners with an advanced technology invaded the East.
hundred years ago when America was much less industrialized, life in the
United States was not so dissimilar from the life just described above. But
a technological-industrial revolution which began in England and spread to
the U.S. changed life drastically here. Factories proliferated; workers
moved near the factories creating cities. Parents working in factories
could not educate their children while at the same time working in the
family business or on the family farm, so schools also proliferated to act
as substitute parents. The old American (similar to Indochinese) values of
respecting tradition and respecting elders fell by the wayside.
Americans have always been more independent minded than Indochinese or even
than Europeans, the new technological era made that characteristic quite
useful for Americans, in order to keep up with the new rapidly changing
technology. Americans had to be flexible enough to learn new life styles
that went along with driving cars, using telephones, in fact, using new
machines, new ways of thinking and doing things that never stopped
changing. Innovativeness, newness became new values to replace
traditionalism and oldness. Ability to adapt to the new replaced ability to
adapt to the existent as a new value.
these two pictures in mind. It becomes simple to answer the questions
American Children Disobedient To Parents And Elders?
important reason Americans of all ages respect their elders less than
Indochinese do is that in a rapidly changing technological society the old
becomes outdated and useless. In America there is a new idea, a new gadget,
a new machine, a new technique invented every second. One cannot take a
lifetime to master the timeworn traditions of old, but rather one must
constantly keep pace with the new or be left behind. The elderly in America
who have not kept pace thus do not possess the knowledge necessary to
function in a world which is quite different today than when that older
person was growing up. A glacially moving Indochinese society, however,
allows people to accumulate knowledge continually for a lifetime without
that knowledge going stale or becoming outdated. The youth in America are
therefore worshipped rather than the elderly and the ancestors, for the
youth possess the latest knowledge foster fresh outlooks and symbolize
newness and change. Newness and change and mastery of the latest technology
allows for success in an America rapidly changing and with most Americans
fiercely striving to stay ahead of each other.
American Children Disrespectful of Teachers?
one of the reasons is that America needs innovation, i.e., disrespect for
institutions and traditional ways of doing things, to survive economically
and socially in the rapidly changing technological world. Americans
sometimes label this a "healthy disrespect". America still needs
the obedient, respectful factory worker too. But, these positions are
filled by the less educated who have not learned to be "creative"
or innovative. Such routine, disciplined positions are also filled by
immigrants from traditional, respectful societies like those in Indochina.
should be noted that too much disrespect, or the wrong kind of disrespect,
is unhealthy and dysfunctional in America, too. For example, sometimes
unhealthy disrespect of Black Americans for American institutions arose
from unhealthy white disrespect for the Black race. This resulted in an
unhealthy economy in the South and in all America today using Black human
resources economically inefficiently. The disrespect of Southern whites
caused a monumentally dysfunctional Civil War along with human strife which
has racked this country since. However, Black disrespect for American
institutions has sometimes been creatively channeled to make positive
changes in American society.
Indochinese Carry Their Young with Them Almost Constantly during Their
First Years of Life? Why Do Americans Let Their Babies Play Alone In a Crib
or Crawl Freely on the Floor, Sleep Alone In Their Own Room and Sometimes
Even "Cry it Out" Without Comfort From Mother or Father?
Indochina oneness with the family, interdependence within the family is
valued because the family is an interdependent working unit running a
family farm or family business. To go off on one's own, leave the home, or
think differently is not conducive to the efficiency of the family as a
working unit. Early bonding to the family, learning to be emotionally and
physically tied to the family is thus fostered through this close physical
contact through infancy and even into early childhood.
America, on the other hand, independence, self-reliance, and adaptability
to changes in extra-familial environment are encouraged because these
traits make survival and success in a rapidly changing technological
environment more likely. In other words, the American baby is practicing
for the type of society he'll be living in: away from the family (no family
business or farm) and in an environment which will dip, bend and curve
unexpectedly like roller coaster ride with no one there to help. The
successful American family does not prepare its offspring to depend on it,
because do parents not know where their children will work, nor do they
know what the state-of-the-art technology will be at the time of job entry.
American youth are generally on their own at 18, or the weaning process is
rapidly brought to conclusion starting at this time of college entrance or
job entry. To be "tied to ones mother's apron strings" is
therefore a negative value in America.
