Violent Dream: Vietnamese Refugee Women and Violence



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My project Violent Dream examines the way Vietnamese refugee women are subjected to violence at home and in the workplace through literature and film. Upon arriving in the United States, Vietnamese refugees experience a reversal in gender roles as a consequence of the historical condition of the displacement and the racialized and gendered U.S. economic system. The dangers accompanying the escape from Vietnam often break up families, forcing men to take over domestic chores, such as taking care of the children in the absence of the mothers and causing their feminization in the eyes of the host society. In addition the racialized economic system, which underwent a process of restructuring in the 80 prevent them from having jobs that would allow them to support the family financially, thus effeminizing them in inside the household. Because Vietnamese men can not fulfill their traditional role of the bread winner, Vietnamese refugee women are forced to enter the workforce in order for the family to survive. The same economic system that discriminates against the men favors the immigrant working woman as a docile labor force, allowing her to become a co-provider of the family, a title that is usually reserved for the Vietnamese men. While this new gender role gives the woman a certain advantage over her husband, making her more independent economically, it also exposes her to violence both at the workplace and at home. At work, Vietnamese women face isolation and physical abuse that permanently affect their bodies, toiling in dead-end and labor intensive jobs in the informal sector of the economy. At the same time, in order to regain their loss of status that results from feminization, Vietnamese men often resort to violence directed towards their family members. Women, as the witnesses of their downfall, are the most available subjects of violence. The two types of violence, I argue, are closely interconnected, both rooted in the racialized and gendered economic system of the United States, which seeks profit from the vulnerability of the immigrant working women. The reaction of Vietnamese refugee women toward violence in the household differs along the generational line. While the daughters try to find a way to escape the site of abuse, first generation women do not challenge the patriarchal system directly, even though the economic independence offers them opportunities to do so. Instead Vietnamese mothers only attempt to negotiate with the source of violence through informal women s networks, while giving great effort to uphold the core of traditional family ideologies. This reaction once again makes clear the connection between domestic violence and labor exploitation. The jobs available for immigrant women in the informal sectors are often an extension of domestic chores, consequently there is no separation between the domestic and public sphere for the Vietnamese refugee woman. Work follows her home and continues to extract values from her even after the work day has ended. As a result she has no time to rest or to integrate into the society. The isolation from the host country together with the abuse at work enhance the anxiety of Vietnamese mothers and force them to seek refuge in the traditional family system despite domestic violence.



Vietnamese American women, literature, violence