Cover of The Border Within by Phi Hong Su
The Border Within
Vietnamese Migrants Transforming Ethnic Nationalism in Berlin
Phi Hong Su


February 2022
216 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503630062
Paperback ISBN: 9781503630147

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Excerpts and More

When the Berlin Wall fell, Germany united in a wave of euphoria and solidarity. Also caught in the current were Vietnamese border crossers who had left their homeland after its reunification in 1975. Unwilling to live under socialism, one group resettled in West Berlin as refugees. In the name of socialist solidarity, a second group arrived in East Berlin as contract workers. The Border Within paints a vivid portrait of these disparate Vietnamese migrants' encounters with each other in the post-socialist city of Berlin. Journalists, scholars, and Vietnamese border crossers themselves consider these groups that left their homes under vastly different conditions to be one people, linked by an unquestionable ethnic nationhood. Phi Hong Su's rigorous ethnography unpacks this intuition. In absorbing prose, Su reveals how these Cold War compatriots enact palpable social boundaries in everyday life. This book uncovers how 20th-century state formation and international migration—together, border crossings—generate enduring migrant classifications. In doing so, border crossings fracture shared ethnic, national, and religious identities in enduring ways.

About the author

Phi Hong Su is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Williams College. Previously, she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Division of Social Science at New York University Abu Dhabi.

"Phi Hong Su's The Border Within is a game-changing book. Using rich ethnographic data with Vietnamese refugees and former contract workers in a reunified Berlin, Su paints a vivid portrait of how national and ethnic categories play out in everyday life. Avoiding simplistic conceptions of these categories, Su takes us into the lives of her subjects as they adopt and transform national and ethnic categories to draw lines of unity and division. This book is essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand how migration, war, and changing political boundaries influence belonging."

—Tomás R. Jiménez, co-author of States of Belonging

"A vivid account of Vietnamese border crossings – social, national, and political – that reconceptualizes the diaspora and notions of ethnonationalism. Su's remarkable study of the diverse pathways of Vietnamese migration to the once-divided city of Berlin serves as a poignant reminder of the ways in which Cold War divisions continue to shape daily lives and raise complex questions of belonging."

—Christina Schwenkel, author of Building Socialism

"In this remarkable book, Phi Hong Su poignantly analyzes what it means to be Vietnamese in the context of migration between two countries that were profoundly affected by war, national division, and reunification. Having originated decades ago, the Vietnamese community in Germany today continues to confront the impact of violence, division, and reunification on community, ethnic, national, and individual identities. Su deftly unpacks how discrepant histories of borders and border crossings within a coethnic migrant group shape ethnic nationalisms through social relationships and religious practices. The book makes a groundbreaking contribution to transnational studies of Asia and the Asian diaspora."

—Ann Marie Leshkowich, College of the Holy Cross