FOUNDATION HUMANITIES FELLOWSHIP – UMASS
As stated in our letter of intent, our proposal for
a residency program exploring reconstructions of identity and place in the
Vietnamese Diaspora since 1975 is the result of a close collaboration of
several academic and research/outreach units of the
Since the end of the Vietnam-American war in 1975, there have been no comprehensive efforts to study what it has meant for people living in Vietnam and the resulting Diaspora around the world to recast their identities in the wake of that war, and no serious analysis of the cultural and civic implications of (re)constructing histories and identities in relation to their homeland, new diasporic communities, and host societies. Few studies have examined how these various (re) constructions are enacted in daily life, how they speak to or comment upon each other, where they intersect or diverge, how they are taught or not taught, and how they are challenged or allowed to pass unexamined in daily interactions between young and old, women and men, as mediated by tradition, power, and authority.
We are uniquely poised to host visiting scholars who are interested in examining these kinds of questions, and to draw on their work as we continue to deepen our own commitments to these areas. To that end, we propose a residency program titled, “(Re)Constructing Identity and Place in the Vietnamese Diaspora.”
Based on an extensive planning process, including reviews of the literature, dialogue with campus and community members, observations and surveys from community events, and much internal discussion and reflection, we propose a structure for visiting fellows based on the following three themes:
During this first year of residencies, visiting scholars
are invited to explore issues in the construction and interpretation of
Vietnamese history. How do regional perspectives (northern, southern, and
central points of view), religious differences (e.g.Buddhism versus
Catholicism), contradictory value systems (e.g. Confucianism vs. modernization)
and conflicting ideologies (capitalism vs. socialism vs. nationalism) influence
diasporic constructions of fact, myth, and meaning in Vietnamese history? What
role(s) do these historical understandings play in she (re)constructions of
Vietnamese identities in the Diaspora? How is the contestation over Vietnamese
histories reflected in unresolved political and social conflicts that continue
to surface in Vietnamese communities, work, and family life, both in the
Diaspora and in
Alternatively, how do oral histories from family members, community members and leaders (as evidenced in Vietnamese community newspapers and forums), who had direct experiences with colonial wars in Viet Nam, experiences in reeducation camps and resettlement in “New Economic Zones” and escape journeys after 1975 help shape Vietnamese diasporic identities? With the internet (mang luoi) and information technology, how do the increasingly transnational dynamics between Diaspora, homeland, and cyberspace influence the constructions and interpretations of Vietnamese histories and identities? Are there strategies for curriculum design, pedagogy, and community organizing that can incorporate conflicting histories?
Year 2: Emerging Diasporic Voices: Exploring Vietnamese Literature, Language, and Culture in the Diaspora.
Contributions by fellows in the first year will lay
groundwork for understanding the development of Vietnamese Diasporas voices and
identities as expressed through literature, language, and culture. Recognizing
that poetry and literature have historically played a critical role in shaping
Vietnamese identities and movements of resistance, we ask Rockefeller fellows
during the second year of residency to explore the work of established and
emerging Vietnamese writers and artists (broadly defined) and their audiences
in the Diaspora through the following interconnected questions: What are the
particular issues that writers and artists face in the Diaspora and how do they
address these issues and themes in their work? How do the contexts of language,
culture, history, economics, and politics shape the production and
interpretation of literature and art in the Diaspora and how does literary or
artistic work, in turn, shape those contexts?
Who are the audiences for this literature and art and how are they
evolving? What roles do writers,
artists, and their work play in (re)constructing home, family, and community
identities in the diaspora? What is the
significance and impact of women's voices, in particular? What are
the resources for Vietnamese literature and culture in the diaspora and
how are Vietnamese language and culture changing? How do diasporic writers and
artists relate to their counterparts in
Year 3: (Re)Constructions of Vietnamese identity and place in the Diaspora: A Long Term Perspective
The third year of residency will continue building on
years one and two, while inviting fellows to explore (re)constructions of
Vietnamese identity and place in the diaspora through the following questions:
What defines “home” for Vietnamese in the diaspora? How have definitions of
home and identity been affected by various policy changes in Vietnam such as
doi moi (renovation) in 1986, the US Embargo Lift in 1994, and the current
transition to a more market oriented economy with its resulting access to
increased information, travel, and investment from Vietnamese diasporic
communities. With the increasing numbers of Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese)
visiting their homeland through travel and the Internet, how are images of “
The Rockefeller fellowship program shall be administered by the
A standing committee will meet with visiting fellows on a regular basis (at least twice during their residencies) for planning and evaluation purposes as well as scholarly exchange. Members of the standing committee who will also operate as a selection committee for fellows will consist of the following representatives from each of the participating centers and units: Kevin Bowen (Joiner Center), Hiep Chu (Institute for Asian American Studies), Madhulika Khandelwal (Asian American Studies), Peter Kiang (Graduate College of Education), Michael LaFargue (East Asian Studies), Nguyen Ba Chung (Joiner Center). Trinh Thi Tuyet Nguyen (CAPAY), and Rajini Srikanth (English). Other scholars and community members outside of UMass Boston may also be invited to serve as appropriate.
Fellowships shall be for
a term of six to nine months (September
through June). While in residence, fellows will have all the privileges of
university faculty, including library borrowing, Internet access, and email
accounts. Fellows will receive advice and consultation in finding housing and
health insurance for the terms of their residence. Office space, a computer,
telephone, fax, and mailing will be provided through the office of the
As part of their residency, fellows will meet with the standing committee at least twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of their residencies to discuss their projects. The first meeting will focus on ways to match university or community resources with the needs of the research project: the last meeting will be a discussion of successes and failures and plans for continuing project work after the terms of the residency. Visiting fellows will make at least two presentations during the period of their fellowships: one on campus and one at an appropriate site in the community. These presentations should center on some aspect of the fellow’s research while in residence.
In addition, fellows will also meet with a core group of individuals from the Vietnamese community that may include teachers, librarians, human service providers, scholars, members of student organizations, artists, writers, and journalists. This group will act as art informal advisory group for the center and the standing committee throughout the project and will make recommendations for continuation activities after the fellowship program has ended.
SELECITON OF FELLOWS
Fellows will be selected on the basis of the soundness of their research plans, their engagement with the stated themes, and the strength of recommendations by scholars in the field. Final decisions are aimed not only at selecting qualified individuals, but also at assembling a group whose interests and expertise enhance the likelihood of significant impact for the program. All completed applications will receive preliminary review by the Project staff and then be passed forward for review by the standing committee. Outside evaluators may be asked to comment on applications as well. The standing committee may designate a selection subcommittee to recommend a final field of up to ten candidates for review and vote by the full standing committee. The standing committee will assess the viability of conducting interviews with the finalists before selection is made. In cases where an applicant’s work may seem better suited for another year’s themes the applicant may be asked to resubmit.
OUTREACH AND PUBLICITY
The Fellowship program will be publicized widely through a variety of outlets including the newsletters of the respective organizations involved. The Joiner Center Newsletter and the Newsletter of the Institute for Asian American Studies have a combined circulation of 4,000 among scholars and activists, for example. Notices will be placed with appropriate professional organizations including The Vietnam Studies Bulletin, published by the Joiner Center, and other vehicles such as Indochina Digest Refugee News, Amerasia Journal, Journal of Asian American Studies, Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, International Migration Review, Public Culture, Social Text, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique.
Special efforts will be made to contact faculty colleagues and graduate students in Asian American Studies and Vietnam Studies departments and programs by mail and email. A brochure describing the program in detail as well as the application process will be designed and mailed to these programs as well as to existing lists of scholars in the field provided by networks such as the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), the National Association for the Educational Advancement of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian Americans (NAPEA), the Vietnamese Studies caucus of the Asian Studies Association, and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). Bilingual Vietnamese outreach materials will also be produced and disseminated to local and national Vietnamese community media outlets (newspapers, radio, cable television. websites) and to the Joiner Center’s extensive network of scholars, writers, universities, and professional organizations in Vietnam. Participants in previous Joiner Center exchange programs, including faculty currently teaching at the universities of HaNoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh, and Can Tho as well as at the Nguyen Du Writing School and within various branches of the Writers Association and affiliated or independent journals are expected to act as helpful liaisons in disseminating information about the program in Vietnam.
Finally, websites for the university, the Joiner Center, and other participating units will advertise the program and will welcome links to related web sites, bulletin boards, and email lists - especially those listing opportunities in fields of Asian American Studies and Vietnam Studies, and those which may be based in other countries such as Australia, France, Canada, Germany and Vietnam (a listing of over 400 websites relevant to the Vietnamese diaspora worldwide is included as an attachment).
CONTINUING BEYOND THE PROGRAM PERIOD
The residency program is intended to
have cumulative impact during the three-year residency period and beyond. For
example, fellows’ presentations on campus and in the community may be a first
step in the convening of annual forums at the university and in the community
where these issues are discussed and evaluated on a continuing basis.
The University and Participating Centers/Units
Other recent efforts of the
ASIAN AMERICAN STUDIES PROGRAM
The Asian American Studies academic program of the
· The social, cultural, economic, political, religious, and environmental consequences of massive demographic shifts within the U.S. population during the past 30 years due to immigration and refugee resettlement — 40% of which has come from Asia.
· The complex process of racialization of individuals and groups as well as the inter-relationships among and between various racial groups historically and currently, including Asian Americans who do not fit in a bipolar, white-black paradigm of race relations - whether in post-1992 Los Angeles or closer to home in Dorchester.
· The economic, political, social, and cultural changes resulting from the globalization of capital, labor, information, and popular media as well as the ways in which transnational, diasporic populations - such as Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese communities in the U.S. - are products of and agents in that globalization process.
· The social and psychological impacts of traumatic experiences and healing practices, and their relationships to dynamics of identity and culture, as exemplified by the situations of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee survivors and their families.
· The critical and commercial success of writers, designers, and musicians whose cultural works have incorporated Asian and Asian American forms, traditions aesthetics, and themes in original and powerful ways.
As a model of democratic educational practice, the Asian American Studies program is committed to.
· enabling students of all backgrounds to develop essential critical thinking skills as well as sensibilities for community- building community service, and social responsibility;
· preparing students to function fully and comfortably in a multiracial, multicultural society
· Integrating instruction in the classroom with practices of mentoring and role modeling outside of the classroom to address the holistic, social and academic needs of students.
THE COALITION FOR ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN YOUTH (CAPAY)
CAPAY is a
statewide youth run organization that works with over 45 high schools in
Founded in 1994 by a grassroots movement of APA high school youth who responded to racial discrimination in local high schools. CAPAY aims at building bridges with other Asian and non-Asian youth and school communities through organizing and critical leadership education. Some of its projects include: Annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Education Project: The Community Youth Learn AmeriCorps Project: The Immigration and Welfare Reform Education Campaign: The Summer Leadership Program; and the Youth Leadership Development Project, all of which provide workshops in schools and communities focusing on developing skills in community organizing, cultural awareness, and leadership for Asian Pacific American youth.
