August 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // 2TOT2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Integrating Indochinese-American Youth into American Society

How can Extension agents include Indochinese-American audiences in their educational programs? A recently published Extension handbook reviewed in this article provides guidelines. Although the focus is on youth in Pennsylvania, Extension agents in agriculture, family living, and community development from all states will find the handbook useful. Cultural characteristics of the Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, and Hmong are described. Common stereotypes of Americans held by foreigners are also discussed. Statistics on Indochinese minorities in all fifty states are given in the handbook.

Arlen Etling
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Internet address:

Integrating Indochinese-American Youth Into American Society: A Handbook for Cooperative Extension Agents. David S. Tang. College of Agricultural Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park. 1993. 60 pp.

The fastest growing minority group in the United States is Indochinese. Since 1963, the number of Indochinese officially residing in the United States has grown from 630 to almost one million. They now reside in all 50 states. David Tang, an American citizen born in Thailand, worked with Indochinese residents in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, as a graduate student intern. His interest and background led him to develop this handbook to help Extension agents and volunteers better understand and appreciate the various Indochinese cultures and to strengthen Extension programming capability with Indochinese clientele.

The handbook addresses the cultural background of four distinct groups from the three countries that comprise Indochina: Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, and the Hmong who are found in all three countries. Tang gives a "thumbnail sketch" of each country, including location, climate, history, ethnic composition, religion, language, education, health, and economy. He compares the similarities and differences among the four Indochinese-American groups according to their beliefs about family, marriage, childbirth and children, death and mourning, religion and beliefs, and social customs. He then compares cultural values held by all Indochinese with the dominant cultural values of Americans as perceived by non-Americans.

A brief list of "common stereotypes of Americans held by foreigners" is useful for Extension agents and volunteers to understand how Indochinese immigrants might view them. Americans with limited cross-cultural experience might be surprised to learn that they are often perceived to be arrogant, extravagant, ignorant of other countries, immature, racially prejudiced, and know-it-alls. Other more positive stereotypes include independent, hospitable, outgoing, resourceful, and romantic.

The handbook will help combat some of the stereotypes that Extension workers have of Asian-Americans. They are neither a homogenous group nor a "model minority" without problems. They do not all adapt quickly and easily to life in the United States.

A brief statistical section of the handbook quantifies the distribution of Indochinese-Americans among the 50 states. Tang also gives the addresses and telephone numbers of organizations involved with Indochinese in Pennsylvania. This list might be helpful to agents in other states who are constructing a similar organizational list for their communities.

Finally, Tang offers a list of "suggested activities for agents and volunteers when dealing with Indochinese youth." These are mostly common-sense suggestions (recruit bilingual volunteers, assess the needs of potential clients, evaluate regularly) but may be helpful for agents who lack experience in working with minorities.

The handbook is not an in-depth exploration of all the issues related to programming for Indochinese-American audiences. It is, however, a practical guide for agents and volunteers. It is well organized, easy to use, and provides documentation for further study. The content is not limited to programming for youth. Agents and specialists who focus on agriculture, family living, and community development will also find this handbook stimulating.

Author Notes

One free copy of the handbook may be obtained from:

Publications Distribution Center
College of Agricultural Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University
112 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA, 16802