The bells jingled on the door as I entered a small store tucked in a New England Vietnamese shopping center. Specializing in transactions between the United States and Vietnam, the store is representative of many small operations providing travel and financial services, including plane tickets, visas, box shipping, and remittances. Discussing her business, the owner Kelly gestured to a wall covered with children’s pictures. She explained they were extra passport photos of her customers’ kids, many of whom were now grown up and customers themselves—a testament to the store’s enduring role in facilitating transnational ties for the Vietnamese American community.
|Bitcoin ATM in Ho Chi Minh City, 2017. Blockchain technologies offer|
a potential remittance channel that may circumnavigate
regulatory checkpoints, for now. Photo credit: I. Small.
The informal money-transfer sector has been integral to the Vietnamese community in the United States, but during the past ten years its share of the U.S.-Vietnam remittance market has fallen from one-half to one-third. Kelly’s operation was one of many affected by remittance oversight regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. Specifically, regulations associated with Dodd-Frank require low-value transfers of more than $15 to comply with disclosure, consumer protection, and error-resolution rules requiring more steps and paperwork for remittance providers. Such regulations were emerging as a problematic chokepoint, disrupting and diverting the long-standing channels of her financial-transfer services. Kelly experienced this regulatory chokepoint as a slow but significant shift, pressuring her to diversify from remittances to other services. Writ large, “not being allowed to do it anymore” signaled a significant shift in the financial infrastructures linking diasporas and homelands—Vietnamese and otherwise.
Reforms of international remittance infrastructures since 2008 have impacted transnational banking, financialization, and payments. By highlighting these transitions—as well as the stories and histories of money-transfer operators like Kelly, who facilitate not only financial connections between Vietnam and the United States but also other material and bodily mobilities—we gain insight into how emerging chokepoints in the international financial system are experienced and navigated. Doing so draws attention to the practical, technical, and affective value of such services in framing and maintaining economic and social relations.
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