Fleeing the murderous Pol Pot regime, Cambodian refugees arrive in America as at once the victims and the heroes of America's misadventures in Southeast Asia; and their encounters with American citizenship are contradictory as well. Service providers, bureaucrats, and employers exhort them to be self-reliant, individualistic, and free, even as the system and the culture constrain them within terms of ethnicity, race, and class. Buddha Is Hiding tells the story of Cambodian Americans experiencing American citizenship from the bottom-up. Based on extensive fieldwork in Oakland and San Francisco, the study puts a human face on how American institutions—of health, welfare, law, police, church, and industry—affect minority citizens as they negotiate American culture and re-interpret the American dream.
In her earlier book, Flexible Citizenship, anthropologist Aihwa Ong wrote of elite Asians shuttling across the Pacific. This parallel study tells the very different story of "the other Asians" whose route takes them from refugee camps to California's inner-city and high-tech enclaves. In Buddha Is Hiding we see these refugees becoming new citizen-subjects through a dual process of being-made and self-making, balancing religious salvation and entrepreneurial values as they endure and undermine, absorb and deflect conflicting lessons about welfare, work, medicine, gender, parenting, and mass culture. Trying to hold on to the values of family and home culture, Cambodian Americans nonetheless often feel that "Buddha is hiding." Tracing the entangled paths of poor and rich Asians in the American nation, Ong raises new questions about the form and meaning of citizenship in an era of globalization.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Government and Citizenship
PART I. IN POL POT TIME
1. Land of No More Hope
2. A Hilton in the Border Zone
PART II. GOVERNING THROUGH FREEDOM
3. The Refugee as an Ethical Figure
4. Refugee Medicine: Attracting and Deflecting the Gaze
5. Keeping the House from Burning Down
6. Refugee Love as Feminist Compassion
7. Rescuing the Children
PART III. CHURCH AND MARKETPLACE
8. The Ambivalence of Salvation
9. Guns, Gangs, and Doughnut Kings
PART IV. RECONFIGURATIONS OF CITIZENSHIP
10. Asian Immigrants as the New Westerners?
Afterword: Assemblages of Human Needs
Aihwa Ong is Professor of Anthropology and of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationalism (1999) and Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (1987), and the editor of Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism (1997) and Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Labor Politics in Southeast Asia (California, 1995).
“A penetrating, forthright and insightful account of what Cambodians . . . coped with . . . in Southeast Asia and later in the United States.”—Don Watanabe Pacific Reader
“A challenging and creative book that contributes significantly to our broader understaning of immigration, refugees, welfare and race in a globalized context. Original and stimulating.”—Steven J. Gold Ethnic And Racial Studies
"In this tour-de-force ethnography, acclaimed anthropologist Aihwa Ong trains her awesome ethnographic and theoretic talents on the brutal forces reconfiguring citizenship in a globalized world of war refugees, economic immigrants, and technicians of the modern soul. A work of breathtaking brilliance, beauty, perception and compassion that should bestir Buddha and the rest of us to action."—Judith Stacey, author of Brave New Families
"In this impressive and substantial work, Ong brings together rich ethnographies of Southeast Asia immigrants with a conceptually deft and poignant analysis of the human technologies of citizen-making. At stake is no less than a radical rethinking of the conditions of life, the meaning of the human, and a conception of power beyond the confines of traditional sovereignty."—Judith Butler, author of The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection
"Ong's vivid ethnography, filtered through her astute theoretical gaze, transforms and enlarges our understandings of immigration and citizenship in an increasingly multicultural nation. Ong closely follows the everyday lives of Cambodian refugees in California, as they struggle to make sense of, selectively embrace, and talk back to American demands for personal autonomy, narcissism, greed, and materialism, which fly in the face of Cambodian values of compassion, community, and reciprocity. Like her subjects' lives, this book is a marvelous and remarkable achievement."—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of Death without Weeping
Leeds Prize Honor Book in Urban Anthropology, Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology