INTRODUCED GERMPLASM FROM VIETNAM:   DOCUMENTATION, ACQUISITION, AND PRESERVATION

A Research Proposal Submitted to
    Agricultural Research Service
       USDA
 

Robert E. Rhoades and Virginia D. Nazarea, Principal Investigators
Department of Anthropology
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
 
 
 

Telephone: (706) 542-1042
Email: RRHOADES@arches.uga.edu
Fax: (706) 542-3998
 
 
 

July 20, 2001

I. Statement of Problem, Rationale, and Significance

    The 101st Congress authorized, in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, a National Genetic Resources Program (NGRP) to acquire, preserve, and distribute genetic resources to guarantee a bountiful and sustainable harvests of American crops.  This project aims to enhance this goal by focusing on one of the United States' newest immigrant communities, the Vietnamese-Americans. In the various waves of Vietnamese migration to the U.S., refugees and immigrants brought native plant species with them in an effort to maintain their ethnic and culinary ways. In their new homes across the United States, they established gardens, small farms, restaurants, farmers' markets and kin-based networks aimed at maintaining the viability of those introduced plants. As a second and third generation of Vietnamese grow up in America, however, there is a danger that both the plants and the knowledge about them are being lost to their communities. The purpose of this project is to work participatorily with Vietnamese communities, associations, elders, and young people to document and obtain the germplasm in a concerted effort to preservation and continued use.
    On January 28, 1973, the United States withdrew military troops from Vietnam and by early 1975, Saigon fell to North Vietnamese troops. These events set in motion a massive exodus from Vietnam to the U.S. which continues today with 26,000 Vietnamese coming annually. The first group of approximately 150,000 individuals who left during or after the fall of South Vietnam were well-educated individuals from urban areas. The groups who left in the period after 1978 were poorer, rural, and often of ethnic minorities escaping the fear of oppression and "re-education camps".  These became the "boat people" and other refugees who ended up in camps and resettlement operations and Southeast Asia and later in the US.  Among those camps were Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. Once in these camps, to get out they had to resettle in another country, accept repatriation, show sufficient financial reserves to go out, or to leave under the sponsorship of a non-profit association. Most chose the later option. Once they entered into American society, however, they did not stay around the camps but moved to join the larger Vietnamese community. Today, according to the 2000 Census, California and Texas have the largest concentration of Vietnamese with 447, 032 and 134,961 respectively. Other large settlements are found in Washington, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Georgia (see Map I).
    In their new American homelands, the Vietnamese have sought to re-create their culture, society, and culinary traditions. Refugees from rural areas, in particular, brought with them their native plants or sought out in the New World those plants similar to what they knew in Southeast Asia. Some of the introduced plants included native species of taro, bitter cucumber, lemon grass, water spinach, and malabar nightshade. Many of these plants were important as condiments to a rice based diet and highly valued for their taste.  Since many Vietnamese relied on traditional healing practices, medicinal plants were also valued and sought.
    It is not know at this time how the Vietnamese reproduced their traditional plants but the meager evidence points to the individual family or the community/association garden. These are found in all major settlement areas, but the only documented case is located in New Orleans, Louisiana (Airriess and Clawson 1994). These gardens not only act to replicate memories of home but as a sanctuary and place of cultural expression (Blake 1996). These gardens were especially important for the elderly who often suffered from culture shock, low self-esteem, and psychological disorders in their new homeland. Thus they threw themselves into their gardens where they had a permanent task to accomplish and where they achieved a sense of well-being and cultural connectedness to their cultural roots. At the same time, the gardens contributed economically to families which often operated on minimum wage salaries. By producing their own food, the Vietnamese gardeners did not have to spend precious funds for American foods or for the expensive imported Asia foods they desired. The leftover was not wasted since they were sold to other residents, exchange among community members, or taken to local fresh farmer markets.
Most of the plants are grown in the spring to fall growing period thus giving a constant diversity to the diets. They use a minimum of inputs especially chemicals since they could not read the labels. Vietnamese gardeners fear that use of fertilizers will destroy the taste and damage the soil. One main objective is to obtain the special flavor of fruits, vegetables, and spices as a way to maintain their ethnicity (Airriess and Clawson 1994).
    There is some evidence that as the younger generation becomes accustomed to American food and culture the introduced Vietnamese seeds are being lost. The new generation which grows up bicultural and torn between two worlds tend to view their elders as "old world".  The "old world" is family dominated and elder respectful while the young Vietnamese-American resents this restriction and desires personal freedom. They rebel and reject tradition. As a result, their grandparents and parents stories, tradition, and especially plants and foods are gradually disappearing. The loss will not only be in terms of cultural diversity, but also in genetic diversity.
    Fortunately, there are many voluntary service groups in the United States which work to help the diverse immigrant communities preserve their cultures. In the Vietnamese case, such organizations like Good Shepard Services provide translation services, after school programs, and other community support activities (Puckett 1999). In addition, many Vietnamese communities now have their own organizations which have an objective of cultural maintenance. There are school programs which likewise aim to keep young people in touch with their heritage. In this project, we will look for ways to foster the generational linkage through seed saving and memory banking.
 

