The Rise of Vietnamese-American Philanthropy

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.

While much has been written about the Vietnamese-American experience, its struggles and triumphs, little attention has been given to the community’s philanthropy. Yet, as the high levels of mutual assistance and the billions in remittances sent back to Vietnam each year show, the Vietnamese-American capacity for giving is tremendous.

It is a community that has matured immensely since its humble beginnings in the 1970s. From fleeing “boat people” and disenfranchised refugees, Vietnamese Americans have become innovators in Silicon Valley, legislators on Capitol Hill, and trendsetters in the worlds of arts and entertainment. As it transitions from a silent immigrant demographic to a community of political, economic and cultural influence, it is time for the philanthropic sector to pay greater attention to this population as well.

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.

Motivations

The refugee backdrop of early immigrants greatly informed the trajectory of Vietnamese-American philanthropy. Because Vietnamese refugees were often impoverished and ill-prepared for their new life in America, the first Vietnamese arrivals were less concerned about philanthropy than they were about meeting basic survival needs. Nevertheless, philanthropic activity, both informal and institutional, arose as Vietnamese Americans actively sought out one another to form support networks and organizations to serve the community.

Factors often cited by Vietnamese-American donors as drivers of giving include Confucian values and a commitment to religion. Like many Asian communities, Vietnamese culture has been profoundly shaped by Confucian thought, which emphasizes filial piety, relationships, and altruism among its main tenets. These values combine to foster the mentality that tending to the well being of the family and immediate community is a social responsibility. Philanthropy, naturally, ensures the financial health of loved ones.

A similarly prevalent force in the lives of many Vietnamese Americans is religion. As one Vietnamese-American philanthropy advisor explained, “There’s a lot to be said about the Vietnamese-American culture that really does inculcate and promote a sense of generosity beyond the self. When you add in Buddhism and Catholicism, it extends even more so.” Religious demographics within the community have yet to be proffered, but the majority of religious Vietnamese Americans profess to Buddhism or Christianity (particularly Catholicism) – religions where values of compassion and charity serve as central pillars.

About the Author

DSC_7053 final_smallAnh is the communications and development coordinator at Vietnam Health, Education & Literature Projects (VNHELP), a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of Vietnam’s poor.  Prior to her current position, Anh worked with Give2Asia in the business development department to research and develop material for Vietnamese American and corporate philanthropy. She also served as managing for Vietnam Talking Points (part of OneVietnam Network), where she wrote about Asian American identity and culture.

Also in this series:

How and Where Vietnamese Americans Give in the US
How and Where Vietnamese Americans Give Back to Vietnam