Following Christina Schwenkel’s call to attend to different temporalities in the study of the Vietnamese diaspora, I examine three historical representations of workers sent to Bulgaria between the early 1970s and the beginning of the 1990s. These representations mediated Bulgarian-Vietnamese interstate relations: first, workers in relation to internationalist duty; second, workers in relation to financial debt; and finally, the workers as racialized, indebted subjects. My goal is twofold. Firstly, I turn my attention to the role and the figure of the Vietnamese worker under the ethos of actually existing socialism and navigate through the socialist rationalities that stood behind their arrival in Bulgaria. Second, I trace how representations of Vietnamese workers have changed from upholding the moral duty of socialist internationalism to becoming a labor force destined to repay Vietnam’s debt. This shift took place within a framework of changing power configurations that remodeled the extraction of surplus labor by relocating debt risks from the Vietnamese state to Vietnamese workers. I then trace the production of the indebted subject, which materialized in a historic type of racialization of the Vietnamese people, and which proved indispensable to Bulgaria’s transition to a market economy.
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