The UMass Boston
East Asian Studies Program (EAS) is currently an interdisciplinary “Program of
Study” drawing on courses related to
THE INSTITUE OF ASIAN AMERICAN STUDIES
The purpose of
the Institute for Asian American Studies is to bring together resources from
the campus and community in order to conduct applied research on Asian American
issues, to expand Asian American Studies in the curriculum, and to support
Asian American development initiatives in
STANDING COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Kevin Bowen (
Kevin Bowen is
the director of the
Hiep Chu (Institute for Asian American Studies)
Hiep Chu joined
the Institute for Asian American Studies as Program Coordinator in 1994, after
serving for the National Asian Family/ School partnership Project of the
National Coalition of Advocates for Students (NCAS), and serves on several
community boards, including the Asian Pacific American Agenda Coalition
(APAAC), the Massachusetts Association of Mental Health, and the Vietnamese
American Initiative for Development (Viet-AID) of which he is President. Hiep
also has served on the Governor’s Advisory
Council on Massachusetts Refugees and Immigrants. Hiep has extensive
experience as a consultant on refugee and immigrant issues for federal and
state agencies and frequently speaks on these issues throughout the nation. He
is completing an M.S. in community Economic Development from
Madhulika Khandelwal (Asian American Studies)
Dr. Madhulika S.
Khandelwal is Assistant Professor in Asian American Studies for the College of
Public & Community Service at the
Peter Kiang (
Dr. Peter Kiang
is Associate Professor in the Graduate College of Education and American
Studies Program at the Umass Boston where he teaches graduate courses in
multicultural education and directs the undergraduate program in Asian American
Studies. His written articles include “Where Do We Stand: Views of Racial
Conflict by Vietnamese American High School Students in Black and White
Context.” “Don’t Ignore It!: Documenting Racial Harassment in a Fourth-Grade
Vietnamese Bilingual Classroom,” and “Southeast Asian Parent Empowerment: The
Challenge of Changing Demographics,” which received first prize in the 1990
monograph competition of the Massachusetts Association for Bilingual Education.
He was also principal author of the 1992 Asian American Studies Curriculum
Resource Guide, a publication of the UMass and the Massachusetts Asian
American Educators Association. Peter has received honors form the National
Academy of Education, the
Michael LaFargue (East Asian Studies)
attended graduate school at Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley) 1967-69 and
received a doctorate in biblical studies from
Nguyen Ba Chung (
Nguyen Ba Chung
is a writer, poet and translator, He received a bachelor’s degree in American
literature from the
Trinh T. Tuyet Nguyen (CAPAY)
Trinh Nguyen is
currently the Coordinator for the Coalition for Asian Pacific American Youth (CAPAY)
at the UMass Boston. She works with Asian Pacific American (APA) high school
Rajini Srikanth (English Department)
Rajini Srikanth teaches in the English Department at UMB. She has published in the fields of Asian American Studies, South Asian literature, literature of the American South, and diaspora studies. Her research interests lie in examining the lie in examining the literature of diasporic Asian communities, particularly among South Asians, the political participation of South Asian Americans, and the relationship between arts and activism. She is co-editor of two anthologies, the award-winning Coatours of the heart: South Asians Map North America (which features fiction, poetry, essays and photography by first- and second-generation South Asian Americans and Canadians0, and A Part, Yet Apart: South Asians in Asia American (a collection of multidisciplinary essays that debate the ambiguous position Asians within Asian America).
* * *
(Re)Constructing Identity and Place in the Vietnamese Diaspora
A Conceptual Essay for the 1999 Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship Program
program will support scholars researching how diverse constructions of
Vietnamese identify and community as well as Vietnamese history, literature,
and culture are being shaped and reshaped in the contemporary post-was and
post-refugee eras across generations throughout the diaspora. Although themes
of post-war reconciliation have emerged in recent years in literature and
public policy between the
My ten-year nephew (who was born in the
In my education there (in
Last weekend I went to this conference for Vietnamese young people to
talk about issues in
These are a sampling of the complex, grounded insights offered by members of our own planning/writing team during discussions about this proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation. In the following essay, we review the intellectual context for our plans through an analysis of literature in English and Vietnamese relevant to the Vietnamese diaspora. In a second essay, we present our institutional context – the depth and breadth of our various commitments to this area of study as well as the resources, which we offer as a fellowship site. But, by opening with the voices and vignettes above, shared respectively by a faculty member/research associate, an undergraduate student, and a professional staff member who coordinates as Asia Pacific American youth program at UMass Boston, we foreground a third dimension of context - the realities of life experience that lie at the heart of what we are proposing to study. Through this proposal, we seek not only to strengthen scholarly inquiry and enhance our own institutional capacity, but also to recognize perspectives that are typically marginalized in educational institutions – like that of the Vietnamese refugee youth who, in research by another member of our proposal planning/writing team, describes the reality of his life in high school as follows:
I feel like I get stepped on every day in that school.... I mean every single day.... We have only a handful of us in the school and we don’t feel like our voice the authority would ever think of (Kiang & Kaplan 1994, 108, 116)
In a remarkable 1991 review of the book Voices from Southeast Asia: The Refugee Experience in the United States T. C. Huo writes:
No, this book doesn’t change my life. Rather it is the other way around: many lives like mine have been changed so that a book like this one ca come into existence; it becomes possible only at the cost of countless broken homes, broken lives, nameless, countless dead (1991, 64).
Huo’s words apply with particular relevance to the field of diaspora studies, a developing body of knowledge that documents, describes, explains, and theorizes about the dispersal of peoples from their original sites of residence to new and unfamiliar lands in which they attempt to recreate some semblance of the homes they left behind. While the Jewish and African diasporas have a long history of scholarship associated with them, only within the last ten years has diasporas studies begun to examine the movement of other groups of people for example, the mid-nineteenth century of Indian indentured laborers to the West Indies and Fiji and Chinese laborers to the West Indies; the twentieth-century movement of Turkish labor to Germany to Germany; Filipina maids to Hong Kong; Sri Lankan refugees to Canada; Iranians to the United States: South Asians manual labor to Kuwait: Dominicans to the United States, and the return migration of Japanese Brazilians to Japan.
Census figures in
1990 counted nearly 650,000 Vietnamese in the
writing within the Vietnamese diaspora have been largely limited to personal
narratives and descriptive community studies in the
In his recent
integrative essay, “Vietnamese American Studies: Notes Toward a New Paradigm.”
