Most Vietnamese are mixed with French

Vietnamese in Germany - The invisible favorites

Hanoi is only half an hour away from the center of Leipzig by tram. After characterless old building districts, all you have to do is walk past business parks and hypermarkets and turn into an inconspicuous industrial wasteland. A world of its own begins where a few Vietnamese signs are attached to stone facades. Vietnamese hairdressers cut the thick hair of their Asian customers in factory halls, travel agencies offer flights to Saigon, and Vietnamese restaurants cook pho soup. Next to it stands the Dong Xuan Center in inconspicuous gray, inside of which a world of flowered nightgowns, plush cats in a basket, lace tablecloths, leopard sweaters and terry towels with erotic motifs opens up. In grocery stores, vendors pull huge carp from green-tiled fish tanks. Others fry exotic fruits in fat in the aisles or sit on cardboard boxes and play board games.

It smells, feels and tastes: strange. If this is the world the Vietnamese made for themselves, how do they get along beyond this? And are the Germans' favorite migrants really as well integrated as the recent integration debate would have us believe? In his book “Germany abolishes itself”, Thilo Sarrazin claims: “Indians and Vietnamese look at least as strange in Germany as Turks or Arabs and yet they have much greater successes in our society.” But is that really true? And if so: what kind of success is that, where does it come from - and why do the Vietnamese so rarely appear in public debates with their own voices?

In order to find out why the Vietnamese became the Germans' favorite migrants, one has to know what has given the roughly one hundred thousand Vietnamese living in Germany, with and without a passport, such a good reputation. First and foremost are the good academic achievements of the Vietnamese children. Various educational studies have shown that Vietnamese students attend grammar school more often than other migrant groups - and than Germans. The educational scientist Olaf Beuchling has calculated from figures from the Federal Statistical Office that 59 percent of Vietnamese-born children nationwide attend a grammar school, compared with only 43 percent of German children.

Olaf Beuchling is sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Leipzig with a bowl of glass noodle salad in front of him, and behind him a busy day at the local university. The Hamburg resident is a substitute professor at the Faculty of Education. His area of ​​expertise: comparative educational research. Beuchling has been studying Vietnamese educational successes in Germany since completing his doctorate. He says they are not pure integration efforts or successes that can be traced back to Germany. Education has enjoyed a high priority in Vietnam for centuries thanks to the teachings of Confucius. "Confucianism favored the development of a meritocratic education system in which the awareness prevails that everyone can make progress in society regardless of their social status."

Confucianism was less about critical thinking than about memorizing texts. Confucius says: “Learning without thinking is pointless; but thinking without learning is dangerous. ”To this day, little has changed among the Vietnamese in the idea that disciplined learning is the prerequisite for social advancement. However, the ideal of fair performance in the homeland of Vietnam fails due to economic reality. Here, on the other hand, there are free schools - and thus an introduction to advancement.

On the second page you can read what distinguishes the Vietnamese in East and West Germany.

"The level of education between Vietnamese and German students is slowly adjusting again, especially in the western German states," says Beuchling. “The assimilation process is more advanced there than in the east.” In federal states such as Saxony, the quota of Vietnamese high school students stands out: three quarters of them want to do their Abitur there. The reasons for this have not yet been scientifically researched. But one argument comes to mind: the different migration histories of Vietnamese in East and West.

Vietnamese came to the old Federal Republic and West Berlin mainly in the 1970s as so-called boat people or quota refugees. After the victorious communist troops in Vietnam took power in 1975, 1.5 million South Vietnamese fled at sea for fear of retaliation and reprisals. Their boats were mostly overcrowded and unsuitable for the high seas, capsized during the monsoons or were chased by pirates. Hundreds of thousands died. German ships also took part in her rescue, the most famous of which is the freighter Cap Anamur owned by human rights activist Rüdiger Neudeck. A total of 40,000 South Vietnamese found permanent asylum and were distributed all over Germany and prepared for their new life with integration programs and language courses.

On the other hand, the migration history of the more than 60,000 North Vietnamese who were sent to the GDR as contract workers is very different. Her stay was limited to four to seven years from the start. They should mainly help in the textile, construction and metal industries and then return to their home country. Private relationships with Germans were undesirable and were severely punished. With the fall of the wall, a difficult time began for the contract workers: They lost their legal residence status and were to be deported back to their homeland on a large scale. They lost their jobs due to the closure of the GDR factories. And they lost their security when real pogroms were perpetrated on foreigners' homes in Hoyerswerda and Rostock in the early 1990s.

To this day, an insurmountable wall runs between the migrant groups from North and South Vietnam, much stronger and higher than that between East and West Germans. They come from different systems, opposing ideologies, strange worlds. Where the North Vietnamese are still loyal to their communist homeland, the South Vietnamese are more likely to mobilize against its oppression.

This becomes clear from a scene that could be observed at this year's “Tet” festival in Leipzig. Tet is the most important festival for the Vietnamese and heralds the new year according to the lunar calendar. The Leipzig Vietnamese have rented an alternative theater for this special evening in order to officially celebrate. Older men are standing in the entrance area smoking, inside women are selling sweets, soup and New Year's cakes made from sticky rice. Even further inside, behind black curtains, Vietnamese people sit in endless rows and talk across rows of banks. Playing children whiz through the corridors or women in traditional rhinestone-trimmed blouse dresses float and distribute champagne. The singers of a choir stand on the stage. They sway to the worn sounds of synthesized music. Then a man in a green uniform rushes forward and wildly waves the red flag with the yellow star on it - the flag of the People's Socialist Republic. White dancers circle him like tender birds and finally stand in a pose of adoration on their knees in front of the standard bearer. Socialist kitsch - unthinkable at a South Vietnamese event.

