The process of Assimilation: Interview
Narratives of six Lao American Women Refugees
Vinthany Souvannarath* and Pamela Schaefer**
Department of Psychology
After the communist takeover in Laos in 1975, about 16,000 Laotians fled to the U.S. The Lao currently constitutes less than one percent of the total U.S. population (Reeves & Bennet, 2003) and have been the least noticed of the groups who fled from Southeast Asia (Silberman et al., 2001; Cerquone, 1986). In this study I gathered narrative analyses from six Lao women refugees aged 18-45 from who have lived in the U.S. for an average of 19 years in a Midwestern state. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore 1) the challenges and adjustments they had in adapting to the U.S, 2) the extent to which they feel they have integrated in the U.S. society, and 3) the importance of preserving their cultural identity.
The findings reveal the women’s cultural and linguistic isolation as newcomers and a range of challenges the women experienced. Challenges of overcoming traditional behavioral expectations of women, adapting to more individualistic attitudes, climate and weather change, distaste of American foods, transportation, and homesickness were reported. The biggest cultural adjustments however, were acquiring the English language and pursuing education in the U.S. school system. As hypothesized, the women have not fully integrated in the society and are still learning to adapt while continuing to maintain their cultural identity.