II. Objectives

In order to appreciate and conserve the genetic and cultural diversity related to plant genetic resources brought to the United States by Vietnamese immigrants and refugees, we will:

1. Locate and gain cooperation of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees in representative settings in the United States who plant, process, and preserve traditional Vietnamese plants;

2. Document all ethnobotanical information on species/variety, origin, migration, cultivation in the United States, and other agronomic or horticultural characteristics or problems;

3. With prior informed consent, collect samples of all introduced plants and send them to the National Seed Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, and to the USDA-ARS Plant Genetic Conservation Unit in Griffin, Georgia for further investigation, propagation, and long-term storage;

4.  Conduct "Memory Banking" studies with the elderly growers by utilizing young Vietnamese students (college and high school) to conduct interview using the memory banking protocol (copy attached).

5. Make recommendations on how to maintain the in situ production and utilization of introduced Vietnamese germplasm in the United States.

III. Approach and Methods

This project will be a component of the Southern Seed Legacy and based in the Ethnoecology/Biodiversity Laboratory at the University of Georgia. The methods used are based on long-term experience in the project with seed savers not only in the US South but also in Ecuador and Philippines. One of the Principal Investigators (Virginia Nazarea) won the Praxis Award in Anthropology for her memory banking approach to studying the cultural dimensions of biodiversity and linking young and old people in this effort. Our overall thrust will be to use a food systems perspective and look at the plants within the total life circumstance of the Vietnamese immigrant community. In the first year, we will concentrate on Vietnamese immigrant communities in our own regions, mainly Georgia and South Carolina, where large numbers have settled, including Hmong tribal groups who engage in commercial gardening in the North Georgia mountains near the University of Georgia.

More specifically, the project will carry out the following activities:

1. Conduct a full literature review of secondary and primary published materials on Vietnamese immigrant foods and plants, including information in thesis, dissertation, newspapers (English and Vietnamese language), and webpages;

2. Make targeted field trips in year 1 to Atlanta and outlying ethnic Vietnamese communities in the Georgia and Carolinas area; in year 2, expand those field trips to New Orleans (where the best documented gardens are) and other metropolitan areas such as Oklahoma City known for its Vietnamese communities. Obviously, Orange County, California, and Dallas, Texas should be surveyed given their high concentrations of Vietnamese.

3. Using the memory banking protocol and traditional ethnobotanical collecting methods, we will establish linkages with schools and associations in key areas to assist in the securing of plants and recording of knowledge. In particular, we will seek out individuals known for their gardening expertise as well as the community gardens. Farmers markets and other local outlets will be studies and analyzed. Memory banking includes all classical ethnobotanical steps as well as photographing, sketching, and videotaping the people, plants, and their histories. Some seeds can be grown out in the annual Southern Seed Legacy garden located in Oglethorpe County, Georgia.

4. Train Vietnamese and University of Georgia students working on the project in cultural and biological aspects of biodiversity preservations and lay a foundation for future activities in this area with immigrant groups. Special attention will be given to reversing loss of genetic diversity and knowledge.

5. Prepare a final report, which documents the process, the genetic material, cultural knowledge, and provides an assessment of future trends. Recommendations will be made. We will publish results in the English sections of the Vietnamese language newspapers as well as seek other public outlets of the information.
 

