Voice

July-August 2013

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READER'S CORNER by Teresa A. Statler What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America About Health, Happiness, Hope I ntrigued by the success of immigrant friends, awardwinning journalist Claudia Kolker investigated several customs brought to the United States by immigrants and their families. These customs are unfamiliar to most Americans, but Kolker believes that they help explain the "immigrant paradox"—why immigrants, even from poor and dangerous homelands, tend to be healthier and happier in many respects than native-born Americans. In The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness, and Hope, Kolker discusses several customs, including the Vietnamese Money Club or hui; the cuarentena or Mexican custom of "mothering" a new mother for 40 days after giving birth; the South Asian "assisted" marriage (different from "arranged" marriage); and the Korean hagwon or after-school programs for children and teenagers. She also researches some of the reasons why residents of a poor Chicago barrio are healthier than equally struggling black residents in the next neighborhood. Vietnamese Traditions The most interesting chapters describe the Vietnamese Money Club. In the chapter, "How to Save," Kolker starts a hui with her Houston friends and neighbors. A hui is "a centuries-old Vietnamese tradition that harnesses peer pressure to force its members to save money. [T]he hui hinges on one transaction: every month, cash in hand, members meet to contribute their dues. And each month, a different player takes that lump sum home, interest-free." Kolker tells us about the "thousands" of huis that have launched successful businesses, restaurants, and fishing boats for Vietnamese immigrants here in the United States. The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness, and Hope Purchase > The members of Kolker's hui used their cash to pay off loans, finance a graduate degree, and make down payments on cars. Like the Vietnamese immigrants who trust each other, Kolker and her friends found that something so "foreign" became "utterly conventional: the promise that you could play by the rules and not be betrayed." Kolker, a working mother, dives into the Vietnamese custom of com thang or "monthly rice" delivery to her Houston home, and tells us about it in the chapter, "How to Eat." Her excitement at having a fresh, healthy, and inexpensive evening meal delivered to her front door, after a long day at the office, is something anyone can understand and look forward to. She tells us that this delicious tradition hinges on two core Vietnamese values: "the importance of tremblingly fresh ingredients and the need to eat with other people. To serve these demands, com thang cooks … have devised a repertoire of services." In the United States, and at least in Houston, these have morphed to include daily home delivery of a menu decided by the com thang provider, with a renewable, monthly subscription. Com thang helps busy families eat together. J ULY/ A UGUST 2013 15

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