Sharing cultural values across generations in Vietnamese Australian families


Giang Tran

PhD defended at: 

Swinburne University of Technology, Australia


This thesis presents findings from a qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with 20 first-generation Vietnamese migrant parents from refugee and skilled migrant backgrounds, and 18 Vietnamese Australian children. It ascertains which Vietnamese cultural values persist in families after migration, and in particular, why and how Vietnamese parents and children preserve some cultural values, while modifying or discarding others.

Drawing on Bourdieu’s concepts of capital and habitus, this study suggests a new way of understanding why Vietnamese cultural values are preserved in a modified form in the migrant context. It is shown that the values that have been retained and shared across generations – particularly those relating to harmony, solidarity and providing emotional support to parents – are seen as necessary and valuable in Australia. The value of maintaining fluency in the Vietnamese language is identified as important in maintaining family ties in the diaspora. Values that are not considered necessary and do not develop capital, such as some aspects of gender hierarchy and filial piety, have been modified or discarded. Vietnamese first-generation parents and children in migrant families are active agents in the process of sharing these cultural values when living in the diaspora.

The findings also demonstrate that there are differences between refugee and skilled migrant parents in the ways they share certain cultural values. The former group has attempted to carefully preserve values that existed in Vietnam at the time of their departure, while the latter group’s process of sharing cultural values is more flexible. It is further suggested that the varying habitus of refugees, skilled migrants and Vietnamese Australian children influences their different beliefs and practices regarding Vietnamese cultural values.

This study adds to the research aimed at increasing the understanding of cultural values of ethnic groups in Australia – in this case the process of whether and how Vietnamese cultural values persist in refugee and skilled migrant families. In particular, the study highlights the roles of parents and children in the process of preserving and modifying cultural values in the migration context. These issues have not been well addressed in previous studies. The thesis also provides a new perspective on Vietnamese cultural values in migrant families, particularly in skilled migrant families