Chung Hoang Chuong, the foremost researcher/ teacher in the Asian American
Studies field working with Vietnamese diasporic populations, refers to the past
decade as a time of ‘building the base” for Vietnamese American Studies, both
intellectually and institutionally (1998). Given rapid social, economic,
political, and cultural changes taking place currently within both the
A diasporic perspective can provide the conceptual room needed to accommodate non-conforming cultural orientations as to expose the role of American foreign policy in shaping global patterns of population movement. A diasporic perspective also provides the only way to capture the complexities of multiple migrations and dispersed Asian-origin families (1995, 10).
The field of
diaspora studies has drawn attention to the fundamental differences between
immigration and diaspora: the immigrant intends to make a new home and new life
in the new land, whereas the diasporic is always either hopeful that s/he will
return to the original home and /or unable to replace the dominance of the old
home in his /her psyche. In the
twentieth century, technology makes it increasingly possible for people to
sustain a diasporic sensibility (travel is relatively easier than before; video
recordings of movies from the homeland are readily available and are frequently
the most important recreational past-time of the diasporic individual; the
internet enables first and second generation individuals within the diaspora to
learn about the ancestral homeland - homeland newspapers are online, homeland
history and culture can be retrieved from appropriate websites, ad one can
maintain email contact with others in the diaspora worldwide). Among
Vietnamese, the diasporic sensibility can take an interesting turn, although
there are many who wish to sustain their Vietnamese identity, they may have no
desire to return to
A related area of study is transnationalism, which, in recent years, has frequently been used interchangeably with diaspora. The two phenomena intersect in that transnationalism, which is usually linked with the globalization of capital, gives rise to labor migration and resettlement, the areas of concern of diaspora studies. But there is a critical difference between the two. As Silvio Torres-Sailant noted in a recent lecture at UMass Boston on the Dominican diaspora, transnational individuals are usually not interested in putting down roots in any one place, whereas the diasporics, however intense their longing for the original homeland, attempt to create some type of home and sense of rootedness, if only to survive psychologically, in the new destination. Transnational individuals, one could say, are frequently economic experts who traverse the globe in the service of capital; diaspora, as migrant laborers, may also serve” capital, but their socio-economic reality is far different from that of the transnationals. The relationship among immigration diaspora and transnationalism is complex and wide open with rich opportunities for research.
Huo’s words serve
as a caution, however, against getting caught up in the intellectual and
academic headiness of diaspora studies. He reminds us that human lives and
human pain support the research and writing of academic scholars. Within the
field, this tension is evident (a survey of articles in the journal Diaspora:
A Journal of Transnational Studies or the past 8 years is illuminating in
this regard). with possibilities of renewal that journeying to a new land
offers. For instance, Carmen Wickramagarmage sees “relocation as a positive
act” (Diaspora 2.2: 171-200), an opportunity to cast off the cultural
and social restrictions of the homeland and remake oneself. Hamid Naficy, on
the other hand, describes the nostalgia of Iranians in
diaspora offers numerous entry points of compelling comparative research
through various lenses about diasporic community development in Australia, the
United States, Canada, and France – particularly given the multiple divisions
(class, migration wave, generation, religion, regional, origin, ideology, etc.)
that characterize those communities. What are the economic and psycho-social
effects of these divisions within the Vietnamese diaspora (which are
economically more successful than others in the new countries; which are better
adjusted psychologically in the new environments)? How do generational and
gender differences of perspective manifest themselves within the diaspora?
Which elements of the home culture seem hardest to relinquish within the
diaspora? To what extent does a diasporic mindset inhibit or inspire political
participation in the new country? What themes are voiced in the poems, stories,
plays, paintings, sculptures, and music of diasporic artists? How does the home
country become altered, if at all, by the recent return of overseas Vietnamese
In light of the framework of diaspora studies, we turn in the next two sections, to examine the “canon” of Vietnamese literature published in English and the counterpoint of diasporic writing produced in Vietnamese. Here, we find developmental indications that fresh, critical reflections and integrative perspectives are beginning to assert themselves-inspired by significant cultural and political changes within the Vietnamese homeland and articulating the interests of a new generation of writers and researchers in the diaspora. Noting the potential of this current moment, we suggest ways that our proposed residency program can catalyze significant, interdisciplinary breakthroughs and establish a dynamic 3, new network of scholars for this rich field of study.
Historically, few Vietnamese works have been available in English. 4 Ironically, it was only with U.S. military involvement that a view of Vietnam and Vietnamese culture began to emerge in the U.S.5 That view, however, was problematic, since so much of it was filtered through the lens of the war and was written by white Americans. This literature at its best tried to explore the dilemma of the southern situation of the Vietnamese, but they present puzzling and troubling images, particularly for Vietnamese readers.5 When Vietnamese immigrant students seek authentic characters and images in history and literature courses about the Vietnam War era, for example, they are typically disappointed.
Vietnamese narratives coming from
in The Viet Nam War/The American War: Images and Representations in
Euro-American and Vietnamese Exile Narratives (1995) suggests that these
works remained outside the “canon” for two main reasons: 1) a continued
prejudice toward “eurocentic” and against Asian narratives of Vietnam: and 2) a
tendency to read these works as “exile” narratives rather than “Vietnam”
narratives. Christopher’s points are well-founded. Much of the “exile”
literature is overly political, framed directly with a hard anticommunist line.
