"The brighter part of RVN": Picturing household management in occupied South Vietnam

Authors: Wesley Attewell*, The University of Toronto, Nadine Attewell*, McMaster University
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Immigration/Transnationalism, Political Geography
Keywords: Infrastructure; intimacy; care; social reproduction; empire; Vietnam War.
Session Type: Paper
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Recent work in Asian-North American studies emphasizes the importance of racialized labour to the work of imperialism across the Cold War formation that the historian Simeon Man has identified as the “decolonizing Pacific”. Man, in particular, argues that the Vietnam War was both carried out and supported by transnational flows of Asians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders, who laboured for the US occupation as soldiers, truckers, engineers, draftsmen, electronic specialists, and stevedores, to name only a few examples. We build on this emerging literature by reflecting on the gendered dimensions of soldiering labour. We argue that the logistical challenges inherent to occupying South Vietnam required the US military to outsource the gendered work of cleaning, cooking, and entertaining through formalized contracting arrangements. It was Vietnamese and Cambodian women who performed the brunt of this care labour, fulfilling the social reproduction needs for American and racialized workforces alike. We consult with visual and textual archives to uncover the traces of the “hooch maids” that cleaned and cooked for American soldiers in occupied South Vietnam. Our aim here is to recover the intimate infrastructures of care and social reproductive work that built and sustained human lives under conditions of war and occupation across the decolonizing Pacific. In so doing, we hope to foreground the centrality of intimate care relations to the transnational practice of imperialism more generally.

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