Buddha is Hiding by Aihwa Ong shows the perils of multicultural policy compounded by multiculturalist thought. Ong's book follows the lives of 50,000 Cambodian refugees we accepted in the 1970s. During the reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia approximately one third of the population was killed. Many of those given asylum ended up congregating in Northern California.
Ong considers our welfare system complicit in "ethnic cleansing, in the sense of removing the features of the immigrants' supposedly primitive cultures that are socially determined to be undesirable." Ong recoils at calling any culture primitive. And, I agree that if Cambodians live in Cambodia, we have no right to judge them. But once they move into America we must judge them by American standards. And from our point of view, Cambodian culture has some primitive features.
"In Cambodia," one person Ong interviews says, "a man might have different wives or mistresses, whereas if his wife had a lover, he could go to court and get permission to kill both of them." Of course, Ong tells us, this is not true. Multiculturalists only see positive diversity and are blind to the rest. As she cannot avoid admitting some sexism in Cambodian culture she accepts testimony that, "if we [women] used harsh words with them [husbands] they had a right to strike us. In Cambodia, men were more valued than women." It is odd to have the possibility of extremely negative cultural traits dismissed in a chapter that depicts the Cambodian genocide and the rape that often accompanied it.
Ong celebrates one "quintessentially American" in which a fourteen year old Cambodian runs away to live with her Salvadorian boyfriend. He is nearly 21 and so this could be statuatory rape. Instead, they use a "cultural defense" to escape punishments. "With the the flood of mullticultural immigrants" this has been used to stop prosecution of "Hmong kidnap-marriage practices (Borat is real) Japanese rituals of parent-child suicide and even wives killed by husband by husbands." Well, at any rate, the fourteen year old Cambodian has the child and they live happily ever after. Problems disappear if you accept indigenous cultures.
The best part of this book comes when the multiculturalists attack the feminists. The "family reformer" social workers are charged with class dominance. They come in and stop men from beating their women and thus manipulate the families. They stop men from beating their daughters and thus destroy Cambodian culture. The arrogance of feminists get berated through and through. They do not respect that in "oral cultures" people change their testimony and that is okay. Ong has to thus defend a father beating his daughter with an electric chord until it broke. Essentially, one cannot have both multiculturalism and feminism. Ong chooses multiculturalism.
Ong does a great job of showing us what multiculturalism offers. It paints all of our institutions as evil. One funny result is that this includes our welfare system. Seventy-seven percent of Laotioans and Cambodians are on welfare. And, Ong and I agree, this system infantilizes them and breaks up their families. The social workers stop the spousal abuse and ferocious protection of daughters. But whereas culturist see stopping such behaviors, in America, as laudible, multiculturalists must celebrate diversity. Ong has given us a stark portrait of what is at stake.