Ironically, in 1986, the yea Banerian’s collection appeared. Doi Moi (Renovation)
The appearance of
a Doi Moi literature also opened up an exciting period of quiet dialogue
between Vietnamese writers across the diaspora and the homeland. Meanwhile,
memoirs, poetry collections, and anthologies by bilingual writers in the
diaspora also appeared, describing their coming of age during times of war and
resettlement. Nguyen Qui Duc’ s Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssy of a
Vietnamese Family (1994), Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh’s South Wind
Changing (1994) and Lan Cao’s Monkey Bridge (1997) staked out
new ground, marked by “exile” literature, but integrated with Vietnamese
American perspectives. Most recently, the works of Vietnamese American writers
such as Andrew Lam, Christian Langworthy, Barbara Tran and Le Thi Diem Thuy
open a third context for Vietnamese writing, as they seek and problematize
relationships with their individual and collective pasts and futures as
Vietnamese Americans. Important publications such as De Tran, Andrew Lam, and
Hai Dai Nguyen’s Once Upon A Dream (1996).
threads in Vietnamese literature-from the homeland, from exiles in the
diaspora, and from the diaspora’s 1.5 and 2nd generations- offer
vibrant possibilities for interaction, but attempts to reconcile these
literatures and or their writers still face resistance. When The Other Side
of Heaven was published, it faced criticism fro both writers in Vietnam and
from “exile” writers abroad who each publicly claimed it was an affront to
publish works of “patriots” and “traitors” side by side. In
Despite the emergence of many new voices and perspectives within both the homeland and diaspora during the past decade, there has bee no comprehensive attempt in print, in person, or on-line by writers, scholars, critics, or community members to examine these developments in conjunction with each other or in relation to the larger cultural, social, political, and economic contexts of (re)construction that have taken place both in Vietnam and throughout the diaspora. This is the challenge our proposal seeks to address. We argue, furthermore, that such an effort is not viable, unless the rich body of literature from the Vietnamese diaspora, produced and read in Vietnamese, is also made central. This is after all the primary body of literature that is accessible and meaningful to Vietnamese communities.
VIETNAMESE DIASPORA LITERATURE IN VIETNAMESE
Alexander Woodside remarks in “Vietnam and the Chinese Model” that Vietnam has “one of the most intensely literary civilization on the face of the earth.8 In “South Vietnam’s Literature – An Overview”, Vo Phien lists the names of over two hundred top-flight South Vietnamese writers, poets and artists – the cream of South Vietnamese literary life, who fled the country as part of the first and second waves of refugees beginning in 1975.9 Most of tem eventually settled in the U.S. with the rest scattering to Australia, France, Japan, Holland, the Philippines, and other countries in Europe. It is, therefore, no wonder that they quickly became the core group that successfully created a vast treasure of Vietnamese literature abroad, serving the needs and aspirations of two million refugees forced from their homeland.
In a talk given
at a writer’s conference at the
1) The Incubating Phase from 1975 to 1980
Most recent arrivals were still preoccupied with problems of resettlement and readjustment in a completely strange environment. Literary output was limited, and captured the sense of loneliness and loss of identity form living in exile, aggravated by an intense homesickness and guilt for leaving loved ones behind. Major works in this period were Thanh Name’s Dat Khach (Foreign Land), Le Tat Dieu’s Ngung Ban Ngay Thu 492 (Ceasefire on the 492th Day), and Vo Phien’s Thu Gui Ban (Letters to Friends). For the newly exiled, the very happiness of escape paradoxically increased the sense of dislocation. This stress was so overwhelming that certain literary groupings like Quan Diem ceased to function at all while younger writers like Le Tat Dieu, Vien Linh, Tuy Hong, and Trung Duong only published intermittently.
2) The Development Phase from 1980 –1985
arrival of a massive number of “boat people” in the
Mai Thao, the eminence
grise of South Vietnamese literary society arrived in the
To me, the love of our great native land and the compassion towards her greatest tragedy should always be the lasting and glorious beacon for all literary activities. And there should exist no other guiding principle.12
Reaching back into the collective memory of a country that no longer existed, and a cultural ethos that was no longer tolerated at home. Mai Thao and his fellow writers set out with a passion to recreate it in the diaspora through the words of their imagination.
From that beginning, several prestigious literary journals have been added in the U.S.13 Also coming into existence in the period were a dozen major publishing houses, some with hundreds of titles of both reprints and new works.14 The reprinting of hundreds of pre-1975 south Vietnam titles banned by Hanoi as products of depraved neo-colonist literature served to reconstruct a sense of identity with the cultural past. Deepening this sense of continuity and outrage was a series of searing memoirs about life in reeducation camps such as Tran Huynh Chau’s Nhung Nam Cai Tao O Bac Viet (Years of Reeducation In The North). Ha Thuc Sinh’s Dai Hoc Mau (The University of Blood), Ta Ty’s Day Dia Nguc (The Abyss of Hell), and Pham Quang Khai’s Cai Tu Viet Cong (VC prison guards).
3) The Mature Phase 1986-1989
golden period of Vietnamese diasporic literature, the number of new titles
reached 200 a year in the
marked the beginning of Doi Moi (Renovation) in
literary community split into two camps over Doi Moi. Believing that the
whole thing was a ruse to hook the unwary, the conservative group, represented
by Lang Van (
4) The Re-examination Phase
The current period of the 1990’s, however, has become problematic. There is no longer consensus or a dominant trend, but rather a combination of trends occurring simultaneously. For this reason, many have called it a re-examination phase – a period of consolidation, self reflection, new dialogues, and new voices, particularly from women writers, in preparation for the next stage of development, whatever it may turn out to be.
