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Phi Hong Su

A Tale of Two Migration Streams: Vietnamese Immigrants and Refugees in Germany

In the United States, scholars have explained the formation of ethnic immigrant communities as resulting from a desire to interface with others in the native tongue or to draw on social networks for employment and related opportunities. In distinct instances, ethnic mobilization emerges as a response to xenophobic violence. The draw of ethnic communities has been so great in the American context that immigrants engage in secondary migration to relocate to where coethnics reside en masse. Vietnamese immigrants and refugees to Germany, upon first glance, exhibit some of the characteristics that should predict the formation of an ethnic community: they speak the same language and may potentially benefit from coethnic social networks, and, as a visible racial minority in Germany, many Vietnamese immigrants in the former East have been subject to anti-foreigner sentiments and campaigns. Yet, 40 years after the collapse of the South Vietnamese government and 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the social worlds that first-generation Vietnamese immigrants and refugees inhabit remain largely separate, to the extent that one journalist described this national-origin group as “Berlin’s Vietnamese Wall.”

My study seeks to address this unique case by examining the relationships of Vietnamese to home and host states, two of which—former South Vietnam and former East Germany—no longer exist. My dissertation draws on participant-observation with immigrant-serving organizations and in-depth interviews with Vietnamese Germans. In studying the ongoing relationships of immigrants and refugees to sending and receiving states, I consider a theoretically unique but informative case in which regime change has propelled two entirely distinct and concurrent migration streams out of Vietnam.