Vietnamese are hardworking

Why it is not a compliment to praise the Vietnamese as hardworking

It is not uncommon for people to draw conclusions about my skills from my East Asian appearance. The image of hardworking East Asians who are mathematical geniuses or who hit the piano keys late into the night pervades Western society.

In my childhood the pressure of expectation was high: I was often measured with a different standard and reprimanded if I did not comply with the stereotypical image. When I got my first bad grade in seventh grade, a teacher took me aside and said, “I'm disappointed in you. You in particular should make an effort. "

The Vietnamese are transfigured into a model minority in Germany. They work hard and don't complain that they are submissive and well-behaved, according to the prejudices. This image is reinforced by the romantic reporting in the German media. "The model migrants" was the headline Deutschlandfunk Nova 2017, The mirror wrote in 2010 of "Vietnamese model students" in the second generation.

The premise that a person's potential depends on their origin is deeply racist. She breaks People of Color down into homogeneous groups and reduces people to a few characteristics. It makes no difference whether the stereotypes have a positive effect, because the logic remains the same.

Almost a hundred years of French colonial rule

The myth of the model minority dates back to the colonial times. The first stereotypes arose as early as the middle of the 19th century, when the French occupied the first territories of Vietnam by force. The image of the hard-working but uncivilized Vietnamese who supposedly benefit from colonization served one thing above all: to consolidate the hegemony of white colonial rulers.

The French occupied Vietnam for almost a hundred years. Today, the colonial clichés reverberate in the West: In large parts of Western society, the Vietnamese minority continues to be defined by their performance.

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Guest workers in the GDR

Most of the Vietnamese immigrants currently live in eastern Germany. Many of them came to the GDR on contracts in the 1970s and 1980s to work in the factories and large companies of the time. Almost 59,000 Vietnamese were employed at low wages until 1989. Their existence was reduced to their performance.

"The situation for guest workers in the GDR was inhumane," says Jörg Engelbert, Professor of Vietnam Studies at the University of Hamburg. “It was undesirable for Vietnamese people to cultivate relations with Germans. Pregnant women have had an abortion in order not to be fired. "

After the fall of the Wall, Engelbert says, the former contract workers were used as scapegoats. "Many Germans feared for their social security at the time," said Engelbert; the frustration about the industrial decline and the mass unemployment had spread to the Vietnamese. Xenophobic acts of violence such as the 1992 attack in Rostock-Lichtenhagen testify to this.

The situation for guest workers in the GDR was inhumane.

Jörg Engelbert

In order to secure their livelihood, a large part of the Vietnamese saved themselves after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They opened small businesses such as nail salons, Asian markets and snack bars and adapted their offer to the needs of Germans. The lack of education and the tense mood in society left only a few options.

The survival strategy was not to attract negative attention in order to be allowed to stay. For many contract workers in the GDR and war refugees in West Germany, life in Vietnam was no longer conceivable. As a result, many felt compelled to adapt to the racist expectations of others. The myth of the model minority became the benchmark for tens of thousands of Vietnamese in Germany.

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Depression and burnout

We children of the later generation were brought up accordingly strictly. We should be better off and secure a life in dignity with good grades. There was a real competition between our parents, whose child had the best grade point average.

The school performance of Vietnamese children is still considered to be above average: According to educational scientist Olaf Beuchling, around 59 percent attend a high school nationwide. In the case of Germans, it is only 43 percent. Beuchling calculated the 2010 figures from data from the Federal Statistical Office - he estimates that little has changed in these even almost ten years later.

Not all Vietnamese have voluntarily slipped into the role of the hard-working model minority. Many did it because they had no other choice. And that sometimes goes hand in hand with high costs: There is a special outpatient clinic for Vietnamese people at the Charité in Berlin. Every year, numerous patients end up there who have developed mental illnesses due to overwork and stress. The most common mental disorders include depression and burnout.

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Vietnamese as showpieces

In the USA, the myth of the model minority has long since driven a wedge between different people of color: East and South Asian-looking people are considered hardworking and exemplary, black citizens and Latinx are not very successful. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian migrants are three times more likely to get a green card than other minorities.

So-called model Vietnamese legitimize systems that are discriminatory: They conceal the fact that these very systems continue to oppress other minorities. The myth of the model minority leads to the fallacy that there are no racist structures in our society and that other minorities are only problem groups. The discriminatory and failing education system is hushed up.

Vietnamese are tolerated as long as they submit to old hierarchies. But I no longer tolerate other people reducing my human value to my skin color or my performance. Because the image of the hardworking Vietnamese ends where it began: with racism.