In this blog series, we hope to explore the history, cultural traditions, and current practices of Vietnamese-American giving in order to demystify for many a demographic that holds great potential for the philanthropic sectors.
Institutional philanthropy—the practice of giving to mainstream, tax-exempt charitable organizations—is a relatively new concept being embraced by the Vietnamese-American community. Instead, Vietnamese support mechanisms have been traditionally based on informal giving between family, friends, and immediate community members. The strong kinship ties that typify Vietnamese culture, in line with the Confucian values that define many Asian countries, lead them to look first to their network of acquaintances before turning to governmental or institutional resources in times of need. These informal practices remain the predominant model of giving within the Vietnamese-American community today. For instance, established Vietnamese Americans often take it upon themselves to help newer Vietnamese arrivals by providing shelter, mentoring, and general assistance.
Although informal giving remains dominant among Vietnamese Americans, the refugee circumstances of their coming also compelled Vietnamese Americans to develop philanthropic mechanisms beyond their immediate networks. The Vietnamese refugee experience has often been characterized by a separation from family, traditionally one’s first line of support; and U.S. resettlement policies, designed to scatter refugees across the country, complicated the community-building process. As a matter of survival, many early Vietnamese Americans performed second, domestic migrations and congregated in ethnic enclaves, where they established faith-based organizations (FBOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs), such as Vietnamese-American Catholic parishes and youth development centers.
FBOs and CBOs have had a visible presence in the Vietnamese-American community as early as 1975 and continue to be among the most observable sites of Vietnamese American philanthropy today. In addition to providing social services, such as English language lessons, job training, and healthcare, FBOs and CBOs often act as giving channels operating in between informal and institutional spheres. As organizations that serve narrow, ethnic-specific causes, it can be difficult for FBOs and CBOs to secure financial support from outside the community. They often must rely on the very community they support to finance their operations. Vietnamese Americans have, for the most part, responded accordingly, donating both financial and human capital to these organizations.
Next: How and Where Vietnamese Americans Give Back to Vietnam