Diasporic identities: Southeast Asian incorporation experiences in Europe and America. The post-refugee generations

Research team: Hélène Le Bail and Khatharya Um (Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley)

Over the last four decades since the initial mass resettlement of refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in 1975, principally in the US and France, the Southeast Asian communities in Europe and the US have registered a demographic shift with the emergence of diaspora-born generations with different experiences, access, mobility, ties to the ancestral homeland, and notions and claims to citizenship and belonging in multiple contexts. Despite the long history of migration to France, dating back to the colonial period, there is little scholarly attention paid to the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian communities (heretofore referred to as "Southeast Asian") in France. French preoccupation remains largely fixated on Asia and on the antiquities, rather than on the diaspora. This is particularly noteworthy given that Southeast Asians collectively constitute the second largest Asian population in France, a close second only to the Chinese. Despite the resurgent attention to immigration issues in Europe in recent years, we know little of the integration experiences of these earlier but relatively recent refugee communities in Europe. In particular, we have virtually no knowledge of the post-refugee generations that are an integral part of French cultural, political, economic, and social fabric. These knowledge gaps deprive us of critical insights that would be relevant and invaluable in view of the current refugee situations in Europe, and the intensifying debates engendered by demographic and cultural shifts both in the US and in France.

Though relatively more prolific, scholarship on Southeast Asians in the US remains uneven, with more studies available on Vietnamese Americans than on other communities, and comparatively little on the post-refugee generations. With their different historical relationships with Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and different philosophies about immigrant incorporation and cultural pluralism, the US and France make for a rich comparative study that is at the center of our proposed collaboration.

This two-part initiative proposes, firstly, to bring together an interdisciplinary group of European and American researchers working on Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian diasporas to engage in critical, cross disciplinary discourse on the post-refugee generations. Among other concerns, the researchers on the project are particularly interested in their social, cultural, political, and transnational negotiations with regards to identity politics, networks, and public engagement, as guided in part by the following questions:

What are the experiences of the Southeast Asian post-refugee generations in Europe? What forces and factors in the receiving contexts shape their experiences, and how, and what are the differences and commonalities among the contexts of reception? How, if in any way, does historical memory inform their identity constructions, socialities, and diasporic consciousness and engagement? What, if any, are their relationships with the ancestral homeland? How are those ties maintained or made manifest? 

The ultimate aims of this project are as follows:

- to map the landscape of research on contemporary Southeast Asian migration to Europe

- to share research methodologies, trends, and findings

- to broaden and deepen our comparative understanding of refugee resettlement and incorporation experiences in America and in Europe that are the two principal refugee resettlement hubs

- to foster cross and trans-disciplinary discourse on migration and diasporas

- to advance and widen the transnational fields of critical refugee, migration and diaspora studies

- to transnationalize the Critical Refugee Studies Collective, which is a University of California-based network of critical refugee studies scholars.

Secondly and as an extension of this larger conversation, Um and Le Bail also propose to begin ethnographic research on post-refugee generations of Southeast Asians in France, with particular attention to the Sino-Vietnamese community that is their shared research interest and that constitutes an underexplored research terrain.