Journal Hop Luu (Confluence)
under Khanh Truong, an ex – paratrooper, appeared in October 1991 with a
proclaimed objective of publishing works from writers both inside and outside
indisputable quality of the works resulting from Doi Moi in
Interestingly, as if to confirm Nazli Kibria’s sociological analysis presented in Family Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans (1993) which revealed the dramatic gender and generational role changes taking place in Vietnamese American families and the complex ways in which women were constructing new identities and relationships, a number of promising refugee/immigrant woman writers also emerged by the mid 1990’s.19 Beginning with the 1988 release of Trang Dat Khach (Moon In the New Land), an anthology of 18 Vietnamese woman writers which received rave reviews, these new voices captured the attention of audiences throughout the diaspora, including the noted literary scholar Tran Qui Phiet (1993; 1992; 1991) who initiated his remarkable translation/analysis projects with immigrant women writers such as Tran Dieu Hang and Tran Thi Kim Lan during this period. In sharp contrast to their male counterparts, many of the women’s works focused on the struggle of refugees to adapt and make sense of their world here and now, rather than lament what they had left behind. Tran Thi Kim Lan’s Gio Dera (Night Wind) collection of short stories, for example, portrayed the life of Vietnamese refugee/immigrant children in school, facing misunderstanding, language difficulties, racism, conflicting cultural pressures – all through a patient and kind–hearted eye.
In an excellent discussion of several moving stories by Tran Dieu Hang. Tran Qui Phiet points out the hidden scars and unspoken tragic realities lying just beneath the stereotypic image of refugee success portrayed by mainstream media.20 Nevertheless, women’s undeniable capacity, not only to adapt economically and socioculturally, but also to produce compelling literature of the here and now, prompted Mai Thao to acknowledge that “the exile literature is mainly, if not solely, the work of woman writers”.21 For many men, their adjustments to new languages, cultures, and economies were far less fluent – leaving their high status and sense of agency in the haunted past. Unable yet to construct new identities, their raison d’ere depended on recreating identities from imagined former lives. What outwardly seemed a noble mission, served internally as a strategy for survival. 22
Also by the
mid-1990’s, as described previously, a new generation of Vietnamese immigrant
writers began to publish in English, including Andrew Lam (co-editor of Once
Upon A Dream...), Nguyen Quy Duc (Where the Ashes Are). Huynh Ngoc
Quang (South Wind Changing), Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai (The rubber Tree).
Tran Thi Nga (Shallow Graves), and Lan coa (
In late 1997 Tap
Chi Tho (Poetry Journal) was launched in the
another kind of renovation, Nhat Tien returned to
Whether agreements on meaning are indeed possible to achieve during this period of re-examination remains an open question for scholars and practitioners to explore. Furthermore, whether shared meaning and dialogue can also be facilitated between those working in Vietnamese and those whose voices, perspectives, and experienced are expressed in English is an equally challenging question with profound implications that should be engaged as well.
From 1975 to 1998, the worldwide body of literature produced in the Vietnamese diasporas consists, conservatively, of between 3500 and 4000 titles of all types – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, etc. Nguyen Tan Hung, Dinh Phung Tien, and many others believed that the literary output of the two million “overseas” Vietnamese surpasses that of the pre-1975 30 million South Vietnam.26 In addition, local newspaper27 and regional journals of all flavors – community, religious (Catholic and Buddhist), special commemorative issues, and organized student publications as well as the products of artists/designers, photographers, songwriters, film/video-makers, karaoke video producers, playwrights, and webmasters should also be recognized. Beyond the variety of media used, the diasporic communities themselves are also diverse. In the US, Australia, Canada, and Japan, we encounter mostly post-1975 refugees: France is home to post-1975 refugees as well as veterans/migrants from World War I; Germany and Eastern Europe include former North Vietnamese workers and small numbers of refugees.
The entire massive corpus of the Vietnamese diaspora – official and private, historical and literary, written and oral – calls for intensive interdisciplinary study. The realities of Vietnam as a battleground for most of the major issues of the twentieth century – colonialism, nationalism, East-West conflict, evangelicalism, religious conflicts, imperialism new-colonialism, modernization of communism – have left scars and discontinuities which find their way into literature, consciously and subconsciously, throughout the diaspora. Like the forced fragmentation28 of their country, the identities and dreams of refugees are also fragmented – from burdens of memory and yearnings for freedom to desires for historical justification and ambivalent, albeit resilient, efforts to claim voice and space in new environments.29
The Vietnamese diaspora is a study in transition. Can such a fragmented community develop and sustain a sense of collective identity and common purpose? Is possible to construct a shared history – to craft a story that resonates for its diverse members?30 Is there a set of facts, a body of literature, an educational curriculum, a model of community organizing etc. that can act as a catalyst for further dialogue and deeper exploration of the fragmentation itself, thereby making possible (re) constructions of identity? How do past precedents and current possibilities for (re) constructing history and identity shape various scenarios of cultural expression, community development and empowerment, homeland reconciliation, and local/global integration over time by the Vietnamese diaspora? What new theoretical framework or innovative or interdisciplinary study can be designed to make sense of these complex and pressing realities?
are neither rhetorical nor restricted to the privilege domain of writers and
scholars. In November 1998, the Institute for Asian American Studies as UMass
Boston hosted an historic, agenda- setting forum attended by over 200
individuals from the Vietnamese communities in
Indeed, these are
also underlying challenges presented by the voices that introduce this essay on
page 2. In the opening vignette from Nguyen Ba Chung, the traumatic conflict
that erupts between grandfather and grandson is not inherent to their
relationship with each other. Rather, it follows from the child’s miseducation
in school about the context and meaning of “
(RE)RECONSTRUCTING SCHOLARSHIP – REFLECTIONS ON THE PROPOSAL PROCESS
In developing this proposal collaboratively, we are the first to admit our own lack of answers to all the questions we pose. Our planning group includes scholars and practitioners from the fields of religion, literature, history, political science, and education as well as East Asian Studies, Vietnamese Studies, Asian American Studies, and Diaspora Studies. The excitement and difficulty with which we have struggled to gain a shared understanding and common language for this proposal, despite our own many differences, are genuine.
Like Warner and Wittner (1998) who, in their volume Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration, describe the value of creating space for their contributions to discuss differing methodologies and theoretical frames related to transnationlism, immigrant community development, racialization, and ethnic identity development, we are similarly committed to facilitating substantive dialogue across various boundaries of discipline, ideology, and identity.