IV. Appendices

A. Literature Cited

Airriess, Christopher and Clawson, David.  Vietnamese Market Gardens in New Orleans. The Geographical Review.  1994

Blake, John. Garden Feeds Vietnamese immigrants food, fellowship, and fortitude. The
Atlanta Journal Constitution 8 Sept 1996.

Census 2000.  www.census.gov 15 July 2001.

Do, Hien Duc. The Vietnamese Americans.  Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press,
1999.

Nazarea, Virginia, M. Eleanor Tison, Maricel C. Piniero, and Robert E.Rhoades.  Yesterday’s
Ways, Tomorrow’s Treasures: Heirloom Plants and Memory Banking. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1997.

Puckett, Patti. After-school program offers peace of mind to Vietnamese parents.  The
Atlanta Journal Constitution Gwinnett Extra 9 April 1999.

Rutledge, Paul James. The Vietnamese Experience In America Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1992.

Smith, Ben III. Recent Vietnamese immigrants find success in U.S. more elusive;
‘Wounded people’: Years of Communist imprisonment have stunted many promising careers. The Atlanta Journal Constitution 26 March 1996.

Vietnamese Customs.  www.bol.ucla.edu/~viet/Vietnamesecustoms.html  15 July 2001.

Zhou, Min and Carl L. Bankston III. The Biculturation of the Vietnamese Student.
ERIC/CUE Digest Number 152 Mar 2000.

---------Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States.
 New York: The Russell Sage Foundation, 1998.

B. Vietnamese Community Organizations

Boat People S.O.S.
http://www.bpsos.org/

Good Shepherd Services Asian Youth and Family Outreach Center
2426 Shallowford Terrace
Chamblee, GA 30341

Vietnamese American Council
611 North 13th St.
San Jose, CA 95112
www.welcome.to/vayf

Vietnamese Association of Illinois
5252 North Broadway, 2nd Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60640
www.vaichicago.org/

C. Vietnamese Websites

News Orleans Vietnamese Online
www.nolaviet.com/

The Vietnamese Community of Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia
www.freeviet.org/cdhmv/viw-cdhmv.html

Vietnam Daily Newspaper
“The oldest and largest Vietnamese newspaper in Northern California since 1986”
www.vietnamdaily.com/

Hmong gardens
www.global.lao.net/laostudy/garden.html

D. Project Principal Investigators

Robert E. Rhoades, Project Coordinator, Director, Laboratory of Agricultural and Natural Resource Anthropology, University of Georgia –In 1994, Dr. Rhoades was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to serve on the National Genetic Resources Council, a citizen body which advises the Secretary on genetic resources issues.  He has a personal background in southern farming (Oklahoma and Georgia), a B.S. in Agriculture and a Ph.D. in Anthropology.  He has worked in plant genetic resources for over twelve years with the International Potato Center and later under assignment with National Geographic.  While at the International Potato Center, he founded and coordinated a network of Southeast Asian researchers, the Users’ Perspective with Agricultural Research and Development (UPWARD), which focused researchers on the perceptions and priorities of the farmers themselves. He won the 1991 Science Writers Award for his National Geographic Magazine article on the “World Food Supply at Risk” and recently gave the William “Tex” Frazier lecture entitled “Indigenous Peoples and the Preservation of Biodiversity” before the American Society of Horticulture.  He is the co-founder of the Southern Seed Legacy.

Virginia Nazarea, Project Coordinator, Director, Ethnoecology and Biodiversity Laboratory, University of Georgia –Dr. Nazarea pioneered the “memory banking” approach to documenting the cultural dimensions of biodiversity.  After earning her B.S. in Biology and a Ph.D. in Anthropology, she worked in genetic resources projects in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute, International Potato Center, and International Board of Plant Genetic Resources.  She participated in the Keystone Dialogues on international plant genetic resources issues dealing with intellectual property rights and farmers’ rights.  She is founder and director of the Ethnobiology/Biodiversity Laboratory, which is equipped to process and store herbarium specimens and seed collections.  The Laboratory has also established a homepage for a “Memory Web” prototype on The World Wide Web based on Dr. Nazarea’s memory banking research.  In addition to her numerous articles and monographs on farmer knowledge and genetic resources, she published a book, Cultural Dimensions of Biodiversity, (University of Arizona Press).  She is co-founder of the Southern Seed Legacy.