Why Do American
Like To Divorce So Frequently?
don't like to divorce any more than Indochinese do. However, Americans'
rapidly changing, heterogeneous society makes high divorce rates
inevitable. When a man and woman marry they may be truly close emotionally
and intellectually. But the husband and wife are most often not together
for large parts of the day as they are on a family farm or in a family
business in Indochina. Even that would probably not be of too great
consequence in Indochina, but the situation is different in America. Here
the environment may be quite different for a husband working in one place
and a wife working at home or somewhere else. In the U.S. every section of
the country, city, every profession, every class, even every individual and
family has its own character, values, ethics and philosophy. In Indochina
everyone's values are more or less the same so wherever a husband or wife
works there's no influence to change. But in the U.S. a husband going to
school or working in an inner city social service agency may be pulled in
one philosophical, emotional direction whereas the wife staying at home or
perhaps working in a suburban doctor's office may be pulled in other
directions. The once close couple grows apart. There is less social
pressure in the U.S. for the couple to conform to each other, because, as
mentioned, independence and individuality are highly respected in a
technological society. Furthermore, a woman in an advanced industrialized
nation is more likely to be better educated and better able to find a job
and live independently than in an agricultural society. The woman is
economically freer to make her own independent decision as to whether she
wants to stay with her spouse.
Americans Have Arranged Marriages?
marriages would not work in a heterogeneous society like the U.S. America
encompasses thousands of relatively different value, religious,
philosophical and personality groups which would not be compatible in a
marriage. Whereas in Indochina, most people in a country have the same
basic morals, values, religion, and philosophy of life. A blind match would
probably work most of the time.
again, in the U.S. it's the individual who is considered the important
unit, and it is he or she who should make this marital decision. But in
Indochina the family is most important, and the match should suit the
family's purposes, more than the individuals.
Why Are Indochinese Young People More Shy with The Opposite
Sex than Americans?
does American society encourage dancing, condone courting and dating and
public displays of affection between teens of the opposite sex? Why do
American girls wear sexier clothes: tight pants, bikinis, low-cut blouses, etc?
decisions on marriage are more often discouraged in Indochina (for reasons
in the answer proceeding), and social structures were built through history
to enforce that. Thus males and females are segregated as much as possible
in school, in the market (women shop), and in recreational situations—coed
dancing was often outlawed in Indochina. Boys play with boys, and girls
with girls. Family chaperoned dates or meetings are a breakdown of the
segregation, but still with family control. Girls are required to dress in
a sexually unprovoking way: no lipstick or rouge,
no tight pants, no bikinis, no low cut blouses and no hot pants. (City
girls in Indochina were more "Westernized" in dressing and
courting behavior, because they lived in a society more like that in an
industrialized, technological society like America's.) In short, the
decision on the time and person to marry is left to family discretion in
more traditional Indochina with little chance allowed for an individual to
get involved in such things.
America, marriages are not arranged by families, because the individuals decision is more important. Therefore, the
young person must be taught the social skills necessary to court—to find a
mate by his or her own doing. Thus American society encourages dances
(school dances, church dances), allows its young women to dress and act
more provocatively than Indochinese girls are allowed. Frank and open kissing
and romance are taught and glorified through movies and novels; parentally
approved teen magazines teach young girls how to make themselves physically
and behaviorally attractive to young men.
effective means of contraception are readily available and affordable and
understood by Americans (not as well as perhaps they should be understood,
however), making sexual encounters among the unwed less dangerous and, as a
matter of fact, less of an anathema than in Indochina.
America today is not totally liberated or educated sexually, and is in a
transition stage between that of a pre-industrial society when cultural
non-mechanical mechanisms of birth control made sense and an advanced
affluent technological society in which non-mechanical birth control
mechanisms are not as crucial to the control of population and the
assurance of care for children of unwed parents. Cultural moves are more slow than technological advances and
trial-and-error periods test new moves as to whether they will be useful or
complementary in the new era. America is new in this shifting world of
trial and error and useful moves, it might be said, have not been agreed
and settled upon. Nor is it likely that constantly and rapidly advancing
technology will allow moves to catch up anytime in the near future.
What is the
Difference Between the Way Americas and
Indochinese Choose a Career?
course language and cultural handicaps effect most refugees' career choices
and give many refugees no career choice at all. But the difference in the
method of choosing for the better-off refugee lies in the types of skills
and personality of the Indochinese vs. the American and in the differences
in values. Indochinese society, being relatively unchanging, rigid and
structured, creates a population which is more comfortable in and which
values highly structured, clear-cut disciplines such as math, engineering,
pure sciences and computer technology. Americans, in general, are more used
to a free-wheeling, ever shifting, kaleidoscopic environment and they are
therefore more often able to enter into the nebulous social sciences. Most
Indochinese have been taught not to question and upset the stability of the
system, and are therefore disinclined to study in disciplines that ask why
people do things the way they do or that attempt to change the way people
do things—psychology, sociology, anthropology, and social work.
in a economically
marginal society where a major motivation is to feed, clothe and house ones
family, the potential income from the prospective career is perhaps the
major factor in career choice. In America, where families are small and
almost all jobs here, including blue-collar jobs, pay enough to support
self and small family relatively adequately, Americans often think of
non-monetary considerations in choosing a job. Thus Americans, without the
basic-survival mentality of Indochinese, more often consider such career
values as intellectual stimulation, healthfulness of the career, degree of
job stress, creative impact of ones work on society, work environment, or
opportunity for emotional, intellectual, self-fulfillment. As Indochinese,
like Americans before them, begin to realize the implications of living in
an affluent society, they too, will be less concerned with the amount of
pay they receive in making a career choice. But meanwhile large families,
lack of saved-up income and the time it usually takes for newcomers to
climb out of inner-city, illegal, below minimum-wage and entry level jobs
will force or scare most refugees into making career choices based largely
on monetary considerations.
