My unique personal history and experiences helped shape my choice of methodologies. It is influenced by my direct observations of the world around me and the ways it affects the groups I affiliate with or am close to. As an immigrant growing up in cities with large Vietnamese American populations, my peers and our families experienced firsthand the sorrow of losing our nation and the difficulties of adjusting to our new home in the United States. However, rather than a hindrance, this background and these early experiences of having to negotiate my own place in higher education, Vietnamese American community and, more broadly, American society and international communities. This background has helped me develop valuable coping mechanisms to interact with people from different backgrounds possessing varying biases.
Additionally, I contend that my status as a 1.5-generation (born in Viet Nam but raised in the United States), mixed race, Asian American, bilingual woman made me neither fully the outsider nor insider and therefore more difficult to label and dismiss. Being seen as non-threatening allowed me access to otherwise distrusting political and social groups.
The San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California is my home and where I have been a member of the Vietnamese community for more than 40 years. In this region I have taught and ran youth programs and organized cultural events, including an exhibit on the áo dài (Vietnamese national costume) that I also curated; and consulted for leaders of various political and cultural groups. As an adult, I lived in Viet Nam off and on for nearly five years conducting research, starting even before the United States lifted the economic embargo there in 1994. The connections and networks built in these social and professional circles over time helped me gather crucial and sensitive information from my informants. These groups were also instrumental in providing introductions to potential participants in my study and gaining their trust.
Beyond Internet correspondence, virtual community organizing, and participation, I have carried out ethnographic fieldwork in the cities of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Sai Gon) in Viet Nam, as well as Canberra and Melbourne in Australia. In the US, my fieldwork centered on cities with large Vietnamese American populations including: San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Boston. In Viet Nam and the United States, I also use participant observation and informal interviews with relevant persons. I gather primary and secondary resources, including documents, archival materials, and journal articles, that provide theoretical perspective, historical context, and confirmation of facts.
I always carry out interviews with adults of eighteen years or older. Interviews were conducted in English or Vietnamese according to informants’ preferences. All translations from interviews and primary and secondary sources I conduct myself. Ethnographic methods and interviews brought me closer to understanding the truly complex and convoluted experiences individuals have had and their perceived and real struggles. These techniques also humanized every aspect of this work because it is the people who create, destroy, and rebuild every facet of their lives.