Jessica's Reviews > Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America

Buddha Is Hiding by Aihwa Ong
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it was amazing
bookshelves: immigration-migration

Ong’s look at Cambodian refugees in California contributes an important critique to our understanding of migration studies—centrally, that the systems of aid and placement present in American society do little to mitigate the challenges facing refugees, and actually add to the pressure to assimilate in order to secure the basics of survival in the American workforce and culture. This is centrally a book about cultural citizenship—what are the parameters of securing it, of “figuring out the rules” to survive that fundamentally change the way one lives, works, and worships? She uses her extensive fieldwork in Northern California in the mid-1980s to think critically about each space of encounter that forces refugees into a new sense of self. In each space—the volunteer-run resettlement organizations, the welfare system, the hospitals, legal systems, churches, and workplace—the Cambodians she interviews find themselves being located along dramatically different gender and racial lines than what they have been accustomed to, finding themselves forced to perform a model of eager Americanness that stands counter to many of their traditional practices and beliefs. (This is all layered on top of a refusal to have their histories of trauma recorded, a choice that is itself evidence of the cultural rupture that Western doctors fail to respect or recognize.) Ong does particularly strong work in drawing our attention to the paternalism inherent to the Western gaze, the “refugee love” that makes women and children into objects of pity while also pushing them into ethics of self-subsistence they have no way of achieving without substantial government support. The best chapters for teaching are likely those in Chapter 4 (on the limits of Western medicine, particularly psychotherapy on Cambodian Buddhists), and Chapter 6, on the particular kind of aid work between feminist volunteers at welfare agencies and Cambodian women & children.

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Reading Progress

March 7, 2019 – Started Reading
March 7, 2019 – Shelved
March 10, 2019 – Finished Reading

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