Reading Review: “Buddha is Hiding”
June 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
In “Buddha is Hiding,” Ong analyzes the draw of Hmong Cambodian immigrants in Calfornia towards the Mormon Church. Many of these immigrants are eager to assimilate, and to them, the Mormon Church embodies American respectability and success, and thus they join the Church to gain acceptance and access to the “American Dream.” The Mormon Church has a larger appeal to Hmong women, who turn to the Church for both charity and emotional support to deal with the hardships they faced both at home and after uprooting to America. The Hmong Cambodians are also attracted by the Mormon idea of family reunification after death, which provides comfort for those who lost relatives in the war back home. But for many converted Cambodians, they still have a strong identity with their Cambodian culture, seeking parallels and bridges between Mormonism and Buddhism while still practicing many Buddhist rituals. Their conversion is only partly religious in nature; it also a conversion and reinvention of self in order to fit in with American society and live a better life.
However, the compassion and salvation is tempered with sentiments of patriarchy and cultural inferiority. Though the Mormon Church tolerates the incorporation of Buddhist elements, it is done with the assumption that they are inferior to Mormon practices. Few Cambodian men are allowed to attain priesthood, with all the higher positions being held exclusively by white men. Women are taught that they can only achieve salvation only through their husbands, who are elevated to God-like status. Many Cambodian women are drawn to the Church in hopes of elevating their status by marrying white Mormon men.
I found this chapter to be interesting because it explores the same theme of inclusion into American society that I am also researching for my ethnography. One young Chinese-American in interviewed has recently rejected his parents’ Buddhist faith in favor of Christianity, much like the young Hmong Cambodians in this chapter, and another Chinese-American Duke student I spoke to expressed the belief that his sister’s conversion to Christianity has allowed her to assimilate much better than the rest of her non-Christian family. This chapter encouraged me to look into the role religion plays in acceptance by American communities for my ethnography.