For Better or For Worse

After being humiliated by four local men who assumed that every Viet Kieu’s mission is to steal away their beautiful women, Hung Cam Thai, an assistant professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at Pomona College, conducted his research on international marriage between Vietnamese-American men who live in the States and their wives back home. In his new book, For Better or For Worse, Thai recounts the stories of various transnational couples through his personal interviews with both the brides in Viet Nam and the grooms in America.

The results of his studies, as I predicted, are predictable. Most men who go back to Viet Nam searching for their wife are low-wage workers without a college degree in the States. They feel they don’t get the proper respect from the women who make equal or more money than they do. Some of the men in the book were even proud of the fact that they could just go back to Viet Nam and throw out money to get the respect and attention they desired. One of the men, who makes six to eight dollars an hour, featured in the book would hesitate to buy a bowl of Pho after a long hard day at work, yet doesn’t think twice about buying a bottle of perfume for his wife’s cousin in Viet Nam for fifty dollars.

The irony in these stories is the social status in which Thai points out the differences in the unmarriageable candidate between the two genders. The unmarriageable men in the States are the ones with little education, which makes sense because they feel they aren’t good enough for the educated women in the States. In contrast, the unmarriageable women in Viet Nam are the ones with high education. They feel that local men aren’t good enough for them. What makes the two a good match is that he has money and she has education. I am not sure if these combinations would last. Why would a highly educated woman marry someone less educated than her? What makes the oversea men more marketable than the local men? The answer is simple: the green card.

The book also delves into a highly marriageable couple. He is a software engineer in the States and she is the pretty-but-less-educated girl in a village. What makes him highly marriageable is obvious and what makes her highly marriageable is her typical quality of a Vietnamese woman: listen and respect the elders. This combination might or might not work. It works because the men have no problem marrying down and they can wear the pants. It doesn’t work because they have been raised in two different cultures. They have their ways of thinking and reasoning. He might want her to go to work, but she might prefer to stay home to take care of the kids.

The chapter that seems departed but related is about the matchmaker. In Vietnamese culture, matchmaking is quite popular, and it plays a major role in international marriage. The chapter also touches upon the fascinating emotional debts. Psychological once you owe someone an emotional debt, you could never pay back no matter how much you had given. This is one of the reasons the remittances back to Viet Nam are soaring each year. As the case of the matchmaker, she sends money home every month because she feel that she owes her youngest sister who took her in when she was divorced and had no place to live.

What missing in this book is the marriage between Vietnamese-American women and their husband in Viet Nam. Of course, the women who go back for marriage aren’t as common as the men, but I have known three women who have done that. Two went back to married their boyfriend. One of the two waited ten years later (after she become a U.S citizenship) to go back and married him. Now that is some real love. The third woman went back to arrange a fake marriage for 30 grands, but she ended up married him without the payment. The result is that he beats the shit out of her ten days after he got his green card. Not only that he didn’t have to pay his fee, he also wants half of the house that belongs to her and her father. Some men are gold diggers too.