Divorce was long taboo for Vietnamese immigrants

Anh Do

Extractions from the published article by Anh Do.

“It was do this, do that, cook and clean and fetch and sew,” said Ho, 48, of San Jose.


“Don’t you have any self-respect, she wanted to know. This is America,” her sister told her. “Our parents abandoned everything to come here so they could be free. She pushed me to be free.”

“Before, people felt this duty to stay married because of finances or because they were sponsored to come to this country together or traditional expectations. They don’t seek help due to shame,” said Linda Vo, professor of Asian American studies at UC Irvine. “Once they see more adults making this decision, as they see these situations become more mainstream, they’re able to come to terms with what they need to do.”

“I let it all out in the open. People appreciate the fact that we don’t hide these topics,” she said.

“Sometimes, I get the men who ask: ‘Why did you bring that up? My wife never knew she was entitled to my 401(k).’”

“In the past, parents could decide to live separate lives and avoid shattering the family for the children, knowing some of their own parents or grandparents would have done the same,” she said. “Now it’s the kids who are urging their mom and dad to leave. They went to school here and they don’t hesitate to absorb the Western lifestyle. They ask them: ‘If you’re miserable with each other, why stay?’”

Not only are couples choosing to split, “they are now willing to see it through litigation,” according to Lynn Quach, a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers who practices in Newport Beach, specializing in divorce. “Before, it was, ‘I want to settle.’ But these days, people try to get what’s fair and as their comfort level has increased with social acceptance, as the Vietnamese have a better grasp of English, they push to go to court.”

Dao said Vietnamese Americans are “more used to the term divorce in these times. It comes up in casual conversations and people don’t whisper about it anymore. I have a lot of co-workers who look like they have a perfect family life, but they’re actually on their second husband or wife and rebuilding their lives. Refugees are resilient.”

“I was very bold,” she recalled. “My husband was someone who did not follow his own will, living under too much influence from his family. I didn’t have any rights being with him, and I asked why not? Why tolerate that?”

The Santa Ana mother of two said her youngest child, Benjamin, 18, told her:

“Mom, one person likes to turn on the light, one person likes to turn off the light. You and Dad are like that, and why keep fighting? You each can get your own house and do whatever you like.”

Nguyen said “that sums up Vietnamese kids in America. They have the liberal mindset of Americans.”

Taylur Ngo, 38, sat with her parents for three hours, talking about the possibility of divorce back in 2013.

“They were very surprised. They had no idea we were on the verge,” said the San Diego marketing manager. “But ultimately, they supported me. They offered me unconditional love in the face of something they were very unfamiliar with - even if I disappointed them.”

Ngo said the change was the inevitable result of people who came as refugees becoming full-fledged Americans.

“Vietnamese parents say: ‘Don’t become an artist. Don’t be gay. Don’t get divorced.’ The taboos are unnecessary,” she said. “We have become citizens of both worlds. And part of the American experience is to embrace what you’re so scared of in the old country.”

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