Every year migrants across the globe send more than $500 billion to relatives in their home countries, and this circulation of money has important personal, cultural, and emotional implications for the immigrants and their family members alike. Insufficient Funds tells the story of how low-wage Vietnamese immigrants in the United States and their poor, n-migrant family members give, receive, and spend money. Drawing on interviews and fieldwork with more than one hundred members of transnational families, Hung Cam Thai examines how and why immigrants, who largely earn low wages as hairdressers, cleaners, and other invisible workers, send home a substantial portion of their earnings, as well as spend lavishly on relatives during return trips. Extending beyond mere altruism, this spending is motivated by complex social obligations and the desire to gain self-worth despite their limited ecomic opportunities in the United States. At the same time, such remittances raise expectations for standards of living, producing a cascade effect that monetizes family relationships. Insufficient Funds powerfully illuminates these and other contradictions associated with money and its new meanings in an increasingly transnational world.
Hung Cam Thai is Associate Professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies at Pomona College, where he serves as Director of the Pacific Basin Institute. He is the author of For Better or for Worse: Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy (2008).