When it comes to young Vietnamese immigrants and children of immigrants, like Ana Nguyen, a young and talented Vietnamese girl living in Czech Republic, questions arise about their identity and belonging, which are crucial topics in the ongoing sociological debates about migration and integration. Do they identify as Vietnamese or Czech? Or maybe a merger of the two identities? As it is the case for the term “banana child”, invented by the Vietnamese kids themselves, that stands for a person being “yellow” on the outside but “white” on the inside. And finally, does being part of an ethnic minority make a big deal for them?
Vietnamese migration to the Czech Republic has a long and multi-faceted tradition. After the collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia, the first generation of Vietnamese immigrants has traditionally made a living as vendors, refusing to share the language and customs of the receiving country, while leaning on narrow community networks. In the last decades, however, the second generation of Vietnamese immigrants, or young people mostly born in the Czech Republic, has started breaking through social boundaries and integrating more broadly into Czech society.
In a cosy and warm Wednesday afternoon, lost through the maze of the Sapa, a far-reaching market complex where dealers sell clothes, Asian fruits, vegetables and spices, Ana Nguyen, a young Vietnamese girl, was assisting her parents with the family activity. They offer delightful handmade smoothies to the visitors, and Ana makes the business more profitable thanks to her fluent, well-spoken english. The modern sign of the food truck bearing the name of the company “beep beep” and the menu written both in Vietnamese and english are a perfect strategy for attracting foreign tourists.
The girl smiled and, unlike the older Vietnamese traders in the Sapa, she appeared more expansive, answering willingly and friendly to any question. “I definitely don’t see myself as a Czech, I strongly refused to learn Czech”, she said firmly. Ana is twenty-two years old, she was born in Czech Republic, left for Vietnam as a child to stay together with her parents, who found a job there, but then came back again three years ago to start her studies. “I was raised in Vietnam, I’m proud of my origins and culture and I don’t want to reject them to conform to the majority”, she added.
The young girl seems comfortable while interacting with us, regardless of our white skin that tangibly contrasts with her Asian traits. “ When I came back to Prague I felt quite nervous because I would have been surrounded by people very different from me, and I may have experienced the pressure to follow the crowd. However, to my surprise, my peers have always showed a normal and kind attitude toward me, respecting my Vietnamese identity without approaching me as an outsider”.
Broadly, the young generations are often depicted as “culture brokers” who act as intermediaries between the host society’s culture and their parents. A common stereotype linked to old generations of Vietnamese in the Czech Republic presents them as closed, incommunicative and segregated. However, Ana’s family seemed nice and communicative, despite the problems with the language. “Mine is not a classical Vietnamese family. My parents are truly openminded, actually, and my father learnt Czech. He often goes to pubs with our Czech neighbours”, said the girl proudly.
While enjoying one of her special smoothies, we asked Ana if she would have remained in Czech Republic after getting her degree, and she answered “I really like the environment here in Prague, I think I’m going to stick around when I finish my studies. I’m working very hard to improve my family activity and transform it into something bigger. This place offers lots of opportunities for young eager people, and me and my family feel perfectly integrated to the larger community of Czechs”. Who knows whether this bright young woman will fulfil her dreams?