This is an
historic moment in both the Vietnamese diaspora and in
We are drawn to the possibilities of this moment. Our proposed fellowship residency program will provide a unique structure to facilitate innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship and appropriate applied research relevant to the Vietnamese diaspora, as well as to establish new conceptual foundations for teaching, learning, and community development. While we are interested in supporting the specific scholarly directions of individual scholars through the program, we are equally interested in catalyzing a new network of scholars with collective commitments to generate and sustain genuine dialogue, thoughtful critique, and shared research agendas. In the following second essay, we outline details of the residency program and our institutional capacity to support it.
Chung C.H. (1988)
“Vietnamese American Studies: Notes Toward a New Paradigm,” in Hirabayashi,
L.R. (ed) Teaching Asian America,
Dorais, L.J., Le,
L.P. & H. Nguyen, “Exile in a
Hearts of Sorrow,
Hayslip, L.L. When Heaven and Earth Change Places. NY: Doubleday, 1991.
Hu-DeHart, E., “From Area Studies to Ethnic Studies: The Study of the Chinese Diaspora in Latin America,” in Hune, S., Kim, H.C. Fugita, S.S., & Ling A. (eds), Asian Americans: Comparative and Global Perspectives, Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 1991. 5-16
Huo, T.C. (1991)
Review of Voices from Southeast Asia: The Refugee Experience in the
Kiang, P.N. &
J. Kaplan, “Where Do We Stand: Views of Racial Conflict by
Kibria, N., Family
Tightrope: The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans,
“Asian American Studies and Asian Studies: Rethinking Roots,” in Hune, L., Kim,
H.C., Fugita, S.S., & Ling A. (eds).
Asian American: Comparative and Global Perspectives,
Nguyen, D.Q. Where
the Ashes Are,
Tran, B., Truong, M.T.D., & K.T. Luu (eds), Waterwark: Vietnamese American Poety & Prose, NY: Asian American Writers Workshop, 1998.
Tran, D., Lam, A., & H.D. Nguyen (eds), Once Upon A Dream: The Vietnamese American Experience, San Jose: San Jose Mercury News, 1995.
Tran, Q.P. “Contemporary Vietnamese American Feminine Writing: Exile and Home,” Amerasia Journal 19(3) 1993.
to Integration: Vietnamese Americans in Tran Dieu Hang’s Fiction,” in Lim,
S.G.L. & A. Ling (eds) Reading the Literatures of Asian Amrica,
--“The Dream of Grass: The Image of Vietnamese Americans in Tran Dieu Hang’s Fiction,” unpublished paper, 1991.
Viviani, N. The
West, P., Levine,
S.I. & J. Hitz, America’s Wars in Asia,
Wong, S.L.C. “Denationalization Reconsidered: Asian American Cultural Criticism at a Theoretical Crossroads, Amerasia Journal 21(1&2) 1995. 1-27.
1In addition to the faculty serving on our proposed
Standing Committee, individual faculty affiliated with Umass Boston institutes
who have relevant expertise in diaspora studies include: Ramona Hernandez
(Gaston Institute and Latino Studies), author of The Dominican Americans,
Westport: Greenwood, 1998; Nancy j. Smith-Hefner (World Language Institute and
B/ESL Studies), author of Khmer American: Identity and Moral Development
in a Diasporic Community, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999; and
Paul Watanabe (Institute for Asian American Studies and Political Science),
author of Ethnicity and Foreign Policy: Greek-American Activism and the Turkish
Arms Ban.” in Dimitri Constas and Athanassios Plains (eds) Diasporas in World
2We assume reader
familiarity with the specific, successive post-1975 refugee migration flows
3The most comprehensive reference is John Shafer’s Vietnamese Perspectives: An annotated Bibliography of Works in English (1997). Also, see: Nguyen Dinh Tham's Studies of Vietnamese Language and Literature: A Preliminary Bibliography (1992) and Maurice Durand and Nguyen Tran Huan's An Introduction to Vietnamese Literature (1985).
4U.S. government efforts to launch Vietnam Area Studies order to strengthen American military effectiveness in an otherwise unstudied country and culture can be similarly traced the origins of Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies thanks to the generous sponsorship of social science research in Latin America by the U.S. Defense Department during the 1960s (Hu-Dehart, 1991).
5For example, see Michael Casey’s Obscenities (1972) John Balaban’s After Our War (1973); Francis Fitzgerald's Fire in the Lake, Gloria Emerson's Winners and Losers. Phillip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, Yusef Komunyakaa's Dien Cai Dau, or Bruce Weigl's Song of Napalm.
6See: Nguyen Ngoc Bich, W.S. Merwin, and Burton Raffells’s A Thousand Years of Vietnamese Poetry (1975); Huynh Sanh Thong’s Anthology of Vietnamese Poetry (1985) and the Vietnam Forum and Lac Viet Series: Tran Van Dinh’s Blue Dragon, White Tiger (1985). Truong Nhu Tang’s A VietCong Memoir (1985), Nguyen Ngoc Ngan’s The Will of Heaven, Le Ly Hayslip’s When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (1989), Nguyen Thi Thu-Lam’s Fallen Leaves (1989), Nguyen Ngoc Bich’s War and Exile (1989), and James Banerian’s Vietnamese Short Stories (1986).