Volunteerism and Philanthropy Different in the United States?
of all, volunteerism and philanthropy refer to helping others outside the
family on an organizational level. Helping in Indochina's family-centered
society is done mainly within the family. Religious forms of voluntarism
and philanthropy are significant in both parts of the world.
do American wives, students, elderly among others volunteer billions of man
hours, donate billions of dollars a year to help non-family members? First,
America is a land of abundant resources and most Americans, even middle
class Americans, have time and money to spare without fear of starvation or
deprivation of clothing or shelter - the basic necessities of life. Not
surprisingly, the very poor in America are more similar, then, to
Indochinese in their helping habits.
aren't comfortably rich Indochinese so inclined to volunteerism and
philanthropy? One reason is that in Indochina hunger, homelessness, lack of
decent clothing, and educational deprivation are so prevalent and so close
to everyone and so long-standing that there is a pervasive fear even among
the rich that they too are vulnerable. In America, although malnutrition is
not rare, hunger is rare enough to be newsworthy if it is discovered
somewhere. Poor people are often fat (although possibly at the same time
malnourished because of improper knowledge of good dietary habits), often
own TV's, radios, watches, stereos, musical instruments, toys for the
children and substantial furniture and clothes. Some may even own cars or
houses. Medical care is available too at a minimal and often quite
substantial degree. Running water and electricity are taken for granted and
free schooling through twelfth grade is universal. All these phenomena are
characteristic of only the rich in Indochina. But the rich and middle class
in the U.S. are not unaware that no matter whether good or bad fortune
strikes, they will not starve or be left without shelter and minimal amount
of comfort. Therefore, the primary life motivation is no longer to assure
and reassure self-survival, but instead, surplus time and money can be used
to satisfy secondary motivations: desire for love, intellectual activity,
enjoyment of beauty and other excitements of the emotions. In other words,
when one has everything in life, including real assurances against
destitution, what more can one do in life? Life becomes boring and
meaningless unless new goals, new enjoyments, new passions are cultivated.
is one type of pleasure that Americans have thus cultivated in using their
excess time and resources. Giving by volunteering to do some charitable
work or giving money to likewise do some charitable work gives the sated
American a sense of genuine meaningful achievement that could not be
achieved by buying another car, another house, or another dinner on the
town It extends a person's goals when all basic survival goals have been
achieved. It brings back the same kinds of powerful survival motivations
that drive the person from the poor culture and some of the same good
feelings of fulfillment and accomplishment that a poor man in a poor
country feels when he achieves his goal of survival despite the odds against
course, volunteerism and philanthropy have different attractions for
different people too. The elderly in America unlike in Indochina lose their
status as useful persons - as explained above. To recover the respect,
usefulness and meaning in their lives, American elderly often find
voluntarism and philanthropy an answer. Middle and upper class American
housewives with small families, with little housework to do (with all the
modern conveniences), with no need to help in a family business or family
farm feel equally useless. Volunteerism puts meaning in their lives, too.
College students without the obsessive motivation to find a job after
graduation, because they will not starve or place undo
burden on their families if they do not immediately find a job, can be
freer to pursue their youthful idealistic values and join activist groups,
movements and causes of all sorts.
unemployed American workers searching for a job may even volunteer as a way
to make contacts, learn skills and to get their foot in the door. In
America, the urgency of finding a job is not so great as to drive one
always to the direct pursuit of employment; but instead the calm assurance
that a job will eventually be forthcoming allows one the composure to take
a circuitous route to employment, volunteerism, which might in fact be
quicker and more rewarding than the direct route.
should be noted that Americans may become somewhat more like Indochinese in
times of economic recession, and high unemployment. And those who remember
the Great Depression or the poverty of the old country may be more like
Indochinese in their behavior. But, for most, there remains an underlying
confidence that basic survival is not a
issue for concern and the volunteeristic and
philanthropic motivations in American society remain strong. Another factor
is at play here, too, though. In a complex, diverse, mobile, rapidly
changing technological society, families no longer have the expertise or
ability to provide the jobs, job training, financial resources, contacts
and even entertainment to the same extent as in Indochina. Specialized
organizations are often more capable and often do replace these and other
As an individuals orientation shifts
from family to organization, the individual spends more time and more money
on organizations including volunteer philanthropic activities in
organizations which become, in a sense, the new family and which serve the
same or similar functions as the traditional family. It is a sign of the
times that A.C.I. and other such organizations attract members and support
from the Indochinese community in America. A.C.I. is proud to be honored by
the Indochinese community in this respected role.