A central question motivates my dissertation: how do international migrants who have experienced civil war in their homeland interact with one another and negotiate national division in their hostland? “Cold War Coethnics: Nationhood and Belonging among Vietnamese Immigrants and Refugees in Berlin” addresses this through examining a singular case of parallel international migration and regime change. After the 1975 reunification of Vietnam, people unwilling to live in the newly-formed socialist country began to flee. Many resettled in democratic West Berlin, which was encircled by socialist East Germany. In 1980, Vietnamese from a second migration stream began to arrive in East Berlin on labor contracts. Germany reunified a decade later, bringing these two groups of Vietnamese together within a reunified city. This is the only instance in which coethnics who represent opposing sides of the Cold War divide have resettled en masse in the same destination.
My comparative and historically-grounded qualitative inquiry draws on 81 interviews and 14 months of participant-observation in Vietnamese religious and social organizations across Berlin. In examining how Vietnamese refugees and contract workers encounter one another in reunified Berlin, I argue that Cold War logics have unsettled categories of shared identity, such as ethnicity, nationhood, and religion. While this research draws on a unique case of international migration, its findings reveal processes at play more broadly among migrants from countries with politicized internal divisions, whether along religious, ethnic, or national lines.
I have transformed chapters of the dissertation into solo-authored as well as collaborative and interdisciplinary manuscripts. A chapter on contestation over the cultural content of ethnicity appears in the Journal of Vietnamese Studies. With media scholar Christina Sanko, I published a historical analysis refugee migration to West Germany in the German-language anthology, Invisible: Vietnamese German Realities. With historian Frank Bösch, I am writing about the integration of Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers in Germany, as part of a United Nations University project on forced migration and inequality.
With political scientist Loan Kieu Le, I have investigated contexts that shape formal outcomes such as partisanship and voting. We argue that the wave-like characteristic of certain migration streams represents an opportunity for political imprinting. This work appears in the journal, Politics, Groups, and Identities, and in the volume, Minority Voting in the United States.