7See, for example: Nguyen Huy Thiep’s The General Retires (1992); Duong Thu Huong’s Pradise of the Blind (1994) and Novel Without a Name (1995); Bao Ninh’s The Sarrow of War (1991); Le Luu’s A Time Far Past (1997); Le Minh Khue’s The Stars, The Moon, The River (1997), short story collections such as Linh Dinh’s Night Again (1996); John Balaban and Nguyen Quy Duc’s Vietnam: A traveller’s Companion (1996); and anthologies such as Wayne Karlin, Le Minh Khue, and Truong Vu’s The Other Side of Heaven; Dan Duffy’s Vietnam Forum 15: North Vietnam Now: Fiction and Essays from Hanoi (1996); Bruce Weigl and Kevin Bowen’s Writing Between the Lines and Nguyen Ba Chung, Bowen and Weigl’s recent poetry anthology Mountain River: Vietnamese Poetry from the Wars 1948-1993 (1998).
Alexander, “Preface to the Paperback Edition” in
9Vo Phien, Hai
10These trends hold
worldwide for the Vietnamese diaspora, except for the case of
11They included Dat Moi (New Land) published by Thanh Nam, Van Hoc Nghe Thuat (Arts and Literature) directed by Vo Phien and Le Tat Dieu, Viet Chien (Vietnamese Struggle), issued by Giang Huu Tuyen, Hoang Xuan Son and Ngo Vuong Toai, Nhan Chung (Witness) edited by Du Tu Le, and Thoi Tap (Time) published by Vien Linh. See: Nguyen Mong Giac, pp. 3.
12Nguyen Mong Giac, pp. 3-4. Note: Responsibility for Van was assumed by Nguyen Xuan Hoang when Mai Thao’s health began to fail in 1997.
13For example, Van Hoc (Literary Study), formerly Van Hoc Nghe Thuat, edited by Vo Phien from 1977-79 and by Nguyen Mong Giac in 1985: Lang Van (Literary Circle) published by Nguyen Huong and Nguyen Huu Nghia: and The Ky 21 (Twenty First Century) issued by Le Dinh Dieu and Do Quy Toan. Other, included Phu Nu Dien Dan (Women’sForum), Tan Van (New Literature), and Tim Phong (Vanguard).
14For example, Van Nghe (editor-in-chief Vo Thang Tiet), An Tiem (To Ngoc The), Hong Linh (Khanh Truong), Nguoi Viet (Nguoi Viet company). Nha Viet (Nguyen Huu Nghia), Xuan Thu (commercial). Doi Nam (commercial). etc.
15Others included: Doi Bong Dung Thua (Life Suddenly Superfluous) by Ha Huyen Chi, Mien Yeu Dau Phuong Dong (TheLovely East) by Thai Tu Hap, Hop Luu (Confluence) by Ho Truong An, Mo Ho Cua Da (The Sweat of Stone) by Nhat Tien, Co Biec (Green Crass) by Cung Vu, and Phuong Oi Dung Do Nua (Be Red No More, Phuong Flower) by Nha Ca.
16Nguyen Hung Quoc,
17For Example: Thang Nguoi Co Duoi (Man with Tail) by The Giang or Khong Co Vua (No King) by Nguyen Huy Thiep.
18Ngyen Huu Nghia, “Sinh Hoat Van Nghe Viet-Nam Hai-Ngoai 365 Ngay Qua” (Overseas Art and Literature Activities During The Last 365 Days), Lang Van, #149 Jan 1997, p. 29.
19These include: Tran Dieu Hang, Nguyen Thi Hoang Bac, Vi Khue, Tran Thi Kim Lan, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Nhung, Le Thi Hue, Duong Nhu Nguyet, Tran Sa, Nhu Chi, Thuy Vi, Phan Thi Trong Tuyet, Tran Mong Tu, and Nguyen Thi Thanh Binh.
20Tran Qui Phiet,
“From Isolation to Integration: Vietnamese American in Tran Dieu Hang’s
21Quoted in Nguyen Mong Giac, “Thoughts on Some Overseas Woman Writers”, Van Hoc, #18, 3-5.
22Nhat Tien, Nguyen Mong Giac, Ho Troung An, Nguyen Ngoc Ngan, are exceptions.
23Others wrote with collaboration of native English writers/editors: Nguyen Ngoc Ngan’s The will of Heaven, with E.E. Richchey (Dutton: 1982, Lang Van:1988); Lely Hayslip’s When Heaven and Earth Changed Place, with Jay Wurts (Doubleday, 1989) and Child of War, Woman of Peace, with James Hayslip (Doubleday, 1993).
24There is a
consensus that Vietnamese poetry, both in
25The debate was joined with Nguyen Hung Quoc’s response to Do Anh Tuan’s essay on Van Hoc issue #13 (June 1997) and continued into early 1998 with the participation of Dang Tien and Pham Thi Hoai (9/97), Bui Vinh Phuc, Tran Van Tich, and Thuy Khe (10/97). The arguments and couter-arguments by DMT and NHQ in issues #136 (8/97), 137(9/97), and 141-142 (Jan-Feb 98) were especially interesting.
26“Nhin Lai mot nam qua… Phong van cac van thi huu”
(looking a year back… interviewing our fellow writers). Van Hoc, #141 &142
Jan-Feb 1998, p.41. “Van Hoc
Vietnamese language newspapers are published consistently in
28This sense of fragmentation is similarly suggested as a theme in Leslie Kennedy Adams’(1998) reading of American and Vietnamese war fiction presented in America’s Wars in Asia; A Cultural Approach at History and Memory, edited Philip West, Steven I. Levine, and Jackie Hiltz.
discussion of these concepts of claiming voice and space, see: William V.
Flores & Rina Benmayor, Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity,
Space, and Rights,
30We note Keith Taylor’s most recent, careful analysis of the historic regional diversity of identities in Vietnam and share his admonition for historians to be accountable to their own time and place, rather than imposing their contemporary meanings and desire for coherence of their interpretations of the past (“Surface Orientations in Vietnam: Beyond Histories of Nation and Region,” Journal of Asian Studies, 57:4, November 1998, 949-978).
31For example, four of the five papers on Vietnamese diasporic topics at the 1998 national conference of the Association of Asian American Studies were presented by graduate students.
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