On the third page you can read how the Vietnamese are integrating economically.

In addition to the quota refugees and contract workers from back then, there is still a confusing large number of family members, asylum seekers, students and illegal immigrants who have moved there. A diverse group that cannot - and does not want to - have a unified voice in integration debates. But that does not explain why there are no voices at all to raise awareness of problems in Vietnamese communities. Why nothing at all gets out.

To answer this question, you have to get out of the city again - into the Vietnamese colony with its market halls and cultural centers. This is where the "Association of the Vietnamese in Leipzig" is located. It forms the core of Vietnamese cultural life. In the wood-paneled club rooms, the last words from the Vietnamese language course are still on the blackboard. Metallic garlands hang over the school desks, and photos on the walls attest to the public appearances of the dance and sports groups. Nguyen Long wears his hair carefully parted and a small bowl of tea is steaming in front of him. He has been in Leipzig for over twenty years and is involved in the association to ensure that his compatriots in Germany settle in well. "We want to be good neighbors," says Nguyen, "we want to do a good job here and not have any stress."

Of the approximately 3,000 registered Vietnamese, one in five in Leipzig is self-employed - this means that almost every family here runs their own vegetable, textile or flower shop or has a snack. As a result, Vietnamese people often appear in the everyday life of Germans, but they are almost exclusively separated from them by a shop counter. In a study from 2004, the sociologist Anja Steinbach found that this is why Germans show a great social distance to the Vietnamese. Because they almost exclusively withdrew into self-employment, the Vietnamese rarely appear on the regular labor market. They are almost never seen in government agencies, advertising agencies or bank branches.

How the Vietnamese feel here in Germany is therefore hidden from many Germans. Nor are there any other sources they can tap for such information. When asked why the Vietnamese reveal so little about themselves, Nguyen Long raises his eyebrows, shrugs his shoulders and slowly lets them sink again. “We came here,” he says, “and we accept life as it is. We have no interest in communicating our concerns. ”The community has never thought about debating one's problems publicly. “You don't have to,” says Nguyen.

So when it comes to public awareness, not much can be expected from migrant associations. But even in art, that group remains astonishingly calm, which is likely to be full of trauma and blows of fate just because of their migration history. Last year the “Dong Xuan Festival” took place in Berlin - an event lasting several days with Vietnamese ballet, films, discussions, and performances. It was organized by the “Hebbel am Ufer” theater and most of the participants were flown in from America or France. The Vietnamese-American filmmaker showed the nightmares of his escape from the boat translated into homoerotic porn sequences in hacked, obdurate low-budget videos. The French-Vietnamese choreographer Ea Sola questions the dictates of consumption with her dance. And then the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo has his father copy a farewell letter that knows the Latin letters, but does not understand the meaning of what is written. The letter contains the last words of a Christian missionary who brought the alphabet to Vietnam in the 19th century - and was executed.

Read on the last page how the Vietnamese respond to discrimination.

But where are the German-Vietnamese statements? One of the few who expresses itself is the writer Pham Thi Hoai. Her books are banned in Vietnam and she has not been allowed to enter the country for seven years. She has settled in Berlin as an interpreter and journalist and from there directed the dissident website talawas.org for many years. When Pham Thi Hoai speaks, she is like an archer: her words are sharpened arrows that she fires with great calm. “Since the Sarazzin debate, the Vietnamese have moved a bit into the focus of the German public,” she says, “but not because they are interested in us, but because we don't wear headscarves and are better at school.” There are Germans are not seriously interested in Vietnamese, also because there is too little real Vietnam past. France, for example, shares a common history with the country from the beginning of the 19th century until today, the FRG can only remember a few months of helping the boat refugees. In addition, the Vietnamese community is relatively small in number here. In the USA, for example, there are around 1.6 million Vietnamese-Americans, in Germany just 85,000 Vietnamese are officially registered.

The German ignorance towards the Vietnamese still does not explain why the group is silent about itself. Why does she not get angry when she is discriminated against or attacked? Pham Thi Hoai says something surprising: "When something like this happens, there are an almost alarming number of German clubs and organizations that take on the matter immediately." They are so well organized and financially equipped that the Vietnamese prefer to join them Moving structures as building your own. In general, it is the German thoroughness that makes it seem superfluous for the Vietnamese to get involved themselves. Everything is so precisely regulated that there is hardly any reason to rebel against it. "It is easier to fit into order than into chaos."

The traders in Leipzig's Hanoi are restless. You have been caught by police raids many times in the past few weeks. Their cultural center was no longer approved for festivals due to fire protection measures - there were too many flags and scarves on the walls. Hairdressers had to close because they did not have a license. It is as if the Vietnamese community has retained a bit of disorder, its own "ethnic colony" with its own rules. The expression comes from the sociologist Friedrich Heckmann and means all the structures that migrants train in a country in order to survive the transplantation abroad: newspapers in the local language, shops with local products, religious sites, sports clubs. If such an ethnic colony is formed voluntarily, that is positive for the overall integration of the group, says Heckmann. Because closeness to one's own culture is the prerequisite and thus the first step towards gradual integration. Just because something looks like a parallel world, it can also be the opposite.