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Pierre Petit - Young Hmong during the kin chiang (Hmong New Year festival, early 2000s).

Identities in transition

East Asia is witnessing a large-scale rural-to-urban migration. Cities act as magnets for both economic and existential mobility of young people in pursuit of job opportunities and cosmopolitan lifestyles. Women especially often seek relief from the constraints imposed by family expectations, including early marriage, childrearing and eldercare, or the responsibility associated with rural labour. Social media provide new city dwellers a platform through which showcasing their urban identity in the making. Often, in trying to offer an optimistic vision of one’s own achievement, young migrants conceal darker aspects of such displacement. The rural life is sometimes looked upon with nostalgia, whose very display simultaneously conveys distance from the past self. However, participation in the public activities allows the performance of one’s newly acquired status within the rural community. Images of such events, when circulated through social media, ultimately sanction this self- transformation, blurring the boundaries between virtual and physical space.

Urban pose

Pierre Petit

Ms. Van, born in 1996 in the highland village of Houay Yong (Laos), belongs to the first generation of youth who experienced living in the capital city of Vientiane. She was working in a shop at the time of the picture (early 2018), which was published on her Facebook timeline. She appears in trendy clothes on the Mekong Riverside walk, a typical place for walking around and taking selfies among Lao youths.

Rural self displayed on Facebook

Pierre Petit

Later in 2018, Ms. Van was requested by her ageing parents to come back to her home village to take care of them. Leaving Vientiane where she had expected to live was no easy choice but she never contested her parents’ decision. This post describes her mixed feeling of the countryside conditions, described as poor and lacking education, but also filled with the lucky aspects of a simple life.

Traditional Facebook post

Pierre Petit

Born as a Tai Vat “animist”, Van presently involves in the festivals of the neighbouring Buddhist village – here, the closure of the Buddhist lent (2019). In the Lao lowlands, the pagoda has been the central place of public life for centuries, and this institution gains ground in the highlands. Taking part in Buddhist culture, and sharing picture of it on Facebook, is a way to appear as an educated and civilized citizen.