April 20, 2008
Generation Gap in Vietnamese Community
Nguoi Viet.com, News feature, Diane Duyen Cu, Posted: Apr 09, 2008
They sit alone in the house after finishing their daily household tasks, staring at a television show in a language they barely understand and wonder when the rest of the family will be home for dinner.
This lonely experience occurs more often than not to a large number individuals in the elderly Diaspora of Vietnamese, who are living out their senior years in the surroundings of a new country. Immigrating to a country of newer opportunities and a better life isn’t necessarily embraced by all refugees.
The main challenge facing many of these older and elderly Vietnamese immigrants is the ability to adapt and acclimate their lives in their new host country. As more families bring the older members of the of the family unit to America, so do a series of social issues that often arise as a result of this immigration.
This older generation of parents and grandparents, as with most ethnic aged populations, faces challenges with adapting to a new language, changing cultural values, limited independence, and most importantly, a loss in social importance. In Vietnam, where the older grandparents are highly respected and relied upon for integral roles of support, guidance and wisdom, they often find themselves in social isolation in a new country.
In a social study of Australian Vietnamese grandparents by James Vo-Thanh-Xuan and Pranee Liamputtong, they discuss the difficulties of this elderly generation. ” … they (grandparents) encountered difficulties in the settlement, adaptation and integration into … society. Loss of personal identity, loss in social status, serious economic setbacks and unfulfilled expectations put many elderly immigrants at risk.”
While most Vietnamese American households have both parents working all day and the kids away at school, many grandparents are left at home to occupy themselves until the family returns home. For those who are limited in English and who are unable to drive, they have found it even more difficult to assimilate to their surroundings.
”In Vietnam, there was always something for me to do, someone for me to visit and everything was close by,” says Trung Quang, 71, who immigrated to America in 1995. ”But here, everything is so far away and no one asks me for help with anything anymore. My children are always away and busy with their work or school.”
As their children and grandchildren become increasingly independent, more accepting of America’s lenient cultural values, and less tolerant of the home country’s stricter traditions, the older immigrants find these new ideals and lifestyles harder to accept.
Phuong Van, a 68-year-old retired educator from Vietnam, says she feels threatened that there will be a loss of Vietnamese language and culture.
”My grandchildren only want to speak English and eat American foods,” she says. ”I want to teach them the ways of the old country and our Vietnamese culture, but they can’t really understand what I say and I don’t understand them. We don’t communicate very much.”
She says she feels like she has a big responsibility to teach and educate the youth, but feels as if no one wants to listen.
This generational divide and difference in lifestyles are also recognized by the younger population, but they also find it difficult to try to change the minds of their respected elders. They feel that their elders resist cultural change and just don’t want to make an effort to acclimate to their new cultural surroundings.
Although it may seem a slow and arduous task to assist recently immigrated elders to adapt to their new country’s lifestyle, it’s not impossible. With a new awareness and concern for the widening divide of both generations, many children and grandchildren are directing more effort and concern toward caring for the elders.
Some younger individuals often find hurdles to overcome but are making efforts to incorporate new American values into the household without forgetting the traditional Vietnamese culture. New parents who balance their household with caring for both their young children and parents feel the responsibility of being the bridge between both generations.
Jennifer Dang, a 32-year-old mother of a baby boy, says she believes in raising her son with the guidance of her own parents and allowing them to play a key role to her child’s upbringing.
”I want my parents to help me raise my child. I need them to help teach my child the Vietnamese language and remind them of our culture,” Đang says.
City-sponsored activities such as those at the Westminster Senior Center programs in Westminster, Calif., provide events that have helped Vietnamese American seniors ease their way into mainstream American society.
Classes such as Counseling for Medicare and yoga are well received by older Vietnamese. ”We have many senior Vietnamese Americans participate in our activities,” says Mary Andruski, director of the center. ”They love the exercise classes because it’s fun, and it doesn’t require them to speak a lot of English.”
Then there are inspiring and successful examples of assimilation like Mit Pham, an independent and positive 83-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, now living in Orange County, Calif., with his wife, also 83. After immigrating to the United States in 1991 at the retirement age of 66, he seems to have transitioned himself rather smoothly into the American life.
”We don’t want to live with our kids and grandkids. It’s too noisy and busy.” he says, ”They can come visit us and I keep myself busy and healthy by taking a walk every day.”
It just might be his daily walks, or his 10 children, 28 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren that keep him youthful, positive and more American.