Two Paths, One Future

Sure, it’ll be awhile for Americans to start snapping up Vietnamese cars (the Nguyen Cheetah?), but that may be sooner than you think.

By the end of September 2005, Vietnam has grown at an economic annual rate of more than 8%, which is better than the average 7% of recent years. And each year since 2000, its growth rate has gotten increasingly larger.

You may wonder why the economic growth rate is an important indicator. Quite simply, if the economy is growing, the citizens’ incomes are growing. The effect has a lot more to do with human nature than hard facts and figures. If the Vietnamese know they are making more this year than last year, their outlook on life is probably positive. Conversely, even if they are the top earner, they would be dissatisfied if their income keeps decreasing.

Therefore, Vietnam experienced some incredible improvements. In ten years, the nation’s poor population diminished from 60% to 20%. Because 75% of Vietnamese still live in rural areas, there’s still plenty of growth left to be had. Reforms in banking, foreign investments, and political priorities will only increase their pace of progress. Per my assessment, there is a very bright future for 80 million Vietnamese.

For the one million or so Vietnamese-Americans and their progress, there is no such economic data to pore through. However, that does not prevent me from trying to make a reasonable assessment. My travel on the West and East coasts tells me Vietnamese-Americans have the same positive outlook as the Vietnamese in Vietnam, with the clear exception that Vietnamese-Americans on average start from a higher financial plane.

I see established Vietnamese-American shops, malls, and new ones popping up. Blocks of them. I see countless products and services offered by Vietnamese-Americans. They are professionals and business owners. The ubiquitous Vietnamese faces at major and top universities, even when I was there. I see astronauts and inventors. Boxing and poker champions. I even see a chief engineer (Hau Thai-Tang), who worked on the new Ford Mustang, an American icon next to baseball and apple pie. These are snapshots of the American dream.

Vietnamese-Americans also work hard; no surprise here considering they had the gumption to leave their native land in the first place. They are enjoying the fruits of their labor — through their show of luxury cars, elaborate homes, and generous donations to worthwhile causes. They believe in capitalism. They believe in freedom of speech and human rights. They are suspicious of communists. They send money home. They are, by many accounts, Americans.

So I do not see these Americans, unlike their money, going back to Vietnam. Most would now be out of place. Although we — Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans — started on the same road and may be looking at very similar futures, we must accept reality that we are indeed going on two separate paths, and both are not going to converge any time soon. At least no sooner than we would have the Nguyen Cheetah. As for me, I’m sticking with the Mustang.

About the author:

Cuong Huynh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1973. Cuong grew up in Washington State, where he received a business degree from the University of Washington. He also has an MBA from Vanderbilt University at the Owen Graduate School of Management. His interests include economic theory, Chinese philosophy, Asian and American history, and personal website Cuong.com (http://www.cuong.com). He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.